My interest in tiny houses preceded my intention to pay scholarly attention to their emancipatory potential. Like so many of my now participants, I was just poor and indignant at a housing system that appeared to be rigged. I was born poor, but I worked hard at becoming indignant.
What was, for a long time, an ambient background sensation of being aggrieved, gradually transmuted throughout the course of my education into a focussed, rational, and empirically evidenced chagrin. I owe a great deal to critical theorists such as Herbert Marcuse, Juliet Schor, Kate Raworth, and David Frayne. These writers and many more gave me the language to understand my own situation, whilst the relentless creative urge of my artist mother gave me the belief in the possibility of making something different, and better.
My partner and I consider buying a bus to renovate into a home. But where would we put it? We can’t afford to buy both land and a bus. We can’t find anyone who will rent us the land. Drat. We pool our life savings and buy a tiny end-terrace in the cheapest part of the city. We buy this house thinking that once we have saved enough money, we could park the bus on the driveway whilst we renovate it into a home. The house is on a main road and two of our cats are killed in the first year. We believe it is our duty as their guardians to move somewhere safer. Bus plans are scrapped. Double drat. However, I am now so convinced of the potential of tiny houses to speak to an intersection of social ills that I begin a PhD to find out more.
We move onto a cul-de-sac and we have a garden; new tiny house plans are afoot. As soon as we are granted planning permission for the glorified 5mx5m shed that will become our preliminary foray into experimenting with tiny living, we instantly ransack our garden, filling it will timbers and mud but mostly mud.
Whilst building the insulated timber base, I briefly consider abandoning my burgeoning career as a researcher to become a B&Q stock image model.
Everything takes approximately five-million times longer to do than we anticipate. We are lucky that we can save money for a few months in order to be able to move on to the next task, and repeat. I accidentally hang some joists upside down and have to pry apart the jiffy-hangers with a claw hammer.
Our rescue cat, Vlad, acts as foreman on site. He informs us that we are slothenly feckless ingrates who are dallying on the job. We agree to work harder.
We are reminded of the immense power of sharing and collaboration when so many of our friends give up their time to help us. Some cook lunch whilst we work, some lend tools, some lend labour and rallying cries that We Can Do It. We all dress as lumberjacks just in case it improves our skill level. It doesn’t, and we have to take the same wall down three times before we get it right.
Like so many of the projects we all have, the cabin remains unfinished. Its half-alive status reminds us of the latent potential and transformative power that lies in ideas, creativity, and friendship. The latent potential that housing itself contains to be a site of social justice, environmental sustainability, and psychological rejuvenation.