Human beings love meaning. We can’t get enough of it. It infuses every thought we have, every opinion we claim as our own, every purchase we make. We especially love peppering it in where there is none to be organically found (see: religion).
What Our Homes Mean
It is no surprise then, that our homes are also an enduring source of meaning. How we decorate, what plants are in our garden or on our balcony, where our house is, the colour of our door. All of these things and more give us a chance to express and develop our sense of self.
The self-making power of our homes is so great that academics have claimed that the whereabouts, size, and styling of a person’s home are a fundamental “part of the power structure in society”.
But when tight finances and restrictive planning policy mean that residents are forced to both shrink the size of their home and compromise on its location, the design becomes even more important as one of the few areas of identity formation left.
Home in Recession
Following the 2008 recession, there has been a lot of reformulating of identities around home ownership.
People who previously owned homes lost them because of the crash, and those who were on track to become homeowners had their savings axed and began to see traditional homeownership as a riskier type of investment rather than the guaranteed cash-cow it had been presented as.
It was in this context that the popularity of tiny houses really began to take off. The importance of owing our own home as one of the core markers of a successful adult life lingers on, but so few of us can afford it now that we have been dubbed ‘generation rent‘.
Tiny Home Ownership
How do we square this circle? By reformulating our identities around a new type of home ownership that lets us feel both successful and subversive.
If we own a tiny house, then we can simultaneously think of ourselves as home owners whilst also thinking of ourselves as ‘sticking it to the man’, rejecting compulsory consumption and all of the ugliness that attends rampant neoliberal capitalism, and forging our own autonomous path to self-sufficiency.
One scholar argued that the double violence of the financial crash and the worsening housing crisis could lead to a global challenging of “the ethos of acquisition that prevailed before the crash…[and] form the basis for a different understanding of property and identity”.
What Do Tiny Houses Mean
Are tiny houses challenging the norms of acquisition and reformulating our ideas around property?
My research so far does indicate a growing scepticism towards the culture of acquisition and a heightened critical awareness of the flaws and harms caused by consumption, normalised working practises, and capitalism more broadly.
Tiny houses can definitely be described as a “different understanding of property and identity.” A key part of the identity formulation of tiny house residents is a story about how they ‘chose’ to live this way, rather than being forced by stagnating wages and an unabating housing crisis.
What Do Tiny Houses Mean For Women
As I have mentioned here, freedom and autonomy are the central buzzwords that crop up again and again in my interviews. A lot of this meaning centres on the design and build process.
The women I speak to love that they have almost complete control over the shape and size of their home, this level of power over their environment is extremely meaningful to them.
This makes sense when you look more broadly at the world that women inhabit, given how entrenched social and economic structures usually disempower women at every turn. The tiny home must be a welcome reprieve.
This discussion is continued in my TedX talk.