Too Gypsy, Too Hippy: The Tiny House Contradiction

Here is something that comes up a lot in my research on tiny houses. People who don’t like them criticise them for being both:

  • too indicative of poverty and low socio-economic status
  • too indicative of a very white type of hippy-millennial demographic

Tiny houses: a bit traveller, a bit left-wing

I was speaking with Niamh, a 44 year old researcher based in Portugal about this very topic. She had spent the last five years learning carpentry and building her own tiny house.

When we spoke, her tiny house was still in the UK waiting to be transported over to her and her partner in Portugal. I asked her what the biggest barriers to living in a tiny house were in Portugal.

“People don’t like them because it’s a bit kind of traveller or gypsy maybe. And then also I think a lot of people associate tiny houses with very kind of left-wing hippie alternative community which maybe they don’t want to be anywhere near.”

No Tiny Houses in My Back Yard

Several people have made this point. Chris, a 42 year old entrepreneur based in Georgia, USA, told me about the ‘Not In My Backyard’ attitude he has encountered.

“I have had conversations with people in Atlanta where they tell me ‘oh yeah I love the tiny house movement, it’s so good for the planet’ and everything like that. And then in the same breath will be like ‘oh no I wouldn’t want them parked on our street because that might decrease the value of our property.’ So, it’s like what do you want us to do?”

A Tiny Bit of Poverty Appropriation?

Tiny houses have been criticised for glamourising poverty. Some writers argue that only people with money can afford to buy their way in to this idealised type of simplified living. The same people who have never actually had to live in a small mobile home out of necessity.

Many tiny houses are trailers. They are built on a trailer base but are made to look like a traditional home, or a modern architectural masterpiece.

However, there are not many aspirational stories covering true campsites or caravan parks entreating us to ‘live better with less’ and ‘expand our lives by shrinking our consumption’.

Tiny houses occupy a liminal zone between poverty and plenty.

I have spoken with women who have converted ancient vans for $600 because they were so desperate for somewhere to live. I have also been given inside tours of $92,000 luxury tiny houses. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that there are so many conflicting feelings about them.

I am sorry if this conclusion is unsatisfactory, but it is also true.