May 24, 2009

"I wanted to see how green I could be, how lightly I could tread on the earth."

Living in 144 square feet — and trying to prove the point that that's all the space anyone needs. Indeed, if you've got more, maybe you're "paralyzed" by all of your "stuff."

Though I think Elizabeth Turnbull's house is scary small, I'm intrigued by small houses. So much depends on a pleasing layout, views of the outdoors, and editing one's possessions. And then there's the question of why you are doing it. Are you being austere to save money or because you think it's wrong to consume too much? Is it fun and aesthetically pleasing? Or are you tending to your soul in some exciting/lofty way?

61 comments:

New York said...

"treading lightly on the earth" is the contemporary nihilist's attempt at monasticism.

Michael S said...

Or you're simply saying "Hey world, look at me, I'm clever, I'm different. See?"

Her fifteen minutes have expired.

rhhardin said...

A day bed and a TV is all you'd need.

traditionalguy said...

Is she is just showing off to her friends. Where are the children's rooms? Oh yeah, she is the Child in this story. I remember that a lack of desire is a symptom of the supression of the life force in the person. Who or what evil idea has stolen her desire to live? Of course it is that old spirit that hates to see live humans messing up the environmental Goddess's earth. Or maybe this proves that Darwin was right and her family evolved from chipmunks.

joewxman said...

She has to borrow someone's bathroom which to me makes this all pointless. I would be more impressed if she told me she lived in that shoe box and shit in the woods on a routine basis. But no..i am going to build a compost toilet!

God do these people ever realize that just beneath their endless sanctimony lies perpetual boredom?

Jess said...

For $14,000 you can probably buy a pretty nice used Airstream trailer.

The Drill SGT said...

Jess,

That used airstream was mde by those evil industralists using war technologies (aside, we have a similiar post WWII airplane factory product: a Grumman Canoe)

Fixed: buy a pretty nice recycled Airstream trailer.

bearing said...

I don't know, I think it's a neat project for a single, childless person to undertake. Why not live in a small space? People spend more than $14,000 to outfit themselves with camping gear. Small spaces that drive around at eight miles to the gallon are popular with people who want to see the country.

She's lucky someone gave her the land to put it on, of course.

A lucky real estate deal and an approved variance allowed our family to design and build our own home on an inner-city lot (40x120) in Minneapolis three years ago. The setbacks reduced our building footprint to 30x30, not tiny but not huge either. Not knowing how long we'd live in the house, and hoping for a big family (we now have 3 and one on the way), we had a fun challenge of trying to design a house that could work for 5 years or for 25 if necessary. We tucked an office into the end of a hallway, made small bedrooms, combined a laundry room and a bathroom, and let counter seating in the kitchen spill out into the space for the living room. We designed it so that we could add three more (small) bedrooms and one more full bath by giving up storage and shop space.

Throughout it all we tried to be inspired by my husband's grandparents, who raised five children in a tiny 3-BR 1-bath house they built themselves in the years after he returned from WWII. It has a comfortably large kitchen (think "farm kitchen"), much larger than other post-WWII houses I've been in, and the other rooms are tinier to make up for it.

Michael Hasenstab said...

It's an ice fishing shanty on a snowmobile trailer. It has no bathroom.

It would have made more sense to rent an already-built small apartment rather than use building materials to create a dwelling that will ultimately have a short life, wasting the resources used in its construction.

Did you notice the open space under the trailer? Perhaps she neglected to consider that winter occurs in her locale. It's going to take more than a small solar panel to heat the hut.

After she completes graduate school her 'home' will be recycled into what it actually is - an elaborate child's playhouse in someone's back yard.

jayne_cobb said...

So I'm supposed to be impressed that she essentially lives in a crappy dorm room?

I managed to pull this off for around 4 years sans stove (and all the environmental crap of course). It lasted so long because I was an RA and was getting free room and board.

ired said...

She also built in someone's backyard(the friend who also provides bathroom access). Who pays the property taxes? She's no environmental conservationist, just a modern day mooch.

ired said...

She also built in someone's backyard(the friend who also provides bathroom access). Who pays the property taxes? She's no environmental conservationist, just a modern day mooch.

Curtiss said...

Ted Kaczynski lived in very similar ediface. I suppose he had a composting toilet, though.

Bissage said...

I’d like to do Ms. Turnbull from behind with her palms against the wall and see if I can roll that little house over on its side.

Jason said...

The dorks at the NYT are impressed by that?

Ask any Navy veteran about living in small spaces.

Hell, that was the lap of luxury compared to what me and my troops had for most of a year.

Treacle said...

I wish a bunch of New Englanders would give me a bunch of free building materials and a free place to put my house. And also free shitting rights. That last one would be pretty important to me.

MPH said...

Scary words: "It's fun and gratifying to design around not what you think you should have, but what you need."

Pogo said...

There is no place small enough to atone for the sin of human existence.

True piety demands abortion and suicide, so her attempt only hints at the act required; a pine box treading not at all.

Pogo said...

Dulce et decorum est pro terra mori.


Hey, I just used this a few days ago here; then about being pro-choice. The left seems to like this idea, nihilism.

The River Otter said...

That is interesting to me that out of nineteen comments on this, only one is positive. I love the idea of these tiny houses, aesthetically and philosophically. Also, I thought conservatives were known for "live and let live-" why do you let this concept bother you?

Pogo said...

I like the idea for all sorts of reasons. I'm planning on building one for a cottage.

The result here is a typical lefty result: entirely impractical, dependent on the kindness of others, and holier than thou.

That is, bullshit.

EDH said...

Maybe it's time to coin a new phrase: Conspicuous Lack of Consumption.

Zeb Quinn said...

why do you let this concept bother you?

Could it be the smug self-righteousness oozing from it?

It wasn't an Airstream, but I DID live in a 5th wheel trailer of about that size for several months as a matter of fact, mine complete with bathroom. I was quite happy to get back to my 3000 sq ft house.

jayne_cobb said...

RO,

Conservatives believe that you shouldn't be able to force the other person to live a certain way. That doesn't mean they can't make fun of you or point out the possible problems with such a choice.

I'm fine with a small house and actually want one, since I suck at decorating (although I want a large yard to accompany it). But trumpeting this as some sort of achievement just seems ridiculous to me.

Paco Wové said...

why do you let this concept bother you? 

I don't think it's the concept as much as the hectoring, sanctimony, and self-promotion.

Robin said...

bearing says: "I don't know, I think it's a neat project for a single, childless person to undertake."

Right. I have no problem that she is sponging off her friend, living in a box in the backyard and making use of the toilet in the real house, but tarting it up as an important project, experiment, blah blah, hints to me of the finger-wagging and coercion to come.

I've no doubt the book is soon to follow, with friendly nyt and npr profiles along these lines: "Look! She did it! We should all revert to the stone age! (Well, you should. WE have important work to do, so we'll need to retain our cars and homes and studios.)"

Pogo said...

How much do they get for an apartment that size in NYC?

Simon Stylites said...

144 square feet?

An extravagant luxury.

Back in my day we'd get ourselves a square meter chunk of plywood, nail it to the top of a pole, and consider ourselves lucky to have all that space to really spread out.

Penny said...

Having a smaller footprint is de rigueur these days, but ten years ago I bought a wonderful book called "The Not So Big House" by archetect, Susan Susanka. This was during the time that more and more McMansions were being built. Susanka's point was that houses should be less about quantity and more about quality of life. Her thinking then seemed out of step, but right on the money in terms of how we all "live" in favorite corners of our homes anyway.

When I downsize, as most of us eventually will, I will be "tending to my soul" thanks to what I read back then.

The River Otter said...

Hmm...got it. Idea= worth exploring, execution and attitude= not cool. Thanks. That's why I come here to Althouse Cafe.

Eric Trimmer said...

Instead of living alone in a small space, why not live with lots of extended family in a large, shared space?

When did adults living with their parents become pariahs?

Now young people struggle to afford housing and the elderly die alone.

I blame The Cosby Show.

EDH said...

What that "Greenspace" really needs is a "If this trailer's a-rock'n, don't come a-knock'n" bumper sticker.

Pogo said...

When did adults living with their parents become pariahs?

It dates back, I believe, to the Fall of Man in Eden, when God effectively said, Get your own place, you two, pariahs both.

Pogo said...

I just made that up.

It actually dates back to 1876, and the Springfield Missouri Incident.

Bissage said...

That is interesting to me that out of nineteen comments on this, only one is positive.

The River Otter must have been referring to my 7:51.

There is nothing on the face of this Earth more positive than me having hot sex with an energetic 26-year-old!

Bissage said...

. . . and then I woke up.

Bob Sacamano said...

Why I am unhappy with this story - this is more proselytizing from the Left: everyone should live as austere a lifestyle as my own. I am a secular saint! It's the same reason that people who drive smart cars drive me insane - they intend to convert us all. We should all demonstrate as much piety to Gaia as they do or we will be judged.

Enviornmentalism is just as full of religious fervor as any established religion. The difference is that we're all quietly accepting it rather than making light of it as all of the most popular thinkers and comedians do of Christianity.

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

It's a 21st century hair shirt.

Joan said...

"My goal was to use only environmentally considerate materials," says Turnbull, "products that were recycled, reclaimed, and natural."

Translation: "I don't want to have to pay for anything, and if I couch it in these terms, people will give me the stuff I want for free." Including labor! This woman was very successful in her drive to get what she wants at no cost to herself.

Of course, this story doesn't portray her as the hustler she is.

amba said...

It would make sense to have a tiny house if you lived most of your life outdoors, as people used to do. Depends on climate.

bearing said...

Yes, Sarah Susanka's book has influenced me, too. I mean, I can't afford a lot of the nice architectural touches in her small house, but I did think about things like putting windows at the end of hallways to look toward light sources, and what the view would be like from my front door, and how the spaces could multi-task.

River Otter, what's the big deal? Some people on the thread are intrigued by the project and some aren't. I think the desire to build a tiny living space, perfectly designed for one's self and no one else, is a recurring theme that maybe comes from childhood -- all those little club houses and hideaways that children make with blankets and cushions. It reminds me of Steinbeck's _Travels with Charley_ and the little home he built on the back of a pickup truck -- as far as I was concerned reading that book as a twelve-year-old, the most magical part was the idea of a home so tiny and so well stocked, and that could just be driven away to go on any number of adventures.

Jen said...

I'm worried that this was posted at 3:52 a.m.
I hope our professor gets some sleep.

Chip Ahoy said...

I know a guy like that. His name is Hugh, an apt name for a 6'4" roughneck grunge. For an disheveled unshaven brute, Hugh is the most philosophical person I know. He's an aggressive vegetarian, a pacifist, and a terrible tautologous scold, never more satisfied than when telling people what to think, why to think that, what to read and what to not read, what to eat and what to avoid, and on top of all that he's doubly obnoxious when drinking. He's also a big puss, always eager for an argument but averse to actual fighting. I honestly believe Hugh just likes to hear himself talk without actually believing what he avers. We have an adage among our circle, "Never listen to Hugh."

One time we were playing Hearts which was mostly just an excuse to get together on the patio for drinks. The subject turned to tarot. Hugh waxed knowledgeably on the arcane meaning of the cards, the history behind them, their proper use, etc. He insisted on pronouncing the word ta-row while others pronounced the word for the cards as rhyming with parrot. I listened eagerly without contributing anything because I had nothing to contribute. A temporary silence fell over the table while each player accessed their hand. They liked to do this weird pass-the-worst-of-your-hand-to-the-player-on-your-left thing then on the next hand change the direction of the pass so you got a chance to make enemies all around. During the pause in conversation while they were considering all this I said, "Well, I don't know anything about tar-row, emphasizing Hugh's pronunciation, but I have read some Emerson." Deep in thought, my remark didn't sink in immediately. For a moment the players wondered what I was on about then erupted into laughter. (Hugh named his weird-ass little pound dog Thoreau. The dog had been hit by a car and couldn't squat so it walked forward on its forelegs to poop. It didn't live long.)

So aaaaaanyway, Hugh owned a small house in town and a good deal of land several miles outside of Denver. To build up cash to buy a double-wide on his property, I told you he is strange, he built a shack in his ample yard to his house in town and lived in it for a year while renting out his house on the same property. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen anyone do, but par for Hugh. No kitchen, no bath, nothing. He ate out daily scrounging whatever he could, and showered at the city health club. The shack was just large enough for a single mattress, insufficient for his height and bitter cold in winter, but he endured it. I told him I thought the whole project a bit insane, what did he think this was, Walden's Pond? He looked at me in disbelief, "OMG! I never thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right." The comparison appealed to him.

El Presidente said...

Hahahaha, she specified low emission paint and then used plywood as her primary construction material. The formaldehyde pouring out of the plywood would make her long for the days of lead paint, if she knew what the hell she was talking about.

Eilish said...

My husband and I have a 26 foot Airtream (best toy purchase we have ever made) and we have always said that if we lost our house for any reason, we would live in it. Maybe not permanently (we do have a four-year-old) but we could be comfortable in there for quite a long time. I am continually impressed by how well-designed and durable it is. If you consider how many people over the years have lived full time in trailers (which have bathrooms!), this is not really a new concept, though it is not for everyone. I do think it would depend on where you live. It would be very hard to be inside for long periods, especially if you where living with children.

Theo Boehm said...

Walden Pond's nearby. But I'm generally at work, trying to make enough money the buy the axe that Thoreau wants to borrow.

El Presidente said...

Did she do the math on a purpose built abode with a two year expiration date?

babuilder said...

This is an embarrassment to her academic credentials. She uses her design and construction skills and comes up with a rectangular box made from donated labor and materials,no bath, and it still costs $100.00/sq. ft.

She's being graded on concept, not whether there is a real world practical application that can be accomplished.

former law student said...

This is not the first time tiny houses have been discussed here. In fact, Prof. Althouse has a "tiny house" tag.

Ralph said...

On the north end of Nantucket, there are some tiny, playhouse-sized cottages that movie stars like Bette Davis would rent, for a day or two, as an antidote to their glamorous lifestyles. Hairshirts optional.

Cedarford said...

It's the 21st century version of the hair shirt. Your moral superiority is proved by your mini-martyrdom through willingly discomforting yourself in the name of a "higher cause".

Basically still a stunt to win the moral approval of others.

One difference of course, is that we have a whole bunch of people who want ALL OF US to don the Algore version of the hair shirt whether we want to or not...while of course exempting Algore, Johnny Edwards 28,000 ft2 house, greener than thou Pelosi with her weekend large jet flight to and from San Fran, and of course the single largest carbon user on the planet, POTUS Obama and his personal coterie of hundreds of people and dozens of vehicles .

kentuckyliz said...

I bet the neighbors were pissed about violating zoning laws to let trailer trash in. You pay a premium to get into zoned neighborhoods so your Randy Quaid RV livin' cousin doesn't show up and park the shack on wheels out front.

The posturing was to shoot down neighbor opposition before it happened.

former law student said...

while of course exempting ..., greener than thou Pelosi with her weekend large jet flight to and from San Fran

Pelosi enjoys the same perk that Denny Hastert did. You can't blame her just because her house is three times as from from DC, correct? Of course, if you criticized Denny Hastert's jet shuttle, criticizing Pelosi would be consistent.

Father Martin Fox said...

One problem with this is the suggestion she succeeded in her self-sufficient living. She clearly did not.

No toilet
No shower
No land-use costs
No taxes

I don't know if they have bad storms in that area--but if a tornado or hurricane hits, where is her storm cellar?

Ralph said...

Of course, if you criticized Denny Hastert's jet shuttleHastert's party wasn't forcing us to buy small, overpriced, underpowered cars. Oh, wait, Bush signed that stupid CAFE bill. My bad.

JAL said...

"It's fun and gratifying to design around not what you think you should have, but what you need."

Maslov's hierarchy of needs goes down the missing toilet.

Fun would have been up there with self actualization, I guess.

The TOILET (is there running water? Where does her 'gray water' go?) is one of the lower ones... something akin to "shelter" in the civilized world.

Fine if she wants to do it, but don't talk to reporters about "designing" around her "need" and not expect some critique-ing.

Oh. My bad. In PC America one does not "critique." One applauds and murmurs approvingly.

TMink said...

Pogo wrote: "There is no place small enough to atone for the sin of human existence. True piety demands abortion and suicide, so her attempt only hints at the act required; a pine box treading not at all."

Agreed. This is one of the people that do not accept that humanity is God's wonderful creation, made just a little lower than the angels.

This type sees humanity as a greedy, rapacious infestation.

Trey

TMink said...

fls wrote: "Pelosi enjoys the same perk that Denny Hastert did."

Hastert flew a much smaller commuter airplane according to that right wing bastion of reporting, CBS news.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/07/eveningnews/main2445668.shtml

This is not selective outrage. You are giving apples and watermelons equivalence.

Trey

former law student said...

Hastert flew a much smaller commuter airplane according to that right wing bastion of reporting, CBS news

Nope, both Hastert and Pelosi flew in the same exact model airplane, the C-20, except when headwinds increased the flight time from DC to SF above the C-20's max flying time of 5.5 hours.

Further, the practice of providing the Speaker secure military transport was started by W. after 9/11, because the Speaker is third in line for the Presidency.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/pelosi/jet.asp

However, the Air Force weekly travel reports ... show Speaker Pelosi making multiple trips between Washington and California in 2007 and 2008, but always on the smaller C-20B and C-37A aircraft, never on the “big fat 200-seat” C-32 jet the e-mail cited above claims she uses weekly.

Eric said...

Where I live you pretty much can't find a house with less than 3 bd/2 bath (RESALE, dontcha know). I've always wanted something smaller - like maybe one bedroom. Not because I have any particular concern about my "footprint", but because I tend to park excess belongings in space I don't use instead of getting rid of them.

jeff said...

Could I live in 144 sq ft? Yes I can. I did so when I was in college and poor. I had a bathroom though. And you know there is someone living in 62 sq feet saying to themselves "how does on justify living in such a mansion?"