The following OpEd first appeared in Issue 43 of Tiny House Magazine. That issue and all other back issues are available to purchase.
We live in a world where there seems to be some perverse power in polarization. We feel validated in our own prejudice. Veiled as it may be, it is still prejudice. Don’t believe me? Take a long look at some of the most used hashtags in social media over the last six months. They all have an adjective followed by the words lives and matter. Granted they are truisms, they are still polarizing. At first glance one might think: “Wait! Doesn’t my life matter? Where is my hashtag?” And what is most interesting is that turn of discrimination begats another turn of discrimination in which the person feeling polarized then finds either another set of people of which to pass judgement on or turns his fangs of repugnance on the initial hashtagger. It ends up becoming an endless cycle of vitriolic vomit. And what is worse is that so many of us don’t even realize we are discriminating or prejudging another. It is as if we refuse to believe that our unconscious actions have consequences. We allow our micro-agression to run rampant.
182 words in and you – the reader – probably have no idea where I am going with this or why this post is on a tiny house website. Good observation. I raise this point of polarization and prejudice and discrimination and micro-aggression because we, the tiny house community, are quickly becoming our own sort of unabashed practitioners of elitism. Don’t believe me?
A recent post on a very popular Facebook page asked the question “What is considered a tiny house? My partner and I want to build around 500 sq. ft. but I am not sure if that is tiny or not.” The very first response? “That is not tiny. To be a tiny house you have to be 300 sq. ft. or less and built on a trailer.”
I read on only to find that the comments continued on this same thread. There was a litany of denigration against this community member because the size he felt was right for he and his partner simply did not meet the, ahem, official tiny house club code. Best I could gather a house built on a trailer up to 300 sq. ft. was a tiny house. 300 sq. ft. to 1000 sq. ft. was a small house (trailer or foundation). 1000 sq. ft. up to 2500 sq. ft. was a (and I purposely quote) “stereotypical American Dream, cookie cutter house.” Above 2500 sq. ft. was just plain obscene and didn’t deserve to even be mentioned. Needless to say the original poster never responded and I am fearful that they left the conversation thread and Facebook page with an extremely bitter taste in their mouth. See? I told you. Polarization. Discrimination. I decided I must dig deeper.
Noah Webster was born in 1758,was an American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English-language spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and a prolific author. He has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.” I figured if anyone knew the right answers it was him. I mean, he wrote a dictionary for goodness sake. I dug up a copy of the 1828 Noah Webster dictionary and anxiously thumbed through looking for the definition of tiny house. I came up with nothing. Not even a reference mention. I then looked for just tiny. I read this: “Very small; little; puny.” Interesting, I thought. I then quickly wondered why we hadn’t decided to call them Puny Houses. Doesn’t a show called Puny House, Big Living sound like more fun than a barrel of monkeys? I wasn’t satisfied. I turned to the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and looked up the word “tiny.” Would you believe my search yielded nothing? I kept trying source after source and simply could not find an acceptable, architectural definition for tiny. The best I could get was that old Noah Webster definition. But then I found this nugget.
In a February 1, 2015 1 interview on 20 Something Finance with Jay Shafer – arguably the godfather of the tiny house movement – the following was recorded:
20SF: Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Professor Shafer. First order of business for our readers. What exactly is a ‘tiny house’? Are there certain square footage dimensions that a dwelling would need to be under to be considered a ‘tiny’ house?
Shafer: I try not to put too fine a point on it. A 300 square foot house certainly qualifies as tiny in this country, but I wouldn’t rule out 4000 square foot houses so long as there are a lot of people living inside. So long as the space (no matter how big) is being used well I’d call just about any house tiny.
Note that Shafer himself says “So long as the space (no matter how big) is being used well I’d call just about any house tiny.” * drops mic *
So I ask. What is a tiny house again? Why do we take great pride in defining them by size, shape, color, etc? Why are we willing to chastise another to prove that they are not living an authentic tiny life? Can we not leave the day-to-day discriminations to some other community? Must we invite it to our table for supper? Can’t we all agree that the labeling has gone too far. One person’s tiny may not be another’s but that is okay. All sizes matter!
Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to the violent events of July 5, 2016 and July 6, 2016. No insensitivities intended.