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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Material longings, tiny house dreams

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My first career goal was to become an architect. I got the idea in my head at about age five, when my parents, worried about the high lead levels in our current house and unable to find another one that suited them, decided to hire an architect and build our dream home. There is a faded photograph of a tiny me standing on our empty lot, cheerfully holding a magic marker drawing of a simple house with three stick figures outside and the words, “Our Future Home” written in a five-year-old’s wiggly script.

That drawing soon became one of many. Armed with graph paper and a vague knowledge of the concept of “blueprint,” I busied myself drawing house after house after house. Interestingly, the kinds of houses I drew fell into two main categories: houses with everything one could possibly want, and houses with just the things one would probably need. Houses of the former type were massive behemoths, octagonal eight-story towers with slides between the floors, indoor pools, and bowling alleys in the basement. Any extra space I had in those kinds of imaginary houses got the label, “storage space,” as if I would not only have pools, slides, and bowling alleys, but a wealth of other earthly possessions that would need closets and closets and closets of space. Houses of the latter type were impossibly tiny—according to my scale, some were just twelve feet long by twelve feet wide. The amount of storage space there was precisely zero. I devised interesting architectural techniques yet unknown to humankind, such as lofting a bed above a bathtub, or better yet, a stove, to make everything I needed fit into such a small space. Designing those types of houses made me happier than designing the big ones. It became something of a game to see how small I could make a livable world, and it gave me a certain sense of satisfaction to demonstrate that I didn’t need much to be happy after all.

Years later, in connection with the environmental movement, tiny houses became popular and my dream of a miniscule cabin resurfaced in full force. Scanning pictures on the internet, I couldn’t contain my childlike fascination with and curiosity about these creative homes. Admittedly, none that I found had a bed lofted over a bathtub or stove to maximize space efficiency, but they were equally innovative and much more practical. Some were even in trees!

However, I suspect that it’s much easier for me to imagine and romanticize living sustainably in a tiny house than it would be for me to go through with it and be happy. Closing my laptop, I started to ask myself a series of questions about my imagined life in a tiny house. Who would live with me? It would have to be someone with whom I got along with extremely well, because there wouldn’t be many doors to slam or quiet rooms to go off to. What if I lived alone? I can imagine my tiny house quickly becoming a lonely cell, all Thoreauesque insights about living alone in the woods swiftly disintegrating into a nervous game of, “What’s that noise outside?”

Besides, there is the pesky problem of downsizing. Every year, as I pack up my belongings to come back to Carleton, I tell myself, “I’m going to travel light this time. I don’t need so many clothes, so many books, so many things.” Inevitably, though, the belongings pile up, and when I get to Carleton, I grumble to myself about the lack of storage space, squeezing sweater after sweater after sweater into the closet. And at the same time, I think back about the summer when I cleared all of my grandmother’s possessions out of her smallish house as she moved into assisted living. She wasn’t too keen on selling any of her many prized antiques, so they are all in our basement, hibernating in boxes, weighing a monster’s weight. Possessions have a way of accumulating through the generations and acquiring an air of holiness, so what does it mean that I have trouble letting go of possessions when I am still so young?

In any case, I don’t think I’m alone in wavering between wanting the luxuries of material things and wanting the minimalist, pure happiness of a simpler, smaller world. I want to remember that drawing tiny houses always made me happier than drawing huge ones, and I want the grace to plan my adulthood with that in mind.

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