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A Look At America’s Growing “Small Living” Movement

In a super-sized obsessed age, we’ve now fallen into the gap where we believe our home should also reflect a shift toward the grandiose. Yet this obsession with gigantism has completely dwarfed our sense of self.  Whereas even meals used to be an art form, the rising trend on bigger (and ultimately considerably ridiculous creations) is aimed at promoting a consumer culture that ironically strips us of culture.

Some would even argue that in addition to relinquishing culture, we rescinded our identity as we grow increasingly lost amidst a rising expanse of materialism. With consumer culture, it’s no longer about what we have, but about how much we can stuff into ourselves, pile on ourselves, and collect around ourselves.  An inflationary ideology that compromises quality for quantity, the idea that more is better and less is miserly can be traced back to Hollywood and celebrity, two groups that promote a culture of excess that majority of star gazers flock to emulate.

Yet an undercurrent movement referred to as “small living” is creating waves as a chic counter culture against wasteful consumption.  An increasing number of global citizens are realizing that bigger is not better, that more is not necessarily feasible, and that a continued practice of parasitism is not in our mutual interest.

This all began with a green movement, ironically enough kindled by the very same group that initially made it popular to be wasteful. It was Hollywood and celebrity that made it trendy to be environmentally aware, and while they were not the first group to practice earth-friendly habits, they are the group that got it mainstream attention.  Still, the green movement has taken off considerably since its infant days where recycling was the height of eco-culture.  The newest trend is in sustainable living, a striving effort to live a lifestyle with a minimal or reduced carbon foot print.

Thinking green has spread a new leaf.  While in the early stages of sustainable living, eco-friendly decisions centered on what could be different in the home, the trend now is to change your home itself.  Quickly gaining momentum, the small living movement is leading a greater number of people to realize the personal and communal benefits of conscientious consumption.

From small houses to yachts-turned-homes, people across the country are completely rethinking their approach to living.  And with the rise of do-it-yourself shows and home makeovers, we’re all realizing that we can have the comforts of a larger home, even the aesthetic appeal, without having to scrape out our wallets for that last little penny to fund it all. Whether it’s a boat, mobile, or studio living, the fact is a majority of Americans are downsizing their dwelling space.  This in light of the recent recession mixed with a rising awareness to cultivate positive eco-friendly living solutions, has left the market saturated with a number of alternatives to conventional living.

The emphasis here is not just on saving the environment, but also on saving a green resource of another variety.  Conscientious about carbon foot prints and wasteful spending, many global citizens are down scaling from a humble abode to perhaps an even more humble abode in an attempt to salvage hard-earned dollars.  With that, the trend these days is perhaps not even just to get a smaller apartment, but to get the most compact home possible for your lifestyle.  The idea of compact living has not only gotten many people to downgrade the number of services they use (i.e. cable, internet, dry cleaning, gourmet coffee), but it’s also raised a new crop of spatial economists that have traded in expansive lofts for more resource-friendly spaces.

Small living is simply much cheaper. It’s cheaper to furnish your place, utility costs are lower, and smaller spaces are generally much more affordable to rent or purchase.  It was Leonardo da Vinci who first said, “small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it,” – and perhaps he was right.  Surprisingly, there are a number of other benefits that go with smaller spaces, which anyone who’s walked the walk will quickly recognize.

Small living also undoes the idea that your home is your castle. While it remains true that your home is your sanctuary, those living in larger estates are less likely to explore their outside environment.  As such, what was once meant to be a castle becomes a cage that keep dwellers locked in, even if that condition is self-imposed.

On the other hand, a smaller home encourages you to get out, be more social, and explore your outside environment.  Smaller spaces allow for more creative design ideas, in which your home becomes an authentic reflection of you, as opposed to larger homes where the home somehow becomes a fixed museum that dwellers and visitors have difficulty engaging with.

Ultimately, the key is sustainability.  If small living isn’t your cup of tea then the next step is to look into how you create a sustainable environment in your home, no matter what its size.

Shireen Qudosi is a sustainable living enthusiast.

by S. Qudosi

  • Sep 10th, 2009 at 06:16 | #1

    America has many small houses already built. Many just need some TLC. Preserve what we have! In the Midwest, many well built and low cost homes can be found.

  • Sep 10th, 2009 at 17:30 | #2

    Shireen, excellent post.

    I live in a 1925 Tudor in downtown Phoenix which is on 1,000 sq foot. Many people are amazed that we can survive in such a small home. We not only survive, we thrive.

    We don’t have room for extras. We don’t packrat. We donate what we don’t use. We recycle and compost to eliminate waste.

    Cindy Findley
    Marketing Director for CyberRegs and ART

  • Sep 11th, 2009 at 07:16 | #3

    Excellent Article!
    My wife and I are building a 737 square foot house.
    One large room to feel spacious and open, two private dens so we each have personal space, bath/laundry room, upstairs sleeping loft and storage room, very nice front porch, small back porch. All fancy Victorian wood work. The one large community room and the 2 small private rooms seems essential. Space for sharing and space for self.
    I agree with Jeff above also. Preserve our many nice older small homes.

  • A Friend
    Sep 21st, 2009 at 21:46 | #4

    Shireen, you have a handle on living green. There is no doubt. Homes that are 25′ x 25′ can be quite large if they are willing to go up and incorporate a spiral stair case. In the winter, spend more time on the upper floors; hot air rises.

  • Editor
    Jul 13th, 2010 at 12:53 | #5

    I am sorry, but we can only accept comments in English. Pls resubmit in English if you are still interested in commenting.

    Thanks, Editor

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