For all we’ve read and watched and heard about tiny homes, no one has discussed the business of getting ready inside one. By “getting ready,” I mean not just the basic concerns of personal hygiene, but the whole production of makeup application, hair styling, and ensemble selection — arguably the most enjoyable part of any social engagement. And also something that is decidedly not easy to do in 170 square feet of space.
I came to this realization while straddling a toilet during my day-long stay in a tiny home (built by Plastics Make It Possible) in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. The only mirror in the space was small — at least compared to the several oversized ones hanging throughout my Brooklyn apartment — and shaped like a pentagon. It hung directly behind said toilet, meaning that in order to successfully apply makeup, I had to stand with my legs on either side of it. It wasn’t uncomfortable, necessarily, and provided a relatively convenient place to place my makeup bag, but it was not exactly glamorous. Sometimes, when I’m getting ready for a big night out in my permanent home, I like to pretend I’m an old-timey movie star. I put on a silky robe, I mix a stiff cocktail, I select a jazz playlist from Spotify. I am not exactly sure how attempting to achieve the perfect cat-eye with a toilet wedged between my bare legs would fit into this fantasy, but I imagine not well.
What’s more — not to sound off-puttingly high-maintenance here — there was no electrical outlet inside the bathroom of my tiny home, which meant if I wanted to blow-dry my hair, I’d have to do it in the middle of the living area. Which would mean I’d inevitably always be finding strands of stray hair draped across my couch cushions. And who knows how the hell I’d go about achieving my signature beachy waves? Perhaps I could prop a mirror up somewhere by the kitchen sink, where the outlets were abundant? And while I had with me just a small overnight bag during my stay, a glimpse into the closet revealed a space that could absorb, at best, about an eighth of my total wardrobe. Not including coats and shoes.
It has crossed my mind that, perhaps, tiny homes were just not made for people like me.
Tiny homes — unlike crappy studio apartments, dingy trailers or other small, traditionally undesirable residences — are part of a “movement,” you see, thus the basis of their appeal. You’re not just getting a place to live, you’re getting a lifestyle. Something to subscribe to. Plus, they’re just cute.
While early pioneers of the tiny home movement emerged in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the concept didn’t go mainstream until a few years ago, thanks in part to shows like FYI’s Tiny House Nation and HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters, both of which debuted in 2014. There’s also Tiny House Builders (HGTV), Tiny House World (FYI), Tiny Luxury (HGTV), and Tiny House Nation (FYI). Tiny homes also star in countless YouTube videos and serve as the subject for blogs and social media accounts. Before you ask: Yes, there are even tiny home influencers.
I can attest that they are just as sweet IRL as they appear when beamed at you through your computer or TV screen. The tiny home that I stayed in was filled with size-appropriate plants and awash in natural light. The bed was lofted, accessible via a compact, winding staircase. There was a tiny ledge topped with fake cactuses visible only from the bed. It was a millennial interior design dream. From the outside, however, it looked like, well, a very small house. With its dark red paint and shingled roof, it looked plucked right out of the suburban landscape of my youth. Fine, so it also had wheels and was parked in a campground in the middle of the Arizona desert, but the point still stands.
The cutest thing about tiny homes is their environmental impact, or lack thereof. Currently, homes and other buildings make up about 40 percent of America’s total energy use. Smaller spaces mean less energy consumed, and most tiny homes are also built with solar panels, LED lighting, and other energy-conserving flourishes. For example, the tiny home I stayed in was crafted from super-advanced plastic building materials that improve its overall energy efficiency. For approximately $180, you could heat and cool it for an entire year.
This brings us to the second cutest thing about tiny homes, which is that you — yes, even a budget-shirking, student loan-having, avocado toast-splurging millennial — have a good chance of being able to afford one. The average cost to build a tiny home is $23,000, and there are several examples of people who have done it for much less. Couple that with the $15 a month or so you might spend on heating and cooling, and the financial benefits are mind-blowing. Granted, you still have to somehow acquire land to put it on — and said land is more likely to be available and affordable in Arizona than it is in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, or any of the other major metropolitan areas where many young people (and the companies that employ them) tend to cluster. But for the 70 percent of millennials who don’t think they’ll ever be able to afford to buy a house, tiny homes could provide a glimmer of hope. Assuming we can adapt to living in them.
In the 24-ish hours I spent inside my tiny home, in addition to my little adventure in getting ready, I did many of the same things I might do in my everyday, non-tiny home life. These included working, looking at memes on my phone, eating Cheetos, drinking white wine, and catching up on Bachelor in Paradise. I took myself out for Mexican food, swam in a nearby pool, and got a massage. In going about these activities, I deduced that there are two keys to successfully inhabiting such a space. The first is customization. Most of my aforementioned getting-ready grievances could be easily remedied if I had a hand in designing the place. In a space so small, it’s imperative that every inch of it is working for you, which is why most companies that fabricate the homes work with you to personalize them.
The second is an adjustment of attitude and expectations. Were I to move into a tiny home, I would have to forgo a sizable portion of my wardrobe and other possessions. Customization and storage hacks can ensure 170 square feet doesn’t feel like 170 square feet, but it’s still 170 square feet. When we choose to adopt — or, as is sometimes the case, are forced into — small spaces, our instinct is to try to cram in everything we own so we don’t feel like we’re sacrificing anything, when in reality, we’re just making it feel claustrophobic.
When people speak of the tiny home lifestyle, I think this is what they mean. A common misconception, though, is that this necessitates adopting some kind of spartan, pioneer woman existence that eliminates the frivolous pleasures of eyeshadow and curling irons. That’s a little drastic, not to mention sexist. There’s still room for a little luxury inside a tiny home; you just have to be prepared to Marie Kondo the shit out of the rest of your existence.
On the morning of my departure from the tiny home, I found myself overcome with an unexpected sadness. Unlike a hotel or your average Airbnb, tiny homes start to feel like home quickly. Part of it is the fact that all you have to do is but down your bag and fling open your suitcase, and it appears you’ve taken over the place. But part of it is that inherent cuteness again. Something about these little habitats just embraces you like a hug.
It was then, though, that I realized something I had somehow missed the day before: the shower. It was just a head. In the middle of the bathroom. Were I to adopt this tiny home lifestyle, my sacred getting-ready space would not only be potentially tainted by the existence of a toilet, it would also be… my shower. Suddenly, and for the first time in my adult life, my overpriced apartment and bloated electric bill seemed incredibly easy to justify.
Travel and accommodations for the author were provided by Plastics Make It Possible for the purpose of writing this story.