Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Movie Review: “TINY: A Story About Living Small”

It was inevitable: those lovable, trailer-mounted tiny houses and all they represent–sustainability, non-consumerism, the DIY sensibility, off-gridded-ness, giving-the-finger-to-the-man-ness–have been immortalized in celluloid (or its digital equivalent). “TINY: A Story About Living Small” is a movie that follows one man’s epic journey into tiny living.

The documentary centers around Christopher Smith, who decided to build his own tiny house in the spring of 2011. The plan was to build the house in his then-Boulder, CO home, document the action, then move it to Hartsel, CO (aka middle-of-nowhere) where he had bought a small plot of land. Early on in the movie, Smith explained that he had no building experience, no blueprints, didn’t have a ton of money and that most people who built their own tiny houses took anywhere from six months to two years. Despite these factors, Smith made the ominous prediction that it would take him two to three months to build his.

TINY_CRooftop

The film follows the buildout, which is much helped by his girlfriend Merete Mueller (the pair starred, wrote, filmed, directed and produced the whole thing). As expected, the process turns out to be far more difficult than Smith anticipated–construction issues, money troubles, weather, etc. With each passing month, Smith seems to travel further and further from his tiny goal. The movie becomes as much an ode to stick-to-itiveness and the DIY ethic as living small.

The movie does provide context for the tiny house movement. There are interviews with tiny house luminaries like Jay Shafer, Deek Diedricksen and Tammy Stroebel, as well as a number of “normal” people who have chosen to live tiny like 84 sq ft home-dwelling Dee Williams. While there’s talk about the aesthetic and design value of living small, the main reason most of the people give for their choice is financial independence. As Shafer remarks of tiny living, “The primary asset is freedom.” With very low overhead, no room for extraneous purchases, the tiny house life becomes so inexpensive that people are allowed to do and live the way they want. This is in contrast to the popular live-in-a-big-house-I-have-no-time-to-enjoy-because-I-work-too-much-so-I-can-afford-the-big-house modus operandi.

The movie also shows Smith’s quest to find a place in the world. Like many youngish folks (30 years), he moved around a lot throughout his youth–a condition exacerbated by a military upbringing. The world for Smith and many of his ilk is so filled with options that laying roots in one place can be very elusive. As we see Smith toil and run out of money and get hit with rainstorms throughout the construction, we get the sense that Smith is creating not just a place to live, but a place to reside in the universe (even if it’s a place that can be moved by an F250).

TINY_13

Smith does eventually complete the tiny house one year after starting construction. The event is almost an anticlimax; it seems insignificant compared to the journey that took Smith to that place.

More than a guide to tiny living, I think TINY is a testament to the power of developing a relationship with our stuff. Watching the movie, I got the sense that our bloated, disposable culture has a lot to do with our loss of connection to the things we use. We waste stuff because we no longer make stuff. Our homes come from realtors, not our labors. Our stuff comes from boxes, not from the earth. If we started forging connections between the things we use and how they are produced as Smith did, we would have a lot smaller homes with less stuff, but we would love those things a lot more.

If you want to see TINY, visit their website for screening announcements. You can also buy a DVD or purchase on iTunes.

  • Gary Pete Overton

    It’s also available on Netflix. I watched it last night

  • Christopher Tilley

    I also watched it on Netflix and agree that the film is about the journey not the destination. I think that it’s also about making deliberate choices rather than going with the flow.

    I’m in the middle of moving from 1,000 to 500 sq ft and I’m finding it tough to reduce my stuff to comfortably fit in the new place. It’s not the big things, like furniture, it’s the little things with meaning that I’m finding tough to release.

    I don’t think I could live in 80-150 sq ft without feeling that I’d have to deprive myself of things that have significant meaning to me.

  • Robert

    The hypocrisy of this film is the fact that while they purport to live the tiny life they did anything but live the tiny life. The project was funded by a kickstarter crowd funded contributions,they have never lived in the tiny home,so they don’t know the tiny life at all.They have since moved on to other film projects on different coasts. he in LA she in NYC. Admit that the tiny life was not their cup of tea. The people they interview should have been the subject of the film.
    Those of us that have built and really live in tiny houses walk the walk. This film was just a clever way to make some money filming a project with no other motive other than to move on to the next money making idea he could drum up.
    I have built and lived in a 136sq ft Tiny house for 5 years,when Smith can say the same then he might know something about that which he documents.

    • David Friedlander

      hey robert,
      i think you have some valid points here, which is why i downplayed the small living aspect of the story. the title, methinks, is a bit misleading. it should be “TINY: a story about building a house.” that said, the building story is a compelling one, even though it’s not really bolstered by real small space living experience. feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to share your experience on this site david at lifeedited dot com. sounds like you have a lot to share.
      best,
      david

    • Merete

      Hi Robert, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. You’re completely correct that neither Christopher or I currently live in the house. Christopher lived full-time in the house for about a year before he left to pursue a job in LA a few weeks ago. (In fact, it sounds like you’ve already read the blog that I wrote on our website detailing our intentions for the house from the beginning and what’s happened to us since we finished building. We’ve both been pretty forthcoming about our situation and have in no way meant to deceive anyone into thinking that our situation is different from what it is. There’s also a special feature on our DVD that shows my apartment in NYC, etc.)

      I think the “story about living small” was told by those we visited around the country who were living tiny full-time – while our story served to raise some of the deeper questions about home, sense of belonging, personal investment and place. For me, one of the most important points that the film makes is that “living small” isn’t a contest to see who can be most righteous or extreme. Minimalism is a concept and an approach that can be applied to many different types of lifestyles, with varying square footages and shapes, urban, rural, etc. Though we both live in apartments now in two different cities, the lessons that building the house and making this film taught us about home and quality of life are indelible and absolutely inform our daily lives. Thanks for sharing your opinions and your own experience living small.

  • http://www.comfortho.nl/ Marlon Jones

    I really have to check this movie out. Maybe a good idee to increase…

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  • michael

    This is a terrible film. It is an ode to the narcissism of educated white people who imagine that the world turns on their happiness and claims of moral superiority. Most people don’t have the option of building their own homes—tiny or not—without access to land and the time to do the labor (not to mention the cash). Nor are individual tiny homes a sustainable or scalable alternative. These are navel-gazing pseudo-rebels who imagine that they are cheating or subverting “the system” when in fact “the system” provides all the resources for their self-indulgence. Oh, and the film is dull as all get out.

    • weltanschauung

      I’m completely perplexed by your indignation and vitriol. Saw the film and didn’t perceive any moral superiority as an undercurrent of the narrative. I don’t have the money to customize or build a tiny space nor to purchase land to build upon, but I’m certainly not going to castigate two filmmakers who went on a journey to find out about the tiny house movement that seems to be gaining traction in the US. Your sanctimony smacks of personal issues totally unrelated to the subject of the film.

  • Robert

    Upon further review and the very kind,well thought out reply from Merete,I amend my comment. While they didn’t make a long term home out of their tiny house project,they have gained from the experience and it obviously changed their lives.
    I wish them well on their future endeavors.

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