Have you noticed the growing trend regarding tiny houses? In the past few years, I have noticed more and more TV programs devoted to the subject. There are more and more companies building and selling these homes. Websites are proliferating on the topic. As one of the TV programs states in its opening, “tiny houses are the next big thing”. But why?

Confession number one: I’ve been fascinated by the idea of tiny houses for at least 10 years. I can remember driving by one of those places that sells outdoor sheds and thinking to myself, “I wonder what it would be like to live in a house that size?”

This past year, my wife, mother-in-law and I attended a “tiny home jamboree” in Colorado Springs. They were overwhelmed by the number of attendees, having to expand their parking and set up shuttle buses to bring in the crowds. The picture accompanying this article is from our visit. This fair was so successful that they have already announced the second one coming up later this year.

Whenever I bring up the subject of tiny houses with a group of people, there is always one or more in the crowd who shares my fascination. But why are so many people interested? We will come back to that question in a moment.

Walden Pond

The first time I visited the Concord, Massachusetts area back in the 1980s, I felt compelled to visit Walden pond and seek out the Henry David Thoreau’s famous cabin. At the time, there was a facsimile of his small house near the parking lot. However, I made the trek partially around the pond to reach the site where his original home had been. I sat and meditated by the marker and a pile of rocks that visitors had been stacking for years. I added my stone to the collection.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” ― Henry David Thoreau

As a college student, I had purchased a copy of Walden and had been inspired by Thoreau. This feeling that there was more to life than simply chasing after accumulating the most wealth resonated with me. I too wanted to know that when it came time to die I would not discover that I had not lived. My compulsion to visit Walden pond was driven in some way by this belief.

Confession number two: I’ve never been able to read the book Walden all the way through. Random quotes that speak to me are underlined, but each time I tried to read it all the way through the archaic language causes my mind to wander. However, in the big picture I know it doesn’t matter. What resonates is the general theme of living simply, living deliberately.  There is something in that fact that is pointing me towards what is truly important.

Why Tiny Houses?

Ok, let’s go back to our opening question. I’ve pondered this cultural phenomenon of tiny houses for quite a while now, and here are some of the thoughts I have as to why this subject has become so popular:

“It’s the economy, stupid.” – It’s no coincidence that the rapid rise in interest in tiny houses was concurrent with the problems with our economy. Much interest in the topic has to be tied in some way to the rising number of people with limited finances. Tiny homes are less expensive. It’s an economical way to own your own home.

“My greatest skill in life has been to want but little” ― Henry David Thoreau

People are becoming more motivated by having experiences than possessions. – On the TV programs where people are downsizing, they frequently cite as one of their motivations being the desire to design a lifestyle where they spend more time traveling or being outside in nature than being tied down with many possessions and an expensive home.

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ― Henry David Thoreau

People want to reduce the “psychic cost” of excessive possessions. – Yes, there are many people in our culture who still believe that “the one who dies with the most stuff is the winner”. However, there is a growing number of people who have the mindset that if we’re not careful “our possessions can possess us.” A related trend is in the number of self-help books designed to eliminate clutter from our lives. I know from my own experience that it takes time and energy to maintain all the stuff I own – whenever I release clutter, I feel a sense of freedom, a personal “lightness”.

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Tiny houses foster creativity. – In order to maintain many of our modern conveniences in small spaces, builders have to ensure that many features of the house have to serve multiple purposes. Tables, desks and beds frequently fold out of the way. Little nooks and crannies become much-needed storage space. I, for one, and frequently amazed by human ingenuity in these houses. I think part of our fascination is tied to this creative expression.

“This world is but a canvas for our imagination.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Tiny houses tap something within us regarding our childhood innocence. – I’ve heard more than one person express the sense that tiny houses take us back to our childhoods which were filled with tree houses and dollhouses and the like. There is a sense of purity and playfulness about these small spaces.

“All good things are wild and free.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Tiny houses bring us to a greater appreciation for what we already own. – Many of us get caught up in chasing possessions. We want the latest technology, we want the newest toys, we want larger houses. This can lead to a sense of envy towards those who seem to have the “things” that we want. However, from my own personal experience, my exploration into tiny homes has led me to a greater appreciation for that which I already possess. I have come to look at my modest house in a new light. I realize how big it really is. I realize how much space it contains which sits unused. I realize how many possessions I own which I really don’t need. Tiny houses help me to see that I really don’t “need” more of anything.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Tiny houses speak of simplifying of our lives, which calls us towards what is most important in life. – Although many might not label it this way, we all are on a “spiritual journey” moving through life learning and growing. We are all trying to find our own way through this thing we call life, trying to make sense of it, trying to determine what’s really important. Along our path, we are called to let go of that which does not serve our growth. We release our continuous need to have “more and more”. We let go of our attachments to the outer world. Tiny houses represent a step in that direction.

“Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” ― Henry David Thoreau


Somewhere along the way in the evolution of our individual consciousness, we are called to release our attachments to physical possessions and to shift towards living a meaningful life – one where we hear our life purpose whispering in our ears and we begin to listen and to act accordingly. Thoreau’s message to “simplify” and the fascination with tiny houses are both guideposts to move us in the right direction.

What is your life whispering to you? What are you called to do in this life?

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ― Henry David Thoreau


Mark Gilbert


If you like Mark Gilbert’s writings, check out his books on Amazon!