“Who Knew That Tiny Living Could Make Such a Huge Difference?”

This is a guest article written by Felice Cohen and first appeared in our collaborative e-book “The Future of Property,” which features 17 thought leadership articles covering PropTech, property investment and housing. You can download your free copy here.

Felice Cohen is the author of What Papa Told Me, a memoir about her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or More), based on the YouTube video of her 90-sq-ft NYC studio. Felice has been a professional organizer for over 20 years.

“Who knew that tiny living could make such a huge difference?”

In 2007, when I moved into a 90-square-foot New York City studio apartment, there were no TV shows about living in tiny homes or tiny house festivals because “living tiny” wasn’t a thing. Fast-forward ten years. Now, living tiny is huge. But why?

Because people are discovering that what you get in return for giving up square footage is priceless. I should know. I lived for five years in a space the size of a Honda Accord. I moved into that studio because the low rent allowed me to quit my demanding job and finish writing my first book, What Papa Told Me, a memoir about my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. My plan was to stay one year, then get another job and a larger apartment. But something happened during that year. My life got better. My stress went down and my happiness (along with my savings) went up. So I agreed to a second (and a third, and a fourth and a fifth) year. I didn’t want to give up my new lifestyle. I was still working hard—writing and organizing people’s homes—but it was on my own time schedule.

When my newspaper editor at the time found out I lived in a small space and was a professional organizer, he asked me to write an article giving tips on how to live in a small space. At the time, my take was on how to make a small space feel bigger. Soon after, a videographer who made videos of tiny homes around the world interviewed me. Neither of us imagined the video going viral on YouTube, but it did. Strangers from around the world contacted me, wanting my advice on organizing and decluttering, as well as praising my philosophy about living large in a small space. My philosophy on living large? I didn’t realize I had one.

“In the last decade, the tiny house market has exploded around the world and is only gaining traction as people recognize the benefits of living with less square footage.”

Unbeknownst to me, those five years were a sort of unintentional housing experiment. I had moved in for one reason, and stayed for another. Despite not having a kitchen, a couch to lounge on, or a bed in which I could sit up in, what I had instead was so much better. I had time. Time to do what I loved like writing, organizing apartments, riding my bike, practicing yoga, traveling, going to Broadway shows, and more. Much more. By living smaller my life had gotten larger.

But I am not the only one to realize the benefits of tiny living. In the last decade, the tiny house market has exploded around the world and is only gaining traction as people recognize the benefits of living with less square footage.

“No matter the reason, almost everyone has come to learn that living tiny doesn’t mean living with less.”

Traveling around the country to tiny house festivals, I love speaking with my fellow tiny dwellers, all of us espousing how living with less has given us so much more in other ways, mainly, more experiences. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people interested in joining this community, all with their own reasons for living tiny. Some seek to cut back expenses, to save money and eventually buy a bigger home. Some are looking to reduce stress or leave a smaller carbon footprint. There are those pursuing an alternative to living in their college dorms and those preparing to retire and want to travel. And of course, for some, it’s not their choice to downsize, but maybe they lost their job or had to take care of a sick relative. No matter the reason, almost everyone has come to learn that living tiny doesn’t mean living with less.

Of course, many who attend tiny house festivals or watch TV shows about tiny homes have no intention of ever living in a Lilliputian size space, they’re just curious about how people live in those minute sized homes. Along with the curiosity seekers, are those with harsh opinions about tiny spaces, several of who voiced those opinions in the comment section of my YouTube video. More than one person thought I was nuts to live in that small space, saying that for the same rent I could live in a huge home elsewhere. Well, there’s nothing wrong with “elsewhere,” but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to experience living in Manhattan and all it had to offer. Still, I was taken aback by their vitriol. Not once in the video did I encourage others to live tiny. All I did was tout the benefits I received by living in a small space.

So where is the anger coming from? Maybe fear. We have been brought up on the notion of the “American Dream,” that we should strive to live in a large home filled with stuff. But as many know, if you’re not careful, that dream can turn into a nightmare pretty quickly. Maybe one month the car needs brakes, the kids need new sneakers, and the dog gets sick. And the mortgage on your large home is still due. This means having to work longer hours or getting a second job, which translates into less time enjoying that big house filled with those expensive electronics, toys, clothes, books and more. You get the picture?

Maybe the American Dream needs an update. Maybe the dream should focus on enjoying life’s experiences, rather than life’s stuff. People who have embraced living tiny have come to understand and appreciate that we only get one go around in this world, so why spend it stressed about paying for space we don’t need and, in many cases, even want? You may think living tiny means living with less, but in all actuality, living tiny means living with more. More experiences, more happiness, more enjoyment. How many people living in McMansions can say that?

“Cities are beginning to look to tiny houses as a solution, which can be a win-win for everyone.”

As people continue to embrace the idea of living in smaller spaces, the one issue standing in the way is where to put these homes. Many communities have a housing shortage, not to mention homelessness. There may be homes for sale, but they’re too large and too expensive. Cities are beginning to look to tiny houses as a solution, which can be a win-win for everyone. Instead of one large plot of land for one large home, why not several tiny homes in the same plot, which in turn could create a neighborhood. When people can afford to live in their own home, everyone—homeowners and communities—benefit.

Who knew that tiny living could make such a huge difference?

- Written by Felice Cohen


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