Jessie Wright wants the American dream. She just wants it smaller.
Wright is building a new house for her family -- a place of their own, a true home, she says -- but this isn't your typical house. Wright, her boyfriend and their baby August will move into a "micro house," 190 square feet of space built onto a 25-foot trailer.
"All the principles of happiness are broken into only having the amount of stuff you can handle," Wright tells Daily RFT. She's updating followers on her tiny house adventure on her blog, This Tiny House Family. "I've gotten used to having fewer things. Our kitchen is down to 100 most useful objects."
Building a tiny house is the best way Wright can think of to own her home without giving in to the dark side of the American dream -- the mortgage. The average tiny house costs $20,000, she says.
"Being trapped in a mortgage just isn't appealing to me," says Wright, who has saved $1,000 and fundraised about $500 towards her tiny house dream. "It just doesn't make sense to live above your means."
Wright is not alone in looking to downsize her home life. The tiny house movement has become a legit ecological and economic cause nationwide, attracting people who want to have smaller carbon footprints, spend more time outdoors or live in a home that's not tied to just one place. There's even a dating website for tiny housers.
"People want to step away from their debt, not just a mortgage and utility bills, but the debt of owning so much stuff," says Dee Williams, a Kansas City native and the author of The Big Tiny, her memoir about building an 84-square-foot home from scratch. Williams will share her story at Left Bank Books downtown Thursday night.
"That dream of homeownership is still very real. It's just that there are a lot of people who are turning it on its ear by going super small," she tells Daily RFT.
A tiny house is typically smaller than 1,000 square feet, Williams says. "That's based on the fact that the national average-sized house is about 2,200 square feet, so if you're going tiny, you're cutting that number in half."
Wright's 190-square-foot house is so small it that it technically qualities as a "micro" house, Williams says.
"It's only since the 1960s that our house sizes have grown so significantly," Williams says. "All of a sudden, culturally, the middle class has moved away from living together to everyone having their own room. Everyone has their own sink in a lot of houses."
For Wright, a tiny house means portability and flexibility. Once she can afford it, Wright wants to be on the road, living in something that's part RV and part house.
"I don't like being tied down to a specific rotation," Wright says. "I don't have to do winter. I'm going to strengthen mine to be hurricane proof."
At first glance, Wright seems to be cutting down on her living space by moving into a micro house. But she doesn't see it that way. As she takes care of her young boy full-time, she hopes their living space will spill over into the great outdoors.
"My favorite part is that you don't exist as much indoors" in a tiny house, Wright says. Sure, she'll need to be inside to cook, bathe and sleep, but "you spend the rest of your times outdoors as much as possible."
At the end of the day, tiny house owners shrink their living spaces to find a different kind of freedom, Williams says.
"Ultimately, I think home is really ephemeral," Williams says. "It's a feeling when you walk through the door. It's less about whatever structure it is and more about whom you are hanging out with."
Dee Williams will discuss her book, The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir, at 7 p.m. today at Left Bank Books' downtown location. Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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