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Have you heard about this? Appropriating the poor is apparently a trendy thing now. And tiny house living is public enemy number one.
I’ve heard of appropriating the wealthy. I think we all know someone or “someones” who have appropriated the wealthy by purchasing expensive things that they really have no business buying. But appropriating the poor is a new one to me.
When I was in college, circa 2000, I worked in customer service for Lowe’s (not a bad gig—they paid better than minimum wage and I scored [my dad] a 10% employee discount). One of the head cashiers was an individual that I knew from high school. I had overheard breakroom talk about what a nice car this guy had and their questioning how he could afford to own something so pricey. While chatting with him at one point, he mentioned that his parents had given him a large chunk of money and the choice to use it towards college or a vehicle. Now, I know a college degree isn’t always a wise investment and doesn’t guarantee much for your future, but one would think it’s a far better choice than investing in something that is almost always guaranteed to lose value. But yeah, you guessed it, he chose the car. And not just any car; he chose a Porsche 911. Granted it was used, but still far more expensive than anything I’d ever known anyone to own and certainly not a wise investment. But when you have parents who are ignorant enough to give a twenty-something the choice between college and a flashy car, well, stupid is as stupid does. I’d love to know where he and that car are at today!
But I digress, we’re now talking about appropriating the poor as described in a recent blog post by July Westhale entitled, The Troubling Trendiness of Poverty Appropriation. She asserts that the recent trend of “tiny house living” is akin to taking trailer park living from the poor. If you have the money to afford more, but choose not to, you are guilty according to Ms. Westhale. Whaaaaat?!
Tiny house living has been around since the nineties, but has been made more popular by a lack of available housing in certain markets as well as HGTV shows bearing the same name. These houses are oftentimes built from kits or freight shipping containers, with some type of loft bedroom(s), a single bathroom and a combined living and kitchen space. Some of them have wheels, allowing the owners to move their home throughout the country instead of tying them down to one place.
Commercials for the HGTV show feature couples exclaiming their desire to “redefine the American dream.” Instead of saving up (or overextending their budgets) and purchasing the largest home they can afford, and working to “keep up with the Joneses,” they’d like to spend their money on travel and experiencing all that a culture has to offer. Simply put, more memories, less stuff.
In a time when we’re becoming more disconnected as technology advances, it seems an almost noble pursuit to scale back and focus on what’s really important. Did Ms. Westhale live through the real estate bubble burst of 2008? It would be safe to presume so since she’s now blogging in 2017. Though I doubt she’s advocating for reverting back to a time of accepting as much credit as you can possibly get a hold of in order to purchase a home, nor is it wise to denigrate those who wish to live below their means.
She seems to have missed the point of the “tiny house living movement,” choosing to focus on the words of Andrew Martin, a writer for the Collective Evolution, that she quoted in her article. His statement that “living light gives people space to define their worlds and gain more control over how they live life, ultimately leading to greater happiness and satisfaction,” rubs her the wrong way. She doesn’t equate downsizing and owning less furniture with a return to the simple life as her formative years were spent in a trailer park with considerably less resources than others. Nothing about her life was simple, she asserts.
While I sympathize with the difficulties she likely faced growing up poor, I can’t see what it has to do with those people who may have the means to afford a traditional house, but choose a tiny one instead. And what of those means and that pesky word, afford? If you can afford a mortgage payment, but choose to buy a tiny home outright, are you really appropriating the poor? According to the tinylife.com, 68% of tiny house owners, have no mortgage compared to only 29% of all American homeowners. 55% have more in savings than the average American as well. Tiny house living gives people the freedom to work less, travel more, save more, contribute more to charity or volunteer more. How is any of that a perceived slight to the poor? If anything, it gives these homeowners the opportunity to give back to the poor, should they choose to.
And have you seen some of these tiny houses? While they average $20,000 to $40,000, some of them can cost as much as a traditional house. I purchased my first home with my husband in the Pittsburgh area and there were many decent, 3-bedroom homes available around the $75,000 mark—and that was in 2006 during the housing bubble. Some of these tiny houses are pricier than that. And even the ones that aren’t, may still cost as much or even more per square foot. Just check out tinylistings.com. Go on, I’ll wait. There’s currently a 2-bedroom, 340 square foot tiny home listed for $67,988. That’s $.04 shy of $200 per square foot! For reference sake, the cookie-cutter house in middle-class suburbia that I currently reside in cost us $107 per square foot. If you’re paying $200 per square foot of living space, are you really appropriating the poor?
While I understand her frustration that some people have the choice to live in these tiny homes when she clearly didn’t, they shouldn’t be admonished for doing so. We know money doesn’t guarantee happiness. Does it make life a little easier? Certainly, and that’s why these folks are choosing this path.
Just as money doesn’t guarantee happiness, the lack thereof doesn’t guarantee unhappiness either. How many people do you know, or how many times have you read someone share, that they didn’t realize they had grown up poor until they were much older? I don’t want to minimize her situation. Surely if she was wondering when or where her next meal was coming from, that would have a profound effect on her perspective of money and happiness. Having the background of a therapist though, I do think she’s projecting onto a group of people who are just trying their best to step back from society’s idea of success and happiness.
Lord knows we don’t need any more people living paycheck to paycheck just so they can drive around in a luxury vehicle or live in an unfurnished McMansion. Though I doubt you’ll ever see this Ms. Westhale, here’s my advice. Let’s leave the tiny house dwellers to their business and put your focus where it belongs—actually using your platform to help the poor instead of belittling those who are doing their best to never become poor.
What’s your opinion on this trend? Does choosing a tiny house equate to appropriation? Would love your input in the comments!