Alternative Housing: Lessons From The New Nomad Culture

moving house snail

Too much thinking-big by big cities has builders of small homes thinking outside the box.

Many cities and towns across the continent have a “minimum” on how small a permanent home can be, to the tune of 500-plus square-feet. To get around this, people seeking tiny lifestyle footprint are building their homes on flatbeds with wheels. Why? Then it’s a “temporary structure” and it can pretty much go anyplace an RV can.

Trouble is, they’ll often still be met with stay-duration limits and other issues that would plague anyone in an RV.

Shackles of mortgaged life

“Tiny” homes run in the 200-square-feet range, and it’s as minimalist as things can get. When one talks to tiny-home advocates, they cite things like living more simply, throwing off the shackles of the mortgaged life, living more/cleaning less, rather than just existing in the confines of the modern norms.

Today, homes are skyrocketing in price both to buy and to maintain. Job markets are forever shifting. Putting your financial life on the line for a home you may not be able to have in five years, let alone in 20, due to today’s impermanent job culture — that’s a risky venture in some markets. On the other hand, a more movable life makes sense in today’s imperfect economy.


All these factors, and a growing eco-consciousness, mean tiny homes are proving not to be a fad. They’ve become a cultural movement on every scale, and with very good reason. Today’s minimalism craze and simplifying ethos are overlapping with the surge in tiny homes. As a result, some communities realize there’s a place for all this smallness in our big, fast world.

USA Today just ran a great story about Spur, Texas, a town opening the doors to a tiny home settlement. The town council rubber-stamped approval on structures under 500 square feet being the “primary” building on a property, and the Tiny Homes are rolling in.

A social need

Affordable housing isn’t just a crisis, it’s a growing crisis. These antiquated laws on home size are just holding us back. It makes you wonder why there’d be a law as to the minimum size of a home in the first place. If it was to once protect the little guy, well, that time is past and it’s now hurting the little guy. Modern technology and designing smarts have ended the delusion that a human needs 500 square feet to survive.

For now, the new nomad is the modern pioneer showing us how we can live with less and actually have more.

As someone who loves my 800 square feet, I’m not sure I’m ready for the less-is-more life, but the appeal of less to clean, less to maintain, less to repair, and more flexibility for location is all growing on me. This year, I’m actively reducing what I own month by month, because my next chapter involves being a global nomad, and storage will cripple me if my footprint stays this large.

I’m using the opportunity to be inspired by people who make mindful lifestyle choices. What are some lessons I’m opting to learn?

Lesson one: buy less but buy smarter

Instead of just buying things, only buy high-quality items that will last a long time, have a simple and timeless style, and do what it needs to do without fail. It’s like the person who goes on a diet but doesn’t eliminate treats, instead they allow themselves the finest chocolate or pastries in a reasonable amount, and enjoy that indulgence guilt-free.

This doesn’t mean not having/buying things you want, it instead means ensuring it’s something you’ll cherish enough that you won’t mind foregoing all else.

A good example would be that I’m a hobby chef and I need new cooking knives soon. Instead of buying a whole set, I’ll be buying one expensive, well-made, well-balanced chef’s knife that can handle nearly all jobs. In so doing, I’ll regain a 6″x10″ square of counterspace. When you’ve got a total of 4 feet of working countertop, that’s a big deal.

Lesson two: what you need versus what you have

As someone who never has more than 5 people in my home, I need six glasses. The problem is, I have about 40, not including wine glasses. And my house isn’t “cluttered.” I have a very clutter-free home compared to most people, and even I have way more dishes than I’ll possibly ever need. That’s why it’s on the “purge” list.

All those extra glasses are getting tossed. Let the thrift stores have their day.

You want all your books, but they’re not needed. These will be the most emotional choices I make when I pack my life up next year before a few years of travelling. If you’re a “book” person, it’s a big connection. And with books becoming more and more rare, it’s an understandable thing to be torn about, so don’t beat yourself up about books, but get more serious about other things if that’s a compromise you need to make.

Lesson three: smaller footprint means bigger world

I have huge pieces of furniture and I can tell you it holds me back. There are limited apartments I can rent. I need a bigger floorplan. Therefore I have more space to clean, more rent to pay, and it makes me less likely to want to move, which means I’m more regimented, even stuck in the life I lead. Is that really worth it for my giant armoire I’m holding onto for emotional reasons?

With fewer things, less to move, more adaptable furnishings, there is a trade-off. It’s called “Freedom.” Moving is no longer some horrifying reckoning of space and time. You’re less likely to feel tied to your city or held back by choice-making. There’s less fear, less apprehension.

I once went from thinking about living in the Yukon to doing it, all within a span of three weeks. Today, it would take me months to figure out the logistics. As much as I love the large pieces around me, they’re almost like deadweight holding me underwater, and that too will change.

It’s a matter of values and/or choice

Maybe the big old world isn’t a priority for you. Maybe you love your corner of it filled with beautiful furnishings and everything you’ve come through life earning. That’s wonderful, if so. I’m in no rush to dictate a whole world of small places. Instead, I think the freedom needs to be there for us to build and live as we see fit. We’re no longer in an era where we can justify a 500- or 600-square-foot size minimum.

For some, though, something might be missing. Maybe home feels more like a burden than a place to relax in. If you’re feeling weighed down by the world around you, there’s a way out. It’s the Less-is-More revolution and it costs nearly nothing to join.

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