Thursday, August 7, 2014

Big Insights from Living Small: A Reflection on the Film "Tiny"

Tonight I took advantage of some free time to watch a documentary called "Tiny." The film follows a 30 year old on his quest to build a tiny house under 200 square feet and profiles several people (including couples and a family) who have built and moved into similar-sized homes. (If you're interested, it's currently streaming on Netflix.)

I've mentioned before that I'm interested in the concept of design and I've been fascinated with the way design intersects with architecture and living spaces in particular to create spaces that can be simple, beautiful and functional. Therefore, I tossed this movie into my Netflix queue as soon as I discovered it. (Have I mentioned that I also love documentaries?)

As I was watching the documentary, however, I was surprised by the comments made by the people who had moved into tiny homes. Time and again, they made comments about how happy they were living in a small space. One man talked about the freedom it gave him because he didn't need to spend so much time and money cleaning and doing maintenance on his house. Others talked about how the small space focused them into deciding what was really important for them. (Some had moved into tiny homes after the Great Recession led them to lose much of what they had or reevaluate what they wanted from life.)

And then one woman in Olympia, Washington, made a comment that really brought out the spiritual theme that was running (unintentionally?) through the whole movie when she said that our culture doesn't give us many opportunities to practice humility and gratitude, but building a tiny house from scratch did. She had to learn to ask for help in building and to live with less, which made her more aware of what she did have.

Humility? Gratitude? Freedom? Is this a documentary on architecture or spirituality?

Our culture is built largely upon consumption and collection. The more we own/possess/control, the more successful and enviable we are perceived to be. Many of us shake our heads at this fact, but we all participate in it in some way.

Watching the movie made me think back to my first tiny apartment and how I thought if I just had a second bedroom I'd be happy. My second apartment had two bedrooms and I wished I had a dishwasher. My third apartment had a dishwasher and I wished it had a laundry room. And so on.

I like to believe that I live fairly simply, but I was amazed at the joy and satisfaction demonstrated by these people who had given up much of what my younger self thought would make my life perfect precisely because they'd given them up.

As I watched "Tiny," I couldn't help but think of a quote attributed to St. Augustine: "From what you own, set aside what you need to survive. The rest belongs to God." As I watched these people happily live in 200 square feet, it made me question exactly what it is I "need to survive." I can sit in my living room and see more things than I'd like to admit that I don't use, need, or even want any more. And if humility, gratitude, and joy (as expressed by these tiny home owners) are indeed spiritual fruits, then does having less space to live paradoxically make more space for God?

“If I die before I learn to speak, can money pay for all the days I lived awake but half asleep?” -Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand”

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