It's a mistake to imagine that the gathering popularity of the "tiny house movement" over the past several years is some sort of sign of an actual mass trend. That would be akin to imagining that the gathering popularity of tiny hedgehog videos is a sign that hedgehogs are set to overtake cats and dogs as popular pets. The tiny house craze is best understood as a reaction against what is the actual trend in American housing: bigger houses, as big as possible, a parade towards gigantism slowed down only by the periodic economic crisis and rising energy bills. Sure, the grossest manifestations of McMansions may have lost popularity when the faltering economy made their wastefulness untenable. But you had better believe that, now that the stock market is booming again and disposable income is on the rise, Americans will once again rush to extend themselves in search of more—not less—enclosed and air conditioned space.
Even with the micro-trend, the number of tiny houses in the U.S. is, well, tiny — just in the thousands per unofficial industry surveys. Their popularity is growing, however, as the U.S. homeownership rate has fallen to 64.8 percent, the lowest in almost 20 years, and the median size of new single-family houses is the biggest ever — 2,384 square feet in 2013, a 3.4 percent increase from 2012.
Historically, residences under 500 square feet weren't considered "tiny." In 1950, houses averaged 983 square feet, according to data from the National Association of Home Builders. The first units in the iconic early American suburb of Levittown, New York, were 750 square feet.
When your grandparents were buying their first house, a "tiny house" today would have looked like just a cozy starter home. Since then, our nation's prosperity has been funneled directly into bigger kitchens, bigger living rooms, bigger "man caves," more bedrooms, and much, much bigger garages, for the Hummers.
Tiny houses are not a new direction for American home building. Tiny houses are a grasp at nostalgia—a natural reaction of the human soul rebelling against the condition of being trapped at all times in prefabricated cavernous air conditioned drywall. I have no doubt that tiny houses will grow more and more popular, given that they are a rounding error in the market as a whole. And I also have no doubt that, as long as they can afford it, Americans will continue to build themselves bigger and more luxurious homes. Indeed, the popularity of tiny houses will grow in tandem with the size of the average house. The more we plunge ourselves into debt in order to buy unnecessary personal space, the more our better angels will yearn for something representing only the bare necessities.
In a nation where progress equals material prosperity, tininess (unless it is laced with opulent luxury) is not a quality to be embraced. It is a quality to be cooed over before deciding on which new countertop to install in the kitchen island.