As he neared his 30th birthday, Christopher Smith felt like he needed to put down roots. Rather than a dull piece of suburbia, though, he opted for 130 square feet in the Colorado mountains.
Smith's quest to build a so-called "tiny home" is the subject of a new documentary, called Tiny, co-directed with his partner Merete Mueller. It follows Smith—who had no previous home-building experience—as he struggles to raise a structure, and includes interviews with several figures from the growing small house movement.
Since the 1950s, the size of the average American home has more than doubled. But more recently, smaller homes have come into fashion. There are now thousands of people all the over the country who've decided to live as tiny as they can, usually either for sustainability or lifestyle reasons.
"People who stay in tiny homes full time say it makes them get out to their communities, into the neighborhood, and into nature," Mueller says.
Initially, Smith wanted a classic wood cabin, but had to make some changes when he found out their were laws restricting how small homes could be. His home is on wheels, meaning technically it is a temporary structure and not subject to code. Otherwise, it is fairly typical—albeit hyper-small, with solar panels, composting toilet, and no running water.
Mueller says living small doesn't have to mean going to the extreme of a shoebox with no amenities. Most movement people are happy with simply downshifting their expectations a little.
"The tiny house, like the 120-square-foot house on wheels, is an interesting example that's garnered a lot of mainstream attention. But most people aren't going to downsize to such an extent," she says. "It's more about thinking about what size is right for your lifestyle, and asking how these tiny homes applies to your life, and what you can learn from them."