We shared a post the other day featuring a work van that had been converted into a tiny living space, complete with woodburning stove and tiny kitchen. We were amazed at all the great feedback the post was met with, and it got us thinking about why people have such a positive reaction to these little homes, and why turning off, tuning in and dropping out inspires such yearning in people from all walks of life.
As the world we live in becomes increasingly connected and commercialised, a counter-movement has grown up in response. The number of people who chose to live off-grid is increasing, and online and real-life communities of people making the shift, in ways both little and big, and growing in popularity.
In April 2014, even the huge investment bank Morgan Stanley reported that off-grid living was due to have its time in the sun, as the price of renewable energy equipment becomes increasingly affordable and the cost of on-grid energy continues to rise (although we doubt many of their employees will be jumping on the bandwagon just yet).
Nick Rosen, owner of the off-grid living website off-grid.net wrote in The Guardian in 2007 that the movement attracted a whole set of new followers after the financial crisis. The crunch left many people struggling to keep up rent and mortgage payments, questioning whether living this way was really the only option. Whereas pre-crash, most people living off the grid were doing so for mostly ideological reasons, as Britain tightened its collective belt the number of people opting out began to grow. Since then off-grid communities have seen their numbers swell every year, with the narrow-boat and urban canal community growing the fastest.
Rosen notes that the increasing move away from conventional energy and housing provides an answer for many of the problems we as a nation are faced with today: things like energy security, affordable housing, and rural regeneration. With big-name supermarkets in trouble every other week for some kind of corporate or ecological bad behaviour, perhaps the natural response is to begin to move away from dependence on big companies and organisations for essentials like food, shelter and warmth. With our increasing dependence on outsourcing commodities and all-pervasive technology, we’ve started to think small again, working back towards things we can make, create and touch with our hands.
The Tiny House Movement
Moving away from the grid creates a problem: where to live? Many have looked back to humanity’s nomadic roots, turning to tents and yurts for their homes. Others, like our recent post, have converted vans or static caravans, rigging up solar panels and installing wood- or multi-fuel burners for their warmth and cooking.
Another option is the Tiny House. A movement that’s already well-established in the States, it’s now gaining momentum over here in the UK, with tiny-house building companies springing up left and right and hundreds of individuals, families and small business turning to tiny houses for scaled-back off-grid living.
The form of the tiny house varies, and the term encompasses pretty much any sort of small dwelling that can exist outside of the grid. Some are literally miniature houses, with four walls, windows and a front door, and others are built using anything from old shipping containers to traditional gypsy wagons. There are tiny houses that float, tiny houses that blend into their setting, and tiny houses on wheels – in America one was even stolen!
Part of the appeal of these tiny homes seems to be the nomadic quality that speaks to a part of us that’s tired of working to pay huge rent on a place we’ll probably never own. Tiny houses mean that we’re no longer tied down to one place, and the reduced cost and effort of maintaining these little dwellings means that more time is left over for spending outside, with family or friends or just connecting with our surroundings.
It seems there’s something to living off-grid that we all aspire to, even if we’re not ready to give up our evening television and central heating quite yet. It’s not a club, and you don’t need a t-shirt to join; anyone can do the little things that take them a little bit closer to the dream. Start an allotment, or even just grow your own herbs in your garden. Shop local, go camping, and take time to enjoy the world around you even when you’re busy. In the meantime, we can enjoy a little escapism looking at the awesome ways people choose to live off-grid, their way.