‘Tiny’ Focuses More on Life and Living than Space

Can you imagine building and living in a house with less than 200 square feet of space? In Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013), co-directors Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith tell the story of building their own tiny house. In the process, this documentary becomes a meditation on the meanings of home and life.

Tiny houses — ones with about 50-250 square feet of space — exist across the country and around the world. Snapshots throughout the documentary show singles to families of four occupying them. These houses usually rest on trailers due to building codes prohibiting houses smaller than 600 square feet.

Smith begins building his tiny house through purchasing a trailer. He intends to build it during the summer. Knowing nothing about construction, he uses information from blogs and online videos as guides.

Stories from other tiny house occupants are woven throughout the film. They share their reasons for building and living in one, such as lowering expenses, and reducing environmental impacts.

The idea of “home” is a key theme that ties these stories together. It seems like everyone in this film is a deep philosopher as each one shifts the idea of home away from a sense of place to senses of something more. Tiny house architect Jay Shafer says, “The world gets a lot bigger when you’re living small.” Smith says, “Home is hard to define because it’s not one thing. It’s a collection of details that all contribute to tell the story of who we are and where we belong.”

While Smith fails to finish the tiny house during the summer, he continues building and raising money throughout the following year. His family and Mueller pitch in, and they finish within the year. Smith then moves the tiny house to a plot of land he had purchased in Colorado.

Mueller and Smith take care not to present tiny houses as something for everyone, and they avoid representing this movement as an “extreme lifestyle.” Instead, the documentary focuses on bigger questions of what people value in life and how their living reflects those values.

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