Tiny Houses & The Culture of Stuff


June 12, 2014, Washington, DC: Home on a cloudy weekday morning: The dishwasher is humming. The dryer is broken. Miniature wet clothes hang off chairs, drape over the table, and dangle off the bicycle and stroller in this room now littered with baby products. In addition to the many joys that arrived with our newborn, she also came with a lot of stuff.

I left all that stuff at home earlier this month to take a quick tour of Boneyard Studios a tiny house community in the DC neighborhood of Stronghold that's showcasing the merits of living small with a lot less gear.

Boneyard Studios is a neighborhood within a neighborhood-- a cluster of three homes built on a previously empty alley lot adjacent to Greenwood Cemetery, just off North Capitol Street and east of McMillan Reservoir. Each home is less than 300 square feet, and together they comprise a model community for studying the benefits of teeny tiny city living.

"Everyone deserves not just a functional place to live, but someplace they can be proud of," said tiny house owner Brian Levy.

The owners of Boneyard Studios' tiny homes don't yet live in them full-time; the city's zoning code prohibits permanent residential structures on narrow alley lots. So for now these glamorous trailers on wheels remain workspaces and a model community for educating those who'd like a tour. In turn, the tiny homes also draw attention to the lengthy rewrite process underway to amend DC's zoning code. For years, there's been talk of changing the zoning code to allow for building more accessory dwelling units, known as "granny flats", behind people's homes to create more housing, but it's an idea that's been met with fear of making the city too dense and limiting space for parking.

And yet there were some 200 people who toured Boneyard Studios with me that morning alone who think tiny homes are a great idea. They showed up chatting about a dire need for more affordable housing in DC and a renewed interest in urban living. They conversed about our culture of overconsumption, the environmental benefits of homes that use less energy, and the appeal of downsizing to live with one's means on the heels of the nation's foreclosure crisis. And among the variety of reasons tiny houses are tempting, I even heard one woman remark that they appealed to the kid in her. They sparked good memories of living simply and playing with friends in the tree houses and forts of her youth.

Her comment left an impression. Because while tiny living might be most difficult of all with tiny children, it's also key to remember that the tree houses and forts far more important than any of that other stuff. The tiny houses of DC are a reminder that now is an optimal moment to streamline our stuff, that now is an opportunity to show our children that the simple beauty of the people and places around them matter more than any of it.

Connect with Boneyard Studios @tinyhousesdc on Twitter and @boneyardstudios on Instagram.


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