Reviewed by: Julie Bélanger
Categories: Housing - DIY - Culture - Consumerism

TINY \ Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith
Teaser Trailer

The postwar consumer boom caused a swell in both the number and size of houses, leading to mass-produced homes and the advent of suburbia. The average size of Canadian homes immediately post-war was less than 1,000 square feet; by the mid-2000s it had grown to a peak of 2,300 feet square. Now the era of the ever-expanding McMansion appears to be coming to a close. By 2007 the construction of huge homes had slowed and the average size started to drop. This downsizing trend is continuing in the wake of the global financial crisis. Facing a fickle economy and dwindling natural resources, many people are adopting a more frugal lifestyle, some in tiny houses. 

As Christopher Smith approached his 30th birthday, he felt it was time to plant some roots. On impulse, he decided to join the tiny house movement and build his own from scratch on a small piece of land in the mountains of Colorado. Without any prior building experience, Smith used blogs, YouTube videos and the knowledge of hardware store staff to guide construction. He scraped together about $26,000 to create a 133-foot-square home atop a flatbed trailer. He also undertook the making of his first short video about the experience with his girlfriend, Merete Mueller. The tiny house proved to be a much larger project than he expected and documenting it grew into a full-length feature film. 

TINY shows how many Americans are living more simply in their smaller homes, which typically range from 50 to 300 feet square. Homeowners explain how their choice has brought them more time, energy and money, and much less clutter – both physically and mentally. Like Smith, many see living in a tiny house as a “way of interrupting the consumerism cycle” and using fewer resources. Through interviews and their own experiences, Smith and Mueller also explore the spiritual underpinnings of our sense of place and belonging. “I wanted to be larger than the small person I needed to be in my big house,” explains Dee Williams, sitting comfortably inside her 84-foot-square home. 

Like Smith’s building project, the documentary is loaded with experimentation. The visual quality is strong throughout. The tiny homes (all adorable in an elfish way) and their occupants are so inspiring that TINY would have benefited from more building and design how-to details to better equip viewers to take the plunge and downsize in a big way. Most importantly, the film rouses viewers to rethink the idea of home and to build a life of greater meaning, and offers evidence that everyday people can find satisfaction with less and leave the dream of a white picket fence behind. 

TINY, directed by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith, USA: Speak Thunder Films, 2013, 62 minutes. 

Reviewer Information

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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