Tiny houses make big impact

In a society where most are looking to upgrade to the biggest and the best, one native Iowan started a company devoted to downsizing—big time.

Jay Shafer, author of “The Small House Book” and owner of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, specializes in designing houses that can be as small as 100 square feet.

Shafer will speak at 5:30 p.m. on March 20, in the Johnson Room about his new book and the Tiny House movement.

Shafer, who has a master’s degree in art and an architecture degree, said he wanted to simplify things and free up his life.

“That’s exactly what I did,” Shafer said.

Shafer has lived in three tiny houses, one in Iowa and two he currently owns in California.

“Living in a very small space is easy,” Shafer said.  “The hard part is deciding what you need to be happy and getting rid of everything else.”

Shafer said he does not like houses that are too big or too small.

“I like a house that is just right,” he said.

Ania Spyra, a friend of Shafer and assistant professor of English at Butler University, said that living in a tiny house brings people closer to nature.

Getting rid of the clutter turns out to  be good for the soul.

“You think of what gives you the most pleasure,” Spyra said, “and you have just those things to fill up your life.”

Alison O’Malley, a professor of psychology, said she wants to change the idea that living in a sustainable manner requires a sacrifice of lifestyle.

“Your life can be enhanced by living more simply,” O’Malley said.

However, a simple life is not without its challenges.

Cohabitation is also a bit challenging, Shafer said.  The trick is to design a space where all of the square footage is used.  This is Shafer’s idea of a house that is just right.

The beauty of Shafer’s job is simple; he said he gets to build houses that meet people’s needs. If 100 square feet is not the best way to go, perhaps 500 would be better.

Anna January, a senior with an individualized major in art history and museum studies, said she is excited to hear Shafer speak.

“I’m moderately obsessed with the tiny houses,” January said.  “I just think they are so cute and funny and different.”

In addition to their charming facades, the houses do not produce much in the way of greenhouse gasses or pollution.  Not to mention, they are cost effective.

“It was less than $200 to heat my house [last year],” Shafer said.

Katie Arnt, a senior English literature major, said that the movement is interesting because it could inspire a lot of change for our world.

“It’s really impressive to see how comfortable you can be with so little stuff,” Arnt said.  “The idea that you can pick up and move with your home is really incredible.”

Shafer said he has learned a lot through designing homes that meet certain standards of form and function, but knowing what it takes to be happy is the biggest lesson he’s learned.

“You have to understand what you really need to be happy,” Shafer said.  “There is a lot of stuff you can do without.”