Tiny Britain; taking a look at living in smaller spaces

Intro.

The topic of this post is partly prompted by the seemingly unstoppable program of house building currently being driven by the government, in order to address the housing shortage. In my local community once green and lovely fields are being ripped up to make way for identikit mass produced and unadventurous homes squeezed into the smallest of spaces to maximise the profit for the property developers. In one case three thousand home added to a village of a population of 640. What if land was allowed to be built on by a more forward thinking system, devised to maximise the space allowed to humans living in that space. I am no architect or town planner but do feel that looking at more flexible and adaptable housing would benefit the communities they are sited in. Many of us don’t choose, many of use do choose, many of us haven’t thought about living small it isn’t for everyone. Enough of the preaching and down to the meat of this post which is the investigation of different forms of smaller living that I am considering. Having owned my own house in the past but was always followed the given path I never realised that there was any alternative to the set plan of what society wanted my to live in. I always wished that I could have adapted it to my needs without having to go through a draconian system of compliance to even have a chance of building a dream. I realise that there is a very long way to go in these lands to be able to live a smaller life on ones own property or for that matter any property.

My interest in alternative forms of smaller living was really sparked off by Grand Designs a long running show, really not about living a smaller life with less in fact living very much with more whether that be space or luxury furnishings. But amongst all that builders bling and fantastic features a number of things stood out. This was mainly the use of materials to define space. I always thought the the programs high brow tone fed into the aspirational nature of the individual builds. Obviously the projects were not about building on the cheap (that came later) and however much the owner/builders said they thought it was worth it in the long run I always felt that this was really vanityware. That’s not to say that it wasn’t informative or fun watching these programs because I built up a palette of ideas that long predated my knowledge of pinterest. But I kept on thinking if there was only a way to build smaller and more intentionally. Along came a plethora of ideas around the same time that lodged in my mind. The introduction of cob house building by a brother, the finding of Kirsten Dirksen’s Youtube channel and Macy Miller’s Tiny Home blog and many other internet related mines of information. But the seed had been sown.

After selling my property I knew the only way that I was going to be able to “build” this dream was to own the land it stood on, and this is where most people grind to a halt including myself. Not only is it the cost of acquiring suitable land that has not already been carved out by big or in fact any property development company, but then the marathon breaking system that is the planning permission laws. So unless you have pots of money and or bags of time the process is set to grind you down into submission. There are plenty of tales from self-builders in the trials and tribulations on the road to completion so of which I avidly followed. Then as the realisation dawned that it was unlikely to be a goer my attention turn to other forms of smaller housing. The following text kind of chronicles my journey of discovery into the world of living smaller and the viability to my future life.

Tiny Houses

As I said earlier this whole tiny house trip started out with stumbling across a number of Youtubers and went on a viewing rampage. I followed suggested content and built up a good picture of tiny homes and there purpose. However there was one problem to all this and that was that all the stories of the tiny houses and there builders I was watching were mainly in the USA and Canada. Funnily enough at that same time there appeared an article on the BBC about living small in UK and I thought ah haaa the wave is arriving on our shores. However once again the enthusiasm was dampened by the draconian property planning laws. We live in a very restrictive society in terms of where and how you can live and although a lot of it is to protect this green a sceptred isle it is also preventing more affordable and sustainable housing. But the fact there was/is a tiny house builder out there gave a glimmer of hope that this also might be a possibility for my future housing needs.

There are so many different takes on this idea and that’s what I love about them. There is a limit to the space allowed but seeing the ingenuity of the designer/builder always amazed and inspired me. The movement started off in the US but has now stretched far and wide, across continents and even to our dear old island. But the acceptance is still being fought for all over the globe as it is seen as maybe a threat to the status quo and the idea that you can build or have built a home that will not in debt you to the banking system for decades is appealing to many, just not mainstream society and the money men. I looked over many plans and noodled ideas via Sketchup and even did some rough costings on my creations. Ultimately though it all boiled down to the legality of this idea and once again I came up feeling it was a non starter for the moment.

If you search google for Tiny House Living in the UK you get a very paltry search index, with the majority of links being some years hence and this to me points out that there are very few tiny house builders, not surprising really when you look at the ethos of home building. Self build even with years of build and renovation programs on the T.V.  is still a very niche market. There are sensationalistic articles from a number of the daily papers expounding the virtues of living a smaller life but none go more that surface deep and as such the tiny house movement here in UK is unlikely to take off until the politicians and planning departments get behind it.

I have still kept my eye enviously on the progress of tiny house acceptance in the US and Canada and love seeing homes pop-up, zoning areas commissioned and the possibilities of legal frameworks for the acceptance for these tiny space creations. If only I had been born under a different flag.. However I don’t stop thinking and dreaming about the possibility.

Narrowboats

Having some years ago visited some friends in Wales I was introduced to the Llangollen Canal. Not living near too many canals growing up as I thought meant I didn’t really come into contact with the cut and its wonders. Walking along the short stretch that we did hooked me. Just the sheer ingenuity of the engineering and the meaning path through the countryside was enough to waken a desire to learn and see more. Chats followed about canal life and the mechanics of it as my friends are quite knowledgable. But on the other side of the fence (mainly family) voices were saying ’stay away’, abandon hope’ and “it’s a money pit”. Now I am not foolish enough to believe that it is all a bed of roses and with any vehicle you pretty much are chucking money into the wind. However there are now many resources online discussing, advising and quantifying that you can get a much better idea of the cost of owning this portal to the idyllic dream that is cruising along the cut.

However following the small living thread looking at some of the smaller boats some in quotes bargains are to be found. One of the main things I have found is word of mouth is far more important than any electronic advise. But this is a topic all of its own and depending as to whether I ever get that far down that road will wait to be seen.

Obviously size is important in this case as the cross dimension is very constricted due to some arms of the networks locks getting down to severn feet, so maximum width or beam of modern boats are 6’10” approx. If I was ever to buy a boat I would be looking at around a 30-footer, so compact, yes! But it would certainly be a challenge to adapt to such a small space. There has been an upsurge in liveaboards and narrow-boating in general and it is for many a way of life that doesn’t conform and isn’t constrained or just purely because traditional home owning is not possible due to cost. Again ample coverage of peoples journeys from land to water and back are out there in internet land. It is some thing I am seriously considering but have still a lot of unanswered questions. As a side note starting to volunteer on the cut has already given me much invaluable experience and advice that is priceless not to mention getting to chat to lots of different people about their boats and their travels. I hope to bring more on this in the future.

Caravanning

Caravanning was always frowned on in our family when I was young and I’m really not sure why. Maybe it was something to do with clogging up roads but we did spend a week in one when I was about twelve. I remember it being fun and very different to any other holiday we had, though we didn’t get away very often. Fast forward that to now and a reigniting of that fun factor at Filey Brigg all those years ago I took a trip to the NEC caravanning show to take a peek at the current state of play. Wow have things moved on from those creaking plywood drab colours and draughty nights. One can spend the equivalent of a very small cheap house on the luxury end and the level of decor is light years from my memories. I went to look at the current crop of smaller vans and some . Very luckily I past my driving licence test in a time when I am able to drive things over 3500Kg. However the goal is not to go bigger or go home it is more to be compact and bijou. BBC4 did an excellent program, unfortunately unavailable now, but came again at a time that just fitted in and led me down another rabbit hole.

Yet again Youtube offered up a mass of viewing experience from all sorts of different perspectives. From travel vlogs, practical advice and equipment reviews you can just about find any thing you want. But for me it is the idea that you have a separate space that can be left in different locations venturing away from it with more mobile transport. There are a number of outdoor and sporty vans that appeal as they allow for motorbike or scooter to be stored in it as well as having a basic level of comfort. I like the idea of having backups 🙂

Motorhomming

This is probably the least understood form of small living transport to me, not just for the cost of the motorhomes as they are twice the cost of a caravan but also the ease of use of one. Now I know they come in many sizes and obviously one doesn’t have to get the biggest but even the more compact ones are still on the large size but this maybe more my perception. Also it’s like having an all-in-one computer once one bit breaks your sunk on the whole thing. Yes I realise you could tow a smart car or mount a moped on the back but to me you are still stuck with one option. I have very limited experience of motor-homing again at a much younger age so really shouldn’t be pontificating on something I know nothing about. Weighing up the benefits of a motorhome over other forms of mobile homes is hard to come to a conclusive answer as to it being more useful. I don’t rule it out but again coming back to cost and economy rather makes this mode of living somewhat more expensive it would seem to me.

Van Life

Some years ago I cam across a site about van life and I thought why on earth would you want to live in a van?! The thoughts that ran through my mind were some dirty, grotty, damp, dark, infested hole that people down on their luck lived in. How wrong could I have been. There seemingly has been an explosion in van conversions with the Sprinter being the weapon of choice. No longer is it the grungy heavy metal band kipping at the side of the road as it’s too late to drive many miles home but the van life community has turned the humble white van into something amazing. Now in a few clicks you can follow some very impressive amateur (and I use that term purely in reference to the fact that they are not building conversions professionally) efforts to turn a very utilitarian vehicle into works of art.

Why has all this sprung up? Well I think it’s a mixture of freedom; from paying exorbitant rents, being able to have adventures and not be tied to a lifelong debt, be shackled to one place, I am sure there are many other reasons but it seems that freedom comes out most strongly. Of course I am talking about some thing I have not experienced but one can learn so much from others and this can inform ones own choices as to if this is a suitable choice. I have no statistical evidence but I would guess that there are a growing number of people living a more nomadic way of life, one that fits their criteria. With the evolving digital economies and the progress in remote communications we can truly be anywhere on the planet now and lead a normal life and that’s the main take away for me around van life.

Round-up

This post has gotten a bit out of control in its length but it highlights there are many alternatives to standard box home living. As I plan to live a compact life any one of these modes would be possible and I am hoping to experience some if not all in some shape or form. This blog is a record of my attempts at this and many other things and I realise that this is all very speculative and maybe comes across as wishful thinking but this is just a reminder to me of the things I would like to accomplish. All of these different forms of alternative living, that being not living in a mortgaged up pile of bricks have great communities attached to them and now with the wonders of the internet can be experienced from afar via many forms of social media, and information gleaned and friendships  gathered but the point is to just get out there and find “ones plot”.

Till next time..

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