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Tiny Homes Are a Social Media Hit. But Do We Want to Live in Them?


A series about how cities transform, and the effect of that on everyday life.

In a bustling area of south London, near a busy Underground station and a web of bus routes, is a tiny house in a dumpster.

The 27-square-foot plywood house has a central floor area; wall shelves for storage (or seating); a kitchen counter with a sink, hot plate and toy-size fridge; and a mezzanine with a mattress under the vaulted roof. There’s no running water, and the bathroom is a portable toilet outside.

The “skip house” is the creation and home of Harrison Marshall, 29, a British architect and artist who designs community buildings, such as schools and health centers, in Britain and abroad. Since he moved into the rent-free dumpster (known as a “skip” in Britain) in January, social media videos of the space have drawn tens of millions of views and dozens of inquiries in a city where studio apartments rent for at least $2,000 a month.

“People are having to move into smaller and smaller places, microapartments, tiny houses, just to try and make ends meet,” Mr. Marshall said in a phone interview. “There are obviously benefits of minimal living, but that should be a choice rather than a necessity.”

In his view, tiny homes are being romanticized because the life of luxury is overexposed. “People are almost numb to it from social media,” he said. Mr. Marshall said people were more interested in content about the “nomadic lifestyle, or living off the grid,” which overlooks the flip side: showers at the gym, and a portable outdoor toilet.

The rush back into big cities after the pandemic has pushed rents to new records, intensifying the demand for low-priced housing, including spaces that are barely bigger than a parking spot. But while audiences on social media might find that lifestyle “relatable and entertaining,” as one expert put it, it’s not necessarily an example they will follow.

Viewers of microapartment videos are like visitors to the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay who “get inside of a cell and have the door closed,” said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California.

Social media users want to experience what it’s like at the “anomalously small end” of the housing scale, she explained.

Mr. Crouse believes the pandemic heightened curiosity. During lockdown, “everyone was on social media, sharing their spaces” and “sharing their lives,” and apartment tour videos “went crazy,” he said. “That really put a light on tiny spaces like this.”

Curiosity on social media seemed to reach a frenzied pitch for Alaina Randazzo, a media planner based in New York, during the year she spent in an 80-square-foot, $650-a-month apartment in Midtown Manhattan. It had a sink, but no toilet or shower: Those were down the hall, and shared.

Having spent the previous six months in a luxury high-rise rental that “ate away my money,” she said, downsizing was a priority when she moved into the microstudio in January 2022.

Unable to do dishes in her tiny sink, Ms. Randazzo ate off paper plates; there was a skylight but no window to air out cooking smells. “I had to be careful what clothes I was buying,” she recalled, “because if I bought too big of a coat, it’s like, where am I going to put it?”

There is “a cool factor” around microstudios nowadays, she said, because “you’re selling someone on a dream”: that they can be successful in New York and “not be judged” for living in a tiny pad. Also, “our generation likes realness,” she explained, “someone who’s actually showing authenticity” and trying to build a career and a future by saving money.

But it was not the kind of life Ms. Randazzo could keep up for longer than a year. She now shares a large New York townhouse where she has a spacious bedroom. She has no regrets about her microapartment: “I love the community that it brought me but I definitely don’t miss bumping my head on the ceiling.”


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