The “HGTV effect” means it’s rare for a homebuyer to be unfamiliar with staging, decluttering, and the thrill of knocking down walls to create an open concept floor plan. But TV has had an outsized influence in one particular area: the collective fascination with tiny house living.
“The idea of living in a tiny house appeals to everyone with a pulse,” says Dan George Dobrowolski, CEO of Escape Homes, a tiny house manufacturer. “Our buyers are people in their 20s who are just out of college, retirees in their 70s who are looking for affordability and freedom, and everyone in between.”
With such a large target audience, it’s not surprising that there are several TV shows highlighting tiny living and downsizing. But while everything is well and good when the cameras are running, be warned there’s a lot you don’t see behind the scenes. “You can learn a lot about tiny living from TV, but it’s such a personal experience to do extreme downsizing that people are sometimes surprised at how long it takes,” says Coles Whalen, marketing director for Simple Life. “TV shows also gloss over the difficulty of building a tiny house, the cost, and finding a place to put one.” Here are six shows to inspire tiny living, along with what to keep in mind so you’re not swept away by the glamour on TV.
Tiny House Nation
This show on A&E’s FYI channel started in 2014, with a pair of hosts (John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin) who showcase tiny houses around the country and help families design and construct their own dream mini-homes. So why not just follow what they do on the show? Dobrowolski warns they can oversimplify the process of building a safe tiny home.
“It takes engineering and construction expertise to build a custom tiny house,” he says. “It’s even more important to build safely if you’ll take it on the road.”
This Netflix series reboot features design expert Bobby Berk. While not technically about tiny house living or even minimalism, Berk offers tips about how to declutter your house, get organized, and enjoy the simple things. Minimalism is a requirement for tiny house residents.
The thing to keep in mind is “living in a tiny house takes a lot more effort than downsizing from a larger house to a normal-size house,” says Vina Lustado, a tiny house resident and owner of Sol Haus Design. “It can take months or years. Initially it can be painful, but most people find joy in simplifying their life.”
Tiny House, Big Living
This HGTV show, now in its eighth season, follows couples, families, and singles across the country who are designing and building custom tiny homes themselves or hiring contractors to do the work for them. While it’s fun to watch people design furniture, storage, and layouts for the individualized homes, customization adds considerably to the cost of a tiny house, points out Dobrowolski. This isn’t always clear in the show, and is a rude awakening for some viewers who decide to contract their own tiny house.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
This 2019 Netflix series showcases Marie Kondo, the Japanese developer of the KonMari organizing method and author of bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She works with American families who need help organizing their homes and getting rid of excess possessions.
With this show, there actually isn’t much of a warning; what you see is what you get. “Shows like Marie Kondo’s can provide people with education about how to get started to declutter your life,” says Whalen. “This has become part of a big national conversation about whether everyone has too much stuff.”
Tiny House Hunters
This HGTV program, which replicates the pattern of their popular House Hunters TV show, focuses on real estate agents who find tiny houses for their clients. A great show for highlighting the different options of tiny living around the world, it also paints the process as incredibly quick with minor headaches. Keep in mind that finding your perfect permanent or vacation tiny house will take more than just 22 minutes and a few commercial breaks.
Predating the tiny house trend, host Tava Smiley and her team demonstrated how to live a better life through organization. The popular TLC show, a precursor to today’s programs, helped inspire others to take hyper-organization to a new level. Similar to Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, the show offers guidelines for organizing any space, and can be taken at face value.
Get inspired, but don’t believe everything you see on TV.
“Reality TV shows take liberties with the time and money involved with buying or building a tiny home,” says Dobrowolski. “They’re meant to be entertaining, just like the Keebler elves, but we all know that those elves don’t really make cookies in a tree.”
Another great piece of advice: “Tiny living should be about the philosophy and mentality more than the square footage,” Lustado says. Tiny isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and you’ll need to make adjustments and keep an open mind to make tiny living work best for you.
If you’re ready to commit to tiny living, feel free to source inspiration from your favorite shows, but don’t let it be your only guide. Do your research, and connect with tiny house owners and builders, to be sure nothing catches you by surprise throughout this process.
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Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.