Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Tiny House Nation TV Show Review

The trailer wheels on the bottom of tiny houses must be getting some decent traction in the American consciousness. First, they got their own movie, and now they have their own TV show. Last night was the premier episode of “Tiny House Nation,” a reality tv show on A & E’s new FYI network.

The show is about people in the process of downsizing and adopting the tiny lifestyle. The first episode tracked Jeff, Chelsea and their 2.5 year old daughter Lily-Grace, a Tennesseean family who have decided to exchange their 1300 sq ft suburban home for a 172 sq ft tiny house. The show is hosted by actor John Weisbarth and contractor Zack Giffin–the former does most of the story telling, the latter builds and designs the house.

The episode’s drama revolves around the seven day timeline in which the shell of the house must be built out and in which the family must get rid of all the stuff that won’t fit in their new place (i.e. most everything). The show gives a frank, but not condescending view of what it takes to live in such a small place. In one scene, Jeff and Chelsea are given a small roped off area that represents their new home’s total area and a few bins that represent the total amount of storage (only 20 cubic ft, which seems a bit low). They must then excise many of their possessions to get to what fits. Jeff had to get rid of his novelty silk suit and Chelsea had enough shirts to occupy all of her storage. As someone who downsized recently, their situation seemed all too familiar.

The show spent a fair amount of time focusing on the design needs and the challenges of fitting everything into such a small space: how to fit an adequate sleeping and play space for their daughter, how to fit a working kitchen in the space, dealing with miscellaneous construction issues, etc.

tiny-house-nation-jeff-and-chelsea

Toward the end of the hourlong show, the tiny house is completed. It has a full kitchen, a nifty table that folds down from the wall, a small lofted play area with a mural for Lily-Grace, a dedicated bedroom for the adults and bathroom with a composting toilet. The design used a large bank of windows and glass front door on one side of the house, which gives the space a light and airy feel. It would be tough to call the house spacious. The place is damn small. Jeff and Chelsea, at least for the camera, take the small size in stride (they also see the home as something that will work while Jeff is in school and their daughter is small).

The show also took a detour to New York City, where it talked to Graham Hill and toured the LifeEdited Apartment (note: neither Graham nor LifeEdited were paid any amount for this appearance or the promotion of the show).

The most notable thing about the show is its treatment of tiny living as a valid way of life. Jeff and Chelsea must confront real issues in downsizing, but the show is quick to elucidate the benefits of this way of life: greater mobility, being mortgage free, more communication and so on. One of the greatest remarks came from Jeff, who said that at first getting rid of stuff was stressful, but that stress was later replaced by the stress of having stuff. He said, “The giving up process is a short term issue, but once you go through it, you have more longterm happiness.” Delivering the message that living with less can be freeing is refreshing in a television landscape that includes “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills.” I’m looking forward to future episodes.

The show airs 10pm EST on the FYI network. It’s also available to stream on the FYI site.

  • Héctor S.A

    It’s fantastic! I’ll see this TV program right now and I want this kind of TV programs about downsizing in Spain! We need it!

  • I saw this very episode yesterday. I like that they went back a few months later to talk to the couple about what was working and what wasn’t. I think, however, that the couple was/is unrealistic. I wonder if they plan to have more children? If so, they really will have nowhere to put another child.
    Their tiny house was beautiful and well done, but honestly, as a budding minimalist, I don’t think I could see more than one person living in a space that small. Maybe a couple, but only if one of them travels alot.
    I would love to see the show revisit the couple in a year or so and see if they are still there and how they are doing.

    • David Friedlander

      totally agree. as a uncovered minimalist, dad and author of this site which speaks the gospel of less is more, i would probably go a bit loco in such a small space. i think they were a bit hyperbolic about how great the space was. the ample outdoor space (weather permitting) probably helped a lot however.

      • weston

        David

        What is an uncovered minimalist? A nudist?

        • ThaddeusQuackenbush

          On a cold day.

  • I look forward to watching the show. But I am confused about Jeff’s quote on stress, “at first getting rid of stuff was stressful, but that stress was later replaced by the stress of having stuff”. I am currently in the process of getting rid of stuff. While I don’t expect to find happiness in doing so, I am finding it less stressful to have less stuff. Why get more more stuff later?

    • David Friedlander

      i think he was referring more to the stuff that does remain–some of it necessary stuff–seems overwhelming after the initial purge. in other words, in the process of becoming a minimalist for lack of a better word, any extraneous possession can seem like a source of stress. that was my experience at least.

  • Chris

    I saw the show last night via the website and really enjoyed it. I totally get the stress of getting rid of stuff versus the stress of owning it. I’m in the middle of moving from 1,000 sq ft to just over 500.

    Getting rid of the big stuff (furniture, etc) has been easy. Even getting rid of pots and pans and clothes has been easy. But it’s some of the smaller stuff that’s been a lot harder. How many framed photos should I take? Should I have 2 sets of bedding or 3? I could have done with someone pushing me harder on some of my decisions.

    I haven’t finished packing, yet and I’ve 8 18x18x16 boxes, 4 12x12x12 boxes and I’m probably going to need a couple more of each before I’ve finished. When I move in, I’m going, almost certainly, to have to do a further purge.

    I don’t know that the couple sees this as being their final home. I got the impression that this was a means to an end and that when Jeff had qualified, they’d be looking at their housing options again. I think that 3 people in a space that small for a long period of time is a recipe for divorce.

    I think it was good when they went back and you saw how they’d adjusted to their new life. I’d have liked to have seen them in the home in Winter. I did wonder if their enthusiasm was trying to convince themselves as much as the audience.

  • DeWhit

    I wish they had more talk about the property itself and the utilities and the regulations for the area. I do not see the structure as viable for long term living for them with a child.
    Why was a covered deck space not incorporated into the build for some good weather.
    The large glass frontage looks like a glassed in stage or viewing for an ant farm in day to day living.

    • David Friedlander

      zoning and regulations were probably a bit more in depth than they had time to cover, though it’s probably the biggest part of the story in terms of making tiny houses viable for larger populations. they said they were going to camp in the backyard of their old place until jeff started school, but they didn’t say where they were headed after that. at least in portland, oregon, tiny houses can be classified as accessory dwelling units. i have no idea what the zoning is like in their part of tennessee.

      regarding the glass frontage, i had another thought: it’d get blazing hot unless shaded by an eave, screen or tree, none of which i saw.

  • clarkbennett

    Are there any advantages to custom building a travel trailer, which is what these small houses on wheels are, over just buying a 5th wheel travel trailer. Having a custom build home isn’t an advantage so don’t even try. I also don’t see the advantage of using traditional building methods and materials. Why not light gage steel or unibody construction? As far as the episode goes, that little girl is going to very quickly outgrow that space. When I think of a small house, I’m looking at how the house is dimensioned in relationship to the furnishings, number of adult occupants and concepts of personal and private space. On a related note, my back went out this week, any home that had a lofted space for a bed or one shoved up against a corner would be out of the question for someone with mobility issues, even temporary ones like mine.

  • Stephen Philip Filing

    I do not think the show was positive for smaller living, a composting toilet is not a viable bathroom option for most Americans. Do a show on a viable 300-400 sq ft fixed structure home connected to city utilities that really can work. 60 sq feet on average for each persons in this home was too extreme, especially for the Premier Espisode. How about a couple in a 320 sq ft home?

  • mage

    this is the exact house I want how much does it cost

  • gmh

    It’s for sale now- about $35,000. Got to http://www.tinyhouselistings.com and find it. I wonder why they sold it so soon after moving in. Maybe the tiny lifestyle isn’t what it is cracked up to be…