Alone in a Small House

I find the small house movement very interesting. On the surface it is fascinating how architects have taken their minimalist dwellings and made reconfigurable mansions They have not just a hideaway bed, but hideaway kitchens, bathrooms, and entertainment centers, all in a little more space than a large walk-in closet. Anyone can latch on to that wow factor.

But more than that there is the idea of cutting down on excess. Instead of buying the biggest house you can afford, you see if you can live in less. As the population skyrockets, how much space does one person really need? How can we live without all the excess?

But this movement isn’t quite excess free. These small houses (at least the coolest ones) are all about seeing how much you can have in a small space. Can you live in one room and still have an awesome kitchen? Can you have a nice bathtub? With all this stuff crammed in can you have a fun place to hangout, with a style that is the envy of all your friends?

Now it’s easy to poke at this movement when I live in the spacious Midwest and not my cousin’s tiny Tokyo apartment. And really there is a lot of benefit to these innovations as they will help make some good things more widely available. But as I was thinking about cramming our excess into less I thought about how we can do even more.

Consider if everyone had their own small house. It’s seems good. In a lot of ways we’d reduce the space footprint of everyone, at least in western societies. But then consider the bathroom. Does every person need their own bathroom? A friend in Chicago had a tiny little apartment where his bed was right next to the kitchen, but the bathroom was a third the size of the whole apartment. We don’t really need that just for one person. We could share it.

This is where the greatest benefit in space savings could come; in community spaces. But this is challenging for us. A while ago I read about the idea of a shared lawnmower. You’d have a shed in the middle of maybe four houses. You only need to mow the lawn maybe once a week, so why not share and reduce the costs for everyone.

But immediately after I thought how good an idea this was I wondered “how will the people manage who pays for the gas? What if one persons got a bigger lawn? How will you decide what model to buy? And who’s going to fix it when it breaks down?” Worse yet, who’s gonna clean that shared bathroom?

It’s a challenging idea having communal property. But there’s also great benefits to be had, and it’s not just savings from sharing costs and space. Resources can also be pooled together to find a sum greater than it’s parts.

I find lawns ridiculous. Everyone wants to have one, but you have to spend a lot of time and/or money to keep it looking nice. It’s supposed to be a place outside where the kids can play, but the front lawn is right next to the road, so you better not let them play there. In fact the real problem is that the house is right in the middle of the lawn. You’ve got this nice big outdoor space but it’s broken up by the indoor space. It’d be better to stick the house right next to the road and have one big back yard.

But what if we make this part of the community property? Suddenly your nice big yard becomes a field or a park. Instead of having a nice area to play catch, you could have enough space for a baseball game. Plus you’d have people to play with, as they’d no longer be enjoying their only little patch of grass, but coming together not just to share the space but to share company.

Now obviously this isn’t just a theory. I’m glad there are so many parks, libraries, and other shared spaces. But we still have a hard time with community. Even in the shared spaces we often try to stay separate. We build big houses for a big family, but retreat to our own rooms. In the park you can watch an oncoming runners face contort as they try to find a way to avoid saying that painful little word, “hi.” And when we do come together conflict often arises. We all have our own way of keeping things clean and decorating, our favorite brand of lawnmower, and our specific way of playing baseball. And we don’t like to give in to anyone else’s way of doing it.

It’s no wonder so many roommates come home to find their clothes thrown on the lawn. So many marriages dissolve over petty little things. So many churches lose members over the color of the new carpet. It’s challenging to come together and have to deal with other people.

It’s funny sometimes how difficult this can be. Really this has just been a long-winded way of saying I desire more community. But despite this desire, when I get home I often find my self not really wanting to go out and spend time with other people. Even though I know the time at home will often be boring and unproductive, a part of me enjoys the ease of not having to deal with other people, nor with the way I handle myself around them, even though they are nice people.

It’s hard to imagine the group in the book of Acts who came together having all things in common. And they were all in one accord; of one mind. They were not just united in their possessions, but in a unity that went all the way to the heart of who they were. That’s really the challenge of community. We know we want that, but we’ve been burned by too many people who had wrong motives or wanted the benefits with none of the sacrifice. And we’ve been burnt by ourselves doing the same things to others that they’ve done to us. We are just as afraid of what we might do others as we are of what they might do to us.

Community involves just as many risks as any other relationship. There is just as much a chance of rejection, even if it stings less. I want to strive harder to be someone who builds community. I say “harder” because I already attempt to do this a little, but it is easy to take people’s defense mechanisms as an excuse not to be outgoing. It can be particularly challenging in a field where people are known for being anti-social. There are some at work who I think if I persisted hard enough trying to look them in the eye and say “hello” would run into a wall as they try to avoid me.

But I need to recognize that others defenses are often just fear, and that they might be more open to being social than first appears may suggest. I need to be bold enough and forget myself enough to be friendly anyway.


2 Responses to “Alone in a Small House”

  1. 1 Antoinette
    April 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    This is a thought provoking article. Unfortunately, human beings like to do things on our own, and as such we often have great ideas (none is really ours), and try to carry them out on our own power. Jesus breathed on His disciples and sent them away to await the ‘Comforter/teacher’. Willingly they went, and unbeknownst to them they went in the power of the Holy Spirit, who once they arrived, convicted them of sin, righterousness and judgment. In sorrow they openly repented and confessed their faults, frailties, and sins to one another. Few of us do that, it’s too frightening… . Anyway, after this, the Holy Spirit fell on them, and filled them with Agape. Then is when they sold their belongings (property, and the like) and putting them all together, had all things in common. We want in our altruistic, but selfish natures to imitate God’s ways, with out His power. Sadly the result is always failure. May we allow God to have His loving way with us.

    • 2 rcmosher
      May 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      There is often a danger, that because our selfish nature gets in the way of God’s way, we will disparage the power of altruism. I’ve heard many people say we can’t help people without harming them, but I don’t believe this is the case.

      In frightening things like confessing our faults I know I need to exercise more faith in God and less fear of men. May God give me courage.

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