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The tiny home trend is taking over

Could your family live in 500 square feet?

Something strange has been happening in the world of real estate.

Across the country — the country that invented the McMansion, that branded “suburban sprawl,” that never met anything it didn’t want to supersize — homes have been shrinking.

“For so long, the perception was, ‘bigger is better.’ Homes were status symbols — status symbols that we couldn’t afford,” says John Weisbarth, host hit series “Tiny House Nation” on FYI. “When the housing bubble burst, we started thinking, ‘Hmm. Maybe we don’t need 5,000 square feet for two people.’”

So what’s tiny? “Tiny House Nation” defines the trend as a home that’s 500 square feet or less (which is, perhaps surprisingly, a rather generous upper limit in a movement that prides itself on aggressive minimalism). It sounds extreme, sure, but these customized mini-abodes are nothing like your boxy postcollege apartment.

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“If you put a lot of thought into your design before you build the house, you’ll probably find that it will truly fit you like a glove,” says Amy Henion of TheTinyLife.com, who is working on her own 112-square-foot home. “Some folks have even said that they wish they’d built a smaller tiny house! People underestimate how quickly they can adapt to new environments. Wants are limitless, but our needs are surprisingly few and quite easily met.”

“Tiny House Nation” has built homes for everyone from NBA star Matt Bonner and his family — how to accommodate a 6-foot-10 power forward in 300 square feet was a challenge even for the pros — to miniature surf shacks to swoon-worthy ski chalets.

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While Weisbarth cautions that the tiny-house lifestyle suits a certain kind of person, he does hope that the show inspires viewers to adopt some of the tenets of smaller-scale life. “Tiny homes aren’t for everyone — I don’t know if you’re doing the movement any justice if you’re living in a home that doesn’t support your needs,” he says. “But regardless of the square footage, the ideals are universal: Living within your means and being responsible with resources.”

1. Zen
You know that peaceful feeling when you clear off the coffee table, returning each piece of godforsaken clutter to its respective home? If you had a 250-square-foot house, you wouldn't have gone on that late-night QVC binge in the first place.

2. Money
Not all tiny homes are cheap—in Brooklyn, a 312-square-foot bungalow just hit the market for $500,000. But many popular pre-fab models begin in the $50,000 range, and if you're willing to do some building yourself, the price tag is drastically lower. Plus, think of all the furniture you won't be buying. "I’m not anti-stuff—it’s too much stuff that’s the problem," says Weisbarth . "By setting a limit, you’re forcing yourself to stop spending your money on things and start spending it on experiences."

3. The environment
Less square feet means less lumber, less electricity, less heating, less cooling, less water—less everything. "Tiny home literally have a smaller environmental footprint," says Weisbarth .

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