Constructing a Good Life – Aesthetic Practices in Tiny Living

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Constructing a Good Life – Aesthetic Practices in Tiny Living

Anu Besson


I explore how aesthetic practices, or habitual, leisurely ways of doing everyday things for aesthetic enjoyment, play an important role in a pursuit of a good life. I apply a lens of aesthetic practices on media samples portraying living in a tiny house to explore 1) how this lifestyle is presented in traditional and social media, and 2) how the tiny house movement appears to be fueled by a yearning to construct a life that supports one’s creativity and integrity of identity. This construction often takes place through or by emphasizing aesthetic practices.

Key Words
aesthetic practices, artistic-aesthetic experience, creative resourcefulness, everyday aesthetics, integrity of identity, tiny house


1. Introduction

In this article, I identify aesthetic practices of tiny house residents – “tiny dwellers” – in media samples and discuss what the proposed or perceived value of these practices is to the enactors and audiences. By aesthetic practices, I mean leisurely and habitual ways of doing everyday things for aesthetic enjoyment.[1] In this article, tiny houses are defined as relocatable, semi-permanent residences with living space of approximately 20-40 square meters.[2]

Tiny houses are a relative newcomer in the mainstream Western housing market and differ from globally ubiquitous small apartments and cottages in that they can be mobile or at least relocatable and not tied to a specific site permanently, bypassing the need for a mortgage for dwelling plus land.[3] Until now, the increasing interest towards tiny living, or the tiny house movement, has been understood to mainly arise from financial, environmental, or countercultural motivations to live a simpler life with fewer financial obligations and constraints.[4] I suggest that one underexamined motivation for tiny living appears to be tiny dwellers’ yearnings to creatively construct a good life, which consists of not only financial and social flexibility but also aesthetic practices that support the growth or blossoming of one’s taste, style, and self-expression.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many so-called little c-creative arts and crafts, or everyday creative activities such as baking, handicrafts and redecorating, surged in popularity.[5] One particular phenomenon that has enjoyed plenty of attention in social and traditional media during and perhaps as a consequence of the worldwide lockdowns is re-evaluating one’s living and housing situation, including decluttering, re-organizing, and relocating all the way to tiny living.[6] At first glance, tiny living does not fall into the category of an artistic pursuit, creative hobby, or leisure interest in the same way baking and crafting may, but they share essential similarities, as I later discuss.

But why analyze pastimes or habits in the first place, given they may be mundane, fleeting, or seemingly inconsequential? Creative hobbies and leisure interests can play a significant role in building or sustaining self-identity.[7] According to clinical psychologist Frank Tallis, coherent self-identity, or the alignment of one’s choices, actions, values, and life story, is essential for mental wellbeing;[8] I call this alignment integrity of identity.

Now, what exactly are aesthetic practices? This term by Pauline von Bonsdorff captures something broader than artistic or artisanal pastimes, as it interweaves habits and hobbies and everyday aesthetics and artistic practices. Aesthetic practices are regular or repeated leisurely activities and habitual ways of doing things where the undertaking has an aesthetic motivation or leaning.[9] In this article, I focus on aesthetic practices of residing or building one’s immediate and intimate life-world through household chores, habitual motions, and pastime activities. I will also touch upon a connection between aesthetic practices, identity- and world-building, and subculture-forming via digital sharing. By reflecting on views from Bonsdorff, Yuriko Saito, C. Thi Nguyen, and Tim Ingold, I examine aesthetic practices as a key element of a good life, a life worth living and striving for.[10]

For Bonsdorff, the meaning and value of aesthetic practices lie on the aesthetic enjoyment available to the enactor, rather than on aesthetic qualities of an end product or an experience available to a spectator.[11] This angle about the enactor’s artistic-aesthetic experience, as originally discussed by John Dewey, has also been emphasized by Yuriko Saito in her observations about everyday behaviors and attitudes toward objects, undertaking household chores, and creating an ambience.[12] More recently, Saito has discussed self-care and agency of objects as topics for aesthetic inquiry: how aesthetic decisions help “craft a person,” and how the material world around us affects our quality of life.[13] I will return to these points in section 3 to show how they particularly apply to tiny living.

C. Thi Nguyen, in turn, posits that our lifeworld contains process art frameworks such as physical and virtual spaces or sets of rules that enable or prompt sequences of action that bring aesthetic enjoyment to the enactor; the enactor thus utilizes or fulfills the aesthetic purpose of that framework.[14] I will also contemplate Tim Ingold’s concept of correspondence — or the give-and-take relationship between people and the world that consists of creation, meaning the organic unfolding of nature, and creativity, or our own inventiveness.[15] Nguyen and Ingold’s viewpoints help further sculpt the concept of aesthetic practices. In this article, I will categorize my analysis by exploring the life inside and outside of a tiny house, and also the actual tiny house as a physical object.

2. Tiny living as a phenomenon

Small residences in themselves are nothing new; throughout history people have lived in compact, even cramped spaces. In today’s metropoles, small or micro apartments are almost the norm. But the idea of a relocatable, affordable, fully or partly self-built tiny house surged in popularity in the US during the 2007-2009 global financial crisis. This was also due to the increased media visibility by enthusiasts and the emerging tiny living industry establishing tiny living as a viable option.[16] Tiny living connects to the idea of de-growth/downshifting, a sociocultural counter movement that emerged in the early 2000s, challenging more-is-more or bigger-is-better consumerism as unsustainable and harmful to our environmental, societal, and individual wellbeing.[17]

Currently, tiny living is mainly discussed or promoted under two main banners: as a solution to the globally prevalent lack of affordable housing,[18] or as a return to nature to a simpler, more stress-free, and ecologically friendly lifestyle.[19] Severin Mangold and Toralf Zschau offer a detailed overview of tiny dwellers’ self-stated reasons to adopt this lifestyle in the US: these include financial autonomy, flexibility to pursue interests, and freedom from burdensome obligations, or in summary, a good life consisting of voluntary simplicity and minimalism for economic and ecological reasons.[20] However, their study does not cover aesthetic motivations. So, does tiny living have a role in a pursuit of a good life? Not automatically. For example, tiny living has been criticized as a misdirection in the attempt to solve the housing crisis, because a widescale implementation could exacerbate urban sprawl with its own associated problems or lead to two-tiered societies, where some citizens are expected to accept subpar housing conditions.[21] Furthermore, tiny houses are not suitable or advisable for everyone for a range of practical reasons.[22]

However, the efficiency of a home has been a favorite topic for designers, from functionalism and Le Corbusier’s Machine House to today’s Ikea catalogues filled with storage solutions to small spaces. New forms of media, including amateur or influencer self-published e-books and podcasts, and Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube, have expanded the discussion on what kinds of homes different people value and why.

There is no shortage of tiny living-themed content. For example, in February 2023, contained over 9,000 books relating to tiny living, including construction manuals, autobiographical stories, travel journals, and photography books. Contemporaneously, photo-sharing application Instagram contained three million posts labeled with the hashtag #tinyhouse and hundreds of thousands of others similarly tagged. Today, video publishing platform YouTube has at least twenty-three dedicated tiny house channels with more than 25,000 subscribers; the most popular of such channels, Living Big In a Tiny House (Living Big, aired since 2013), raked up 4.43 million subscribers.[23] Perhaps the best known mainstream media show about tiny living is the American TV series Tiny House Nation, aired from 2014 with 90 episodes so far.[24] Other well-known depictions about variations of tiny living include a fictional film, Nomadland (2020), based on a nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, and a documentary, The Meaning of Vanlife (Vanlife, 2019), about mobile tiny dwellers or people semi-permanently living, working, and traveling in camper vans.

But, given that tiny houses are not an indisputably positive phenomenon, why do they appear so popular in the media? I examine the reasons, broken down to the categories mentioned earlier: 1) tiny house as a physical object, 2) life inside the tiny house, and 3) life outside of the tiny house. In this article, I only focus on the presentation of tiny houses as a desirable, voluntary housing option instead of a solution to homelessness, although plenty of relevant sociopolitical critique exists, including Nomadland.

2.1 Tiny houses as objects in the media

What do tiny houses look like in the media? A browse through the content on Instagram and YouTube reveals an endless scroll of glossy images and videos that could be from any high-end architecture and design magazine. The same applies to TV shows like Tiny House Nation. Tiny living is mainly portrayed as a miniaturized version of chalet or villa living, with some added whimsicality where residences resemble children’s playhouses or treehouses. Typically, tiny houses are in scenic locations and furnished with expert-level designer taste and style. Even a search for “self-constructed tiny house” on Instagram or YouTube mainly produces polished, professional-looking architecture, albeit with some added rustic look from repurposed materials.[25] Some tiny dwellers – and industry representatives – have become social media celebrities or published authors and thus portraying tiny living in an aspirational and aesthetically pleasing way is their paid job.[26]

Although all home ownership may require do-it-yourself, or DIY, tasks, tiny living appears to be particularly geared towards DIY ethos. Tiny living often stems from an attempt or desire to live frugally, hence DIY solutions are not only seen as logical but welcomed.[27] Reclaiming, recycling, and repurposing materials is a frequent topic in the tiny living context; enthusiasts share micro-residence plans and instructions online partially because “tiny house as a design challenge” appears to be rather appealing, but also through tiny living associations.[28]

Not all tiny houses are self-built; a flourishing industry has emerged in many countries. However, the idea that anyone can construct, convert, or renovate a home without a carpentry degree is the catch call of the tiny living movement.[29] This is illustrated perhaps best by the show Living Big, which is about self-built tiny houses in Australia and New Zealand, focusing on the creative upcycling and handcrafting skills of the tiny dwellers. The show’s main message is that by electing to live in a small space, the owners gain financial leeway and more free time, allowing life to mentally and emotionally expand.[30] Pertinently, the recurring theme of tiny living YouTube channels is how building one’s house is like building an outward expression of yourself: the construction project and the downsized life afterwards are rewarding because they are about solving practical problems in creative and artistic/artisanal ways using one’s own ideas, resources, skills, taste, and style.[31]

2.2 Life inside a tiny house

How does media portray life inside a tiny house? To illustrate, Tiny House Nation ties together the construction project and life after. Each episode unfolds similarly: usually a couple is downsizing due to a significant life change. The downsizers voice their hopes for a revived family connection and closeness that living in close quarters is expected to bring. The show hosts identify the couple’s “main passion,” a marker for self-identity, whether a vocation or pastime, ranging from artistic and creative pursuits to entertaining guests. The construction work is presented as a design challenge around that passion to produce a pragmatically livable space, but also an outward expression of the owners’ self-identity.

The downsizers always face a string of challenges: resistance or apprehension towards tiny housing by their closest circles, paring down possessions, and mentally adjusting to the new, contracted living space. In each episode’s dramatic arc, these challenges serve as enhancers of the integrity of identity; typically, downsizers express that in the past they felt compelled to prioritize financial matters such as earning and consuming over their real interests and family time, which they now seek to re-prioritize.[32]

Implicitly, one’s true self, or integrity of identity, can best manifest through one’s passions and social reconnection. After settling in the tiny house, the presumed consequent family closeness is portrayed in conviviality and chore sharing, the foldable or expandable structures of the tiny house flexibly accommodating tasks like food preparation and cleaning, in addition to the identified creative interests or passions such as sewing, composing, or dancing.[33] Although not as strictly formulaic plot-wise, the tiny house tours presented in the Living Big follow a similar story arc.

2.3 Life outside the tiny house

What does media have to say about life outside the tiny house? Typically, tiny houses are portrayed in scenic nature as opposed to urban settings. This is partly due to zoning regulations; in many countries, minimum size requirements for permanent dwellings prevent or hinder building permits for tiny houses in built-up areas.[34] Tiny dwellers work around this by, for example, renting rural land or relocating with their residence regularly.

An extreme version of mobile tiny living is portrayed in Vanlife, a show about “vanlifers” who by choice live semi-permanently in retrofitted vans. According to this documentary, the main goal of vanlifers is to regain touch with nature, including one’s own sensibility to the world. For the interviewees, living in a van is a means to an end to “go out and use our bodies,” and “connect with land and each other, share stories, music, and community.”[35] To vanlifers, a simpler yet fuller life is achievable through cutting oneself off from financial and social stressors, possessions, and technology. Connecting with land takes place either through physical labor such as gardening or farm work that “liberates” or perhaps de-alienates vanlifers to effectively use their mental and physical resources for tangible goals, or by financing vanlife through remote digital work that allows for plentiful outdoor activities.

Perhaps the most recurring theme in Living Big is to present tiny houses that exist as continuum of indoor and outdoor life. The show host frequently visits micro-residences that connect indoor and outdoor space through massive panorama windows or French doors that usually fold fully open; or these houses have some other extendable or stackable features that allow the tiny house to unfurl into a semi-open shelter. Such examples include houses with large entertainment decks or even pools that start from the literal doorstep.[36] The owners of such houses regularly comment that their main motivation to “go tiny” was the porousness and seamlessness of indoor and outdoor lifestyle.[37]

Life outside the tiny house does not only encompass the immediate surroundings and nature but also the expansion of one’s possibilities and interests, as implied by the full title of Living Big in a Tiny House. The easing of financial concerns liberates downsizers to enjoy a life that unfolds more organically; where days can be relatively self-scheduled, for example around seasons and outdoor activities or other priorities, including artistic-aesthetic pursuits and inspiration. In fact, this autonomy is a recurrently mentioned rationale by tiny dwellers for choosing the lifestyle.[38]

2.4 Why a tiny house?

My media samples indicate that tiny houses are regarded as some or all of the following: a semi-permanent accommodation, a step in a property ladder, a vehicle for a mobile outdoorsy lifestyle, and a platform or framework for creativity, self-expression, and self-actualization. The key appeal of a tiny house is its relative affordability and offer of financial autonomy compared to ownership or tenancy of a conventional house or apartment, because the two latter options usually require the prioritization of work-life and monetary earnings.[39]

Furthermore, one’s own house, even a tiny one, offers the dignity of having a place in the world; in this movement, a home is more readily understood as a human right, not a reward one must achieve through long-term financial commitment.[40] This lifestyle appears to be attractive also because it offers a relatively affordable avenue for pragmatic self-expression: turning one’s taste, style, ideas and skills into something concrete and highly useful.[41]

3. Theory and practice of aesthetic practices and tiny living

Before exploring the aesthetic practices of tiny living, let us first examine why we should pay attention to the concept of aesthetic practices in the first place. Its roots are in Dewey’s notion that the aesthetic enjoyment of an artist or practitioner throughout the act of making art – the artistic-aesthetic experience – is an important subject of inquiry in aesthetics.[42] This point has also been emphasized by Saito.[43] Arnold Berleant, in turn, has long explored the interconnectedness and enmeshment of the enactor-perceiver, the environment, and one’s actions in it, and also our ability and agency to affect the aesthetic aspects and quality of our everyday surroundings.[44]

Likewise, Bonsdorff guides our attention to the aesthetic enjoyment of a layperson practitioner. One does not need to be an artist or engaged in an artistic pursuit per se to be able, keen, or attuned to drawing aesthetic enjoyment from one’s actions. The idea of aesthetic practices also highlights the importance of repetition, variation, and modulation in the development of taste and style.[45] Aesthetic practices are not fully synonymous with creative pastimes, but can touch upon or blend with everyday activities in a more mundane yet possibly profound manner. For example, Bonsdorff ponders the aesthetic-ethical balance between enjoying fishing and killing the catch.[46] Next, I discuss how the following aesthetic practice categories can be identified in the tiny house movement as presented in the media: tiny house as process art, everyday life as artistic-aesthetic experience, and residing as correspondence with the world.

3.1 Tiny house as a physical framework for process art

C. Thi Nguyen notes how, until now, the Western theory of art and aesthetics has focused on the art of objects and neglected the art of action, or process arts, where the enactor appreciates “their own deliberations, choices, reactions, and movements” while engaged in the activity.[47] Nguyen’s examples of process arts include games, urban planning, improvised social dance, cooking, and social food rituals. What separates aesthetic practices from process arts, according to Nguyen, is that in process arts, aesthetic enjoyment is usually drawn from striving or struggling within an existing, designed framework: dancing to music, playing a game, climbing a cliff.[48] In the case of aesthetic practices, the focus is more on the enactor creating or arranging materials or physical items, making something through habitual repetition, variation, and open-ended creativity, be it a meal, a craft project, or a face enhanced with makeup, equalizing the importance of the experience of the process and the outcome.

I suggest that with aesthetic practices the enactor often, although not always, also creates the framework, such as habits, patterns, plans, or simply an idea, and simultaneously or consequently executes the aesthetically rewarding action that fulfills the purpose of the framework. Nguyen states regarding process arts — and I concur considering aesthetic practices: “The arts of action… are marked by distinctively self-reflective aesthetic appreciation. In these arts, the focus of the appreciator’s aesthetic attention is on the aesthetic qualities of their own actions.”[49]

One of the main challenges of tiny living is the physical and practical organizing of one’s home and life within it. Tiny House Nation conveys how tiny dwellers typically have to undergo a process of decluttering, re-organizing, and re-evaluating their possessions and also their expectations before moving into a micro-residence. This process is not just about discarding or downgrading. Many downsizers take great pride in their ingenious storage solutions and ability to squeeze the necessary minimum into the allotted space, often through DIY solutions.[50] Do-it-yourself is not just about making something to solve a problem but about creative resourcefulness, identifiable in the unexpected, impromptu, or whimsical choices and solutions many tiny dwellers make regarding their home as presented in Living Big. In turn, interviewees in Vanlife find immense joy and a sense of success in their improvised van repairs that buy one more day of travel through interesting landscapes.

In the media, the tiny house becomes a scaffolding for the enactor to experience and enliven through problem-solving skills, aesthetic decisions, and the daily bodily inhabitation of the shell. But are these matters of aesthetics? Not necessarily, but often the practical reorganizing has an undercurrent of or a yearning for simplicity, harmony, and streamlining; cutting out what is superfluous, and focusing on what feels essential physically, emotionally and aesthetically. The minimalist aesthetics of simplicity and sparsity can manifest visually such as in a tiny dwelling’s decor or, in a more psycho-emotional level, through the decluttering of one’s life, obligations, and distractions. Creative resourcefulness is experienced when one finds aesthetic enjoyment in one’s own ability to recycle or repurpose materials and items in inventive ways or use objects in a multifunctional manner.[51]

3.2 Living in a tiny house as aesthetic practice

One of the objectives of industrial and technological advancement has been to improve housing conditions and also liberate humans – women, mostly – from the repetitive manual labor of running a household. Yet, tiny house advocates like Ryan Mitchell argue that “conventionally sized” living may be experienced as exhausting because it “requires” excessive spending on rent or mortgage and items and appliances and consequently plenty of housework to maintain it all.[52] A similar finding was made by Jeanne Arnold et al: average Americans, fueled by hyperconsumerism, feel burdened by the management of their excessive possessions, and a cluttered home can increase the cortisol levels of the occupants.[53] But not all housework is unrewardingly laborious, although for example Hannah Arendt portrays it so. According to her, labor including household chores has been understood throughout history as dull, repetitive, burdensome, and lacking expressivity of personhood, although Arendt briefly notes how the never-ending cyclical labor may bring a sense of groundedness and bounty in its momentary completion.[54]

Life inside a tiny house can become an aesthetic practice or a constellation of such. Bonsdorff describes how for a person who enjoys cleaning, it can be a source of relaxation and improvisation in addition to creating order and beauty; building and adding to one’s life-world rather than erasing. The act of cleaning and the results may be shared with cohabitants or visitors and enjoyed during and after through different sensations such as scents.[55] Similar observations have been made by Saito and also Pauliina Rautio in their separate discussions on household chores, in particular, hanging laundry.[56] Supporting these notions, a new phenomenon has emerged on YouTube: process videos of people cleaning and tidying their tiny house to produce a motivating and calming effect for themselves and viewers.[57] Crucially, a smaller space usually requires less work, which frees tiny dwellers to focus more on tasks and chores they enjoy. A person who loves to cook designs the house around the kitchen and minimizes the rest of the chores.[58]

In her newest book, Saito discusses the aesthetic dimensions of the ethics of care and vice versa, caring extending to others, the material world, and oneself. In particular, her commentary on self-care and agency of objects aptly apply on tiny house living. Citing religious and philosophical schools of thought, Saito makes a point that self-care is not only important but virtuous and it opens up a possibility for a person to craft oneself.[59] By agency of objects, she refers not only to the agency and intent of the maker of the object but also the “ability” of an item to direct our actions and behavior. Her examples include hostile design such as anti-sleep and anti-skate benches, but she reminds us that objects can also enable or prompt actions.[60] In the media, tiny houses often appear as objects that support self-care because they restrict or encourage certain actions such as reining in the need or interest to partake in consumerist culture while prompting an expansion in the creative-aesthetic life of the occupant. Thus, tiny house becomes a vehicle or framework for crafting oneself as a particular type of person and aiming towards a deeper integration of identity.

3.3 Correspondence and expansion – regaining touch with the world

In my media samples, tiny dwellers often are professional or amateur artists or artisans. This is partly due to the fact that content creation is a vocation for many influencer-activists in the movement. However, beneath such obvious artistic pursuits lies a layer of less articulated but equally noteworthy aesthetics, aisthesis: living skin to skin with the world – rain, hail or shine, figuratively and literally – and using one’s body to toil and craft, push and rest, strain and regenerate. Being more closely embedded in one’s environment, indoors and outdoors, for many is a key attractor towards the lifestyle.[61]

Tim Ingold discusses the concept of correspondence, or living in an intertwined and reciprocal way with others.[62] Although Ingold mainly focuses on the two-way relationship between people and animals, this relationship can be understood to extend to the material world, as is separately discussed by Saito.[63] For Ingold, correspondence means that both interacting parties give and take, teach and learn, gently press and yield, and leave an imprint of some of their characteristics into each other.[64] In my media samples, tiny dwellers often refer to their micro-houses in terms or synonyms of a cocoon that is personally crafted to them, to fit, accommodate, and stretch into the residents’ movements, activities, preferences, and flow of the day, illustrated, for example, when the owner folds and unfolds or rearranges furniture to carry out sequences of daily tasks.[65] It appears that the optimized use and the physical proximity to objects create a sense of a carapace, something the owners relate to more intimately.

Ingold also discusses the difference between creativity and creation. For Ingold, creativity is about reorganizing or transforming what already exists, such as making things out of materials; whereas creation is more synonymous with the organic unfolding of nature, birth, and the experimental novelty of evolution. He laments how the experience and appreciation of and attentiveness to creation have often become truncated in our modern world that is driven by economic growth incompatible with the limits and processes of the natural world.[66] These concepts of creativity and creation are quite pertinent to tiny living in a perhaps more pronounced way than with more conventional residences. Tiny dwellers are often makers and transformers as they design, construct, or convert their house or fit and furnish it with items that take time and effort to craft or obtain. This DIY approach appears to bring much joy and pride to the owners, as evidenced by thousands of YouTube videos and Instagram posts dedicated to tours of tiny home functionalities and aesthetics.[67]

Lacking indoor space by design, tiny dwellers are often prompted to partially live outdoors, such as cooking and eating on the deck. In the media samples, tiny dwellers commonly describe this interconnectedness of indoors and outdoors as the main motivator to “go tiny”: to connect with nature.[68] Paradoxically when the walls close in, tiny dwellers turn it into an expansion of mental-emotional and creative-aesthetic options and capabilities; partly due to the financial leeway but also because they choose to pay more attention to the immediate environment and correspond with it. Being surrounded by nature, growth, cycles, and seasons and preferring to experience life as unfolding instead of it being dictated by financial and social pressures and schedules are the oft-discussed motivations to choose “tiny” aligning with Ingold’s notion that “the promise of creation [newness and unfolding] keeps life worth living.”[69]

4. Concluding comments

Previous research shows that tiny dwellers usually select tiny housing for financial, environmental, and countercultural reasons. Tiny houses are significantly cheaper, faster, and easier to build than conventional houses, thus opening up a possibility to construct one’s own home to those who otherwise would not be in a position to finance a conventional house. My new finding is that this lifestyle appears to be appealing because it also offers a relatively affordable avenue to creative resourcefulness and self-expression: turning one’s ideas, skills, taste, and style into something concrete, physical, and highly useful. In the media, a tiny house becomes a vehicle for crafting oneself as a particular type of person who aims towards a deeper integration of identity, often through aesthetic practices.

It is important not to romanticize tiny living; it cannot be taken as a panacea for all, if any, problems related to the availability, affordability, and accessibility of housing. But, by examining tiny living, we gain a better understanding of the different interpretations and iterations of a “good life.” In the case of tiny living, a good life appears to often include the sense and value of one’s home as process art, an artistic-aesthetic experience and correspondence with the world. Tiny living appears to appeal to people who wish to be more attentive to their own aesthetic pursuits, yearnings, and practices and who seek more freedom to focus on the unfolding nature of life, relaxed daily rhythms, and nature in the literal sense.

The limitations of this study include that it only explores tiny houses and tiny dwellers as portrayed in social and traditional media; these curated representations obviously cannot capture all real-life aspects of tiny living. Currently, academic research on the aesthetic motivations and rewards of tiny living is scarce and the observations made in this article are based on close reading of media portrayals. Due to the lack of previous related research, support for my findings from academic literature is indirect and implied, calling for deeper attention on the aesthetic practices of residing and the overall value and meaning of aesthetic practices to the enactors.

Finally, tiny dwellers in my media samples often indicate that aesthetic practices of residing act as a counterbalance to our increasingly abstract and hyperconnected world, where life is becoming inseparable from digital screens. As Yuval Noah Harari elsewhere comments, today’s problems can often feel intangibly or insurmountably complex, such as economic crises or climate change.[70] Tiny living as a phenomenon suggests that many thrive when they have concrete, “human-sized” matters at hand to ponder, solve, make, and create. Thus, aesthetic practices are an essential element of a good life, where the quality of experience is inherently valuable: where the means equally matter to the ends.


Anu Besson

Dr. Anu Besson is a research fellow at her alma mater, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, although she works remotely from Western Australia. Her current group research project examines the concept of aesthetic practices. Her previous publications in Contemporary Aesthetics appeared in 2017 and 2019.

Published April 21, 2023.

Cite this article: Anu Besson, “Constructing a Good Life – Aesthetic Practices in Tiny Living,” Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 21 (2023), accessed date.



[1] Pauline von Bonsdorff, “Aesthetic Practices in the Transformation of Self and World,” University of Jyväskylä Finland, 6 June 2022,

[2] A single definition for tiny living does not exist; the “accepted” size varies across countries, but appears to usually be between 20-40 square meters. Australian Tiny House Association, “Tiny House Definition“ 2021,

[3] A Place for Tiny Houses. Tiny House Planning Resource for Australia 2017, 2,

[4] Tracy Harris, The Tiny House Movement: Challenging Our Consumer Culture (USA: Lexington Books, 2018), xiv, 7.

[5] Hansika Kapoor & James Kaufman, “Meaning-Making Through Creativity During COVID-19,” Section: The Four Cs During COVID-19, Frontiers of Psychology, Vol 11 – 2020,

[6] Popularized by Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (USA: Teen Speed PR, 2014), decluttering, home organizing, and downsizing are now themes of dozens of self-help books and docudramas, for example, on Netflix.

[7] Denise Pasquale, Generative Self-Identity Development through Serious Leisure in Middle-Aged Women (USA: Grand Canyon University, 2022), Abstract.

[8] Frank Tallis, The Act of Living (Great Britain: Little, Brown, 2021), 126, 167, 271.

[9] Pauline von Bonsdorff, “Aesthetic practices,” Aesthetic Literacy Vol. II: Out of Mind, ed: Valery Vinogradovs (E-book: Mongrel Matter, 2023), 30-32; Bonsdorff (2022).

[10] Here I concur with Yi-Fu Tuan: In the Western world a good life is usually conceived from and consists of the perspectives of 1) the quality or suitability of indoor and outdoor environment; 2) activity or what humans could or should do to live contently, 3) philosophy or worldview and values; and 4) utopia, or how to drastically improve the current society. The Good Life. (USA: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), 4-5.

[11] Bonsdorff (2022).

[12] John Dewey, Art as Experience (USA: Penguin Group, 2005/1934), 48-51. To Dewey, “artistic” denotes creative doing and “[a]esthetic” refers to the enjoyment of perception, whereas “artistic-[a]esthetic” describes a simultaneous combination of both; Yuriko Saito, Aesthetics of Care: Practice in Everyday Life (E-book: Bloomsbury, 2022), 130-136; Yuriko Saito, Everyday Aesthetics. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 119-124; Yuriko Saito, Aesthetics of the Familiar. Everyday Life and World-Making (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 115-121.

[13] Saito (2022), 70-75, 114-115.

[14] C. Thi Nguyen, “The arts of action,” Philosophers’ Imprint, 20(14):1-27, 2020, 1-3,

[15] Tim Ingold, “The Art of Paying Attention,” The Art of Research Conference, Helsinki 2017, 23 February 2018,; Kari Martin, “The hope of creation – a conversation with Timothy Ingold,” Facing the Anthropocene. Duke University, 26 January 2021,

[16] Rick Kesler, “When did living in a tiny house become so popular?,” Outdoor Troop, [undated],; Usha Uppal, “When did the tiny home movement start,” Tiny Living Life, [undated],

[17] Clive Hamilton & Richard Denniss, Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough (Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005), 153.

[18] Ella Harris & Mel Nowicki, “‘GET SMALLER’? Emerging geographies of micro-living,” Area, 2020; 52: 591– 599.

[19] Emily Brown, “Overcoming the Barriers to Micro-Housing: Tiny Houses, Big Potential,”, Scholar’s Bank, University of Oregon, 2016,

[20] Severin Mangold & Toralf Zschau, “In Search of the ‘Good Life’: The Appeal of the Tiny House Lifestyle in the USA,” Social Sciences, 2019; 8(1):26, Section 2.1,

[21] Charles Pauka, “Tiny houses can lead to big planning problems,” Spatial Source, 9 February 2020,; Mark Skelsey, “Are tiny houses really the best way to house the homeless?,” Downsizing, 26 August 2019,

[22] Ben Knight, “Tiny houses: not the big answer to housing you might think,” UNSW Sydney Newsroom, 29 January 2020,

[23] “Number of Instagram users worldwide from 2020 to 2025,”Statista, 23 May 2022,; Salman Aslam, “Instagram by the Numbers: Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts,” Omnicore, 27 February 2022,; “YouTube for Press,” Youtube Official Blog,; YouTube,
The number of channels is the author’s count.

[24] Ryan Mitchell, “All about Tiny House Nation,” The Tiny Life, 16 November 2021,

[25] For example: “Super Affordable Off-Grid Tiny House Built With Old Fence Palings,” Living Big In a Tiny House, 11 January 2019,

[26] Sara Tardiff, “6 Tiny House Instagram Accounts That Will Inspire You to Downsize,” Architectural Digest, 18 August 2016,

[27] Mangold & Zschau (2019), Section 2.1.

[28] Ryan Mitchell, Tiny Houses Built with Recycled Materials: Inspiration for Constructing Tiny Homes Using Salvaged and Reclaimed Supplies (e-book: Simon & Schuster, 2016); Trial Tiny House Construction Guide 2021, Australian Tiny House Association,; “27 Adorable Free Tiny House Floor Plans,” Craft-Mart, 9 August 2019,

[29] For example: YouTube channels Never Too Small (Europe and Asia), Tiny Tours (USA), Living Big in a Tiny House (Australia and NZ), and Tiny House Expedition (USA).

[30] For example: “This Family Downsized Their Home To Upsize Their Life,” Living Big in A Tiny House, 22 January 2021,

[31] For example: “Just-Right Tiny House Living in The Lucky Linden,” Tiny House Expedition, 21 July 2017, Video description: “Meg [and Dan] built their tiny home on wheels as an expression of their personal design aesthetic, personalities and favorite hobbies, like video & board games… Living tiny is their ticket to self-expression & freedom[.]”

[32] Paradoxically, Tiny House Nation is geared towards advertising of products and thus uncritical about consumerism. The show also states it aims to present tiny living in a luxurious light as opposed to downgrading.

[33] Episode 7, Season 5, “Going Tiny in Music City,” Tiny House Nation.

[34] Heather Shearer, “Loving the idea of tiny house living, even if you don’t live in one,” The Conversation, 29 March 2021,; Megan Carras, “Tiny houses look marvelous but have a dark side: three things they don’t tell you on marketing blurb,” The Conversation, 11 January 2019,

[35] The interviewees in the documentary are not always named and many make similar comments throughout the film, hence the comments here are not verbatim but approximations.

[36] “Luxury Modern Small Home Built In Suburban Backyard,” Living Big In A Tiny House, 13 April 2019,

[37] Ibid.

[38] Tracy Harris, The Tiny House Movement: Challenging Our Consumer Culture (USA: Lexington Books, 2018), pp. 24, 87; Chris Schapdick, The Joy of Tiny House Living,  (Mount Joy: The Creative Homeowner, 2019); “Her Boho Style Tiny Home & Outdoor Paradise – $25k house for freedom,” Tiny House Expedition, 21 May 2022,

[39] Krista Evans, “Integrating tiny and small homes into the urban landscape: History, land use barriers and potential solutions,” Journal of Geography and Regional Planning, March 2018, Vol. 11(3), 34-45.

[40] “Transforming Tiny House Combines Beauty And Engineering For Artful Living,” Living Big In A Tiny House, 20 Apr 2019, “…building your own habitat is a human right [and that] impetus has been lost to us through the legislative process… and tiny houses allow us to come back to that [right],” running time 6:18.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Dewey (2005/1934), 48-51.

[43] Saito (2019), 52.

[44] Arnold Berleant, Sensibility and Sense. The Aesthetic Transformation of the Human World. (UK: Imprint Academic, 2010), 115-123, 221.

[45] Pauline von Bonsdorff, “What are aesthetic practices?,” Aesthetic Practices Kick-Off Seminar, University of Jyväskylä, 24 May 2022.

[46] Pauline von Bonsdorff, “Fishing for beauty,” Esteettiset käytännöt – Aesthetic practices project, 26 September 2022,

[47] Nguyen (2020), 1.

[48] Nguyen (2020), 3. By “designed framework,” Nguyen means that the object, however abstract such as rules of a board game or conventions of social tango, is made or formed by someone for the purposes of enactor’s enjoyment that is or can be aesthetic.

[49] Nguyen, 2020, 2.

[50] As evidenced by Instagram hashtags such as “tiny living home organizing tips” and the overcoming-the-challenge plot line of the Tiny House Nation, where the show hosts repeatedly encounter a design dilemma to plan storage for the downsizers’ most important possessions. In the Vanlife, interviewees state that one reason for vanlifer gatherings is to “show off” one’s creativity with the functionality of the van.

[51] For example, “Swiss army knife” house portrayed in the “Day in Life[.] Remote Worker in a Tiny House – couple working from home,” Tiny House Expedition, YouTube channel, 23 October 2020,

[52] Ryan Mitchell, Tiny house living: ideas for building and living well in less than 400 square feet (Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Home 2014).

[53] “A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance,” UCTV [University of California Television], 25 November 2013,

[54] Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition (USA: The University of Chicago Press, 1958/2018), 84, 96-98, 108.

[55] Bonsdorff (2023), 30-32.

[56] Saito (2019), 115-121; Pauliina Rautio, “On Hanging Laundry: The Place of Beauty in Managing Everyday Life,” Contemporary Aesthetics, 2009, Vol 7,

[57] For example: “Tiny House Clean With Me!,” Living the Tiny Life, 12 August 2021,

[58] For example: “Gorgeous Tiny Home w/ luxury kitchen, fireplace, & so much storage,” Tiny House Giant Journey, 27 July 2022,

[59] Saito (2022), 70-75.

[60] Saito (2022), 114-115.

[61] For example: “Off-Grid Living in a 5x 20ft Shipping Container Home,” Living Big In A Tiny House, 4 June 2021, The owner built a house inside a nature reserve to maximize panoramic views over a valley and has no curtains to let in the sunrise and sunset and to observe the starry skies through a telescope.

[62] Ingold (2018).

[63] Saito (2022), 114-115.

[64] Ingold (2018).

[65] For example: “Gorgeous tiny home w/ luxury kitchen, fireplace & so much more,” Tiny House Giant Journey, Youtube, 26 July 2022,

[66] Martin (2021).

[67] For example: “Luxury Meets Simplicity in this Incredible Queensland Forest Tiny House,” Living Big In A Tiny House, 8 October 2022, Video description: “Inside, the home feels spacious and thanks to the large windows remains completely connected to, yet still protected from the forest which surrounds it… Nestled into the forest, this off-grid tiny house enjoys privacy and feels remote while remaining close to town.”

[68] For example: Fred Schultz, “Why Go Tiny?’ Fred’s Tiny Houses, YouTube, 10 February 2015,

[69] Martin (2021).

[70] Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Great Britain: Vintage, 2019), 250-257.