Tiny Living For The Not-so-small Life

Tiny homes are emerging as a trend in the 50+ consumer marketplace. According to research by The Tiny Life, 38% of tiny-home owners are over the age of 50. The movement has shifted from pioneers living off the grid to a mainstream desire to downsize our lives. Keep in mind, the average home in the U.S. is around 2,600 square feet. Tiny homes vary from 100-400 square feet. The movement is being fed by FYI’s “Tiny House Nation” and HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters,” the growing number of web sites, and how-to books.

For older adults, this trend resonates with a shift away from Possession Experience Stage, which is typical of young adults forming families, and toward the Being Experience Stage, which is more anti-materialistic. This stage is about letting go of regrets, resolution of conflict and experiencing life free of “stuff.”  (Their “stuff” is one of the biggest challenges of later life; see my last Engage:Boomers post, "Unstuffing America.")



Why go small?

The idea of tiny home living is largely motivated by the desire for financial independence. Foreclosures and job losses in the recent recession have left people seeking an option that they can own outright and downsize their monthly expenses. Younger consumers choose it to get out from under student loan debt and own their own space. Older people choose it as a way to downsize for retirement — mortgage free —  or to live closer or with extended family. 

Tiny houses are age-friendly

Tiny houses are often the solution to specific family needs in cost-prohibitive markets and are particularly attractive to older adults looking for solutions.  

  • “Granny flats” or backyard casitas are in a category called accessory dwellings. This type of tiny house can be created for multi-generational living so grandparents can be closer to the family. These homes can also be adapted for special needs as people age, while still providing privacy and separation. They can also serve as home for an in-home caregiver for elderly loved ones. 
  • Many people at midlife have started or own their own businesses and use the tiny house structure as an office or studio. 
  • Tiny houses are providing vacation or second homes for many retirees. Mobile tiny homes, like RVs, provide flexibility of location but are still cost-effective. 
  • Grandparents report helping grandchildren, saddled with student loans, finance the creation of a tiny home to help launch them into the responsibility of homeownership. 
  • In large, expensive cities, older homeowners have created and moved into tiny homes to provide their primary home to their children and their family. This creates a multigenerational household, provides for the caregiving needs of older adults and provides a home a family in a pricey market. 


Most municipalities have a minimum size for dwellings. The tiniest of the tiny houses are 100-200 square feet and are on wheels; these function as RVs. Many communities, however, ban full-time RV living outside of an RV park. Some communities allow for accessory dwellings on existing properties, like casitas and “granny flats” but may prohibit full kitchens, which can limit options for use. 

Who owns them?

As mentioned earlier, older adults — 50+  — make up the largest proportion of tiny home owners at 38%. The Tiny Life research reports that 68% of tiny homeowners have no mortgage, compared to 29% of all U.S. homeowners. More than half (55%) of tiny-home owners have more savings than the average American, and 89% have less credit card debt. More women than men own tiny homes, and tiny-home owners are twice as likely to have a masters degree. 

Tiny-home villages solve community problems

  • Detroit is building 25 tiny homes in a neighborhood for homeless people, low-income students and seniors who can rent for seven years and then become owners. 
  • Boneyard Studios in Washington, D.C., is a demonstration tiny-home village with a mission to show creative urban infill, promote the idea of tiny home living and builders, and be a model of community. 
  • Austin, Texas, has Community First! Village, a 27-acre master-planned community that will proved affordable and sustainable tiny homes designed to be a support for community disabled and chronically homeless people. 

Around the country, the tiny home is a solution for aging in place, multi-generational living alternatives and even the creation of dementia villages. Trend spotters believe tiny homes are the tipping point of a new frugality, a desire to do more with less, and a backlash against the excesses of pre-recession America.

3 comments about "Tiny Living For The Not-so-small Life ".
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  1. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, October 17, 2016 at 1:42 p.m.

    Great insights and a harbinger of things to come.

  2. Lori Bitter from The Business of Aging replied, October 17, 2016 at 2:23 p.m.

    Thank you, Jim!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 17, 2016 at 7:43 p.m.

    $500,000 home = $12,000/yr in real estate and school taxes plus maintenance. Even a $250,000 house = $6000 (appoximately) annual taxes plus maintenance. This is what the value of homes now, not what they paid for it. And the kids don't come for overnighters or for alternative living spaces. But this choice is not always the first choice, but the only choice people have.

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