Micro Housing and Its Benefits

In Andrew Ross’ book, Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times, I found that the issues he raised in reference to labor and sustainability connected with some previous topics we’ve been discussing in class. I want to first bring to your attention one of the many reality TV shows that can be found on HGTV, called “Tiny House Hunters.” I admit that I’ve seen this show once or twice, mainly because it was intriguing to see how small these spaces really were, providing the bare essentials for the homeowner. In the few episodes I watched, most of the guests were young and single and many explained how their decision to downsize was due to a desire to live a more modest life and avoid the burden of clutter.


Ross discusses how this anti-consumerism mentality acts as an oppositional force to unfair labor practice overseas, where most of the goods we consume are produced. He suggests that a way to reduce this form of labor is to “promote the eventual possibility of mass employment in clean energies, ecologically appropriate technologies, and organic agriculture” (129). With that being said, college students like ourselves are more interested in these matters than “those workers who clean [our] dorms, cook [our] meals, and dispose of [our] garbage,” but while there may be many activists promoting anti-consumerism as a way to stand against unfair labor practices in sweatshops, the majority of Americans will probably continue to buy products made overseas because of “our addiction to consumer goods,” which will do nothing to solve this issue for the following reasons (124-6).

My marketing professor mentioned the other day how large corporations are always chastised for the production of goods overseas, but he pointed out how we, the consumer, are part of the problem. Consumers demand low prices and businesses respond by lowering their costs to meet this demand. And where are the least expensive places to manufacture many of these goods? Basically all of southeast Asia. Soon we’ll all be college grads and we’ll be moving to new cities (or maybe living at home), but wherever we are, I think the majority of us will be fairly price conscious. On a tight budget, if you are confronted with two products, one made in America, the other overseas, it’s safe to assume that you’d probably choose the least expensive product when you have a rent, car payments, student debt, etc, to worry about. Will you really pay a few extra bucks for x product just because it’s made in America? Some people do, but the majority of working class Americans or young people like us will probably opt for the cheaper product. And as long as there are people wiling to buy x product, those large corporations will continue to produce them.

But what if there was a way to reduce an individual’s overall cost of living that would allow them to have more discretionary income to be able to buy the more expensive product that is eco-friendly, fair trade, etc.? Well there is a way. Micro housing reduces the need for excessive spending on such superfluous items like “microwave omelet cookers and glow in the dark page magnifiers,” which are mentioned in the Onion article Ross references mocking the “sheer amount of shit Americans will buy” (126). There is simply not enough space for that. Not only does this type of lifestyle minimize our consumption of goods produced by factories with bad working conditions, but it also allows people to reduce their rents “for a fraction of the cost.” As a result, people have more spending money to use on sustainable goods and services versus those produced for pennies on the dollar in China.

Living in these small spaces has become very popular in cities like New York, San Francisco and especially Seattle. This trend is partly due to the gentrification of urban spaces with higher rents, leaving young adults in search for affordable living in major metropolises that are the hubs of the “creative class.” That being said, this trend has produced more jobs following the Fordism model that we discussed a few classes back. Tobias Oriwol, a project developer for a microunit construction company, Monadnock, stationed right in Brooklyn, explains how “the whole point is efficiency through repetitive, assembly-line construction,” and “in terms of complexity and precision, [it’s] something like designing a car.”

Many of the apartments in New York that fall under this category of micro housing are identical in layout, allowing parts from all units to be interchangeable, much in the same way houses in suburbia were constructed in the 1950s. While no collar jobs have become the dominant type of labor in America, it is interesting to note there are still some remnants of assembly line labor that still exist in the U.S. today.

Yet on the other side of the coin, micro housing also contains creative aspects of labor. In rural areas, like Iowa and Michigan, there is a wider range of architectural designs available, from tree houses to ones on wheels. I stumbled upon a blog entitled, “Small House Society,” that lists a bunch of different architects around the world, most of whom use “environmentally sensitive building practices,” that specialize in micro housing. The majority of these construction companies pride themselves on using “mostly local and recycled materials and utilizing processes that minimize waste,” further displaying the positive attributes from downsizing. Not only can you cut costs, but also contribute to the green job initiative, at least domestically.

All in all, I found this idea of micro housing to be quite relevant in a number of topics from the reading. I don’t know what any of your plans are after graduation, but the perks that this type of living can provide seem pretty appealing to me. After all, if we survived four years in these college dorms, these apartments seem like a step up. So now that I’ve basically found a place to live, let’s hope I can find a job too.

Ross, Andrew. Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.

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