Living in a Tiny Space a Historical Perspective
In my last post we looked at the biology of why your brain craves the simplicity and security of a tiny space. Very simply it’s been wired that way by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Once you get over the culture-shock of moving into a tiny space, you are almost certainly going to be happier in it than in a too-large space.
But there is another important way to justify living in a tiny space and that’s to look at the history of the types and sizes of shelters humans have lived in. Even a casual glance shows that tiny shelters are normal for us and the super-sized homes of America are an abnormal, freakish exception. In Hong Kong today, for example, the average home size is 434 square feet but in America it’s over 2100 square feet.
Based on our biology and the history of humans, the burden isn’t on us to explain why we live in a tiny space, it falls on them to justify the obscene and unnatural size of their shelters!
For most of human history our survival depended on the freedom to be able to move with the seasons and follow game, therefore permanent shelters were the rare exception. We needed the freedom that tiny, temporary shelters gave us to move whenever and wherever we needed to. Instead we built mostly simple and quick shelters to protect us from the elements. Our top priority was being able to keep warm and dry with what was available in the local area. That meant it had to be a tiny space or else we would soon strip our nearby area bare of the materials needed to build and maintain the shelter–especially firewood for light, heat and cooking.
The thing to understand is that for 99.99% of human history, when most people woke up in the morning they could look around and their eyes could see nearly everyone they knew and everything they “owned.” Shelters were inclusive and didn’t separate and divide us from each other or from nature. There may only have been 75 people in the band or tribe, but they physically could see and touch each other throughout the day and often the night, sometimes even sleeping together. There may have been very few of us, but we were rarely alone and loneliness didn’t exist. Loneliness is a by-product of civilization and home ownership.
People were treasured,
Things had no value.
Modern Homes are Not Designed for Shelter, but as Temples to the Worship of Status, Luxury, Greed and Paranoia
There is no clear archaeological evidence of any buildings before about 18,000 BC, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Building) but there are many ruins of houses back to 8000 BC with the dawn of agriculture. Agriculture started changes that led from farmsteads, to towns to cities and finally civilizations–each leading to increasingly large and complex homes and social structures. The essence of civilization is to clump people tightly together in direct, close contact with each other, but at the same time putting them behind walls of separation, creating a deep division of people from each other and from nature; Millions of us can be packed into a tiny area, but we hide behind walls of separation so we rarely actually see and physically touch each other. Most of us feel terribly alone and lonely even while in a sea of people! Alienation and separation is the legacy of home ownership.
Because we now depended on our own work, on our own land to get food and trade goods, “my” land suddenly became very valuable as were the tools I used to produce crops. Without them I’d be lost. We no longer needed the other tribe members, we just needed more possessions. Having things that we considered extremely valuable and expensive of my own makes it MINE and makes me willing to make any necessary sacrifice to get it and keep it, even working at a job I hate and shooting you if you try to steal it. “This is mine and you’d better not touch it!”
Not only did I no longer need other people, I now saw them as rivals and opponents. That drives us to paranoia, feeling very afraid of anyone who wants to take it from me and at the same time creates a desire in some people to take it from me. Most of us end up hiding in our homes with multiple locks and alarms to keep the bad guys out and us few (and our precious possessions) safely inside. Sadly, we aren’t even aware it isn’t a shelter of protection, it’s a prison of our own making. For civilized men…
Things were Treasured,
People were Opponents.
Humans evolved as Nomads with the idea that EVERYTHING was disposable and unimportant but modern life perverted that until NOTHING was disposable, instead everything was a treasure worth fighting and dying for. That meant my home was not merely a practical solution for protection from the weather, it became a status symbol of my wealth and a fortress where I protected myself and my treasures from other people.
Four of the Seven Deadly Sins are wrapped up in our houses:
- Pride: Our self-worth and place in society are determined by our houses. That’s why your family and friends are so horrified when you say you are moving out–the moment you do, you loose all merit and value as a person.
- Greed: Owning a home is so dissatisfying that it leaves us with a constant, nagging desire for MORE and BETTER. We feel like we need a bigger and better house or at least more and better things to put in it. That means we need more money….
- Envy: Keeping up with the Jones’s is a national pastime for many Americans and much of it revolves around having better things on the inside and outside of your house.
- Anger/Paranoia: Most of us are so afraid of having our precious stuff stolen from us we’ve added multiple layers of defenses to our homes. It’s reached it’s height in the “Castle Doctrine” which says you don’t have to flee someone breaking into your own home, you can stand your ground and do whatever is required to defend it.
The simple truth is that the historical record shows that home ownership has been very bad for humans and each of us would be better off if we simply walked away from them and went back to living as close to the Nomadic Path as we possibly could.
I already know what you’re going to say, “We can’t all do that, if we did there wouldn’t be anyone left to make all the things we want.” But I’m not talking to everyone, I’m just talking to you folks who came here to my website. There’s a reason you came here and it has to be that to some degree your regular life isn’t really working for you and you long for a change. There’s no chance that everyone will do what I suggest because they don’t know about it and have no desire for it. On the other hand, apparently you do!
Maybe it’s time you did more than long for a change, maybe it’s time to make some changes! It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you can start making some small changes that will have a big impact on your life:
- Stop buying so much stuff. You’re life will be better in every way if you do.
- Start getting rid of some of your stuff. You’ll feel so much better!
- Start researching down-sizing your home. Imagine what you could do with the extra money!
- Go camping, or just go outside and play! Nature will heal you!
- Look at your car and see if there isn’t a way to sleep in it. Maybe even trade it in for a mini-van. How would that work, how would it feel? A whole world of freedom, adventure and travel can open up for you if you can!
None of these things are profound or hard. Maybe put them in your thought-process and start mulling them over–who knows what wonderful things might come from them! A small acorn can grow from a mighty oak.
I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel “Enigmatic Nomadics.” See them here: