McMansions as debtor’s prisons

While arguing for tiny houses, Jay Shafer argues that McMansions are comparable to debtor’s prisons:

“I see myself as freeing people,” Shafer says. “McMansions are like debtors’ prisons for the 21st century. Why pay for all that space that you’re not using, for the heating and maintenance, if it doesn’t make your life better?”

Indeed, researchers have discovered that many people bought big houses without any idea of what they’ll actually do with the room, and ended up living in just a small portion of their costly domiciles. In the quest to fill up the spaces with big-screen TVs and sectional sofas and bric-a-brac, many ended up succumbing to what one market researcher has termed a “claustrophobia of abundance.”

Shafer has a better idea. Sell the Xanadu, get rid of a lot of your stuff, and invest $50,000 or so from the proceeds in an elfin dwelling mounted on wheels, so that it technically qualifies as a vehicle and thus gets around the minimum-size constraints of zoning laws. Put it on a tiny parcel, ideally in some picturesque location on the outskirts of suburban sprawl, perhaps in a location where you can appreciate a little bit of nature.

Two things are interesting here:

1. I’m not sure I understand the comparison to debtor’s prisons. I understand that buying a McMansion can require taking on a lot of debt but debtor’s prisons were quite unpleasant places (some mention here). Are McMansions really that bad?

2. So it is okay if tiny houses contribute to suburban sprawl? I’m intrigued by the last line: you can park your tiny house on the edge of the metropolitan region, and live in nature while still being close to a lot of amenities. The problem, then, is not suburbia per se but rather the oversized houses. Would critics of sprawl be satisfied with this trade-off?

And I also have two questions:

1. Do tiny houses work for families?

2. Has anyone come up with a way to connect tiny houses so you can have a bigger house but that is still movable?

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