My husband and I live in a 492-square-foot apartment in Cambridge, Mass. We live in "micro-apartments" -- sometimes called micro-houses. According to Wikipedia, homes under 500 square feet are often labeled with that distinction. This small trend we are unconsciously in is part of a growing international movement.
But deep inside the expensive custom closets and under the New Age Murphy beds, the pro-petite propaganda has hidden some unseemly truths about how the other half lives. No one writes about the little white lies that help sell this new, very small American dream.
Here, on the inside, we have found small not so beautiful after all. Like the silent majority of other middling or poor urban dwellers in expensive cities, we are residents of tiny homes not by design, but because it is all our money can rent.
Tiny houses are booming. The movement, whose origins fans often link in spirit all the way to Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, became increasingly popular after the 2008 housing crash. Living small has come to signal environmental mindfulness and restrained consumerism.
A tiny home is a state of mind, if not a religion. It is in vogue, and it is in Dwell. The tiny house pairs well with other contemporary cultural currents. It is cut from the same cloth as the Marie Kondo craze of 2014, and suits this year’s hygge, too. (The recently imported cult of hygge-ness — or coziness, from Denmark — often entails the burning of candles, wearing of chunky sweaters and a pursuit of togetherness facilitated by small spaces.) Micro living plugs into the age of Apple minimalism, too. In real estate listings, “cozy” is no longer an unconvincing euphemism, but a coveted catchphrase.
Our apartment in Cambridge was built in 1961, part of an earlier wave of utopian interest in tiny affordable housing. Our space occupies most of the lower third of a two-unit, three-story building. There is a contiguous row of nine such pairings — pint-size below, family-size above — on our street. The original developer’s vision was that income from renting the lower units could help cover the mortgage for the owners’ homes above.
The most striking feature of our small lives is the unavoidable, domineering presence of the plastic laundry hamper originally bought from Target in 2007. Embarrassing, ordinary objects like the hamper are empowered in small spaces; they become tyrants. In a larger home, this perfectly functional item might recede quietly into a closet or laundry room.
Our unattractive $10 centerpiece occupies approximately 0.4 percent of our home’s surface area, but visually, it seems much larger. In an otherwise horizontal bedroom landscape (a queen-size mattress on the floor), the hamper looms high and white above the rest of the room. It often reminds me of the Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. — a piece of monumental architecture designed to dominate the prairie, to force man’s will over nature.
Glossy photo spreads on popular blogs like Tiny House Swoon make the small life look disproportionately good. Small houses have spawned a decent-size media subindustry. Browse Amazon for helpful tomes such as “Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building and Living Well in Less than 400 Square Feet” and “The How To Guide to Building a Tiny House.” The big screen features small houses. You may try documentaries like “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” or “Small Is Beautiful: A Tiny House Documentary.” Or “Tiny House, Big Living,” the small-screen series, which is in its fifth season on HGTV.
通过“小房子大惊喜”(Tiny House Swoon)等广受欢迎的博客流传开来的那些漂亮照片，让微生活显出了不合情理的好。小房子已经为媒体业催生出了一个规模不可小觑的子行业。在亚马逊(Amazon)网站可以看到实用的大部头著作，比如《栖居于小屋：建造不足400平方英尺的小房子、过上幸福生活的创意》(Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building and Living Well in Less than 400 Square Feet)和《小房子建造指南》(The How To Guide to Building a Tiny House)。小房子还上了大银幕。你或许可以看看《微小：一个关于微生活的故事》(Tiny: A Story About Living Small)或《小即是美：一部关于小房子的纪录片》等纪录片。或者看看《小房子大生活》(Tiny House, Big Living)，HGTV的这个电视节目已经播到了第五季。
Tickets for the Tiny House Conference (“tiny houses, big conference”) in Portland, Ore., in April cost $349. The event featured inspirational talks like “Downsize Your Space and Life” and “Future of the Movement.” In Charlotte, N.C., you can hire a tiny house life coach to help with your transition.
4月份，俄勒冈州波特兰市举行了一个小房子大会（Tiny House Conference，会议主题是“小房子，大会议”），门票是349美元。会上有一些鼓舞人心的话题，比如，“缩小你的空间和生活”，“这场运动的未来”。在南卡罗来纳州的夏洛特市，你可以雇一名小房子生活教练帮你过渡。
There have been some skeptics. In December 2013, The Atlantic ran an article headlined “The Health Risks of Small Apartments.” The results the magazine reported were inconclusive. Small spaces may pose psychological risks to some populations, but not to others. Some of the experts interviewed by The Atlantic argued that age might matter. Micro apartments could be good for young people, like my husband and me.<纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com/>
也有人对此表示质疑。2013年12月，《大西洋》月刊(The Atlantic)刊登了一篇文章，标题是《小公寓的健康风险》(The Health Risks of Small Apartments)。该杂志报告的结果没有定论。小房子可能对某些人具有心理风险，但对其他人不会。《大西洋》采访的一些专家认为，年龄可能是一个影响因素。对于我和丈夫这样的年轻人来说，小房子可能是有益的。
Life in our tiny home is characterized above all by shabbiness. Like the apartment’s pervasive, undomesticateable dust bunnies, the threadbare feeling grows and grows simply because it already exists.
No one warns you that everything is more concentrated in a tiny house, that the natural life cycle of objects accelerates.
Our things are aging faster than they did in their previous homes. We sit on our lone couch more hours a day than in any previous dwelling. The cushions are fading, the springs sagging, the corners fraying. Our rug is balding along our daily paths, starkly revealing repetitive routines: back and forth to the coffee machine, to the couch, to the sink, to the couch. The denudations look like cow paths cut through sage brush — invasive affronts on the landscape. Everything in our tiny house is worked over more, used harder.
Here, even smells take up space. We once made a meal that called for caramelizing three pounds of onions. For hours the onions melted in their pan. Technically they were taking up less and less space, but somehow they intruded more. In a tiny house, the smell of slowly sweated onions is an inescapable, cloyingly rich aroma; a scent to drive men — and women — mad.
The eau de onion spread to everything. It clung especially to the moist bathroom towels, and to the laundry drying in the bedroom. We were never clean again. Fresh from the shower, we immediately smelled of onions — of tiny house. For weeks, smelling like old onions became one of our micro lives’ certainties. The scent’s preferred repository, I eventually learned, was my New Age, polyester sports bra.
“It smells like onion,” my husband had certified weeks later. “That doesn’t seem like a good thing to wear.” I said, “I can’t not wear it.” And that was true. I did wear it, but the bra’s coolly advertised moisture-wicking technology seemed designed to activate the old onions. I carried the smell with me deep into the city. You can never really leave a tiny house; it goes with you everywhere.
For generations, writers have warned about romanticizing the lives of the poor. Beware the nostalgie de la boue. Small can be a bad fit.
So we daydream big. Dreams of unfashionable, politically incorrect, old American aspirations that our generation isn’t supposed to believe in anymore. Dreams of design features so vast that they sound like foreign countries. I dream of kitchen islands. I dream outside this box.