Culture

Choosing to Live in a Tiny House Deemed ‘Poverty Appropriation’

A Tumbleweed brand Cypress 24 in Boulder, Colo. (Reuters photo: Rick Wilking)
An ‘intersectional’ progressive writer finds herself getting a little offended by people who are living in small houses because they want to.

According to an article in the “intersectional” blog The Establishment, people who don’t have to live in tiny houses living in tiny houses is a “troubling” example of “poverty appropriation.”

In an article titled “The Troubling Trendiness of Poverty Appropriation,” July Westhale explains that she grew up in poverty in a small immigrant town in California, where she lived in a small house because she had to — and that she’s finding herself getting a little offended by people who are living in small houses because they want to.

“This background, this essential part of who I am, makes it particularly difficult to stomach the latest trend in ‘simple’ living  –  people moving into tiny homes and trailers,” Westhale writes.

“How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place?” she asks. “Because what those who can afford homes call ‘living light,’ poor folks call ‘gratitude for what we’ve got.’”

And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement. No, Westhale also has a problem with certain bars and restaurants “appropriat[ing] . . . low income communities” through trailer-park themes and “trashy” menu items such as tater tots.

“Inexpensive, filling food items most commonly found in poverty-stricken households have become de rigeur at some of the hippest restaurants in the country: you can find meat and pickle plates being schlepped off in fancy restaurants as charcuterie, or bone marrow appetizers for $12 per plate at many of the new eateries popping up in affluent cities (or newly affluent, like Oakland),” Westhale writes.

(Note: I’m not sure where she gets the idea that “charcuterie” is trashy food. I feel like “cheese and crackers” is something that people of all income levels have been eating for quite some time now, and I personally didn’t even know what the word “charcuterie” meant until two years ago.)

Now, to be fair, Westhale isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to eat tater tots or live in a small home. At the end of her essay, she explains that she just wants people to “start having conversations about how alternative means aren’t a choice for those who come from poverty.”

Cutting areas in your budget to save money isn’t appropriation; it’s financial planning.

Here’s the thing, though: I am pretty sure everyone in the world is already well aware of the subject that she so desperately wants to start a “conversation” about.

Most people who move into mobile homes do so so they can spend their days traveling and exploring nature instead of being glued to a traditional house or apartment. Really, it’s more of a hardcore camping, adventure-blogging trend than an appropriation trend.

As for the non-mobile Tiny House Movement, a lot of people do this in order to avoid mortgage debt so that they can spend money on other things. Cutting areas in your budget to save money isn’t appropriation; it’s financial planning.

I highly doubt that anyone who moves into a mobile or “tiny” home out of choice is sitting there thinking, “Man, low-income people sure do have it easy! This is great!” Everyone understands that having the ability to downsize your home in order to have money for other things and/or the ability to travel is much, much different than having a small home because all you can afford is a small home. Everyone knows that there is much more to poverty than just home size and tater tots, and it’s absolutely ridiculous to think otherwise.

– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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