Recently at a restaurant, my partner Tammy had a difficult time deciding what she wanted to order from the menu. Her difficulty in making a choice reminded me of all of the choices that went into building and designing the tiny house. As renters, Tammy and I had always chosen the part of town we wanted to live in and let our feelings help us decide which apartment felt right. Once in the rented apartment we accepted the building as it was. We added creature comforts to fit our aesthetics and our preferences but we never had to consider detail of the infrastructure.
When designing the tiny house we were overwhelmed with choices that we had never considered before. What we focused on seemed to expand, and soon we had to ask:
- Where do we place electrical outlets and light switches?
- What fuel do we use for heating, and cooking?
- What type, style, and material do we want for our flooring, counters, door handles, and light fixtures?
Tammy quickly abandoned me. It was hard enough for her to decide what she wanted to eat in a restaurant much less deciding what furnishings would be permanently installed in our tiny home; and so it became my job to narrow down the options.
I enjoyed the challenge of design, but with the thousands of decisions that lay before me, I knew I needed help to strategize. I needed to decide how I would decide. “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz was a great intro to this topic and helped me understand Tammy’s decision paralysis. Jonah Lehrer’s book “How we decide” gave some me some fantastic insight and tools to use in making my decisions on tiny house furnishings. Both books cite research that finds:
- The logical portion of our brain can quickly become overwhelmed once the variables (choices) exceed about seven.
- We should encourage reliance on instinctual emotions for decision making (this mechanism can handle millions of variables)
- It’s important to understand decision weaknesses. These emotional blind spots include things like loss aversion and normative social influence.
To simplify my choices I tried to listen to my instincts and look for examples while keeping in mind my logical needs and budget. Each area of the house had different needs so I tried to consider each area as a separate project instead of, for example, trying to find a lighting type that would be a compromise fit for everything. Also, I tried to relax a bit since perfect is the enemy of good. As humans, we adapt quickly to our surroundings and soon rarely notice the details of our routine environment. Further, nothing is permanent. If I really hated something or wanted to improve it, I could save some money and replace it the future.
I no longer take home furnishing details for granted. Next time you are in your home, a public building, or staring at tiny house examples, try to notice a few details. For instance, maybe consider which door handles were chosen and why. After going through the process of choosing tools and materials for the tiny house I can now appreciate the small details I find in other homes. I now pay attention to how things work and try to imagine the designer’s rationale. It’s a fun challenge, but Tammy still thinks I’m crazy.