Fans of “Portlandia” are already familiar with the virtues of “Microhouse” living: you can simultaneously use the bathroom while you write your novel…or make dinner!

Needless to say, America has big love for tiny houses these days. Television shows like “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Hunters,” as well as movies like “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” and “Small Is Beautiful: A Tiny House Documentary,” tout the benefits of living in portable homes that can be paid off quickly and personalized down to the tiniest detail (pun intended). There are builders like Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and California Tiny House who specialize in building tiny homes. There are also tiny house villages beginning to crop up throughout the state. And while the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) says only 1% of buyers are purchasing a home that is 1,000 square feet or less, something is fueling our newfound obsession with the teeny and the tiny. But what is it?

Here are four possible drivers:

1. Millennials 

The largest share of tiny house dwellers— 23 %—are between ages 31 and 40, according to The Tiny Life blog, which conducted a nationwide survey of more than 2,600 people. Because their college loans have made it difficult to afford the initial down payment on a traditional house, many millennials—who have been called “a generation of renters”—are turning to tiny houses because they are affordable. When you look at the costs, you can see why: a tiny house costs anywhere between $10,000 and $40,000 to build, with the average being just $23,000. At such low prices, it’s no wonder that 68 % of tiny house owners don’t have a mortgage. (According to The Tiny Life blog, 61% of survey respondents said they had zero credit-card debt.) All in all, not bad for a young person who lives alone or doesn’t have children.

2. Retirees

You know the familiar adage—that retirees want to downsize. Whether or not you believe that is true (according to NAR, the median square footage of homes purchased by those aged 59 to 67 is 1,850), retiring baby boomers also seem to be driving demand for tiny homes. It makes sense. Obviously, there is a certain amount of freedom that a tiny house brings. Not only does it come with a much smaller price tag, smaller monthly bills and less maintenance (which translates to having more time to enjoy retirement)—but it can also make the difference between retiring or not retiring at all. And if they’re worried about climbing ladders or steps in cramped spaces as they age? There’s no need—there are even builders who specialize in building single-level tiny homes without ladders!

3. Eco-Conscious Dwellers

Within the tiny house movement, there’s also a contingent who want to reduce their ecological footprint. They’re integrating battery-based solar electric systems and wind-powered electric systems into their tiny homes to go completely “off the grid.” There’s even compostable toilets (gas masks needed) for the very dedicated.

4. Traditional Homeowners Who Want Extra 

Traditional homeowners are fueling the movement as well—for the opposite reasons. They want more space. Some of them want to build tiny houses on their properties to shelter guests, family members or caregivers. Tiny homes have also become an option for those seeking land for recreational purposes, such as hunting, fishing, or weekend getaways.

Certainly, tiny house living is an exercise in living minimally and responsibly, and not using up the Earth’s vital resources. It’s also relatively affordable. (Rather than buy a piece of property, which is often expensive, many tiny homeowners rent land. As NAR recommends, real estate pros should check their local ordinances on the minimum square footage requirement for a building permit. Some tiny homes may not even need a building permit.) But the question remains: would you really want to live in a 238-square-foot cabin where you would have to make hard choices like selecting which single pair of shoes to keep? Do you think the downsizing process would be painful…or freeing?  Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Photo by Nicolás Boullosa via flickr