A little less than 3 years ago, my husband (then-boyfriend) and I stumbled across FYI's "Tiny House Nation" on iTunes TV. Curious, we watched. What were these tiny homes? Why would someone subject themselves to such drastic downsizing? How do they go to the bathroom? And then, for a brief moment in time that somehow still felt very long, we were hooked. But what was it that captivated me? Was it the Pinterest-perfect woodworking and the ? The sheer fascination at how someone could install a bathroom in what's essentially a shed? Or the pang of sadness I felt when I watched someone say goodbye to their large home from my tiny New York City apartment?
Looking back, I realize I was hate-watching. And, oh, hate-watching something can feel so good.
Have you ever seen the musical "Avenue Q?" There's a song called celebrating the joy of "Schadenfreude," which means taking pleasure in other people's pain. And it's equally painful and pleasurable to watch people do dumb things, like give up their normal house for one that seems better sized for American Girl dolls.
I'm not the only person who has ever thought it's weirdly consuming to hate watch people making foolish decisions. I mean, consider "The Bachelor": Who would willingly subject themselves to the competing for Nick Viall?
But — much like with traditional schadenfreude, the joy of hate-watching isn't really about celebrating someone else's pain (unless you're a sadist), but more about thinking, "I'm so glad that isn't me right now." Hate-watching people do things that are foolish gives you some comfort in the fact that you're not totally screwing up your own life.
Of course, I'm not actually a terrible person and I understand that in some cases, getting a tiny home isn't a stupid decision. I can see the arguments for having a tiny home: wanting to be fiscally responsible, wanting to downsize when you can't care for or afford a large home anymore, wanting to , wanting to leave less of carbon footprint. I'm not stupid or naive or basking in privilege; I'm aware that not everyone lives in massive houses with huge yards. I certainly didn't. But what I don't understand is when people voluntarily downsize to tiny homes with their children, who need at least some personal space and a house that really feels like home.
Maybe I take the concept of "home" personally: Growing up with divorced parents, I constantly shuffled back and forth between my mom's home and my dad's apartment. By the time I could drive, I kept a duffle bag in the back of my car so that I would always have clothes that I wanted wherever I chose to stay. After I graduated college, I moved around constantly. All l I ever wanted in my life was one place that felt deeply permanent. I swore to myself that when I grew up, my children would have a home. Watching people choose to put their children into a place that might not feel like home — and really, how could something the size of a shipping container feel like a home? — stings a little.
Watching this show, I was bothered (and I suppose captivated) by the people who subjected their children to unnecessarily living in these conditions when they could potentially — with strategizing — figure out other, more amenable options. But they never did. Instead, they justified.
And that justifying, to me, was the worst part. You could see people quietly wrestling with the idea that they chose to forgo their previous living situations to dwell in what's essentially a shoebox (sometimes without real plumbing). Just as awful as it is to listen to someone justify why they made any foolish decision, it's uncomfortable — yet gripping — to watch someone wrestle with poor decisions that will ultimately impact their children.
Because even though they're not saying it, they know — and you know — the real reason these people are moving into cutesy shoeboxes that look like garages: because it's on TV. But doing something because it seems "cool" or to be famous is the wrong reason to do anything, ever, especially if it impacts somebody else.
If I was the child of a mother who gave up our home to be on TV, I wouldn't want to hear her on-camera — or off-camera — justifications for why. Because once the camera crew went away and we were stuck with a place that's defining characteristic was that it landed us on television, no explanation in the world would give me a sense of a home. It would just make me...sad. Sure, I'm glad it isn't me, but when the guilty pleasure turns to sadness, you just want to change the channel.
When you think about it that way, schadenfreude sort of loses its appeal.