Twelve Questions: Bryce Langston

Bryce Langston is a minimalist, permaculturalist, documentary maker, actor and musician who is a leading voice in New Zealand's tiny house movement. He grew up in a McMansion on Auckland's North Shore.

Bryce Langston with a somewhat smaller house than the mighty one he grew up in. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Bryce Langston with a somewhat smaller house than the mighty one he grew up in. Photo / Brett Phibbs

1. Tell us about the tiny house you are building.

The trailer for our house is under construction at the moment. Tiny houses are mostly built on converted car hauler trailers and we're rethinking the construction to get as much size out of it as we can. Tiny houses don't have to meet building codes because they're registered as a vehicle so they fit in with criteria of the Transport Agency, which means a maximum of 12.5m long, 4.25m high and 2.5m wide. And they can't weigh more than 3.5 tonnes. Most of them are 6m long by 2.5m wide and we're maximising the height by making the trailer our foundations to get an extra 15cm inside the house. That doesn't sound a lot, but it is. You can build your own off-grid tiny house for $20,000 to $30,000 and it's beautiful and houses everything you need.

2. Those tiny house sleeping lofts look awfully small - is there room for any activity bar sleeping?

Sure there is. You just need to keep the activity horizontal.

3. Is there such a thing as tiny house living for families?

In the Western world, it's quite unheard of for a family to be living in such a small space, but in some of the countries I have visited - Central America and Southeast Asia, for example - it would be completely normal for three generations to be sharing a home that size. I'm not saying that I would want to do it myself, necessarily, but it's certainly possible and I'm sure it has many benefits in bringing families closer together. Tiny houses are on wheels, so perhaps building a second one for your child that they can take with them when they leave home is a better option.

4. Why do you think humans like stuff so much?

I think that we are taught to like stuff. It's a result of intentional planning using PR and advertising to keep us wanting to buy more so that we can grow the economy. It's unfortunate that we are not also taught what we sacrifice in order to obtain this stuff, as many of us spend much of our lives working in jobs we don't especially like, sacrificing health, time and relationships so we can buy more things that we don't really need. I can't deny there is a pleasure that is gained from new stuff, but it's always short lived. Buddhists have a philosophy that everything you own ends up owning a part of you and I can certainly identify with that.

5. You've acted on Shortland Street and in TV commercials - how do you marry your eco living principles with the fickle world of television?

Sometimes it's difficult, but media is such a wonderful and powerful tool for creating positive change that I consider it an important pursuit. The key is to just stay as grounded as possible and try to do the best you can. Nobody is perfect.

6. What does home mean to you?

Home to me is a place where I can completely just be myself with the people that I love and where I am sheltered from the weather.

7. Was it hard to find a woman who wanted to live in a tiny house with you?

My girlfriend [photographer] Melissa Nickerson was rapt when I got into the tiny house movement. Neither of us are very materialistic. We're more interested in using our money to travel and do things we love. We don't own our own property. We rent a room in a house with four other people so in a way our tiny house will be a larger space for us.

8. Describe your childhood home.

I grew up in a McMansion, really. My parents have a large house on the Shore, four bedrooms, two lounges, an office. It was a great family home. I actually don't loathe McMansions at all. I have seen wonderful large homes that have been constructed with great thought and care for the environment around them. They are just not a practical solution for all the people on the planet in a world with limited space and resources. The main problem is the debt associated with owning them. And the lack of freedom that comes with that debt.

9. Are you the black sheep of the family?

I've always been really eco-minded. Since I was very little I always had an understanding that you don't take anything with you. At the end of your life all you carry with you are the people you meet and stories and relationships and lessons you've learned. My dad's an accountant and my mum worked for accounting firms but they're really open and loving people. I was the black sheep and probably still am. In the beginning they thought I was nuts but now I think they're coming around to my ideas. My mum sends me stuff she finds on the internet about tiny houses.

10. Are you an evangelist for minimalism?

What I want to do is let people know there's a choice. If you're happy with how things are in your life and the work you do to pay for that then that's fine. But lots of people aren't. They're really hurting and unhappy in their jobs and they don't see a way out of being in debt for 30 years or whatever. People say you have to live in the real world, but the real tangible world is one where food does grow on trees and water falls from the sky and everything is provided for you to survive.

11. What does success mean to you?

Success is a word that I associate most with the accomplishment of a goal and it's not something that I strive for. I've had a lot of ups and downs and hurdles to overcome before any kind of achievement and what I have learned is that it's the journey in where happiness is found, not the destination. For me success is when I am able to enjoy each moment on the path I'm on and not be focused on the outcome, which often is completely out of my control.

12. Will tiny houses take over the world one day?

That really depends on the path of human consciousness. If we grow into a culture that focuses on fair distribution of resources, care of the planet and pursuit of non-material happiness, then I think downsized homes will become normal. If our society continues down the path of uncontrolled material and economic growth, then it's unlikely.

- NZ Herald

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