Living modestly has always been in vogue for those who are mindful of their carbon footprint and general economic consumption. Now the conservationist's mindset is bleeding into the zeitgeist. Is it because of pop culture trends, global warming, overpopulation? The answer, of course, is probably all of the above and, at the forefront of this movement, are some very, very small homes.

Tiny homes have become more than a hobby or a minimalist's manifestation of a spartan lifestyle. The appeal of tiny homes transcends niche and can be shaped to fit almost anyone's tastes and preferences -- save for claustrophobes. Small-stature homes have been integrated for uses as diverse as sheltering the homeless, building housing communities, and even destinations for Airbnb-ers and cabin seekers.

Photo by Tappancs / CC0

While tiny homes will save on energy and material consumption, they can be pretty expensive to buy or build, with prices ranging from around $10,000 to $80,000. There is a huge controversy over the costs of tiny house builds. Just a cursory Google search turns up article after article, blog upon blog of people ranting back and forth over the costs of builds. While hobbyists and eccentrics advocate stylized and mid-to-top-tier appliances and materials, others who are more frugal or armchair commentators argue that it can be done more cheaply. And while these posts and arguments keep pouring in, it is fairly clear to see that the true cost is determined on a case-by-case basis. Naturally, contractors and carpenters have the inside scoop on cost-effective materials that also perform well, while others are left to choose from reclaimed materials and whatever is available to common consumers. In both cases, the budget is the deciding factor.

Despite the costs, going tiny is getting easier as the years go by. With tax breaks for renewable energy fixtures, the exemption on property taxes, and now the ubiquitous services for renting out tiny houses, they can practically pay for themselves in a relatively short amount of time. While many will emphasize the impracticality of tiny homes given the hefty cost for so little square footage, these tax breaks and other income opportunities make tiny an option for almost anybody, be they hopeful owners or casual admirers.

Photo by Tammy Strobel / CC BY-SA

Tiny homes are growing rapidly due to factors such as natural disasters, economic dips (financial crisis of 2008), and increased media coverage (shows like Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Nation), with no sign that this trend is slowing. The proliferation of these dwellings is so extensive that, depending on your location, one could stay in a tiny house for as little as $20 a night just hours from home, or have one delivered within weeks.

Living tiny is more than just a real estate boom or hobby -- it can be a way of life. From Thoreau's Walden to Matthew McConaughey's airstream home, tiny homes have situated themselves firmly within the global consciousness. Whether it's a preference for cell-sized dwellings as a reaction against opulent homes or just the spirit of the times, tiny living has a long life ahead.