For years we've been building big houses, much bigger than the homes we lived in as children. Ironically, the average family size has gotten smaller but we're still living in big houses and the question I have to ask is why? While it's hard to imagine how my parents survived in a 1 bedroom apartment with 3 children ages 6 and under (I was the 6 year old), it's also true that our children don't need individual bedrooms, and then a family room too?
To illustrate the point, let me share my experience when picking our Tokyo apartment, which gave me insight into how people live in other countries. We were leaving our 2,500 square foot, contemporary house that we built on 1.5 acres near Poughkeepsie, NY, and moving to an apartment. Here are some ah ha moments from our house hunting trip:
- Natural sunlight is very important to me – lots of windows, large windows and an upper floor to minimize buildings blocking my sunlight (and you might not realize, Natural Light Keeps You Healthy).
- Outdoor play space for young children (my boys were 8 and 12) is critical. In Tokyo that means streets with a minimum of traffic (cars and people) as they don't have yards.
- A smaller living space means less furniture to buy (we could only ship 1,500 lbs to Tokyo), lower utility costs and learning to use space creatively.
Living in Tokyo taught us you don't need a big house, a big kitchen or big anything! We loved our 1,400 square foot apartment which didn't feel small because of the open concept living room / dining room with glass doors and windows along 2 full walls. When we returned to the US and moved to a 2,100 square foot house with a small yard, it felt like a big house!
We didn't have a big house (apartment) in Tokyo but we did have great storage, something the Japanese include in their small houses. We never had a problem putting away 3 months of groceries – we just had to remember where the chips were (front hall closet), the soda (Ryan's closet), the cereal (Jason's closet) … as everything came in quantities of 12 or more.
Added Costs With a Big House
When you buy a house, it's true you want to buy a house that will grow with your family so you don't have to move. At the same you should weigh the benefits of a big house versus better schools, a shorter commute to work and consider the lifestyle in your community as a neighborhood park is far more valuable than a big back yard.
There are many forgotten costs when buying a big house, or bigger than you really need.
- More furniture to buy, and unfortunately we fill our homes with lots of unneeded items.
- More windows that need window treatments.
- With a big house, you've got more square feet to light up and keep warm/cool, so your utility bills will be higher.
- Lots more painting with more rooms and larger rooms.
- Home maintenance takes more time and money with a big house.
- More time getting and staying organized, and then finding what you've stashed … somewhere?
Benefits to Picking a Small House Over a Big House
Living in Tokyo and working throughout Asia taught me to pack efficiently, and I review what didn't get used after each trip. In the same way, I look at my home and the spaces I'm not using, to see if there's a better role. The best example is our loft – first it was going to be a library but the books are everywhere, so finally we set the room up as an exercise room. In a big house you might have separate rooms for different hobbies but there's no reason why one room can't serve multiple purposes.
Downsizing to a condo with 1,000 feet less than our big house in Portsmouth, NH meant letting go of lots of things. We gave away furniture, wall hangings and there's less storage which I really only notice in the kitchen. What I love is there is less confusion about where things are stored, and over the years we've started to get rid of unnecessary duplication like 3 can openers (you might enjoy reading Kitchen Gadgets: How Many Do We Really Need?).
Do you really need a big house? What's your dream house size?
Photos from my small house(s):
- Boys eating dinner in Tokyo, where we entertained 20 to 25 people, with children sitting on the floor.
- Today's loft with exercise equipment (same coffee table as Tokyo photo), showing flexibility of smaller furniture, especially when you downsize from a big house, to a smaller home.
- Today's open concept kitchen – dining room – living room, makes a small house feel bigger.