Big houses are so common in the US, that it's easy to assume people around the world live in big houses. They don't and my recent vacation in Italy made it very clear, that America's obsession with big houses might be hurting us more than helping us live happy, fulfilling lives.
My biggest surprise was how I reacted to everything I saw in Italy. While I was excited about the opportunity to photograph lots of doors (I'll be sharing these over the next few weeks), I wasn't expecting to see and feel, big differences in lifestyle. I'm still digesting everything but my intuition says in Italy, people (family and neighbors) play a more important than houses. They have big houses which are mostly historical and divided into apartments/condos but most people live in much smaller houses.
Big Houses Isolate Us From Our Neighbors
There were so many surprises for me in Venice. I knew they had canals but never realized there aren't any cars in Venice. You get around by walking, riding bicycles or taking one of the various water taxis which we enjoyed tremendously. We took lots of boat rides (you can jump on and off all day with a special ticket) and tried to absorb all the different sights and sounds.
Along the big canals there were really big houses, more like mansions or palaces depending on when they were built. Many of these big houses are now government offices, museums, hotels or they've been converted into small apartments or private homes like the pensiones (bed and breakfast) where we stayed. They're incredibly creative when it comes to rearranging space. Our first room required going upstairs, then down a hallway and back down about six steps to our room and our bathrooms are huge compared to most bathrooms in Italy.
What I loved though was the way people gathered in the village squares as the sun set, to chat and catch up with neighbors. That's when people walk their dogs and parents are out pushing baby strollers and most important, many seniors have the companionship that is so challenging in the US because we're separated by miles and miles of big houses, large yards and more.
Big Houses Demand More Time and Money
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've maybe gotten a hint that I think smaller houses are smarter than big houses. When the average size of new, single-family houses in the US dropped about 150 square feet after the housing bust, I thought this was great. Sadly the Wall Street Journal in Houses Are Getting Bigger Again, reported earlier this year that the average new home is now bigger than ever at 2,309 square feet.
Wondering why I like smaller houses? Today we assumed that two incomes are needed to support a family but maybe it's not about the family? Have you ever considered how much less money you'd spend to furnish and heat a house that was only 1,600 square feet, which is roughly half way between today's big houses and the average house in the 1950s which was only 983 square feet.
You might also consider how much time and/or money it takes to maintain and clean big houses versus smaller houses!
Big Houses Use Too Many Resources
In addition to higher costs to heat and cool big houses, it costs more to build them because they use more materials and more labor. When we build big houses, we tend to put them on bigger lots in the suburbs and that means longer commutes to work, school, the grocery store and just about anywhere we go.
In a later article I also plan to explore the notion of attached versus detached houses. When you look at the photos, you'll notice that the houses all stand smartly one next to the other. It changes how they bring natural sunlight into their homes while reducing heating bills and bringing neighbors closer together.
Want to learn more about the small house movement?