The Size Of Your House Matters… But Not Like We Are Made To Think It Does.


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The following is a guest post by Nan Fischer, a Certified EcoBroker specializing in green real estate in Taos, NM. Check out her website, and follow her on Twitter for a daily green news feed, Nan writes about green building, solar energy and the environment on her blog,

Big is not beautiful anymore. American home square footage has been ballooning for years, but that’s got to end.

In our patriotic efforts to live up to our international reputation of being over-consumptive, we are living in way more space than we need. We have media rooms, master suites, walk-in closets that can be mistaken for bedrooms, and extra living and dining areas. I grew up in a house, some of which was reserved for company – formal living and dining rooms. I never understood that excess. It eventually dawned on my parents that they actually lived in about 1000 square feet, and they built their final house accordingly.

Jenkins Lane 4 My first house, as a single 30-something, was a 16’x24′ passive solar post and beam saltbox in New Hampshire. It had more space than I needed – full basement, two stories and a cozy reading loft on the ‘third floor.’ Utility bills were low. Being passive solar, it did not need supplemental heat on sunny winter days. Being small, it did not take much wood to keep it comfortable at night.

I now have children, and my house is about 2000 square feet. The space has served us well for the last eleven years. We have lived in every inch of it, and I even remodeled to reduce my energy bills and improve the traffic pattern and heating/cooling air flow. As the kids are growing up and moving out on their own, though, I am drowning in the extra room. I am ready to downsize.

A friend of mine owns pumice passive solar duplex, one side of which is 665 square feet. It is one bedroom and a full bath with a petite kitchen, a living room and a storage room with a washer and dryer. I had this listed for sale a couple years ago, and every time I was in it, I said to myself, ‘I could live here with no kids.’ It was just enough room. If it was still for sale, I’d probably buy it.

Extravagance vs Simplicity

Why do we think bigger is better? Ask yourself that as you consider these parts of home ownership:

> cost
> maintenance
> cleaning
> utilities
> waste

Do you really need more of all those in your life? Right. I didn’t think so.

Downsize Without Sacrifice

> Make sure you have storage space. Not too much, otherwise you’ll continue to fill it up with ‘stuff,’ and stuff is what we are trying to get rid of!

> The furniture must be to scale. Small room, small furniture. That is why the pumice duplex seemed so spacious – the kitchen was small but complete, and the living room furniture fit in the space it was given.

> Built-ins take up interior wall space, not living space. Use them. Double-duty built-ins, like a bench that is storage below, are very effective and space-saving.

> Get rid of your stuff! Have yard sales, and donate to churches and battered women shelters. Visit second-hand stores, freebox and recycling center regularly. Dump your stuff! The less stuff you have, the less room you will need. My rule is if I have not used something in six months, I get rid of it. If that makes you nervous, use one year as a timeline.

> Raised ceilings, which I don’t recommend for heating purposes, give the illusion of more space. Raise them if you must. Just don’t tell me about it.

The Benefits

> Save money on utilities and maintenance.

> Save money on your mortgage or your rent.

> If you are building, you will cut costs with less material.

> If you are building, you will create less waste (good for the landfill).

> If you are building, you will have a smaller footprint, eating up less of the planet’s precious vegetation.

> Reduce your carbon footprint and save our natural resources.

Next time you move or build, think big by going small.

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  1. I know so many couples that make excuses for living in a big house “because they have children.” When I explain with enthusiasm that my partner and I share a 650 sqft apartment, the common response is, “But you couldn’t live there if you had children!”

    It is a recent trend for middle-class American families to ‘require’ big homes, but just 60 years ago families with three or more children managed to live comfortably in smaller, bungalow-style homes. The children shared a bedroom and the family spent time together in the kitchen or family room. I’ve never heard any complaints from people who grew up in small homes.

    I have a theory that families who live in large homes all resent one another. The husband and wife resent one another and the children resent their parents, so try to get as far away from one another as possible. The kids hide alone in their bedrooms, the father hides in the garage or study, and the mother has her own secret nook. Families of today don’t even sit together for dinner.

    If you have or are planning to have children, please consider the family-bonding experiences you may share if you lived in a small home.

  2. Two years ago we moved into a 880sq ft bungalow with finished attic (built in the 1940s): living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, 1 bath, unfinished basement. The original owners raised 3 children in this home. It’s cute as a button–based on Arts & Crafts architecture–and we find it plenty roomy and inexpensive to heat and maintain.

  3. I’ve actually had two friends do this recently, both of which were specifically inspired by Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week.

    If you haven’t read it, in it Ferris talks about just living with less things, experiencing more as opposed to owning, being able to put things into storage and go do mini-retirement in different cities or countries, etc.

    One of my friends sold his motorcycle and gave away his bike and a few other things to friends, donated a bunch of stuff, and then just got himself down to about 2 bags of clothes that he traveled on.

    The other is putting a bunch of his stuff in storage as well this summer to travel.

    I’ve started living with less as well and it honestly just makes life more enjoyable. You don’t need a ton of stuff or a monstrous house to be happy – flexibility and the ability to do what you want with your time and go where you want are so much more valuable.

  4. I think the size of your house definitely does matter, but it’s also about how you maintain your space. If you’re conscious about energy efficiency, disposing of waste, and water conservation, no matter what size your house is, it will help. But, I do think 2 people living in a 5,000 square foot house is a little ridiculous!

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