Does the American dream require a big American home?

Does the American dream require a big American home?

This is a guest post from Steve Adcock, who writes at Think Save Retire, a blog about early retirement and Financial Independence. Steve and his wife retired in their mid-thirties to travel full time in an Airstream trailer. For more info, check out their YouTube channel.

One of the most deeply-embedded pieces of the “American Dream” is the desire for a large, spacious home with lots of sitting rooms, corners, nooks, and crannies. Large dining rooms and other entertainment spaces! Wrap-around porches! Two- or three-stall garages and one heck of a master suite!

To many of us, a large home is a mark of success. A big house indicate status, and the more space we’re able to call our own, the more successful we look and feel.

But, what if I told you that most of us don’t use even a fraction of that space? That’s not just me talking. A research team affiliated with the University of California studied American families and where they hung out the most inside their homes, how (and where) clutter builds, and the general stress level associated with living big.

The findings were overwhelming: The majority of the space in our homes is wasted.

How We Use Our Homes

As J.D. shared on Saturday, researchers at UCLA conducted a detailed study of 32 dual-income families living in the Los Angeles area, one of the first studies to document so vividly how we interact with the things for which we’ve paid good money. The findings were not pretty. In fact, they helped prove how little we use our big homes for things other than clutter or objects that hold little intrinsic value.

From the press release:

The researchers doggedly videotaped the activities of family members, tracked their every move with position-locating devices and documented their homes, yards and activities with reams and reams of photographs. They asked family members to narrate videotaped tours of their homes and took measurements at regular intervals of stress hormones via saliva samples.

When I originally wrote about the study, I took special note of where families spent the large majority of their time. In the following UCLA-published diagram of one family that was studied, we can easily observe a truth that’s probably common among so many of us: We tend to congregate around two primary areas of the home: food preparation/eating and television.

Time spent in the home

While this diagram only represents a single family, the results of the study suggest that this family is very typical of most of those studied, and the majority of traditional homes.

Take note of the different areas of this home, especially the dining room. The dining room saw extremely little activity from this family. The porch was almost never used. The study found that 68% of the family’s time was largely spent in the kitchen/nook as well as the family room, typically near the television.

The large majority of the time, this family spends their waking hours congregating around areas of food preparation and consumption. The rest, they're plopped down on the couch watching the boob tube or on the computer.

As J.D. mentioned on Saturday, the study also found that clutter, enabled by such huge homes, fueled stressful emotions for many of the family members — especially mothers. And amazingly, only 25% of garages could be used to store cars. The remaining 75% were jam packed with so much stuff that cars simply couldn’t fit. Cars were relegated to the driveway or street.

Furthermore, families hardly used their yards, devoted money to renovating little-used areas of the home (like master suites) instead of fixing obvious problems, and relied on heating up frozen meals instead of using large and luxurious kitchens to cook.

Of course, not every family will exhibit these behaviors in their homes. Some will use their yards or porches, or dining rooms. However, most families don't use large areas of their homes — which means they've essentially wasted money on space they do not need.

The results of this study reflect my experience perfectly. Years ago, I lived in a 1600-square-foot home and spent 99% of my waking hours in the kitchen and family room. The remaining rooms — like my small office/den and two extra bedrooms — were closed off. One bedroom turned into my hidden cavern for the accumulation of boxes and plastic shopping bags. The other held a spare bed that almost never got used.

Why People Want Big Homes

Why do we want huge homes instead of living smaller? Why do we make the choice to drop additional coinage for space that most of us don’t use?

I believe there are two primary reasons:

  • We link “bigger” with “success”. It's all too common to feel like our big homes represent our success or status in life. The bigger our home, the more successful we appear to our friends and family. How many times have you heard people at work talking about how many square feet they have? It’s a brag item! New homes today are 1000 square feet larger than they were in the 1970s. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median single-family home built in 2016 was over 2400 square feet.
  • We want room to grow — temporarily.Many of us enjoy entertaining groups of people at our homes. Others want a dining room for big family dinners. But wait, how about that spare bedroom? After all, the three or four times that your in-laws come to visit demands additional sleeping quarters in a dedicated room that probably isn’t used for much the rest of the year.

Let's talk a little about that last point, since there's a sort of logic to it. I get why you might sometimes want extra space in your home. But here's the problem with buying extra space for need temporarily: That additional space is always there. We're buying additional space in our homes that we pay for 100% of the time but seldom actually use. We like having the space, but what is that space doing to us? Is it worth the cost?

In the video below, two of J.D.'s friends give him a tour of their tiny house. As you can see, it's perfectly possible to be fulfilled and content — to live the American Dream — in a very small space.

Big Home, Big Headaches

Larger homes and yards not only require large mortgages and tax payments, but also more maintenance. If you aren’t spending your own precious time mowing the lawn or fixing your roof shingles, you’re paying someone else good money to do so. These costs can become cripplingly expensive, especially with super large houses (McMansions).

Larger homes require more security, too. The more space we have, the greater the need to protect it with fencing, cameras and Internet-connected security systems.

Big homes also need to be filled with furniture. Beds, couches, loveseats. Pianos. Pool tables. Most of us don’t let unused rooms sit idly by without anything in them. They need something, so we buy additional stuff to put in there.

Larger homes are also becoming tougher to sell as younger generations look for homes in more unique neighborhoods and, increasingly, in city centers where homes tend to be smaller. And, smaller homes tend to appreciate in value faster and more consistently than larger homes.

In general, the larger the home the bigger the risk. If owners of big homes lose their jobs, their homes don’t suddenly get cheaper. Mortgages are as relentless as they are monotonous, easily wiping away a large majority of our take-home pay.

Here’s the truth: The American Dream shouldn't compel you to buy a home that you cannot afford or maintain. (Or to drive a car you cannot handle or to watch televisions that are just too big for our walls and pocketbooks.)

More does not automatically equal better. More simply means more.

Downsizing to 200 Square Feet

Naturally, larger families require larger homes. We all have different needs, comfort levels, and desires. The point of this article isn't to prove that larger spaces are always bad. Such a conclusion is much too simplistic and entirely inaccurate.

Instead, this article is designed to spur thought and self-reflection. Regardless of the space that you call home, are you fully utilizing that space or is it overcome with clutter? Do you feel stressed when cleaning or maintaining your home? Do you use the large majority each and every week?

As the UCLA study found, we tend to overbuy, believing the misguided wisdom of buying “as big of a house as you can afford”. Forget that advice. Instead, buy as much house as you need. Then, feel confident that you aren’t overextending yourself or weakening your financial position through your rent or mortgage.

To conclude, I want to share how I've moved past the idea that I need a large home.

For those unfamiliar with my story, I’m a 36-year old early retiree who travels the country in a 200-square-foot Airstream with my wife and two rescued dogs. Both my wife and I sold our homes (each around 1,600 square feet), along with the majority of our possessions, and bought an Airstream that we use to travel the country full-time.

Downsizing has been amazing for several reasons:

  • Life is much simpler with fewer possessions.
  • It takes about 10 minutes to vacuum the entire house (well!).
  • We can clean the whole outside of our home in about 30 minutes.
  • We can park this thing virtually anywhere (legally permitted, of course!) and change our scenery at a moment’s notice.
  • Even in a small space, we still have a separate bedroom, bathroom, shower, two sinks, a desk, couch and kitchen with stove, oven and microwave; we also have a refrigerator and freezer, an air conditioner and solar power

The full-time RV life isn't for everyone, and it's not my intent to convince you otherwise. Instead, use my story as a testament to the fact that large homes are very much a choice. Few of us need the space we buy. I certainly didn’t need a 1600-square-foot home before I sold it to move into the Airstream. There are many different ways to live.

Don’t let the American Dream take over your life…or your wallet.

J.D.'s footnote: By now, regular readers know how much I agree with Steve's perspective. My girlfriend and I recently lived in an RV for fifteen months ourselves. The experience taught us that we do not need a large space to live. We believe somewhere around 1000 square feet is perfect for us and our zoo. Last summer, we downsized to 1235 square feet, and even this place has space that goes unused.

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Simple Money Man
Simple Money Man
2 years ago

We’re mostly in and around the kitchen and family room. We only go to our rooms in the evening for sleeping and changing in the mornings. From a logic standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense to own a mega-home. I see shows on HGTV all the time where people are like we’ll use this as a guest bedroom. But how many times will overnight guests actually come and stay?

JanBo
JanBo
2 years ago

We are retired. We have plenty of money and investments. We are really enjoying the 1979 house that we purchased three years ago. 2000 sq ft it works well for what we want: places for grands and adults to stay, room for hobbies and workouts, screened in porch and study to read in and a backyard for vegetables & wildlife. We live in a low cost of housing area with no mortgage. In 36 years and 14 moves we have lived in everything from 350 sq ft to 4,000 sq ft. Each had its own place in our heart. We… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
2 years ago

I always liked the idea of a Murphy Bed in the office for the guest room. You get an actual bed for guests but the time when it goes unused it’s tucked away in the wall and you have your office space.

Anna
Anna
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

I did this in my condo – complete with wall-to-wall built in cupboards framing the bed. It was awesome. In addition to the fold-up bed that tucked away when we didn’t need it, we quadrupled the storage space in the room. It was the best space-related decision we made in that condo.

Malibu
Malibu
2 years ago

In the case of the guest bedroom, you may feel totally fine with making an occasional guest sleep on a couch or pay for a hotel, but some people want to be more hospitable than that. Same with a dining room; it doesn’t get used all the time, but when family comes together for a special occasion, someone has to have somewhere for them to eat. Also I notice the kids in this family take piano lessons but not drums, guitar, or any other instrument. Drums especially require a lot of room. If heavily into guitar that needs room as… Read more »

Randy Anderson
Randy Anderson
2 years ago
Reply to  Malibu

Malibu, I think you are absolutely right. I’m retired and rebuilding our home. We have a full basement and an attic where my minimalistic kids store their stuff. We have room to be in a quiet area when you please. A huge kitchen, room for the grandkids to play and a swing hanging from the ceiling 25 feet above the floor. There is even a prayer meditation area. The separate workshop is well stocked and the pole barn with it’s mechanics pit is useful. The batting cage is up all year long and int the Spring and Summer there is… Read more »

carol
carol
2 years ago

No one lives the same lifestyle. I’m a writer. My dining room is filled with bookshelves, so it doubles as my library. The guest room is also the office (with a lock on the filing cabinet). The kitchen has counter stools and a breakfast nook so I’m not alone when preparing a meal. I entertain friends and/or family at least twice a month, sometimes more often. I gave up on TV trays for guests as soon as I learned to prepare nice meals and set a pretty table. As Malibu says, some people want to be more hospitable. There should… Read more »

laura ann
laura ann
2 years ago

Tell overnight guests to stay at the local motel. Our house is not a motel. Family is another thing, a roll away bed is fine or hida bed.

Malibu
Malibu
2 years ago
Reply to  laura ann

Frequently people who come to stay can’t *afford* a hotel. Telling them to stay in a hotel equates to, “no thanks we don’t want to see you”. Nice that your guests are of significant financial means and you don’t have to share.

Steve
Steve
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

“I know that my priorities might change, but right now I can’t imagine ever buying a home with rooms that didn’t get used all of the time…”

Us either. When we do eventually get a house again, it’s going to be as small as possible – probably not more than 1,000 square feet or so. Cheaper to buy. Cheaper to maintain. Cheaper utilities. Only what we need…and, it’ll still be a gigantic upgrade from what we’re living in now! 🙂

E
E
2 years ago

This is timely. We’re considering finishing our basement and I often ask myself why. I have no doubt we’ll use it, but at the expense of other rooms in the house that will lay vacant as a result.

dh
dh
2 years ago

I’ve been observing for years what kinds of homes that old-timers like to buy, people that have it all figured out by now. Here are some common trends I’ve noticed: Smaller size Located in vacationland — older people tend to move where they like to vacation, places like Florida and Vegas. A town-house, instead of a regular house. With a town-house, you usually share one wall with a neighbor, oftentimes a garage wall. Townhouses have small yards — as well as an HOA that takes care of everything on the outside, so super low-maintenance. A newer place. I’ve noticed that… Read more »

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Oh, and why do seniors choose townhomes over condos? Because they’re willing to share *one* wall but not a ton of walls. And they don’t want people living above them. They don’t want to live in an apartment in other words. A townhouse is a nice compromise between a condo and a single-family home; it’s like you get the best of both worlds. Time after time, I’ve seen seniors gravitate toward townhouses.

Eileen
Eileen
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Aren’t Townhomes typically 2 story? I’m in my 50s and most of my contemporaries are not at all interested in living situations with 2 stories. Even people who are completely healthy with no mobility issues are eyeing moving from 2 story homes to ranches or doing renovations to create a first floor master. I think it’s just a matter of deciding WAY WAY before you may need. That way you are making a big decision to be in a place that you know/believe will make you happy for decades, rather than being forced to move when you “need” it and… Read more »

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  Eileen

Well, here in Abq, NM, townhouses are almost always one story. I’m almost 50 myself, and I like to study what people in their 70s and 80s do, as they have so much incredible wisdom.

Adam
Adam
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Here outside of DC, the popular thing to do is build FOUR-story townhomes (garage and maybe a den or half bath, then living/dining/kitchen, then kids’ bedrooms, then master suite and rooftop deck). They’re only about 12′ wide. And they sell for $400k up to $800k depending on where they’re located.

Fortunately I live two blocks away in a 1100 square foot bungalow from 100 years ago. I’m in my 30s and healthy as an ox and just looking at those things makes my knees twinge.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

I dunno about wisdom. Older people have different needs and different taste.

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

S.G. — but if you think about it, everything I laid out in my initial comment would be a great low-maintenance option for a family too.

MDA
MDA
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Almost all these city center areas and new town builds that the author said younger people want to live are multi story. Owning stairs is actually good for you when used daily. But I agree with when seniors go empty nest, they need to find a single story dwelling.

Matt
Matt
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Easy there sport, I’m pretty sure there are just as many wisened 70+ year olds as their are idiotic ones…

michael
michael
2 years ago

Now, I live in a bigger house than what is “needed” and part of the reason was because I wanted my two kids to have their own rooms. Yes, that is a complete first world problem but that’s what we wanted. That said, once I made that determination, the availability of homes and ultimate configuration became that much more limited (this is also limited by the town I chose which is a 10 min commute for me and 5 for my wife). As I’ve stated on a another blog (I think), its not necessarily the size of the house but… Read more »

Anitra
Anitra
2 years ago
Reply to  michael

Agreed. Our 1200sq ft house was great and we used all the space, but once we added a third kid and then a job that required a true home office, it wasn’t working anymore. We ended up moving to a house almost 3 times the size because it had the features we needed – because it was cheaper to do that than to add ONE ROOM to the old house (which was all we really needed).

Eileen
Eileen
2 years ago

I’ve been a homeowner for around 30 years (3 homes) and in my current home 20 years. It’s 2100 sq feet (we raised 2 kids here) and now that we’re almost empty nesters I think we could get by w/out one of our living areas, but I WFH and use our very large “sun room” as my place of work (though I could do that with about 1/4 of the actual space or a bedroom). For us, once we moved to this home we never once “went looking” again. In our first 2 homes, we might drive thru neighborhoods on… Read more »

Joe
Joe
2 years ago

That diagram is very cool. Nobody use the dining room anymore. It’s wasted space. Having a nice family room, eating area, and kitchen is good enough for most of us. Maybe we really need to redesign the traditional house.

We have 4 people in 960 sq ft. That’s too tight for us. I think about 350 sq ft per person would be just about perfect.

Eileen
Eileen
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe

We just renovated our kitchen (unplanned due to dishwasher leak/damage). We had a small “formal” dining room (used about 4 times a year) and “breakfast area”, but we most often ate at our counter overhang. So we decided to ditch the “breakfast area” , swap out our peninsula for an island (with seating for at least 4) and open up the kitchen to our dining room. It’s perfect. While our kitchen was not small, it did not have a proper pantry or broom closet. We were able to move things around to accomplish all of the above. Now I think… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
2 years ago

Great article. I don’t think we can ever talk too much about housing in America in terms of personal finance. It takes up so much canvas of many Americans’ financial picture. Full confession, I plan on adding on to my home which will increase its size by at least 50%. I have owned my home for nearly a decade and have thought very long and hard about how I would use each additional space. For a minute I went crazy with the ideas until when I really looked at it on paper, I could see how ridiculous it was all… Read more »

Cindi
Cindi
2 years ago

We live in a 1120 sq ft modular home. It was delivered to our property on March 5th 2002 and by June 8th 2002 we were living in it. It’s only 4 rooms: kitchen with eat-in dining area, one bathroom in hallway, one very much daily used office/guest room, hardly used living room and one master bedroom. Since our master bedroom is so large (and the living room is smaller) we watch TV in our bedroom (thus the living room is never used). We have a backyard deck that gets used daily. House sits on 3.5 acres, of which only… Read more »

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cindi

With a townhouse, you often only share a garage wall, so the smoking thing would not have been an issue. Condos are like apartments.

ALICIA
ALICIA
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

IF YOU THINK SMOKE DOESN’T COME IN FROM GARAGE WALLS, I HAVE A BRIDGE IN BROOKLYN TO SELL YOU. If any wall is shared, 70% of the air is shared. There is NO way around it. You can buy all the smoke eaters you want. I had NO idea second hand smoke was so dangerous.
Townhouses share walls and sometimes the smoke gets in through the ceilings.
Grow up!

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  ALICIA

Thank you for writing and sharing, Alicia. It was an interesting comment.

Katelyn
Katelyn
2 years ago
Reply to  ALICIA

70% of the air is shared? Where did that figure come from? Even garages should have better insulation than that.

You may want to check out this article: https://www.wikihow.com/Stop-Secondhand-Smoke-Coming-Into-Your-Apartment. The techniques described won’t stop 100% of second hand smoke seeping into a neighboring unit/townhome, but it should help considerably.

Cindi
Cindi
2 years ago
Reply to  Katelyn

The only way to stop second hand smoke (SHS) from entering your own personal space is to stop the person from smoking entirely. There is just no way around it. You can plug up holes or vents from now till eternity, but you will NOT be able to stop the SMS from entering your unit. After a year and a half of fighting with my condo board (my husband even became the condo board president and changed rules to stop smoking in common areas) with my health fading, I had no alternative (other than to sue my neighbors) but to… Read more »

Katherine
Katherine
2 years ago
Reply to  ALICIA

Alicia, your comment seems a bit harsh. I am sure you did not mean it to sound that way.We are all friends here.

Robert Allen
Robert Allen
2 years ago
Reply to  ALICIA

Your comment was straight to the point. Outstanding.

Sandy
Sandy
2 years ago
Reply to  Cindi

That sounds like a total nightmare. My neighbor likes to sit next to the wall on the property line and smoke her head off and, if the wind is ‘right’, the smoke blows in through our open windows. Both the hubs and I are ex-smokers so two things happen: 1. We start jonesing for a ciggy and 2. We start coughing. Sometimes we go outside and breathe in the air for a second hand hit …. we are pathetic. However, we have no intention of ever starting up smoking again so it is annoying to us too. I’m sorry for… Read more »

Accidental FIRE
Accidental FIRE
2 years ago

Awesome Steve, great post. I read the title in my feed and just said “No. End of story. Anything else to see here?”

But great commentary. That study of home use is so true. But if they did it on my house it’d be different. I have a patio instead of a porch, and the red dots would be heavily clustered there. Typing this right now from my patio, it’s my calm retreat, my office, and my peaceful sanctuary.

Kingston
Kingston
2 years ago

I use my dining room all the time! It’s where I sit to work with my laptop. I live in a 1580sf 2-story house built in 1904. It’s not an open floor plan and I prefer that it not be as I dislike looking at kitchen mess when hosting. Over time, and with changes in family structure as kids grow and move on, some of the rooms in my house have been repurposed. One bedroom is now a small painting studio. A tiny bedroom adjacent to the studio has a single guest bed and storage for artwork. Another bedroom is… Read more »

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
2 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

What an interesting conversation about how houses are used and designed! Everything depends on your lifestyle and the way you use space. THE GREAT DINING ROOM DEBATE. 😉 We use ours. It’s where the bar is located, so that’s where we shake our nightly cocktail. It’s where we host large dinner parties with interesting guests and conversations. When it’s just the two of us, we usually eat in the dining room because dinner, for us, is a ritual when we acknowledge gratitude for all we have, and when we engage in thought-provoking conversation, usually about what we are reading. I… Read more »

Sandy
Sandy
2 years ago

I agree! If I could go back in time, I would make more of an effort to incorporate a set dinner time hour for my family. My 4 kids are all out of college now and on with their own lives but we spent far too many dinner times in restaurants or eating separately in front of the TV or computer screens. At least, however, we did sit together and have good conversations in the restaurants! The downside of THAT, however, is that we ate too much and gained weight. Oh boy, I would rethink the whole dinner time thing… Read more »

Kingston
Kingston
2 years ago

Also, I sometimes set up my sewing machine in the dining room. And we do eat there as well. Though not always together, as seems common today.

Danielle
Danielle
2 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

If I am sewing, I also set up at the dining room table. Seems that so many newer homes try to promote the need for a craft room (usually down in the cavernous finished basement that needs a purpose), but I think many rooms in the house can serve multiple purposes without having to add more rooms. Unfortunately, it seems like so many homes built in the last 30 years (ours is from ’91) placed greater emphasis on size over function. Before we remodeled our first floor, our kitchen was a one-person kitchen, and yet we had two dining areas… Read more »

Coopersmith
Coopersmith
2 years ago

I like the idea of a tiny house but some of the requirements for sleeping and climbing and composting toilets just is not appealing to a 55 year old. I would much rather but a trailer that is large enough to live in and has a better known resale value. Some of the tiny homes where people build for $60k will never be able to sell them for that amount. They are so customized to that persons taste that if someone were to sell it, I doubt that you would get what you paid for it. There is no track… Read more »

Steveark
Steveark
2 years ago

Personally I was glad for every square inch of our 2800 sq ft house when we had three teenaged creatures living with us (our children) at the same time. I was equally glad that they each had their own bathroom and that my wife and I only shared ours with each other. Plus the house was crazy cheap here in Arkansas and isn’t even worth downsizing from now they are gone because it represents a pocket change sized piece of our net worth now. It really is hard to grasp the housing/renting/mortgage debate when you have always lived where house… Read more »

FoxTesla
FoxTesla
2 years ago

Agree with previous posters on how you may not use the dining room for two meals a day every day, but how many houses have you viewed/visited that don’t have one? How should one define “enough use of unneeded space” to justify its inclusion? On the flip side, the space you don’t use regularly comes in quite handy when you lose the space you normally use. In our case, we lost the use of kitchen/dining/living/half bath/master (bed/bath/closet) for roughly six months following Hurricane Harvey, so the guest became the “master” and the upstairs playroom/living space became the “downstairs furniture storage… Read more »

Besty
Besty
2 years ago

It’s interesting to me that authors always assume that people WANT to park their cars in their garages – I’ve seen a couple of other article that make similar assumptions that people aren’t parking in their garages because they have too much stuff, rather than they’ve intentionally made decisions otherwise. I don’t think that’s universally true. Personally, I can’t wait to buy a house with a garage, and I have no intention of EVER parking my car in there. I want the garage to park my bicycle and kayak and related gear, as well as gardening supplies, tools, and other… Read more »

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  Besty

We gave our garage over to storage and weight bench when i realized how awkward it would be to park in it. The garage on this old house just wasnt made for a car in the first place.

FoxTesla
FoxTesla
2 years ago
Reply to  Besty

Is there a reason you can’t put both a vehicle and your gear inside? I’ve lived in two homes with garages – one with significant storage space in front of the vehicles, and one with the space above (significant meaning snow blower, lawn mower, bicycles, golf clubs, tools and wheel ramps). Speaking to the assumption of wanting a vehicle parked inside, you gain protection from inclement weather, crime, poor drivers, snoopy neighbors (we’ve had neighbors comment they don’t know whether we are home or not because our cars are always parked inside)…I don’t see the advantage of not parking in… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
2 years ago
Reply to  FoxTesla

I like potential no-gooders to know someone is home. Also I live in an area that doesn’t have snow or hail. I can maximize use of space in a garage, or do projects without having to clear it out of the ways every time so I can park. I don’t have to have an electric garage door opener….I’ve heard expensive and annoying stories about them. And I don’t Want grease stains or exhaust smells in or near the house. And what if you have more than one car…only one person gets to park in the garage? Or you have to… Read more »

Lorri
Lorri
2 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Wait. You want potential no-gooders to know someone is home? By the same logic, they will also know when you are NOT home.

The advantage of a garage is that they can never be sure.

lmoot
lmoot
2 years ago
Reply to  Lorri

You can still have a garage and simply not use it for parking. How would a rando know if there’s a car in there or not; they wouldn’t know if you’re an innie or an outtie unless they were casing the joint….and if so, they would know when you’re or not no matter where you park.

SheilaT
SheilaT
2 years ago
Reply to  Besty

I live in a city where almost no one uses the garage for their car, and it’s because they have far too much stuff. As for parking outside so that potential criminals will know when you’re home, actually they know exactly when you aren’t home, and if they want to target you, you’ve made it very easy for them. I want my car to live inside. In the winter I don’t have to scrape snow off. In the summer, it’s not 130 degrees inside. As for electric garage doors giving trouble, that is rarely a problem. As in over more… Read more »

Candi @ minhus
Candi @ minhus
2 years ago

I’ll never forget bawling right before I moved into my little house and thinking I made a huge mistake. Granted, it might have been from a week spent painting said house, but at 742 sq. feet, it was also smaller than my apartment. Twelve years later I’m still here, only now the house is paid off. Sure, there are times I’d like more room, especially a second bathroom. But then I remember it’s hard enough keeping up with maintenance on this place and I really like being able to clean from top to bottom in less than two hours. Keeping… Read more »

Jack
Jack
2 years ago

Everything you said in today’s post is true. The problem is that if you send your children to a public school, the better schoools, and yes the better teachers, and yes the better children come from where the homes are larger, well cared for, and neighborhoods are better. The smaller the home these days the poorer the schools etcetcetc. Now I know I am painting with a very broad brush and I will get significant blowback but for the most part I am right. Check it out. The other issue is that the poorer schools in the same district get… Read more »

Cubert
Cubert
2 years ago

Great post! I’m a firm believer in smaller is better, when it comes to your dwelling. It’s amazing how costs increase so dramatically as square footage goes up.

The other piece is family cohesion. It may feel crowded at times, but I’d rather have a bit of chaos than everyone off in some corner of a mcmansion avoiding each other.

Bernz JP
Bernz JP
2 years ago

I felt like you were talking about my garage when you talked about the 75% stuff in peoples garages… lol. Not sure what happened to the supposed to be our scheduled spring cleaning last month. With two kids we always want a good size house to raise our family although my preference has always been a big backyard. We’re seriously talking about downsizing in 4 years to a two bedroom home as soon as the kids are outta here. I still have to have a nice size backyard though.

Steve S
Steve S
2 years ago

Are there any “tiny home” people with kids? These childless couples act like they stumbled onto some amazing secret, when the fact of the matter is they just don’t have children. I’m sure there are some out there…but reading these stories that’s all I can think about.

No judgements either way on having kids or not – but the implied objection to my lifestyle in a “typical” american house of 2500 sq. ft. doesn’t quite feel justified when you don’t live like the people you are criticizing.

Steve
Steve
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve S

Yes, many tiny home people have kids. A lot of people full-time RV with children, too. It’s very true that we don’t have children, but it can definitely be done if it’s right for you and your family. Like I said in the article, “Don’t let the American Dream take over your life…or your wallet.”. Buy what you need. Use it to the best of your ability. Be happy.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve S

This is something I’ve noticed with many FI people in general. Though recent headlines suggest dangerously low birthrates all around, FI and otherwise.

Danielle
Danielle
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve S

I was coming here to see the advice from couples with kids as well. We’re in a 1008 square foot home with a medium-ish yard, which is perfect for us and our two dogs. However, we want to have kids in the near future and I’m not sure how/if we would all fit! We are considering finishing our basement, but that would give us double the space which is then probably too much space!

Sara
Sara
2 years ago
Reply to  Danielle

We were in a 1100 sf home when our two little ones were very young (baby and 2) and it felt a bit tight but I also work from home and we have frequent overnight guests (at least a week a month). We are now in a 1700 sf with partially finished basement and it is the perfect size for us. We each have a bedroom, there is a kitchen/dining area, living room and an office. The basement is nicely finished and has a bed, desk, couch and tv for our frequent guests. It is hard to find a 2k… Read more »

Danielle
Danielle
2 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Thanks for your comment. I work from home as well, currently in our combined office/guest room. It sounds like when we’re ready for kid #2 would be the best time to consider finishing the basement for additional space, and keep us under 2k square feet, but still allow each of us separate space, and keep my office space.

DAT
DAT
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve S

Millions upon millions of middle class and well to do New Yorkers live in 1000 sq ft apartments with kids, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Marleigh
Marleigh
2 years ago

This is our 4th and final home. 1500 sq ft one story and we are recent empty nesters. Its perfect. We use every room. Our bedroom, sons room is now workout room and we will put a daybed in it for that once in a blue moon guest, and our office. Living, dining and kitchen complete it along with 2 baths. Im so glad we use every room in the house and we will be designing the front and back gardens for maximal use and enjoyment. You’re so right. Its nice to heat and cool the house where youre comfortable… Read more »

Jim
Jim
2 years ago

I guess many people don’t entertain these days? with a tiny house, I can’t see how you would host the extended family for Thanksgiving, or have your kid’s soccer team that you coach over to the house for pizza at the end of the season? Or overnight house guests from Europe? Or a bunch of the neighbors from around the block?

Sheila
Sheila
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim

With the money you’ve saved on the house, you could host overnight guests at a hotel, have the pizza party at a restaurant, rent a place with a big kitchen for Thanksgiving, and have a barbecue outside for the neighbors. I bet people with tiny houses come up with creative solutions for large social occasions.

DrScottie
DrScottie
2 years ago

From the Scottish side of the pond, I have always found American house sizes fascinating. Things seem to be extremes at either end – huge for us or teeny,tiny houses. My ex-husband was from Oregon and his families homes were mansion sized to me. I just couldn’t imagine what you would do with all that space and the amount of cleaning they take gives me the fear. My partner and I live in a house that is smaller than we could afford. It is fairly standard sized for a small two bedroom village cottage near Edinburgh. Our house is around… Read more »

Emda
Emda
2 years ago

I’d love to live in a house, but they’re not always easy to find. We actually rent not because we couldn’t buy, but because we don’t want a McMansion.

But if we want to be near work and in a good school district, the only homes for sale are absolutely enormous. I figure they know they can get more for them, or something.

Sara
Sara
2 years ago
Reply to  Emda

We felt this way as well and ended up in a historical neighborhood. Most houses in our little district were built between 1850 and 1940 and other than the front street there are plenty of 2k square foot houses and smaller to be found, most are three bed, 2 baths. Not sure where you are located, but it might be worth looking for something similar. Older houses seem to have much more sensibly sized bedrooms.

rutleyh
rutleyh
2 years ago

I can see the point of this article. As our kids leave one by one (the second will be going away to college in August), my 2400 sq ft home seems awfully big. We have a unique set up. 5 floors – an unfinished basement, a family room which is a man cave, then the kitchen (which was bumped out as an addition in 93 before we got there), dining room and living room. The next floor up has 3 bedrooms and a bath room. Then another addition was added in 93 which has 2 bedrooms and another bathroom. A… Read more »

Sandy
Sandy
2 years ago

We are emotional beings who imagine our lives could be so different if only….we bought the custom McMansion on 2.5 acres……or we tiled the entire downstairs…or rebuilt the staircase….or put down wood floors throughout the upstairs areas etc etc ….or knocked out walls to get rid of the L-shaped dining area….. but then I think of the philosopher Lao Tzu and this quote: “Always we hope someone else has the answer. Some other place will be better, some other time, it will turn out. This is it. No one else has the answer, no other place will be better, and… Read more »

daniel
daniel
2 years ago

Yes, all this is likely true. Nonetheless, as each situation differs I would say that there are a few other things that need mentioning. 1–The freedom of space. After living in smaller apartments for the first 2/3 of our marriage, my wife and I were able to purchase a house and this when we were empty-nesters. On an 1+ acre lot with about a hundred or so trees, this was and is still an uplifting experience. No, really. The aesthetic experience is encouraging. 2-A living room _and_ dining room enables us to entertain more comfortably for us and our guests… Read more »

Michael Benes
Michael Benes
2 years ago

A few months ago I (single male) bought a 1,500 sq foot patio home. I’m thankful for the very low maintenance yard that saves me 3-5 hrs of time per week. My usage patterns mimic the family in the article. Extra bedroom, second dining area and sun room are hardly used. I thought I was downsizing but could EASILY get by with 600 sq less feet and never feel cramped.

D
D
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Benes

Rent out your extra space if you can – set the money aside and retire early!

Carl
Carl
2 years ago

We’ve raised our six kids in about 1900 square feet that has five bedrooms. It’s been an incredible experience! It has a small kitchen, small dining room, and a living room. We all have become incredibly close because we can’t “escape” to other parts of the house. It’s an amazing experience.

John A. Tate
John A. Tate
2 years ago

While I agree in principle, the tiny house movement is still an over reaction to the mcmansion movement. Every house needs the following things: 1) A living/common area 2) A kitchen/eating area 3) A watercloset separate from a bathroom if not two bathrooms 4) 3 bedrooms, one for the parents, and one for either gender of children on the assumption that people would like to have more than one kid and you want to prepare them for having multiple genders of kids. 5) Some form of storage area that includes a washer/dryer (A good deal of americans do not live… Read more »

KDC
KDC
2 years ago
Reply to  John A. Tate

I, respectfully, disagree. Sure, if you want the most possible house buyers when you sell, your dimensions make sense. I’d argue that many families/households don’t have 4.5 people or need to assume 2 opposite gender children for the basic house. Saying houses need to be this size is like saying vehicles need to be minivans because some families need minivans.

Robert Allen
Robert Allen
2 years ago

Have been appraising real estate since 1985. Too much unused drywall. Despite being viewed by general public as a commodity, houses are NOT a liquid asset (real estate commissions, operating expenses, etc., etc.). Owners compound that by adding fire pits, outdoor kitchens, expanded decks, etc. which do not add value to the property despite what sales people claim. Lots of emotion and ego wrapped up in sticks & bricks. What a waste… Only reason housing market recovered (and it has not recovered in all areas of country) was artificially low interest rates of the Fed. Try dealing with FNMA. Misguided… Read more »

morepowerr
morepowerr
2 years ago

Zoning , zoning, zoning. More people would have smaller more efficient home if the zoning would allow it.

tracey
tracey
2 years ago

I am a multi-millionaire I paid cash for a 5700 3 story home We have a 3 car garage with6 cars in it and a spare stall for our daughter or friends who are a trav-elel-lerweraised two happy children.

Jennifer Kirley
Jennifer Kirley
2 years ago

My husband and I purchased a 1250-ft foreclosed home in a nice neighborhood 3 1/2 years ago, for such a low price that we did not mind adding an office (is coded as a 4th bedroom) and large garage (he does a lot of car tinkering) as well as a loooong privacy fence (our lot is 1 acre). The main house’s size is fine for me; I don’t have time to maintain a big place. Other people’s homes in this area have nicer features (this was a low-end model, built for quick sale in 2006) but I am able to… Read more »

Jennifer Kirley
Jennifer Kirley
2 years ago

This is true. Our development has a 1250-ft minimum dwelling size, and does not allow a (smaller) Mother-In-Law structure.

Mario Mangone
Mario Mangone
2 years ago

Very useful study, i am an architect and most of the houses i design are a dream, but not necessarily a dream house is the best house. A very well designed house is the one in which every single inch is used in full and reflects the life style of the occupant: most of the occasionally used space is a showcase.

James
James
2 years ago

We built an 1850 sq ft ranch 5 yrs ago. It’s 4 bed/3 bath but the guest bedroom is a tiny 10×10. In the middle section of the house is the kitchen, nook, and family room. No dining room or living room because I knew we wouldn’t use them. We only have 2 kids, but I can’t imagine needing much more space. I should mention that I cheated and finished the basement to include a game room, kithenette, home gym, 3 storage closets, and home theater. We love our modest house.

Steve Ledford
Steve Ledford
2 years ago

I am not far from retirement and at this point in my life I have a 3,000 sq ft house with just me in it. When I retire I will downsize to something much smaller but not to something like a micro-house. Why not? Because the city I am looking at moving to is a college town and most low priced houses are rentals for students. I will end up looking at houses $200,000 in and up in price so I end up living among families and not students. This means a bigger house and/or acreage. If a micro house… Read more »

DC
DC
2 years ago

I remember back in the day commenting on “why we had the big house” (2000 sq ft) when many times we were all together in the living room. Now in my smaller house (1100 sq ft) it is sometimes cramped when college students come home for a visit, but it isn’t long before we’re alone again. I should mention I grew up in 750 sq ft house. So it’s not the size of the house, it’s the love inside!

Bet Clear
Bet Clear
2 years ago

Lovely comments. Some folks are introverts, others extroverts, some love to have people around them, others enjoy alone time. Some have hobbies that require space or storage, some enjoy empty space and views. Some think of space as something that requires effort/upkeep, some people think of space as a place to relax. Space does not have to have people, things or activity in it to be of value, just like time, the true measure is not how it is used, but if it is enjoyed 🙂 So empty or unused or un-landscaped space is not wasted, because it might also… Read more »

JS
JS
2 years ago

While I find the tiny house movement intriguing (and some of the storage/space savings ideas therein ingenious), we could never do it for various practical reasons. However, we deliberately bought a more modest house (under 1800 sq ft.) on some of these same principles mentioned above. We generally do eat in our dining room, as our kitchen is on the smaller side. The dining room itself is just an offshoot of the living room. We still have four bedrooms, two baths, and a family room, but nothing is overly huge. It’s a ranch house so we can retire here with… Read more »

Mike Furlough
Mike Furlough
2 years ago

When I studied architecture a good decade and a half ago, our teacher brought up the question about bedroom sizes. He asked us about it and when the replies came in, he asked us why did we need such big rooms to go in ans sleep? He measured the fact that most homes would benefit to have a max of 14’X12′ master bedroom max in order to meet our everyday needs. Why did we need King sized bed? Queen size should be the max norm again. It provides much space, and will leave a good 6 feet at the end… Read more »

SquareDealer
SquareDealer
2 years ago

In 1994, my wife and I built our home…an 1120 sq. ft. ranch with 2 car garage. I specifically designed it to have a nice layout with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and to be an affordable place to live. I don’t know where I got this “brilliance” but it’s worked out so perfectly. It’s like owning a money printing press every month because it’s so affordable. We use every room, every week but even some areas don’t get a lot of use. Our needs are changing as well…I learned how to cook really well from scratch so our kitchen… Read more »

Claire
Claire
2 years ago

That wasn’t true of us. Our big house had five bedrooms and an office. We ran two businesses from home, and I homeschooled our children. Every single room of our house was used every day. I used to say that we got more mileage out of our mortgage payment than anyone else we knew. But that was then. The kids are adults now and on their own; we downsized to a smaller house several years ago. There are three of us living in 1000 square feet, and we’re quite comfortable. However, had we stayed in our old house, we’d be… Read more »

Ultrawoman
Ultrawoman
2 years ago

I’m amazed people are only figuring this out in 2018!!!! This was true ever since I can remember. Friends whose houses had family rooms would ALWAYS do their TV watching in the family room. They’d eat in the kitchen. I would NEVER see formal living/formal dining areas actually used.

ownedbythecats
ownedbythecats
1 year ago

Lol. I dream of a couple hundred square feet with just me and mine. We have 4500 square feet and every inch used. 8 adults plus one home based business and one home office. It is so bad the gardening equipment is stored on the porch and in the sewing room along with some of the bikes because we do not have a garage. I will be climbing stairs till i am 80 if my mother lives to the normal age of women in our family. No, these are not children come home without jobs. These are extended family, chosen… Read more »

KJ
KJ
8 months ago

Land, land, land. I’m ok with a smaller home but give me space outdoors and neighbors I don’t see from my porch. Plus, land is a better investment. It only grows more valuable over time, typically.

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