The small house experiment

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my husband and I are moving to be closer to his new job. Well, it's been a whirlwind of chaos and uncertainty ever since. Since I wrote that post, we put our house on the market and began the search for a new home. And despite the fact that we're excited for the opportunity to move on with our lives, it hasn't been pleasant.

First of all, something happened that we never expected. Our house sold for almost full asking price in 13 days.Yes, you read that right. Thirteen days. This was great, of course, because we were able to put that part of the move behind us. And anyone who has sold their home knows how big of a pain it is to keep their house in prime condition, especially with small kids. Regardless, the fact that our home sold so quickly meant that we needed to find a new home….and fast. Plus, the fact that the buyers of our home wanted possession in 45 days meant that we had 45 days to make an offer on a home, negotiate a price, and close the deal.Gulp.

Searching for Our Dream Home

So we started our home search by making a list of the features we wanted in our new house. Fortunately, we were mostly on the same page. My main concern for our new home was price. Since selling our current home meant that we would have almost 100K for a down payment, I wanted to find a home that was as inexpensive as possible. One of our dreams is to be debt free (including our mortgage) as soon as humanly possible; so the more we burden ourselves with debt, the further we'll be from reaching that goal.

Greg's wish list included features that we have in our current home — a home office, a play room for the kids, and a guest bedroom — and I agreed, adding that I've always wanted a Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom. We also agreed that we wanted a nice back yard and a two-car garage with some added space for storage. We thought it would be nice to have an open kitchen, plenty of storage, and a fireplace, preferably wood-burning. So, with our list in hand, we started browsing real estate listings in the new area where we are moving. And, thankfully, we found a huge selection of homes that fit our criteria.

Champagne Taste, Beer Budget

Since the house we're selling sold for $160,000, we were hoping to keep our budget somewhere near that amount, (hopefully) not to exceed 200K. But, we also started looking in the low 200s and were even willing to go as high as 230K or 240K to get exactly what we wanted. So with our budget in mind, we started looking for a home that would work.

Over the next few weeks, we looked at least 40 homes.I fell in love at least 10 times. I saw beautiful stone-stacked fireplaces, granite counter tops, and great rooms with vaulted ceilings and custom-built bookcases to boot. I saw Jacuzzi tubs where my problems would surely melt into oblivion as well as back yards that were beautiful, peaceful, and tranquil, like I've always dreamed of.

As I crunched the numbers, I also saw that I would be paying on these homes for way longer than I wanted. And, even though we had found what we were looking for, we were extremely hesitant to pull the trigger. Something was holding us back. Something was telling us to stop and really think about what we were doing.And one thing I've learned is that when that voice talks, I need to listen. What we wanted and what we needed were, as always, two entirely different things. So we started the entire process over. Except this time, we focused on what we need, not what we want.

What Did We Really Need?

The house we're selling is 2,370 square feet, with nearly half of that unused most of the time. Our guest room is only used twice a year, when Greg's parents come from out of state to visit. Our home office houses a beautiful desk set that I purchased off of Craigslist, but I rarely use it and prefer to work in the living room. And the kids' play room? Sure, they love it, but most people I know don't have a room in their home dedicated only to toys. I didn't have a play room growing up, after all — nor did my husband, my best friend, or either of my parents.We all survived.

And, since most of the homes we were looking at were the size of our old home, or bigger, we began to wonder if we were even looking in the right place. We started asking ourselves what we really needed. Did we really need a home office or would a small desk in our bedroom work? When Greg's parents visited from out of state, could they stay in one of our girls' rooms for the weekend? My 4-year-old does have a queen-sized bed. And was a playroom really necessary or could the girls each keep part of their toys in their rooms?

The more we talked, the more we discovered that we could likely live without much of the space that we enjoyed in our old house. And, in a weird twist of fate, we would soon find out whether we liked it or not.

The Benefits of a Small Home

We wasted so much time looking at larger homes that we completely ran of time to find a home altogether. And as an experiment, as well as out of necessity, we've decided to rent a small home temporarily to see if we can make it work. Starting November 1, we'll be living in a three-bedroom home with less than 1,200 square feet. Since we're renting the home from a friend, we're able to rent month to month without a long-term commitment. Not signing a lease will allow us to continue our search for a permanent place of our own. And, although we're slightly nervous about the transition, we're excited to see how it pans out.

It seems like most people who live in a small space become avid small-house enthusiasts, mainly due to the many benefits a small house can offer. First of all, many small homes are less expensive which can free up cash each month for other savings goals. Since small homes usually cost less, property taxes tend to be lower as well, which can add up to even greater savings over the months and years. And, as if that wasn't enough, smaller homes generally have lower utility bills since they often require less energy to heat and cool.Maintenance and upkeep can also cost less as well. Think about it. The smaller the home, the fewer windows to replace.Less carpet. Less to paint. Almost any big-scale home improvement project will cost less in a smaller home, simply because there's less space, less to tear down, and less to replace. Small homes are also easier to clean and keep organized, which can make them especially attractive to those who don't have the time, or patience, to do much housework.

Could We Make a Small Home Work?

Of course, I had all this in mind as we moved into our temporary, smaller home. And, as we unpacked boxes and configured all of our stuff, I was surprised to find that it…ummm…works.For the most part, at least. The majority of our furniture does fit in the house, after all, and there's still plenty of room for the kids to run around. And, even though my kids lost their play room when we moved, they haven't seemed to notice or care.

One of my biggest worries was that we would feel cramped with only one main living area, and I was surprised to find out that wasn't the case. I'm growing to like it, actually. And more than that, I love having all of the bedrooms on one floor.

Our old office is now in the corner of our bedroom, which has been quite a change, yet doable. Our kitchen table fits snug as a bug in the eat-in kitchen as well. And if we angle the table just right, the four of us can manage to eat a meal at the same time.

But, Is it Too Small?

Even though our stuff technically fits, something still doesn't feel quite right. There's no pantry in the kitchen, for instance, which means that all of our food is stuffed in the few kitchen cabinets that we have. There's also nowhere to keep the vacuum, broom, or dust pan. The house does have a small linen closet but it only holds a handful of towels and supplies, nothing more. Since we're pretty organized folks, we're struggling with our inability to do what comes natural to us. Shoving things wherever they fit is against our nature and I'm longing for a few more closets, or perhaps some additional cabinets or drawers.

So, after thinking long and hard about why I'm not enjoying this space as much as I could be, I've come to realize that the size of the house itself isn't the problem. What this house lacks is general storage space. Not places for loads of junk that I don't need…space for necessities.Like pots and pans, for instance, and my extra sheet sets, toiletries, and beach towels. Storage space is something that I took for granted in our old house, and it's apparently not something that I'm willing to give up.

What We've Learned so Far

I've got to be honest. We don't have much of a future in a 1,200-square-foot home. It's a little small when you've got two hyper little ones who whip through the house daily leaving total chaos in their wake. And it's never quiet enough for anyone either, especially after the kids go to bed, mostly because you can hear everything that's going on, even with all of the doors shut.

And, even though I thought I could live without an office, I'm finding it rather uncomfortable working in the corner of my tiny bedroom. And, I miss having plenty of cabinets, closets, and drawers in the house. Not so that I can fill them with Stuff, but so that I can organize the things we do use on a daily basis.

Finding Our Own Normal

Fortunately, we don't have to choose between two extremes. And, as we continue to search for a permanent home, we've decided to look for a medium-sized home somewhere in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. We're opting for something big enough to accommodate our growing family, yet small enough to make prudent financial sense. And while we can't fully commit to the small-house craze, we're staying far away from many monstrosities and starter castles that come off and on the market on a daily basis.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, most buyers are looking for a home with a median size of 2,266 square feet. Nearly half of buyers want three bedrooms, and another 32 percent want at least four. Sixty-six percent of buyers also want a full or partial basement. And more than half (53 percent) want at least a two-car garage.

Know what I want? A home that can be paid off quickly and easily. Low utility bills. To sleep at night. Peace. Security.

Although I'm annoyed that we'll now have to move again once we buy, I'm glad that we got to experiment with smaller living, mostly because it's something I wouldn't have been able to do any other way. This opportunity gave us a chance to try something new without making a huge commitment or buying a smaller home without knowing, definitively, that we could make it work. In my opinion, the small house experiment was a success. Within a short amount of time, we proved that we can live comfortably, and be happy, with less. And now that we know that for a fact, that's exactly what we're planning to do.

Do you prefer a small house or a big house? What do you think are the benefits of each? And, do you have any small house living tips for me?

 
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Kevin
Kevin
6 years ago

Go small, small, small! We live in 1900+ sq feet right now and we spend nearly every free (non-working) hour cleaning it, repairing it, and the majority of my paycheck *paying* for it. That jacuzzi tub – my wife had to have one too. I don’t recall the last time I heard those jets start up. And cleaning it? Wow, a nightmare. The walk-in shower looks awesome. Cleaning it…another nightmare. Cannot wait for just a couple of more years to downsize to 1,000-1,200 feet. What I’ve learned in the few years that we’ve been here is that the stuff in… Read more »

John Creed
John Creed
6 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

My family and I live in Kotzebue, an Inupiat Eskimo village located 30 miles inside the Arctic Circle in Northwest Alaska. My wife and I are originally from the East Coast but have lived in Alaska together since 1983. (I also lived in NW Alaska from 1979 to 1982.) In 1989, Myles, our awesome son, was born. Eighteen months later, along came Tiffany in 1990. In 1991, we moved into our current home, a three-bedroom, 900-square-foot ranch-style house with one bathroom and an attached garage and boiler room totally about 300 square feet. In 1996, after going for a third… Read more »

Kostas @ Finance Blog Zone
Kostas @ Finance Blog Zone
6 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

I have never seen a point to buying big just because you can! Why spend money on space you won’t use? I am all for downsizing – and I agree with Kevin’s point about the cleaning aspect!!

MoneyAhoy
MoneyAhoy
6 years ago

We went the bigger house route, and I for one have a lot of regrets. As you mentioned, many of those extra rooms hardly ever get used. The next time we move we’ll be looking for something 30%-40% smaller. It pays off in so many ways if you downsize 🙂

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

Holly – you really want to take on more debt? Have you considered that it might not be the best thing to buy a home when you still owe huge amounts of student loan debt? I think its fantastic that your house sold so fast. And close to your asking. Its like a get out of jail free card. Mortgage…BOOM…gone. How much of your loans could you retire with the down payment on a 230k home? I think its interesting that you both are even willing to upgrade from a 160k home to 230k – look hard at your own… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Hey Mike!

I think you’re confusing me with Honey Smith. She does rent, I believe, and is working on repaying her students loans. I have no debt aside from a small mortgage.

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

LOL – My Bad – ROCK ON THEN! That will teach me to post before I finish my first morning cuppa.

Good luck on the move.

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

No problem!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Haha, AWESOME.

Yes, Jake and I rent a small 2 bedroom apartment (he runs his business out of the second bedroom instead of renting an office/buying furniture/etc.).

While it is looking like we will probably move soon (for a variety of reasons that I will probably post about at some point), we are going to rent for at least two more years while we pay off some debts and save up for a down payment.

Jeff
Jeff
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

As someone who is currently looking for their first home while carrying $30,000 in combined car and student loan debt I hear this sometimes, almost always from people who haven’t been following the local real estate market at all. The interest rates have been going up and they will go up again, especially once “tapering” ends. The house prices are going up, I sometimes kick myself for not buying last year as there were a lot more good homes available for “cheap” than there are now. Yes I could pay off that remaining $30,000 in a couple years, assuming that… Read more »

Frugal Coconut
Frugal Coconut
6 years ago

I have to give you a well deserved kudos for taking a step back and re-evaluating … and acting on it. You didn’t succumb to the pressure of a fast-approaching deadline. Buying a home is (or should be) a long-term commitment … so the fact that you’re taking the “try before you buy” approach is fantastic. When I first started reading your story, it sounded like your average American consumer who wants more house than they really need (or can afford) … and then it took a sharp turn to some smart decisions that will pay off big time. Excellent… Read more »

Carol
Carol
6 years ago

We rarely used the Jacuzzi tub at our last house. I do miss the large closets and pantry, though. I’ve discovered that what I really want is to stay in a hotel with a Jacuzzi room when we travel.

Diane C
Diane C
6 years ago
Reply to  Carol

Lol, Carol. I was about to say the same thing. We bought our house with a Jacuzzi tub and except to test it out occasionally, we have never used it to take an actual bath. I agree that it’s a nice hotel feature, but unnecessary in our everyday lives.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
6 years ago

My parents raised 3 kids in a house with 3 bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths. Mom still lives there. The first thing we did when we bought our house 16 yrs ago was add a gas-powered fireplace in the living room. We then added a master suite and a dining room. My point is, once you have the house, you can alter it at your own pace. Just get a house with good bones.

Frugal Sage
Frugal Sage
6 years ago

Makes me realize how much of a bubble – or at least how crazy house prices are in Australia when reading things like this.

I don’t think i’ve even seen a studio apartment go for 160’000 in Australia.

I vote on going small.

The more space you have the more you will fill it with junk. Just search forever if you have to until you find something that’s practical and fits the budget.

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
6 years ago

Why spend time throwing money to a renter to something that isn’t even yours? I disagree with putting off owning a home because of significant student loan debt.

However, about the small vs. big house: I’d prefer bigger but in reality a large house just isn’t practical if all the space isn’t getting used.

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

Why spend time throwing interest to the bank for something that’s not really yours (which it isn’t until the mortgage is paid off – and even then pay your property taxes!!) Because she is in debt. Taking on more debt is step in the wrong direction. You don’t get rich slowly upping your debt. We are not talking about never owning a home. We are talking about delaying gratification until the financial foundation is solid. EDIT – Holly pointed out to me I had her confused with Honey. I still stand by my thoughts on being financially sound before looking… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago

Renting isn’t “throwing away money” — I’m really surprised people still believe that. (Other than real estate agents and banks, that is! This concept gets a lot of play in real estate marketing.) People love to tell me how their mortgage payment is the same as their rent (or less) but they’re not looking at the big picture. Rent often includes things such as utilities, property taxes, maintenance, repairs and landscaping — things which they’re paying on top of their mortgage! Then there’s renovations, decor, all the time they spent maintaining their larger space, increased utility bills, etc. Not to… Read more »

David Hooper
David Hooper
6 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Renting isn’t throwing away money and does offer some flexibility, but beyond having something you can sell later, owning a place provides more stability (in my opinion), which for me is very important as a business owner. Like to have SOME stability in my life. 🙂

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago
Reply to  David Hooper

I agree with you about stability 🙂 I do think renting or buying depends on the person/people and circumstances involved. Either situation can work to one’s advantage.

I do think it’s really important to crunch the numbers and not to let emotion (like the fear of missing out) take over.

AZ Joe
AZ Joe
6 years ago

For infrequent guests, consider finding a nice hotel/motel near by. You can rent a lot of days in the motel/hotel for the extra hundreds of dollars every month you save on not buying that extra room! When our children were small we built custom (but movable) shelving for their toys. Each large toy had a spot. Small toys had special boxes, buckets or other containers, with a special spot. There was no decision making, just put it where it went. It worked well. Years later the shelves went in the garage and I stored stuff on them. When our kids… Read more »

backyard farmer in Ohio
backyard farmer in Ohio
6 years ago

We raised 2 kids in a 1300 sq ft, 3 bedroom house with one bathroom. They survived and went on to live fulfilling lives. All kidding aside we were frugal and living well below our means before it was cool. 25 years later it has certainly paid off being mortgage free for so many years as we get closer to retirement. And, no one refuses to come to our house for a party because of its size.

Sam
Sam
6 years ago

Yeah I grew up in a tiny bungalow (happened to be on the water which is why my parents bought it and kept it), three bedrooms, one bath. Again you make it work.

indio
indio
6 years ago
Reply to  Sam

I currently live in a house that is 900 sq ft on 1/3 of a suburban acre. All of the homes around me have been renovated or knocked down over the past 15 yrs so I’m the smallest home on the block. I am raising 2 children, who share the larger bedroom and have their bunkbeds, dresserrs, desk and bookshelf in it. We are a tight knit family because of the size of the house. We spend most of our free time in the living room reading together, playing games or doing homework. We talk to each other more than… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

I used to rent a house with a hot tub in the master bat. What a pain it was, and it got used maybe twice. It would require the contents of a whole water heater and then some. I know someone who keeps a hot tub outdoors and it takes massive maintenance. My advice would be: think functional, not aspirational. Also with smaller house you don’t only save taxes, but utilities. And you buy less stuff to fill it up (which is why your credit score lowers when you move: you buy stuff). On that note, I’m audio-reading “Unstuff Your… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

@El Nerdo — my parents always say it’s cheaper to rent a hotel room once and a while than to maintain a large home you don’t need the rest of the year!

And sometimes it’s nice to take a breather from all that family time 😉

zoranian
zoranian
6 years ago

We’ve gone the “small” home route for 3+ years now. Sometimes I think about the first house we “fell in love” with for 50% more than we paid for this one. Would I miss the laundry room (rather than closet) and garage? Maybe, but the bedrooms were upstairs, so that would be tough with little kids. And more bathrooms to clean? I barely find time to clean the bathrooms we have now. We LOVE our 1100 square foot 3 bedroom 1.5 bath house. I love being able to hear my kids wherever they are, and if something gets lost or… Read more »

Abby
Abby
6 years ago

We’ve just moved from a 1200 sq ft house to about 2000 sq ft…and I am loving it (though we could do without the additional living room since we now have a den). Our move was a little different because we purchased the home from the estate of my grandmother and while it is much larger than our old home, it is still just a 3/2 ranch (like our old house). It doesn’t FEEL big, if that makes sense. The main reason for our move was due to location and school districts, but we did want more space. I think… Read more »

S_S
S_S
6 years ago

We have been living for 18+ years in a 1700 (3 bed) house and there are three of us with family guests every few months. Yes, it would be nice to have more space occasionally, but the feeling of paying off the house and freeing up money and resources for other things are priceless.

Sam
Sam
6 years ago

I don’t know you but as I was reading this I was thinking why rush, why not rent, please rent, don’t rush this major purchase. So, I was glad to read that you ended up renting. Yes, it is a huge pain to move twice, but if you are moving to a new area (not sure if you are or are not) renting for a year can give you time to figure out neighborhoods, commutes, schools, lifestyle (close in town and walkable or further out with more land), etc. And I like the idea of trying on the smaller home… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  Sam

I never understood the playroom desire. It seems like it’s more for the parents, but I feel like it segregates children. Many of the modern homes are designed to segregate people so they don’t have to leave their bubble or interact with anyone else in the household. It’s like you’re living with roommates, not your family. My own house is less than 900 sq ft, with a detached studio building which is 300 sqft (currently used as a storage building, but was used as an apartment by the previous owner, and as a workshop by the original owners). The original… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I will actually really miss having a play room. Mine has a tile floor which makes it easy to let the kids paint, play with Play-doh, etc. without having to worry about them getting it on the carpet or furniture. But, like I said, I can certainly live without it. They’ll jut have to paint in the kitchen =)

Rebecca
Rebecca
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I grew up with a playroom and liked it. My sister and I shared a bedroom for sleeping and reading but then had a small playroom. The playroom didn’t have to be picked up every day if we were in the middle of an extended project and allowed us to play both together and separately, quietly or loudly.
Later on we decided to have separate bedrooms and the playroom went away but it was a nice option for siblings sharing a bedroom.

Ivy
Ivy
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Playrooms are nice to keep the mess away, but you only need them when the kids are younger, so you’ll be buying something for 5-6 years of use. My home office doubles as playroom doubles as extra guest room (all being in the finished basement). Kids are at school when I work and as long as my desk is clean I don’t mind stepping over toys. And it’s very helpful to send them there to play with friends when we have guests – I firmly believe in segregating the kids – when they learn not to make so much noise,… Read more »

Marnie
Marnie
6 years ago

I have recently downsized from a property roughly 1700sq ft, to 500sq ft, its fabulous, i have two children, who are both teens still living with me, and i would not change my house for anything, cleaning is a doddle, it takes 30 minutes to clean, thats everything, hoovering, washing floors, bathroom etc, rather than all day, for my old house, its cheaper to run as well, i sometimes miss my big kitchen, but that is all, if you are able to find a smaller property that you all love, go for it, you won’t regret the small bills, smaller… Read more »

K Bennett
K Bennett
6 years ago

Go small! You will not regret it. Admittedly I come from a different perspective, having lived on a 36′ boat for 10 years. My husband and I bought a 900 sq.ft. house three years ago here in FL at almost the bottom of the market. Two bedrooms, one bath and a yard are PLENTY enough to keep us busy. I say hallelujah every time I pay my property taxes, utility bills and property insurance bill. Our new roof was 1/3 the price of our friends’ with a 2,000 sq ft+ house. The original cost of your house is just the… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  K Bennett

Exactly, with my housing costs (the PITI payment, reno budgets, taxes, furnishings, utilities, cleaning products, TIME) I easily spend 50% less than my peers. My food bill is about as much as my total housing costs, including utilities…I need to work on that tho. It amazes me how some people only think about the initial costs of a house as they scramble to scrape together as much as possible for the downpayment, and don’t really think about the direct effect on quality of life. I wonder how many homeowners would have done it differently once they learned of the high… Read more »

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

Our family of three fits perfectly in our 1200 sq. ft. Cape. I have a study upstairs, DH has a man cave in the basement, and DS appropriated the back porch for gaming. The bedrooms are small but all you really need them for is sleeping, storage, and… I don’t really understand why people think more space than that is necessary, although I wish we had a 2nd bathroom (someday!). The previous family raised 2 girls in that house, so it obviously worked for them. I just wish a small house here went for the prices in your area. (O.K.,… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

She definitely doesn’t need a queen size bed! She actually looks pretty silly in it. =)

But, it was a mattress that we bought and didn’t like. I have back problems and we replaced that one with the world’s hardest memory foam mattress. Instead of buying her a twin, we just gave her that one since it was almost new.
I was pregnant at the time so we just passed her baby bed and mattress down to the new baby.

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

When I was 4 I got a full-sized bed that I used until I was 23. It may have been big, but it meant me, Mom and Dad all snuggling together in my room before bedtime 🙂

Elbow
Elbow
6 years ago
Reply to  Laura

My 2 sons (5 and 3) sleep in a king size bed. Its way too big for them, but they love it. We had to replace our soft foam mattress with a firmer mattress because of my back issues. Instead of buying 2 new beds for them, we just gave them our old king size foam mattress. Takes up most of their room, but they don’t mind.. yet.

Marie-Josée
Marie-Josée
6 years ago

I too really commend you for taking the time to think things out. You can’t return your purchase when you buy a house – for most people, it’s the biggest financial committment they will ever have, and it’s wonderful that you have the opportunity to rent short term to find a home that suits your needs. I would reconsider your position with respect to a family room. As your children grow, you and they will appreciate having a space where they can play video/computer games, watch movies and chill out with their friends. Of course, as others have written, you… Read more »

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
6 years ago

We’re definitely in the quality over quantity camp when it comes to housing square footage. Our house is 1,100 square feet, and still our guest room (aka, my office – but like you I prefer parking in the living room/dining room) goes unused most of the time by everyone except the cat. The thing that really matters is how the home is designed. The layout of my parents’ home is so wasteful that when we bought our house I swore to my mom that our 1,100 square foot house was bigger than the house I grew up in. (It sure… Read more »

Leah
Leah
6 years ago

The key to space is buying a place with few or no hallways. They take up a ridiculous amount of room with little purpose.

mike
mike
6 years ago

I’ve owned houses from 900sqft up to 3000sqft, now we are in a 2000sq ft. Probably our next move will be a condo or rancher even smaller. Focus on the things you really use first. The 900sqft house was probably the best because it forced you to use space wisely. A couple notes: -Most people don’t use living room or dining rooms very often. Most of the action happens in the family room or kitchen even when guest are over. Thats why I prefer an open kitchen with dining area and A Great Room. -Wanted the Jacuzzi tub, never use… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
6 years ago

My parents moved a great deal and one thing they taught me was to rent for at least 3-6 months, maybe even a year, before you buy. This gives you time to look the new place over, figure out where you really want to be and what the market is really like before you commit to a new house. I’ve moved a great deal – 5 states in 25 years – and I’ve found that to be very good advice. It’s let me find the real estate agent that was a really good fit, given me time to really think… Read more »

Jimena
Jimena
6 years ago

Congrats on selling your home! In looking for your new one, I have some food for thought on home organization. Is it possible that the guest room and office could be shared? My husband telecommutes some days and it works great to have what was previously my bed in the “office,” a smaller bedroom away from the living areas with an attached half bath. If a room is small, a well-constructed pullout couch or futon could do the job as well. We do host a lot of out of town guests who are coming through or to visit us, so… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

Given my (new) husband and I live in a 750 sq ft 1 bedroom apartment that I also work from home in, our goals are quite different moving forward. 1200 sq ft (for two people) sounds like a dream to me. Even 1000 would be great with a second bedroom. Having the separation from “work” and home would do a lot for my emotional well-being.

Everyone that has posted so far has a different opinion on what they/you truly need and I don’t think anyone but you can answer that for you and your family.

Samantha
Samantha
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla, you got married? Congrats! This feels weird because I only know you from GRS comments and I rarely comment, but I’ve seen your progression from single to dating to we’re-making-decisions-together to now married, and I’m so happy for you!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Thanks, Samantha! We got married on the 5th! 😀 I have dreams of writing a budget wedding guest post, but I wonder if this is the right audience (lots of families here already).

JLL
JLL
6 years ago

After my divorce, I bought a home with a “small” yard. I soon discovered the yard wasn’t small enough. In the summer, I spent most of my free time doing yard work, which I dislike. Wanted a pool – maintenance on that took up the balance of my free time! I’ve now rented out that house and living in a tiny apartment. And I love it. Less space to clean, less clutter, no maintenance, tiny electric bills.

Troy
Troy
6 years ago

You stated what your true wants are. You want to be debt and mortgage free. Now you are. So 3 simple solutions to move forward A)use the $100K net proceeds from the sale and buy the nicest house you can find for that $100K, and remain mortgage free. B) continue renting and save monthly cash until you save up enough to add to the $100K to buy the house you want with cash and remain mortgage free C) Use the $100K and build the house you want and remain mortgage free. All three options keep you mortgage free, which is… Read more »

Shari
Shari
6 years ago

I would love to live in a smaller house! Our house right now is not very big (maybe 1200-1500 square feet? Not sure) but it is still too big for me. We have 3 kids, so right now we use most of the space, but in a few years they will be grown up and moved out and I fully intend to move into a smaller house. (Once the kids are gone the entire basement–half the living space–will be completely unused). My husband thinks we need a bigger house even after the kids are gone, so it should be an… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Shari

I can relate to this. Our house has some layout issues, especially regarding privacy for him when he is working on his business late into the evenings, but I think the size is fine. He is DETERMINED that twice as big as our current place would be barely enough. We’ll see what happens!

Juli
Juli
6 years ago

Our house is about 1500sq ft., with 2 adults, a 5 year old and a 3 year old. The toys are all kept in the living room, and that is where they play for the most part. Yeah, it is a bit messy, but I like that I can easily keep track of them when I am in the kitchen. We do have a “bonus room” that doubles as DH’s man cave and the guest room. We have a lot of family that live out of town, so our guest bed definitely gets its money’s worth. If we ever move… Read more »

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

My family recently moved from a little over 2000 sq. ft. to a little under 1300. We’re pleased with the decision. A couple things that made it a no brainer for us were- we didn’t use all the space in our old home, and the new place has a way bigger yard and a detached garage, where our old place had no outbuildings at all.

Allyson
Allyson
6 years ago

Great idea. I have thought about doing this myself. In the next couple of years we are planning to move from Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor, about an hour and a half away, to be closer to my parents, and I already have decided that renting a small place for about 6 months will buy us some time to investigate the area, figure out what neighborhoods we like and what schools we want our daughter in. Plus, if we could live with a very small rental house for a while, our monthly housing expense would be completely fixed (we had to… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Allyson

Allyson,

I think that’s a great idea. We also talke about combining a playroom and office since I usually only work in the office when the kids aren’t home or when they’re in bed.

Stephanie
Stephanie
6 years ago

12 years ago, my husband and I bought a 3/2 1400 sq ft ranch as our first home. At that time, we had one young son and dreams of a larger home and more children. Today, we have an 18 year old and a 6 year old and we still live in the same house. It has been a little crowded at times, but our house has provided everything we needed and we really have no reason to move. My oldest son will be moving out before too long, so it will just be 3 of us like it was… Read more »

tas
tas
6 years ago

what about installing a woodstove instead of looking for a fireplace? then you can heat your house as well as have the wood burning fire aesthetic. woodstoves are also more energy efficient than a fireplace and keep the indoor air quality cleaner. some of the calculation obviously involves where you live, whether you can get cheap firewood, and how much your current heating costs will cost, but I’ve always wanted a fireplace, but really love my wood stove!

Susan
Susan
6 years ago

Good for you for stepping back and thinking about what you really need vs. want. Most newer houses, IMO, are way too big. I don’t want to live in a house where I don’t even know where my kids are. We have a 1940s cape cod, about 1800 sq feet when you count the basement and it has been plenty of space w/ 2 kids. We are remodeling to open up the kitchen/dining room because the closed off kitchen doesn’t work well for us. I do like having two living spaces — a first floor living room which is where… Read more »

Brian
Brian
6 years ago

We fell in the Jacuzzi tub trap too! We installed one when we renovated our bathroom. I can’t remember the last time it was used. What a waste of $$$. I think it great that you can rent month to month to try out a small house to see if it will work for you. Great idea. Good luck!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Brian

I like to watch those home reno shows (gosh the Property Brothers are good looking!) and I have NEVER understood why anyone would want a jacuzzi tub. Honestly I don’t need a tub at all, a stand up shower is fine with me.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

A jacuzzi tub sounds like a huge waste and PITA. On the other hand, between the aches and pain I get at times I don’t know what I would do without a tub! I use mine about once a week and its my little space away from the world. 🙂

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Yeah, jacuzzi tubs are ridiculous – the time it takes just to fill them up, I think, would discourage any use.

But baths are lovely! Actually, if I had my druthers, I’d install a Japanese soaking tub in my dream bathroom. Nothing like being immersed up to your chin in hot water!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

@imelda – Now you’re talkin’!

Slinky
Slinky
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

The jacuzzi tub our place came with is nonfunctional. But we like it just because it’s an extra large tub. It’s deep enough that I (5’2″) don’t even fill it up all the way to be immersed up to my chin and wide enough for my husband (Mr. 54″ chest thanks to blacksmithing) to actually be comfortable. Previous regular bathtubs started a running joke about getting in first and then adding the required teaspoon of water to fill. And if we want to get all romantic, we can even enjoy a candle-lit bath together, which is nice. It does take… Read more »

Brian
Brian
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

We used the tub when our 3 children were young all the time, and thinking my wife and I would have time for long soaks ourselves. It just never worked out that way. Lesson learned.

Meredith
Meredith
6 years ago
Reply to  Brian

We just bought a house (1800sf 3 bed/1.5bath) and the one full bath has a jacuzzi tub and it is my least favorite part of the house. It is so tall, I have to step really high into and out of it. I actually have to pick my 4 year old up to get her in and out of the tub since she can’t do it herself. We have only used it as a shower so far, not tried out the actual bath portion. Now I am all freaked out by your comments about how to clean it, I didn’t… Read more »

Ivy
Ivy
6 years ago

We have a 3 bedroom house and we put our 2 kids together in one room, so that we can free up a guest room. On one side, we do need a guest room – parents visiting from abroad stay for months, we’ve had a few times friends stay for a few months between jobs or between locations. On the other side, I believe having the kids together will teach them to share better, play together more and feel close (maybe I should mention that I am European by origin). The only challenge is that they are different genders, so… Read more »

Denise
Denise
6 years ago

I think you need to find a balance with the space. If it is too small it gets messier quicker and it is easier to clean if you can move. Also I have noticed that most of the posters had two children. Makes a difference if there are more. It also helps if there is no serious case of packratieness! DH loves to keep things because we may never use them again. The best was the cheap pool table that came with the house that we could not get rid of because it came with the house and now that… Read more »

Betsy14
Betsy14
6 years ago

Having a guest room is very important to me. I’ve rented apartments/houses with a guest room and without, and to me, that little bit of extra privacy makes all the difference in an enjoyable hosting experience. I live in the DC area and lots of friends come through town for meetings or other occasions – I’ve really enjoyed being able to catch up with old friends over a low-key dinner/evening in my own house. Also, most people don’t really enjoy sleeping on the living room couch, especially when their sleep schedules are a bit different from the rest of the… Read more »

tas
tas
6 years ago

re: a fireplace. They’re lovely, but what’s even more lovely is a woodstove — you can build a fire in it every once in awhile or use it as a supplemental heating system and lower your heating bills. you can even get a small tax credit on the purchase right now. It’s one of the more economical ways to heat (part of) a house. Of course, this assumes you need to heat your house in the first place!

PawPrint
PawPrint
6 years ago
Reply to  tas

My friend’s kid bought a house in Portland and is using the woodstove as a heat source. While it’s economical for him, I do wonder about pollution issues. I sleep with my window open, and I sometimes wake up choking because of our neighbor’s woodstove smoke. Don’t woodstoves contribute to inversions?

Cath
Cath
6 years ago

Dude, a tub can be added to a house, if you really want it. Buy a cheap house and you can have money left over to make the bathroom whatever your heart desires. Focus instead on location, price, the bones of the house, HOA rules, etc.

Kelsie
Kelsie
6 years ago

We bought a small house because it was all we could afford, now we love it! We’re going to love it more when it is paid off next year. I think renting something small is a great idea for you. Then, you can see if it works for your family.

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

I grew up in a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house that my parents still live in and I shared a room with my sister until my brother moved out. The house is perfect for the two of them now and because of the low payments, they were able to remodel every room after we moved out. They have since paid off the house and have the ability to retire early at 60. Our house isn’t big but it is bigger and much more expensive than my parent’s small house. They were smart for sticking to their needs and not buying… Read more »

Tiara
Tiara
6 years ago

Go small, you’ll love it! I have gone from 3400 sq ft to 2200 sq ft to 1100 sq ft and each one was better than the last. Less cleaning, all the space is actually used, and that Jacuzzi tub was a PITA and total waste of money.

Silas
Silas
6 years ago

Great article! I definitely agree that not living extravagantly is the first step to financial success. Having extraneous space still requires maintenance.

Alcie
Alcie
6 years ago

This is a great article and very timely as we are in the process of looking at houses to buy. The advice to think about what you will actually use is great, rather than going for aspirational touches. It’s interesting to see how many people have opted for a smaller house. Going through the same exercise, though, my husband and I are actually looking for a much bigger place (which we had before this one), although not necessarily a lot bigger in the house. But we miss terribly the bigger garden, a large shop and other outbuildings, and acreage with… Read more »

Slinky
Slinky
6 years ago
Reply to  Alcie

You sound a bit like us! I’m going to highly recommend looking at older farmhouses. These are MUCH more likely to have acreage for gardens, outbuildings for shops, and smaller, less fancy houses.

Melanie
Melanie
6 years ago

You can totally do that! I live in an airstream trailer with my husband. It’s not half as difficult as I thought it might be.

David Hooper
David Hooper
6 years ago

I sold a fairly large (2700 ft) place about six months ago. Housing market in my area was tight with little inventory available, so I moved into a smaller, 700 ft space for a while before eventually moving into a larger house again.

Overall a great experience. If I wasn’t working from home and living with a girlfriend who also works from home, I’d absolutely consider it for a more permanent arrangement. Beyond that though, it made me rethink what I need as far as things INSIDE my home, which I believe is also a good thing to look at.

Jerome
Jerome
6 years ago

Six years ago we moved from a 1800 sq. ft to 1100, with our 3 kids. And than we got two more kids (lovely girl twins). And we still fit in our small house! We had to be very creative with the space we have, but we managed. I have two tips which worked for us. 1. buy a storage unit (not rent it) and use that to get rid of seasonal stuff and junk you have to keep. Instead of moving to a smaller house once the children have left, we will just sell the unit. 2. Visit a… Read more »

The Debt Shrink
The Debt Shrink
6 years ago

If you have to ask IF you really need a bigger house, you likely know the answer. Sounds like this rental period will help you better understand how small of a house you can be comfortable in. That little voice inside is the original Frugal Sage.

thegooch
thegooch
6 years ago

I’ve never had a house , but I think starting small and working your way up is a good idea!

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

“And the kids’ play room? Sure, they love it, but most people I know don’t have a room in their home dedicated only to toys. I didn’t have a play room growing up, after all – nor did my husband, my best friend, or either of my parents. We all survived.” That is seriously one of the most level-headed things I’ve ever heard from someone while house-shopping. As another commenter mentioned, once you have had something it’s very hard to give it up. But you’re so right that there are more important things that a room just for toys, which,… Read more »

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