This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.
A few months ago, my husband mustered the courage to try a new career only to discover that the grass isn't always greener. In other words, he hated it. And, after some initial disappointment, I was okay with him leaving that job and going back to the industry where he began. Fortunately, once he began looking for a new job, we got lucky. After a week or so of sending out resumes, my husband found an excellent employment opportunity in a town about 40 minutes away. This meant that we had to move, of course, so we put our home on the market. And, much to our surprise, our house sold in an astonishing 13 days. So, there we were, without a place to live, and wondering what in the world we should do next.
After some frantic house-hunting and soul-searching, we decided that it might be time to try something new. So, instead of buying a large home like the one we sold, we instead chose to rent a small 1,168-square-foot home on a month-to-month basis from a family friend. We called our adventure “the small house experiment,” and began our mission to determine how much home we really need.
Of course, I know that everything is relative. We live in central Indiana, after all, where houses are huge and land is cheap. Since our old home was almost 2,400 square feet, our temporary home would be about half the size. So, less than 1,200 square feet is very small in our eyes. And, as we packed up all of our belongings, I began to wonder if all of our furniture and belongings would actually fit inside. But, despite my worries, I was also hopeful that we could make a small house work. After all, I'm cheap and living in a small house could lead to huge savings on our biggest monthly expense.
The benefits of a small home
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 needâ€¦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.
How big is your home? How do you make your home's size work for you?