My first apartment was 450 square feet. The house we live in now is 943 square feet. We’ve camped in a tent in Michigan for 12 days, two adults and a dog. Small, we know. Small we know intimately.
We prefer small. I even find myself thinking that our house now is too spacious in some ways. We have a dining room we almost never use and a large upstairs that goes equally unused unless you count Steve’s mancave as essential. I stare longingly at tiny homes, tree houses, and granny pods the way some people admire mansions and sweeping estates. I love the functionality of these small spaces, how every square inch is put to use. I’m taken with campers where you might find storage under a breakfast nook, an extra bed over the driver’s seat, and a closet door that actually leads to a bathroom. Small equals cozy, to me and I find these miniature spaces ideal for curling up in the evenings and settling into deep comfort.
This ever-growing need for space that our society has puzzles me. We have friends with one child who tell us they need to move because they’re outgrowing their 2000 square foot home while their baby literally still shares a room with them, and family members who tell us our house makes them feel claustrophobic. Space has become the scale on which success is measured. Bigger is better.
Luckily, Steve and I share the same viewpoint about housing: smaller suits us just fine.
I’ve listed a few reasons we feel this way, maybe in doing so I can convert someone to the cult of tiny home.
1. Cleaning is easier
Less house means less house to clean. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t breathe a sigh of relief and think to myself “I’m so glad we have a small home”.
We have exactly one bathroom to scrub, and there are no his and her sinks which means we have just one sink to wash out. We have a kitchen with just four separate counters to be sponged off each night after dinner, and the kitchen floor is a quick sweep each night and quick mop every few weeks. Our family room is easy to vacuum and has just one coffee table, an end table, and a mantle for dusting. Our dining room has one table to dust or wipe and a bar/side board with alcohol on it. Our bedroom is just big enough for our bed, two nightstands, a dresser, and this desk (a converted sewing machine) and small stool that I write on. Dusting this furniture takes me approximately four minutes and vacuuming that follows is fast.
We have seven windows on our main floor, just seven! Our upstairs is a cape cod style, it’s one large room with two windows at each end, minimal furniture and is equally easy to run a vacuum and dust rag through.
Working together. our house can be spotless in under an hour. For every baseboard, window ledge, and toilet we must scrub I imagine that some people are doing ten or twelve times the amount of work.
Now, there are people that find joy in cleaning, but I’m not one of them. While I find joy in a clean house, the actual cleaning part is for the birds. I can name thousands of things I’d rather spend my free time doing than picking up dirty clothes (we have less floor space for items to collect), and shining door knobs.
At some point, a house may even be so big that the cleaning needs to be outsourced. A solution I have no judgement about, but it’s not how I’d like to spend our income. Given that our house is a manageable size, our cleaning is something we can do easily, and it doesn’t take up time or require it to be another expense in the monthly budget.
2. Less house means less repairs
Going along with my first point, if there is less house than there is less things in the house that need repair. In fact, when you buy a home most people will tell you that you need to set aside a fund just for home repairs each year, and the size of that fund should directly correlate with the size of your home. The greater the square foot the greater that fund needs to be.
In the past twelve months we’ve had countless repairs (all done by Steve, thankfully): our toilet was leaking, the garbage disposal was broke, the air conditioner wasn’t running, part of our fence needed mending after a tree branch fell on it, a tree needed to be felled (same tree), the railing on our porch was loose and downright dangerous and that needed to be replaced, our porch needed to be painted. There are many more I’m forgetting because they happen so frequently that I’ve just come to take them in stride and it isn’t a very big deal when it happens. Not all of these repairs cost money, especially since Steve is handy and can fix most anything by learned skill or by using Google, but often there is still a part that will need to be bought when going the DIY route.
I’ve addressed repairs but there is also the general cost of maintenance. Air filters, yard maintenance (something that, again, is usually outsourced once the lawn is a certain size), painting, and generally keeping the house looking fresh and new.
3. Reduced Energy Usage
This is easy math. A smaller home will require less energy to maintain comfort. It’s common now for a home to be so large it requires two HVAC systems to heat/cool two different zones in the house. A larger house will have more lighting, as well. If your house is the size of a museum, expect to pay a high price to your energy provider every month. It’s not a bill people think much to tack on when obtaining a mortgage, but upwards of $300 a month can get old, fast.
4. You won’t be tempted to buy stuffs
I’ll admit, the size of our home has saved us from buying unnecessary items time and time again. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve turned down at garage sales, or even free handouts that I loved that I just knew we didn’t have room for back at the ranch. Larger dining room tables, armchairs, vases, holiday decorations (especially! We only have so many surfaces in our house on which to place these knick knacks), china sets, bookcases, barstools, etc…
We don’t have much closet space or cabinet space in the bathroom or kitchen so we can’t even go on a buying spree for sheets, makeup, towels, clothes, outerwear, suitcases, champagne flutes, etc… Literally, everything we purchase we have to ask if there is a room enough to house it. We do have a sizable unfinished basement where we store larger quantities of toilet paper, detergent, and vegetables for harvesting, but we don’t enjoy tromping down there each time we need to grab something, so food and household items we use daily would not be practical to store down there.
5. Realize how little space you use
Let’s all be perfectly honest here, there are two rooms that are used in a house: the kitchen and the room that the television exists in. That’s it. A bedroom for sleeping in at night and a bathroom for taking care of business and showering, but other than that we could all exist in abodes that are just a kitchen and living room attached to each other with a door to the outside world.
A few months ago, my family rented a house for a wedding in Southern California. The house was owned by a surgeon, and it fell under the category of mansion. There were thirteen people staying there, so we needed a house that had enough beds for sleeping. In addition to enough rooms there were two separate staircases, a game room with a pool table, a gigantic kitchen with a breakfast nook, a dining room that no one stepped foot in (these things are useless), a grand foyer, a small television room off the kitchen, a piano room, a master bedroom with a balcony, and a waiting room. Guess where all thirteen of us spent the whole trip? In the kitchen and the backyard.
Sometimes we might hear musical notes drifting to us from a faraway place when someone was in the piano room, but, ultimately, we didn’t need those four additional rooms. Oh, and the front door? No one ever entered through it. We went through the side door connected to the driveway every time.
5. Humans in the 1920s didn’t need all this space
In the past 100 years the simple anatomy of a human hasn’t changed all that much, but the size of our homes have grown by more than 75%. Which is funny, since household size has decreased dramatically.
My Dad grew up in a two-family building that was shared by four adults, three girls, and four boys. The eleven people in these quarters shared just two bathrooms between them. All four boys slept in the attic even during the summer and winter.
My mother grew up in a household of eight, in an average sized home in Dallas where three of the girls shared a room upstairs, two boys shared a room, and my mom had her own very tiny room since she was the oldest girl. My grandparents had their own room.
Now a days, most families have two children and things start to feel uncomfortable if they don’t each have their own bedroom!
Our house was built in 1906, and likely housed an entire family. In 2019 this sort of house is considered a starter home that one must abandon at the first sign of pregnancy.
Our house is a reminder of older times. It tells a story of what life used to be like. As I mentioned, we have very, very little closet space. There are no walk in closets here, I can’t even stand inside any of our closets, but just put half an arm into them. They are wide enough only for an armful of coats, and deep enough only for a vacuum and some small toolboxes. Each closet has one rod, and two shelves up top. To be frank, I’m not even sure these closets came with the original house either, the way they are built into our house they sort of jut out into each room, which leads me to believe they might have been added on at a later date.
We have a cellar door, and our basement feels like a cellar. It has easy access to our garden, it’s cool and dark, perfect for storing vegetables and harvesting food. Refinished basements were not a thing in the early 1900s. But now, we need more space! Our bathroom is tiny, with barely enough room for two people to stand side by side in it. Now bathrooms are meant to be places for luxurious spas and relaxation, and a shower large enough to house a swim team.
Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to have a bustling family here: children jumping down the staircase, parents arguing over the bathroom in the morning, babies crawling across the hardwood floors… which leads me to my next point.
6. Less room inside = more time outside
Every few months I read a news article about why kids aren’t playing outside anymore. Is it because they’re too fat? Is it the electronics? I read a staggering study that said something like kids only spend ten minutes outside each day. Well, I can tell you that my mom and dad spent very little time in their homes each day as children Why? Because their parents were shooing them out the door of their average-sized homes. My dad shared a bedroom with three other boys, of course he spent most of his days outside.
Steve and I are the same. That’s why camping in a tent for twelve days wasn’t a hindrance for us. We knew that whatever means we used to shelter ourselves would only be used for sleeping. We had no intention of going on vacation and spending any time sitting in a rental. When we vacation, we set out early in the morn and return late in the evening. At home we are the same way. Sure, there are evenings in the living room in front of the television, but even in the winter we try to spend as much time outdoors as possible.
In the warm months Steve is in the garden every night after work, and I’m outback at the patio table writing. We have dinner outside on the deck in the evenings, and even have a small television outside that we watch baseball on. We hike, play disc golf, go fishing, go the dog park, or take picnics to the river several nights during the week. In the winter we do all the same things, only bundled up in ski gear, hats, scarves, and lined boots. If any three of us (this includes our dog) haven’t been outside in a few days it begins to show. We become restless, grumpy, and crabby. We need the outdoors. Our house is a place to cook, wash our clothes, and rest our head at night. We take a lot of pride in our house, and love this little place, but neither of us want to spend every moment here.
If you are thinking of downsizing or are buying a home for the first time, or even if you are choosing a rental, ask yourself what living in a smaller space would really be like. Are there rooms in your home now that go unused? Do you wish for your children to spend more time in the yard and with the children on your street? Do you wish you and your spouse took more walks around the neighborhood and took more day hiking trips? Do you want a reason to stop filling your house with more stuffs that don’t bring you real happiness? If this list resonated with you then it sounds like small living might be right for you!