Some Thoughts on the Small House Movement: Is It Something Worth Considering?

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Over the last week, several readers have written to me with various comments, suggestions, and questions related to the so-called “small house movement.” Given that it’s a great way to save money (as I’ll discuss below), I thought it’d be worthwhile to investigate the movement in detail.

What is the “small house movement”?
From the website of the Small House Society:

The Small House Society is a voice for the Small House Movement. That movement includes movie stars who have downsized into 3000 square feet, families of five happy in an arts and crafts bungalow, multifamily housing in a variety of forms, and more extreme examples, such as people on houseboats and in trailers with just a few hundred square feet around them. Size is relative, and mainly we promote discussion about the ecological, economic and psychological toll that excessive housing takes on our lives, and what some of us are doing to live better. It’s not a movement about people claiming to be “tinier than thou” but rather people making their own choices toward simpler and smaller living however they feel best fits their life.

Small house by lerble on Flickr!In other words, the “small house movement” includes people who are making a conscious choice to live in a smaller home rather than choosing a larger one. It includes people who could afford McMansions but live in only a 3,000 square foot home all the way down to single people living in a tiny one-room home (as depicted beautifully on that site).

There are a lot of reasons for doing this.

Ecology A small home simply uses fewer natural resources than a large one, both in the construction and in the maintenance (energy use, for example).

Psychology Because the home is small, one can invest fewer “mental cycles” in the upkeep of the home as compared to a large home.

Time Not only that, the actual upkeep takes significantly less time as well. With fewer square feet, it takes far less time to get the house clean.

And the big one…

How can a “small house” save me money?
There are several strong financial reasons for considering the “small house movement.”

Less initial cost Purchasing a smaller house means there’s a smaller initial cost to purchase the home. This may mean a smaller mortgage, a potentially lower interest rate on that mortgage, or perhaps even the ability to pay for the house using only cash.

Less maintenance cost With a small home, you’ll have a far lower energy bill. You’ll also have less expense for cleaning materials and fewer repair costs, too – a smaller roof means fewer shingles are needed to re-shingle, after all.

Less room to store unnecessary stuff If you own a smaller house, you have less space for storage, which directly impacts the amount of excess “stuff” you can accumulate. Thus, it becomes more difficult to spend money on impulsive buys – there simply isn’t anywhere to put it!

More time to devote to other money-making endeavors With the decrease in time needed to be spent on housecleaning and home upkeep, one can devote more time to other activities. Take those extra few hours a week and start a side business – or perhaps take up a part-time job for more income.

My personal take
My belief is that part of the recent trend towards large houses was fueled by the crazy housing bubble of the first part of the decade. People would build larger houses than they need under the impression that this house would be a great investment that would make their expenditure worthwhile.

In a normal housing market, you can reasonably expect that your home will appreciate to some degree, perhaps slightly ahead of inflation, but you should not expect that your home will be a great investment. Instead, it makes sound financial sense to view a home purchase as more of a functional investment than as a financial one.

In short, before you buy a home, know what you can afford, compare it to the rental options in your situation, and don’t put pressure on your budget. All three of these factors point toward buying a small home rather than a large one, as a small home is more initially affordable and won’t pressure your budget as much as a large home.

In other words, when it comes time to purchase a home, set your sights lower instead of higher. Taking all factors into consideration, a more modest home might be the right choice for your long-term financial future.

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80 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Small House Movement: Is It Something Worth Considering?

  1. You should take a look at Early Retirement Extreme’s blog, Trent. In addition to being a really good and engaging writer, he moved into an RV recently and has lots of posts about the experience. I find the tiny prefab houses which crop up every so often on architecture and urban planning sites incredibly appealing (although living in the city in Toronto my house is probably significantly smaller than your anyway). I like the design sensibility in a lot of them, and they’re perfect for neat freaks and keen declutterers like me, but I live with someone who likes a bit more room.

  2. So was our decision to by a 2500 sq ft house with 1/2 acre land a bad decision for a family of 2? :-D We’re planning for the future of 30+ years and children. I guess I don’t mold well with the “cool” people!

  3. I hope this is a trend towards not keeping up with the Joneses. At least one benefit of the credit crash is that people will finally learn to live within their means and appreciate what they have.

  4. We plan to build something around 1800 sq.ft. We don’t plan to move from the home we build, and we do want children, so we feel we should allow some room there. I love the small house movement. Most people simply do not NEED the space they think they need.

    I want to build a smaller house because I’m not trying to impress anyone. I want to have the option to stay home when we have kids, and I don’t want a house payment to rob me of that option. Once our kids are older, I’d rather spend money traveling with them than trying to afford a mortgage.

    I guess it’s about priorities. I prefer having experiences to posessions.

  5. If you want to look at it this way, you should really only have 500 sq. ft. per person (or less). And that isn’t being frugal, that’s simply being smart.

    So, with your 2,500 sq. ft. home, you better pump out at least 3 kids to make that purchase worthwhile.

    And Trent, in about 90% of the country (less than 5 years ago) a 3,000 sq. ft. home would be considered a McMansion itself – so, I’m not sure where you are going with that one. Sure, people are cutting down *slightly* on house sizes, but their still ridiculously huge for the amount of people living in them.

  6. When I read the part about “downsizing” into a 3000 square foot home, I about choked on my orange juice. Seriously, is that supposed to be small? My husband and I live in a 600 square foot condo. While it is slightly on the small side, I couldn’t image living in a place as large as 3000 square feet while patting myself on the back for consuming less. Have you seen those tiny apartments that people have in Japan, Europe, Latin America, and about everywhere else in the world? They seem to be doing OK. I think that if you have at least 500 square feet per person, you are not doing anything spectacular at all.

  7. Your email outlines most of the reasons my husband and I live in a 2 bedroom rental (the bottom floor of a house), instead of a larger place. I don’t want to spend our money heating or cooling any extra space. And the last thing I want is more rooms to clean! :)

  8. One thing I will never understand is a trend that I see where people in their late 40′s or 50′s become empty nesters and then move into a larger house! I know a number of people who have done this. They tell me, “Now that our children are supporting themselves, I can afford the home I always wanted.” I never get up the nerve to say what I really would like to say. I wish I could.

    I’d say something like:

    So just when you need less room, and might even be able to be mortgage free, you build or buy a show home, just to show you can. In a few years, that home will likely be too much for you to care for, and you will find yourself moving into an assisted living apartment. How about remodeling or redecorating? How about travel? I just see so many better choices.

    I have lived in houses that were too small, and that made it nearly impossible for me to keep it clean and organized. My current and forever home is about 1800 square feet, with some very well thought out storage features. I find it perfect. Yes, it was built in 1962 and is not the most stylish home in town. But it suits me, and all I want is to get it paid for. We’re staying put.

  9. Here in Houston there is a ‘Small Home’ movement but I am not sure as to how strong it is. The small homes are called ‘Bungalow Style’ houses and usually consist of only 1 or 2 bedrooms which are small to begin with. I think a 2 bedroom bungalow usually is about 850 sq ft. Most master bedrooms are 10 foot by 8 foot.

    Personally I think it is a gimmick because they tend to be barely less expensive then neighboring full size homes.

    Larry @ http://www.theluckymoneycat.com

  10. I work for an affordable housing organization in a small town, and part of our philosophy is that we build modestly sized houses. Our smallest house is about 850 SF (2 bedrooms) and our 4 largest houses are about 1400 SF (3 bedrooms). On paper and on first glance, our houses appear to be quite small (when we were building one of them, a contractor asked if it was the garage for the house next to it! He was very surprised when I said, no, that’s a house), but they are all very well designed and spacious inside. We’re big on using space efficiently as well as energy efficiency and green building techniques. It’s better for our homeowners because their utility bills are less and it’s better for our community, which tends to be very ecologically inclined.

    Before I worked here, I’d lived places as varied a 2500 SF house (my parents’ home) to a 300 SF studio apartment in Washington DC. 300 SF was much too small (my current apartment is about 650 SF, and that’s working pretty well), but my parents’ house seems immense to me after working on “my” houses here. I definitely plan to go small when the time comes for me to buy my own place. I like the coziness of a small house.

  11. My uncle and his family are downsizing from 9,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. Does that count?

    I dislike modern large homes not because of their size and cost, but because they don’t offer the benefits large homes should offer: nobility, beautiful architecture, many rooms for hosting large events, superior workmanship, etc.

  12. Mr Chiot’s and I chose a small house when we bought 6 years ago. We live in a 2 bd home and run 2 businesses out of it. It’s perfect! We don’t have any unused space. And it’s much cheaper for utilities and taxes (not to mention cleaning time!).

  13. I love this post Trent. Part of my financial meltdown and recovery was realizing that I WILL be out of debt someday, and will be able to buy something small. A few months ago I found http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com. I want the 774 square foot, 3 bedroom Enesti SO BAD! I even have a picture of it on my laptop wallpaper. I live in a one bedroom apartment that’s probably no more thatn 500 s.f. so this place will seem big to me! I’ll have an office AND a spare bedroom. I really hope it happens for me

    Now I just need to get out of debt and save enough money for it before I die!

  14. I don’t know how you do it Trent, but the timing of your posts is quite frightening.

    My DW and I just put a bid in on a 1629sqft house the other day. It is a foreclosure, in great shape, that we will be purchasing for 72K less than what it originally sold for. The DW and I disagree if we need that much space though, and it has been a source of some heated discussion around our apartment. I think it is too big, but she thinks it is just right. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to get used to it.

    On a related note, do you know about this $7500 tax credit I’ve been hearing about lately? I sure would like to get some details on that.

  15. My studio apartment here in Chicago is just under 400 SF, and that’s generous for a studio–I have a separate kitchen/dining area and a big walk-in closet. Anything over 2,000 SF sounds palatial to me! :-)

  16. My husband and I live in a 900 SF rowhouse, that will be paid off in 8 years. That 900 SF includes our basement–our actual living space is 600 SF. For 2 people, it’s plenty. A 2,000 SF house would seem palatial to us. When you live in a small space, it requires that you not accumulate so much unnecessary stuff. Less stuff = more freedom.

  17. i don’t even know where those little houses are! i’ve seen pics, but i don’t even know actual locations of where they’re at and what the median cost is for that. i don’t think i could do that tiny house unless it was literally just me.

    i didn’t think 2000 sq ft was considered small (though it looks like some people consider it large). my condo that i rent with roommates is that size and we feel like it’s perfect size bordering huge!

  18. Bill you’re hilarious! Actually though, you’d be less likely to get robbed because the robber would assume that with a house that small, you wouldn’t have anything to steal/worth stealing! Which is kinda true, as Trent noted…less space would ostensibly mean less stuff. :>

  19. I’ve spent the last 8.5 years living in a 1400 sq ft house in the middle of a large city with my husband and Golden Retriever. I love the home, the neighborhood, and the many conveniences of a small home. But I don’t have 2 indoor parking spots, I don’t have room for children without converting my guest room (and I live 500 miles from my nearest family, so I have lots of guests). I don’t have room for my hobby (needs about 400 sq.ft). And I could use a slightly bigger yard for the dog. Its time for a bigger home.

    We’re looking at 3000 sq. ft homes. I know, that’s a lot! But if I have 1 child or 2, I don’t need to move. Initially I plan on shutting the doors of 2 of the bedrooms and making them storage (turning off the heat/AC). As long as you have a 20% down payment and can afford the monthly mortgage then you should buy as much home as you need.

    But I do feel responsible to make this home energy efficient. I will need to buy a refrigerator and washer/dryer – I’ll look to buy energy efficient models. I also plan to replace both heat pumps for efficiency. And, as I have in my smaller home, I’ll use only electric lawn equipment and energy efficient lighting.

  20. I read an article not too long ago about the small house movement. According to the article that I read, these houses are design meticulously for storage and to “feel and look big.” All of the designing really made the price skyrocket. Some of those tiny little places, like Trent’s picture cost more to purchase than my moderate size (2,500 sqft.) split level home. One of the things that you must consider is price per sq.ft. That being said, some of these “small houses” really come with a huge bill.

  21. We bought an 800 sqft rowhouse in DC three years ago – it was more of a financial decision as even small houses in DC border on unaffordable – however after living in a small house with a small yard, I can say I really have NO desire to move to a big house. Between the cost of running a house and the amount of time required for cleaning and upkeep, its just not worth it. We have enough space for the two of us – although a closet or two would be nice. :)

  22. I guess we were ahead of the curve when my hubby and I decided to buy a 1200 sq ft home for our family. At the time, we were a family of 4- and since then, we have grown to become a family of 6. We did add to the livable square footage by finsihing off some basement space that serves as a playroom/library and a craft room/den. We have 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but plan that as the kids grow older, we will add a 3rd bathroom in the basement and the craft room/den will be a bedroom.

    And to me, that’s the main thing about living in a small home- keeping the space active and current with your needs. There is no room for a photo perfect living room that no one uses, or a junk room where clutter is stowed. Possessions must be active and meet needs as well, since there is no room for extra.

  23. Michael, I totally agree with you. The movie series I just finished watching – John Adams – shows the Adam’s house (Peacefield) and it is big and gorgeous. Apparently at one point it housed 3 women, 3 children, and a man as well as various guests. It was a working farm and a gorgeous property. Of course, these people expected the farm and house to be in their family for generations. These days people think it is good if they stay put for 5-7 years! So in that case a big grand house for entertaining, farming, or whatever, isn’t really a good investment. By the way, about the movie star’s in 3,000 square foot houses. I can see why they still need space. They have relatives and other guests dropping in all the time. Everyone wants a piece of a movie star! And they also didn’t get to the top without some social skills and thus a need for an entertainment space.

    My brother lives in a 500 or so square foot studio in another country. He is quite happy with it! You should see the sink in the bathroom. They don’t sell sinks for twice that big in the U.S.!

  24. I’m sort of mystified by the “house” part of this equation, although the “small” part seems reasonable enough. Why not save on energy costs and land by getting a place in a multi-unit building? Admittedly I live in a city, and I realize that’s not for everyone. But well-constructed multi-unit buildings have no noise issues, save money and space, and allow short commutes. (We used to rent a suburban single family houses that were much noisier than our current apartment; good construction is nothing like a dorm. Also we had to drive everywhere.) In our four-plex we also share a nice backyard and garden, and our son loves the holiday parties in the lobbies of similar buildings up and down our street. And when we travel there’s always someone available to water the plants and feed the pets.

    It spoke volumes to me that people drove in from all over the city to go trick-or-treating in our quiet little neighborhood, and that every weekend suburbanites arrive in convoys so that they can eat at decent restaurants and see live theater (our street is residential-only but an easy walk from these things). Plus many of them are now underwater on the houses they were running away from every weekend.

  25. I’m torn on this issue. I now live in a large log home that is 3000 sq ft plus a walkout basement. It is extremely energy efficient/passive solar because we built it. I love love love all the space and the way we capture our views and the sun.

    Before, we lived in a 500 sq ft cabin. I understand where people are coming from about having less stuff. When your house is that small, you really do pare it all down to essentials. However, 500 sq ft was really too small for us.

    The new house is too big, but frankly, I’ll take it any day of the week over the old one. It actually costs the same to heat!

  26. Bill #15:

    About robbers: what Stacy #17 said.

    About a tree falling: watch where you site the house.

    But what you really have to look out for is the house growing feet and legs while you’re not looking, and running away with all your carefully selected stuff. (Imagine the low-speed police pursuit down a major highway, with news helicopters hovering….)

  27. It is interesting to see the preception of what is big. My 1,200 sqft +/- house has three bedrooms. Also, do helicopter parents not approve of kids sharing bedrooms either? A bedroom to yourself was an exotic rarity when I was growing up.

  28. I grew up in a 1,000 sq. ft. house with one bathroom and, as I’m only 26, it wasn’t all that long ago. My sister and I shared a room and we turned out just fine. Heck my cousins (boy and girl) shared a room for ages and they’re perfectly well adjusted. I think more people need to be reminded of how skewed our perspective on necessary space has become.

    That said, I firmly believe that as soon as more than one person is living in a place you have to start adding doors. Everyone does need alone time :)

  29. Like DivaJean we are a family of 4 who live in a 1500 sq ft house. The house actually seems big for us given that we have a living room / dining room that we rarely use.

    For us it was having a decent sized kitchen, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (only 1 full) that mattered. We also have a finished basement and a playroom right off the kitchen which has been wonderful with young kids.

    My husband and I will likely retire here, although I can see downsizing in our future. It feels liberating having a smaller mortgage and less “stuff” to care for.

  30. I like the concepts, but…

    We live on an acre lot. Which is great as long as the weather is so-so or better. However, we live in the Pacific Northwest, where the rainy season is 6 months long, so if you don’t have indoor space, you go stir crazy. If you don’t have indoor storage space, then perfectly good items get destroyed.

    So… we have a 4 bedroom house. 1 bedroom for us, 1 for her craft room (sewing & dollhouse), 1 for our computer room, and 1 for guests.

    A living room for gatherings and a family room for watching the evil TV that doubles as the library.

    Which fits our lifestyle pretty well, though I wish the living room & family room were a single larger space rather than two separate locations. Total living space is 1850 sq ft. Prior house was 1200 sq ft and 2 bedrooms, which just didn’t work.

    Prior house was

  31. Six of us (parents and four kids) grew up in an 800 sf house – with one bathroom. I consider my 1600 sf home perfect – literally double the space I grew up in. Every time I think about how nice it would be to have a McMansion – I think about the house I grew up in. We turned out alright.

  32. Since I would like to live in the country more than the town I’ve been considering buying a good section of land and then building one of those Katrina Homes or something like that. Though the only thi

  33. Since I would like to live in the country more than the town I’ve been considering buying a good section of land and then building one of those Katrina Homes or something like that. Though the only thing that bugs me is that a yard would be more work and I must have high speed internet. Still I don’t like neighbors very much so something could be worked out.

  34. We made a concious decision 9 years ago to buy a small 3 BR 1.5 Bath home – 14oo sq. ft – as opposed to the massive homes that are so popular now. We have the smallest house by far of any of our friends and relatives.

    I guess it comes down to what makes you happy. For us, it’s all about the smaller footprint. There is something really satisfying in using 100% of the space every single day.

    And a bigger house means more furniture and more … dust.

    Trent is absolutely spot-on with his list of other advantages as well!

  35. Isn’t a 3,000 sq ft home a McMansion? Seriously, I think only Jon & Kate + 8 need a house that large.

    My wife and I, our son and our 2 dogs live comfortably in our 800 sq ft home with partially finished basement. If we had another child, it would be tough, but we’re in the process of looking for a new home. It will be around 1500 sq ft with a 1/2 acre if we’re lucky. Anything bigger would just seem excessive and be more to clean/maintain.

  36. I hope this trend continues for the next few years so when my 740 sq. foot house is fully remodled, I can make about 10K profit on it.

  37. @Paul #12-

    The $7500 tax credit is for first time homebuyers who purchase a home between April 2008 and July 2009. Your adjusted gross income needs to be under $150,000 for a couple or $75,000 for a single individual. It’s also not necessarily $7500- it’s 10% of the purchase price up to $75,000. Most homes will sell for more than that, so the homeowners will receive $7500, but if you buy a home for less, you will get 10%.

    However, this credit is essentially a zero interest loan. You have to repay $500 a year after the first two years from the year you claim the credit for (i.e., if you claim for 2008, you start repaying in 2010) for 15 years. If you sell the house before you’ve fully repaid it, it has to be repaid from the proceeds of the house. So, for some people it may make sense if they can absorb the extra $500 a year. For lower income homebuyers, it may not be such a good deal.

  38. I really think that renting is a viable option and that the only time you should buy is at a time where it makes sense – i.e. when supply is high and demand is low – and when you are financially prepared, as well as emotionally prepared to take on the kind of the kind of responsibility a home requires. Unfortunately, way too many people jump in too quickly. I see it all the time in my age group (late 20s). I don’t think it’s just an issue of people assuming that they are making a good investment, while that is certainly an issue, but I believe it is also an attempt to prove their worth with what they own. Hopefully this will start to change and frugality or sensible living will come back in style!

  39. I also like Jeff Yeager’s advice on the subject in his book, The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches. Buy a starter home and stay there. Many families make frugal housing choices for their first home, but soon feel the pressure to move into a larger home and quickly become “house poor” trying to keep up with increased payments.

    My family is currently looking to downsize into a smaller home in an effort to reduce our monthly expenses. A smaller mortgage, reduced utilities, and less space to maintain all appeal to us.

  40. I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue before we bought a house and ultimately decided it was best for us to buy as much as we could afford with a 20% down payment and a fixed-rate mortgage for the rest. So, we deliberately decided not to go small for a few reasons: (1) when we have kids, we do not have to move or remodel; (2) our newer (larger) home was much more energy efficient than the smaller homes we looked at, which were all a couple of decades older; (3) we have houseguests at least once a month; and (4) we realized that the opposite is true of what some commenters here are saying, in that more house does not always mean more furniture and more stuff. Two of the four bedrooms sit empty and are closed off; why would we bother buying furniture to fill them until we need them?

  41. 3000 sq ft is a McMansion. The fact that anyone is downsizing to 3000 sq ft is a good indicator of how big our problem is.

    A lot of people believe they ‘need’ things that they really only ‘want’. A lot of people live way beyond their means. Both of these things ad up to Americans over spending and going into excessive debt.

    My wife and I are perfectly fine in our 1500 sq ft 3bd/2ba home and should have enough room to start a family as well. The home may suit us for decades. My sister has 4 kids and has more than enough room on a 2500 sqft house.

    Jim

  42. Oh and personally I think those tiny boutique shack size homes like the one in the picture are a stupid fad. And people buying those are getting ripped off. Spending $45k for a 115 sq ft home is WAY over priced. If you’ve got land to put something on then get nice RV. Or you can buy good size, nice mobile home for that much easily.

    Jim

  43. I agree that the comment of downsizing to 3K ft shows the initial problem.

    I bought a small house, and at just under 800 square feet it was more than enough for myself and my significant other.

    And at risk of sounding heartless, I’ll admit that having a basement was the saving grace when we broke up and he moved out but wouldn’t take “his” stuff.

    Now it is a perfect size for myself, my office, and two hyper kittens.

    Small houses are great! My utility bills are rarely over $75, half of what my friends pay, and keeping it clean, like the article said, is a breeze.

  44. Trent,

    Great post! I really like the idea of this, though some people obviously take it to the extreme. I think if I weren’t getting married and planning to have a family I’d be more likely to pursue a small home aggressively. I’m realizing more and more that I just don’t need a lot to be happy. More flexibility and the ability to pursue my passions would mean a lot more to me than a 3,000 sq. ft. home!

    In terms of lower housing costs and being ecologically friendly, have you heard about cob homes? I’ll have short post with some resources about cob building on my website this Saturday.

  45. My house has 3500sf, of which about 500 are not used much. I imagine that half of the 3500 would be adequate, but I paid for it long ago, so there is no reason to move now.

  46. This isn’t exactly relevant to this post, but it is related to the affordable housing discussion. I’m currently a sophomore in college and working on getting myself out of “ignorance debt,” so to speak, about personal finance and the economy. To my shame, I don’t know anything about either of these subjects (but blogs like yours have been a significant help!), so maybe the answer to my question is obvious. When is buying a house better than renting (and visa versa)? What signals will my financial situation give me when it would be better to buy a house as opposed to continue renting?

  47. I can tell you why older people buy big homes. Its so the children will visit, with the grandchildren. We spend our young lives raising them and then miss them so much that we’ll do anything to make them comfortable and want to visit over and over again.

  48. I’ve had the honor of visiting the homes of friends in Mexico where they have 7 people people living a 2 room, 400 square foot cinderblock house. If you need privacy you can go to a short time motel which are ubiquitous almost everywhere except America for this very reason (and much more economically efficient if you think about it). I’ve also been inside homes elsewhere on the globe which are even smaller.

    Unless twenty people are living inside, 3,000 square feet is a supersized McMansion epitomizing American excess at it is most wasteful. If everybody on earth lived in places like that – even if everybody who worked in the exact same jobs as Americans who live in those types of houses – the planet would implode into a giant fireball to the energy waste. Just the construction and the upkeep is many man years of labor, which means that much less resources are available to the meaningful economy.

    China has it really figured out where they put migrant workers into dorm beds in shared rooms (on company campuses!). The refusal of Americans to live as frugally as this has already priced them out of the global manufacturing labor market, and over the long term, will price them out of many other industries worldwide. In the long run, it is always efficiency which endures.

    The little dog house pictured here, as others mentioned, is pretty lame. While better than a regular house, it is still wasteful, compared to a similar sized unit in a multifamily structure (with shared roof, walls, etc).

  49. There is economics of scale in the RV industry, whereas small houses are still in the DIY no-scale stage. I think the dividing line is whether you want your dwelling to look like a house or not. I’m not picky, so I went with the RV. Even the estimated DIY cost of a small house, $20000, buys you a LOT of RV if you buy used. $50,000 which is the going rate for a small house buys you even more.

    It is true that cost per square foot is a lot higher, but since there are so fewer square feet, the money can be spent on significant quality upgrades. For instance, all the furniture in our RV is solid oak.

    On the other hand, America’s obsession with square footage has resulted in crappy but large homes filled with Walmart furniture.

    For the record, the outside area of our RV is 289 sqft which contains two adults and a dog on a fulltime basis. I realize that bedrooms for everybody is somewhat of an entitlement of the current generation, but there ARE families that are raising children in RVs. Typically the kids would each get a bunk bed.

    As for the children (adults as well) the question is simply one of what one prefers e.g. either their own rooms or going to Europe every year or visiting all of the states.

    I still don’t quite understand why so many people choose space and things over free time/job freedom or experiences. Any ideas?

  50. I agree with George (comment #27). Where you live makes a big difference in what square footage is comfortable/sensible. I live in Florida, where the light pours in year round, and there is always something to do out of doors. I think that my 600 square feet would get really old if I had to endure winter in it. I know I get cabin fever just during the occasional hurricane!

  51. About five years ago I moved from CA to TN and from a 1050 sq. ft. house to a 1350 sq. ft. house. The thing I miss most about CA is my house, it was perfect for me. The one I have now, while nice, is much more house than I need. Some day, when markets rebound, I may consider downsizing, but for now, with the economy and housing market as it is, I’m staying put.

  52. One benefit to a smaller house that no one has talked much about is the togetherness. My parents live alone in a 3 BR house and barely see each other. He has his room with a TV, she has hers, and except when family visits, the rest of the house goes largely unused. My boyfriend and I share an 800-square foot, 1 BR cottage and can’t help interacting more as a result. I do wish we had one more room that could serve as an office and give us a little distance for the sake of quiet and concentration. If we ever move, I’d prefer a condo or rental house where the grounds were taken care of and we didn’t have to worry about major repairs. What would we do with more than 2000 square feet? Get lost a lot.

  53. I don’t live in a huge house, but its not tiny either. I love to have people over. I love to have my family visit, host church functions, and let people spend the night. I’d rather do that than go out or travel,especially in these times.
    Its all in how you want to spend your time, so that’s where the money goes.

  54. It’s fascinating to read all the comments on this post. What qualifies as a small housing unit seems to be wildly different for different people.

    Growing up, I shared a bedroom with my sister until I left for college. I never measured our various homes, but probably none was bigger than 1,200, square feet, none had more than one bathroom or had a den, office, rec room, or family room, and when there was a third bedroom, my grandparents slept there. Strangely, that seemed normal.

    Back before the Soviet Union collapsed, I remember reading that the median housing space per household there was 434 square feet. That number has always stuck in my head as the “gold standard” for housing misery. It helps me appreciate every square inch of my 2000 square feet home today, shared with a sibling and teenage nephew.

    Floor plans make a huge difference. I’ve been in homes almost twice as big as mine that seem more claustrophobic. Better to have smaller cozy individual spaces that allow people to get away from each other and keep tasks/hobbies contained, than to have cavernous rooms where most of the space has no use. Well, better as I judge it.

    But for now, until our federal government brings “The Change We Need” into every corner of our lives, let’s all just rejoice in being allowed to choose a cozy condo, an RV, a modest bungalow, a McMansion, or anything in between we think, however foolishly, we can afford. Soon enough, the right to make foolish choices will be too troublesome or inconvenient for our wise and benevolent rulers to allow. Can’t you just see Frugal Bachelor at #41 as neighborhood commisar?

  55. I always feel guilty for living in a 700 sqft (end row/terrace) house by myself. It has 4 rooms plus a bathroom and kitchen and the it’s definitely not designed to take advantage of all the space. Still, I have luxury of a room devoted to books and blogging and I can use the guest room as a music room. Sometimes more space than you need is pretty nice.

  56. We’re a family of 4 (2 kids under 8) and downsized from 4500 sq’ to 1200 sq’ — biggest SHOCKER is the OVERWHELMING amount of time spent DAILY in picking up & putting away.
    PS. 1 Bathroom is a 1/2 too small for any Family!

  57. I know a family of three that had a modest size house – probably 1500 sq ft and they were almost done paying it off. Well the keeping up with the Jones’ bug bit and they purchased a 3000+ sq ft. with an itty bitty patch of land. Now they have a 30 year mortgage when they are 20 years from retirement. There are 4 bathrooms – for 3 people. Wasteful and pretentious.

  58. I really enjoy reading these comments. I really learn a lot. I myself have a two bedroom, 1 bath home. It is approx. 1,200. I am happy with what I have. I have an 18 year old daughter. She has her own room. She is free to come and go. She knows she always has a room of her own. I redecorated for her.She is into beauty pageants. I put beautiful pictures of her up and it can also serve as a guest room. I use my office in my room. I am very thankful. I have a sister who moved from California to Tennessee. She is much happier and loves it there. So, anyway. I like knowing that I can upkeep but can keep up with the Jones which is okay with me.

  59. I am all for it. There is a lot to be gained from a small house. The good thing of being “confined” to a smaller house is that family relationship actually get stronger and you can handle annoyances better.

  60. We have a 1450 sf home for 2 adults, 2 kids and dog and cat. But to tell you the truth I would love to renovate the attic to give ourselves another 400 sf of space, for a studio and bedroom. There are many things people can do to houses to make them more environmentally conscious, such renovating older homes versus tear down, making them more energy efficient, using passive heating/cooling design, and also using good design to maximize the use of space and provide organization. Although I think as someone call the “boutique dog houses” are maybe not the answer for alot of us, they can start a conversation with with what we want out of a house, and that the aspiration need not be size or granduer but functionality.

  61. AnnJo: “But for now, until our federal government brings “The Change We Need” into every corner of our lives, let’s all just rejoice in being allowed to choose a cozy condo, an RV, a modest bungalow, a McMansion, or anything in between we think, however foolishly, we can afford. Soon enough, the right to make foolish choices will be too troublesome or inconvenient for our wise and benevolent rulers to allow. Can’t you just see Frugal Bachelor at #41 as neighborhood commisar?”

    Are you implying that Obama or others here want to take away your freedom? Do you imagine jack booted Democrats throwing your poor family into a Democratic reeducation camp or something? Your language kinda leads that direction.. but maybe I don’t get your point.

    What is your point?

    Do you really think that Americans should “foolishly” buy homes they can’t afford? Thats what millions of people have done and we can all see how well that is working out for the country now can’t we? Do you think thats a good thing that people bought $600k McMansions on 3 year interest only negative amortization balloon mortgages with a special prize inside?

    Maybe if we had all had the sense to live within our means then the economy wouldn’t have taken a giant nose dive in the past few months?

    People will not have the choice to waste money excessively if they are laid off and their McMansion is foreclosed on. Thats the reality we’re facing. Not the evil federal government stealing our freedom to be wasteful and foolish.

    Jim

  62. We don’t live in a small house, but it’s not huge. I’m very comfortable in our 1500 s/f home. It has nice large rooms and lots of closets with built-in shelves. I have lots of storage. We have no plans on ever moving. We own this house and we are remodeling it on a budget. I also have an acre of land so we have a nice garden, and we are planting fruit trees. I agree you can make your house more energy efficient with many little things.

  63. I think that buying a smaller house is a beautiful idea. People have to realize that a house is a material item, just like anything else!

    The equity in a home is nothing more than a lower interest fixed credit card. You can’t get the money until you sell it, otherwise you must borrow.

    The banks bamboozled everyone into believing that net worth (a ficticious number) was the key to retirement.

    Truth be told, if you want to be wealthy, take that extra money and invest it. If you get rich, THEN by a “dream” home.

  64. I’m a big fan of smaller houses. Certainly my post of ‘Living it Down Small‘ was very well received. It turns out that a lot of people are in the same boat and want to live in a smaller, cheaper, more environmentally friendly house.

    My current one bedroom places is the smallest I’ve lived in for years and I’m loving it.

  65. I just converted our rental to square feet – 1400. For a family of 3 adults, 3 children and a dog.

    Most of the time it’s fine, but 3 children in one bedroom is starting to become a problem. With virtually no yard it’s just lucky there’s only 3 of us at home during the day.

    Buying/renting more than you need is wasteful in the worst sense – it removes that opportunity from someone who needs it.

    Mind you I’m still paying top dollar for my rental – 36% of our take home pay. Anything bigger was more again.I couldn’t even afford to buy this place – the payments alone would be 53% of our take home pay.

  66. AnnJo has this thread pegged. Jim and Frugal Bachelor are left-wing fascists who would take us into the future by taking everything away from people who aren’t left with much as it is.

  67. Our family and friends thought we were crazy for purchasing a 2 bed/1 bath 1,100 SF condo in a low cost of living area when we could have afforded a 4 bed/3 bath 3,000 SF house pretty easily. Some of those same people now decry us as ‘rich’ because we can afford to take a vacation out of the country each year. I know for a fact that our salaries are beneath many of theirs, but they are house rich and cash poor.

  68. I’d *LOVE* to be living in a small home. This dreams is nearly impossible where I live, though, for the following reasons:
    1. There are very few small homes in this area. (NW NYC Metro Area)
    2. Even the smallest of small homes is unaffordable to me as a single person on one salary. The small, “starter homes” in my area start at about $350k and up. I’d have to move way outside my commuting range to find something I can afford.
    3. While a 1 bdrm condo is almost affordable ($200k range), the idea or making monthly maintenance payments, coupled with living restrictions such as no pets allowed is a very unappealing thing. (mortgage + taxes + another bill just to live there)

  69. We just downsized a bit. We gave up our 1500 square foot townhome (3 beds, 2.5 baths ,1 car garage) and moved into a 2 bedroom condo. I was nervous about my boys sharing a room (they are 3 years old and 7 months old) but it’s worked out wonderfully. I actualy prefer the layout of the smaller place and having less to clean means more time to play with the kids. We’re also saving $260 each month. I always thought I wanted a big house, but I like our smaller place so much that I believe my dream home has shrunk!

  70. You should check out http://www.notsobighouse.com/

    This architect (who has at least 2 great books out) focuses on functionality in small spaces rather than huge houses with a separate room for everything.

    I can’t wait until I can build my own Not So Big house!

  71. I’ve spent the last 10 years living in a 750sq ft house with my husband, his niece, three dogs, 3 cats, various lizards, and now our infant daughter. We have five rooms: a kitchen/dining, a living room/office (we work from home, me fulltime), two small bedrooms, and a bathroom. Believe you me, it is NOT enough space. We’re moving in with my mother to a 2000+ sq ft house with 3 bathrooms. I consider that excessive, but when buying a manufactured home, 1500sq ft to 2100 sq ft are all about the same price.

  72. Susan Susanka is the architect that designed the principles of the Not So Big House. I read her books extensively before remodeling our home in 2006. We ended up with a modest 1800 sf 3bd 2ba home that is plenty roomy for our family of 4. Smaller homes allow you to spend your remodel dollars on built-ins and details instead of square footage. And you end up with spaces that are used – not closed off for special events or specific use only rooms.

  73. 3000 sq ft? Are you kidding me? We are a family of 4 living in a house about half that size and are fine. We’ve lived in a 2400 sq ft home and I really didn’t like paying the taxes and utilities that came with it. We even have lived in a 37 ft camper for 2 years and really did find it sufficient to meet our “needs”. When we moved into our 1600 sq ft, we couldn’t believe the wasted space and thought we’d really hit it big.

    I think lessons learned from living in an average NYC apartment should be further explored for efficiency ideas. :)

  74. #21, Dear KC, “I’ll use only electric lawn equipment….” Are you aware that coal fired plants produce your “clean” electricity? That coal fired plants produce the electricity to power any battery operated machine including cars? Most electricity, unless powerd by solar, wind, or water, is coal fired. Your electric equipment isn’t “clean” in the sense you indicate. A person powered reel type lawn mower would be non polluting if you have a lawn or a hand powered clippers would be non polluting if you want to trim the hedge. Anything electic is a polluter unoless you’re hooked up to your wind / solar / water fall powered generator.

  75. Our dream house is 1976 square feet. It’s got five bedrooms, three baths, a loft, kitchen, dining, living, and laundry rooms, a studio for me, a craft nook for my wife, and closets for everybody. That’s for Mom & Dad, seven kids, two dogs, two cats, and various uninvited arthropods. People who hear us say “dream house” and then see it generally react with “…Oh.” because the concept of “dream house” may, in the collective American psyche, invoke images of heated garages and helipads. No, it’s our dream house because we designed it that way, and our lives there are fabulous. A house is just a shell, and cannot be any happier than the people who live there.

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