The House That Is Too Small

Once upon a time, Sarah and I lived in a two bedroom apartment. The two bedrooms were pretty small. When we had our first child, we made the second bedroom into a nursery and, eventually, into a little boy’s room. When our second child was about to arrive, we decided that the apartment was just too small for us.

Like many people in that situation, we went out and bought a larger home – a four bedroom affair. It gave us a lot more room for our family to grow – at least in theory.

What’s actually happened? Our three children enjoy sharing a single bedroom. One of the bedrooms sits largely empty as a guest bedroom. Our ample closet space mostly just stores stuff that we don’t really need to keep and we could sell off. We have a living room and a family room without any real reason to have two separate rooms for that.

While our original apartment might have been slightly on the small side, we really didn’t need a house nearly as big as the one we have. We have a lot of excess space that’s mostly used either to store stuff or to sit empty until the rare occasion comes when we might use it.

In our day to day lives, we mostly just use two bedrooms, the combination kitchen and dining room, and the living room. We use the family room a bit, but we don’t do anything in there that wouldn’t work just fine in the living room. One of the bedrooms is unused, and the other is an office that could work in the corner of the living room. We have a bedroom we basically never use and two bathrooms that are rarely used, too.

We could easily be very happy with 60% of our square footage.

That doesn’t mean I want to downgrade. After all, our house is fully paid for and it’s in an area where property values are inching up steadily even through the housing collapse. What it does mean is that our perception of what kind of house we needed was drastically overinflated before we actually made the purchase.

Here’s the truth: a big house seems like a great idea, particularly when you have a family, but an awful lot of it just winds up being storage space for stuff you rarely use. It’s effectively an overpriced storage unit.

So, what would I do if I had it to do all over again?

For starters, I’d buy a home substantially smaller than what I thought we needed. We did not need to triple the square footage of our apartment. We needed to perhaps increase it by 50% or maybe, on the outside edge, double it. Everything beyond that has essentially become storage space.

Why do it this way? A smaller home means a smaller mortgage, which means smaller payments and much smaller professional stress to maintain a certain income level.

How can you assess what you actually need? Rolling back the clock, I should have simply made a list of our needs and not our wants.

It can be hard to distinguish between the two. A technique that really works well for me is listing every reason I can possibly think of for the move, giving the list some time to rest, then going through it and eliminating those that are clearly “wants.”

That doesn’t mean you should buy a house because it has attributes that you want, but if you focus instead on houses that just meet the things you need, you’ll be paying far less and still likely getting some of the things that you want.

The result? You’re happy and your wallet is definitely happy, too, as is your stress level.

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