Why Not . . . Live in a Smaller Home?

Feb 20, 2013

Since the recession, McMansions quickly began to be less desirable to potential homeowners. In fact, as a result of the housing crisis, the average square footage of primary residences dropped to 2300 square feet, and while it has slowly crept back up about 100 square feet in the past year, many people are finding the luxury of living in smaller homes to be very attractive. Not only is it less expensive to own a smaller home or apartment, but it also provides many unforeseen opportunities to enrich our lives.

For nearly four years, I have had the itch to move back to Portland, or at least rent a studio in the city to escape to on weekends and during the summer months. And while I’m already a homeowner that takes care of a yard and more than 2600 square feet, I become giddy at just the thought of living in a small 500-600 square foot studio. Why? With less space to decorate and care for I could simply enjoy all that the city has to offer. If Powell’s bookstore was calling my name, I could easily arrange my schedule. If a stroll through the famed Japanese Gardens tugged at my need for tranquility, I could indulge without feeling guilty that something was being left unattended at home. And most importantly, if a friend wanted to drop in, I could quickly pick up the studio at the last minute and thoroughly enjoy their company. In other words, with fewer material items and space to tend to, more opportunities could be ushered in to improve the quality of my life rather than living a life quantitatively.

I realize such realizations may seem obvious or common sense, but in a world that bombards us with unrelenting advertisements whether in magazines, on the radio, television or online, if we do not consciously limit these intrusions, subconsciously we become persuaded ever so slowly and subtly. Living with less can be the foundation of a more fulfilling life if indeed what we seek is a life of more memorable moments and fewer material goods.

Today I’ve gathered ten benefits of living in a smaller sanctuary.  Ranging from financial incentives to a reduction in stress, have a look and feel free to add other worthwhile bonuses  you have discovered upon choosing a cozy rather than grand house floor plan.

1.  Less Home, More Money Saved. Financially, buying or renting a smaller home saves you money. Money that can be placed in savings each month. Money that can be spent traveling to Florence as you’ve always dreamed. Money that can be spent anyway you want, instead of having to spend it as you must. Imagine what downsizing by even just a few hundred square feet could do to the many memories that are waiting to be created? So maybe in a studio you don’t have a formal dining room? Purchase a chic bistro table and dine as though you were in Paris gazing at the passersby or the stars. A home can become a sanctuary no matter what the size.

2. Less to Clean, More Time. This benefit has always been a selling point for me, as I chose to clean the house on Friday in order to allow the weekend to be spent in a clean house. However, after a long work week, I’d rather relax than vacuum the floors. While there will always be cleaning to do no matter what the size of the home, having less to tend to shortens the time we have to spend keeping everything clean and tidy.

3. Less Stuff, More Quality. While initially having less space may make us feel cramped, it is actually the amount of stuff we have that creates the illusion of spacious living rooms or itty bitty bedrooms. Once we have less space, we are required to be mindful about what we bring into our homes in order to maintain an open living area. And when we no longer need a long list of furniture to fill our home, the furniture we do purchase can be of much higher quality which will ultimately maintain its use and value far better.

4. Less Space, More Opportunities to Strengthen Relationships.  Last year as I was reading Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg, he made an interesting observation. He asserted that people were becoming more accustomed to living alone in small part because many Generation Xers were afforded their own room as a child as their Baby Boomer parents were able to afford larger homes. While having one’s own bedroom is certainly a luxury as a child, it made me wonder. While having my own bedroom is something I will always need, if we take this need for more personal space even further (the McMansion craze for example), we begin to live in homes so large we can easily avoid the ones we live with. And you have to wonder, if you are living with someone you don’t particularly want to come into contact with, why are you living with them. Choosing to live in a small home creates an environment of interaction and an opportunity to work together, respect the small space we each may need from time to time and strengthen the bonds with those we love.

5. More Energy Efficient = Smaller Carbon Footprint. By choosing to live in less house, we also consume less energy to heat or air condition our homes. As energy costs rise, smaller homes are becoming more and more of a buyers’ choice and far more marketable than the larger homes that contain an extra bedroom or more living space.

6. Less Maintenance and Upkeep = Less Stress. The ridding of any unnecessary stress should be a must-do when it comes to structuring our lives, and when we have a smaller home to care for – pipes, windows, roof, yard, etc, we have fewer opportunities for money to be spent fixing what might need repairing or replaced.

7. Efficient Use of Space. Living in a small space may at first appear to be problematic when it comes to organizing an office space, as well as a designated foyer for shoes, keys, etc., but ingenuity is spurred into action when there is a need. More and more retailers are creating multi-use products, streamlined storage and hideaway bins and drawers that allow for stylish and spacious living even in the tiniest of places.

8. More Social Options, Less Isolation. If you choose to live in a small apartment in an urban area, you are likely to be surrounded with entertainment, cultural and social activities that will engage your mind and your passions. The few people that I know that live and work in New York City may live in miniscule apartments, but the gift of living in such a magical locale far surpasses living in a 400 square studio as the opportunities that are at their fingertips are priceless.

9. Less Consumption, Better Physical and Emotional Health. This past August, while traveling in London, the flat I stayed in couldn’t have been larger than 650 square feet. However, it had high ceilings, windows on every exterior wall and the furniture was wisely placed. For such a small living area, it felt open and spacious. With that said, the refrigerator (as many are in London flats) was less than half the size of a standard US refrigerator which meant they shopped nearly every day for fresh food and produce. It also meant that exercise was done outside of the home – taking classes and walking everywhere as my hosts did not have a car. Not only was it mandatory that they not have much food in the house to nibble on mindlessly, but I found the daily walking done not as a “workout” regimen, but a lifestyle requirement was conducive to a consistently healthier way of life.

10. A Simple Life is a Fulfilling Life. As I have discovered and shared on this blog since it began, quality truly does surpass quantity when it comes to creating a life of fulfillment. Having a bigger house will not make you any happier if you don’t already know how to live well with what you have. There comes a point when more is simply more. For each of us the proper size will be unique to ours and our family’s needs, but the key is to find the tipping point between enough and too much.

Now I realize that changing the size of the home we live in is not something we can change tomorrow. It takes time and a conscious decision to search for something that both fits our needs, but doesn’t exceed them either. Choosing to live in a smaller home is something to consider if you’re wondering why you have less time to do the things you enjoy and smaller stashes of cash than you’d like. Most importantly, if you want to improve the quality of your life, the size of the home you inhabit many be something to consider.

For those of you who have already chosen to live with less square footage, I would love to hear your experience. Please do share.

~Looking for small space decor inspiration? Visit my newly created Pinterest board for just this purpose.


Images: (4) source others Pinterest page

32 thoughts on “Why Not . . . Live in a Smaller Home?

  1. LOVE this post Shannon and I could not agree more. As I dabble in real estate sales, I am dumbfounded by couples with no children that want huge homes. I reiterate all of the points you make here. I myself live in a 2700 sf home but often (okay more than often) wish I didn’t have the responsibility of cleaning, upkeep, decor, etc. I would much rather have a modest place to call home with free time to spend outdoors, traveling, whatever and not have to worry about cleaning, etc.
    Okay, stepping down from my soapbox…

  2. Dear Shannon,

    Love this post. To honor your request, here is my experience…
    As time went by, I kept downsizing my living quarters. My children grown and living in their own homes, I moved from a three bedroon townhouse into a two-bedroom apartment close to the each and overlooking Biscayne Bay. I have ben there fir 12 years. The longer I live there the more I appreciate it. My kitchen is very small, but I don’t entertain any more. And my cooking has been pared down trmendously as I am by myself.
    I like living in a smaller place, among other things beacuse it is easier ti upkeep.


  3. I too agree with everything stated. I live in a four bedroom house and it does work for now as I have two pre-teens. My husband and I are already looking into a future living area once the kids are set. I look foward to a nice two bedroom condo. I do believe that the French and English have embrace this way of living….making small spaces work and I love that concept 🙂

    Have a lovely day.

  4. My husband and I, with our two grown daughters, moved into a 1200 square foot house. Though it was a little squeezy at first, we adapted and learned to keep picked up and cleaned up after ourselves. Now that one daughter is out of the nest and the other ready to fly later this year, my husband and I are very grateful to have a home that is “just right” for the two of us. We do our cleaning a bit at a time after work each weekday evening and by the weekend, all we have left is a little grocery shopping to do. How wonderful that feels!

  5. Wonderful post, Shannon! I completely agree with you. Growing up as a four-member family in about 700 sqft with no closets, I resent small spaces as I never had a room for myself (shared tiny room with my brother) and my things were never in the same place as they had to be stored around the apartment due to lack of space. However, now living in Texas I am facing the opposite problem. I do not want to live in an apartment, love to have my own yard but all the houses are HUGE! Yes, you can get a small house, but it is usually in such a bad condition (and bad neighborhood) that needs a huge investment that does not pay off if you ever want to sell. Perhaps there will be time when builders start building smaller but quality houses. I’d rather have larger yard and smaller house for that matter.

  6. Also regarding French and English…I think they embrace living in small spaces because they have to. Due to cost. Being European I can attest to that. I am sure some New Yorkers and big city dwellers have the same issue. But I agree that if you embrace it and make it work, it has many positives, as Shannon mentioned in her post.

  7. I live in a 1000 sq ft condo with my boyfriend and another couple. I absolutely love it. Sometimes it’s difficult to manage everyone’s “stuff” but it’s much easier to deep clean. As young couples, we’ve been able to combine funds for furnishings, utilities, and rent, and therefore have the freedom to travel and do the things we love to do. While many of my close married friends have chosen to purchase large homes, I’ve noticed the stress it puts on their relationships. Their weekends are filled with house work and trips to Home Depot. If that is what you love to do, that is wonderful. Creating a beautiful home is admirable. However, our personal view is that we’ll have our whole lives to create that type of space, but we should take advantage of our youth to do what we love to do. We have traveled to Europe this year, attended many concerts and festivals out of state, and are planning our next international trips. I think it’s about giving up space to fill your life with experiences.

  8. 968sq ft is the size of our house. I am British. I thought that wasn’t that small till I read some of the comments. European homes are normally older houses, where the garden was important so you could grow food, especially inter war houses. My house is a small 3 bed. We don’t tend to have ‘great rooms’.

    Also we are squeezed for space as we are an island. Where as the States is so vast you have the land to build larger homes.

    I agree completely with the post as it is extremely easy to keep on top off, cleaning can be done in a snap. We have an audit every so often to make sure all the items we have are useful, or so sentimental that we cant get rid of it. We don’t keep other things. There are currently 3 adults living in our house.

    Paris is very cramped, and I think also in some Scandinavian countries are also cramped. I think that is where all of Ikeas space saving ideas come from.

    Loved this post. I am a secret lurker…

  9. My daughter left home 3 years ago, and moved into her own small studio apartment, and soon after I moved from our 700 sq ft apartment into a 25 sq ft studio apartment. For the last 20 years I have been very inspired of the concepts of simple living and minimalism (am now 42 years old). Initially my simple lifestyle enabled me going to nursing school and completing my bachelor degree in nursing – and 3 month ago I completed 5 years of university studies and earned my masters degree. The minimalist lifestyle has given me and my daughter many opportunities, e.g. we have traveled quite a bit. Now she tells me that she herself want´s to live in smaller apartments for the rest of her live, because that is where she feels most comfortable and safe, compared to large houses. I still sometimes have to remind myself that I have the right to make my own choices about my life, when I feel the negative social pressure that always comes as a consequence of making choices that differs a tiny bit from the “normal”. But I have no regrets, I would not have done anything different, and will not live any other way in the future. This works for me. A beautiful well organized home with good quality design can be small, as well as I have seen many larger disorganized houses with a lot of mess and cheap stuff all over the place.

  10. LOVE this! I live with my husband and two young sons in an 836 sq ft house outside of Boston. Real estate here is outrageous so our purchase was motivated by price, but I will forever live in a small house. I truly believe love grows stronger in a small space. We have no choice but to learn how to communicate, share our things, work with one another – there is no place to hide or sulk in such a small space! I think everyone can and should take an honest look at themselves and their ‘stuff’, even in 836 sq ft there is still a lot I can happily live without.

  11. I live in Denmark. I think that an average family house here will often be a 3 or 4 bedroom house between 1000 and 2000 sq ft. I have also lived in Oslo, Norway for a short period of time, and in my experience houses in Norway are the same sizes, as in Denmark. I think danes just in general likes to keep there homes simple – as we also have a quite distinct simplistic furniture design tradition with world famous architects such as Arne Jacobsen, Hans J Wegner and Børge Mogensen, just to mention a few. But I feel that when scandinavian houses are portrayed in American movies, they tend to make them seem quite small, narrow an dark, with small windows that barely leaves any light in the rooms and fireplaces everywhere – a bit cliché really. I have been taking the Studio Tour in Universal Studios, Hollywood many times, and when the tram are going through what is supposed to be “Europe”, I do not really recognize anything, and I have been in almost every European country by now. In real life scandinavian houses are maybe simple in design, but quite airy as well. And the royals has no political powers, which they also tend to believe in Hollywood – but they have big houses..i.e. castles, and a lot of them for that matter 😉

  12. Being Swedish I totally agree with the Danish comment above. Also I rather prefer to live in a smaller house in a nice area. And make it stylish and elegant rather than have huge spaces. Great post! Caroline

  13. 2600sq ft would be considered a very substantial house indeed here in England, and especially here in London. I live on the outskirts of London in a 3 bed 1 bath house which is about 1400 sq ft. And most of my friends think this is big. Whilst I sometimes think it would be lovely to have more space – another bathroom, a walk in closet (swoon), its also lovely to be cosy, to spend time together in our little family of three, and to not have to spend all our time cleaning:-) Not having a big closet to store my clothes in also keeps me focussed – and that has to be a good thing. Lovely blog – thanks

  14. What an eye opening perspective Shannon! Somehow I know I have never dreamed of feeling tiny inside a huge home, but reading all your reasons makes me never forget this important feature in my future house hunting life.
    Thank you!

  15. I agree with everything that you’ve said here, especially as I live this type of lifestyle. I rented my first apartment here in the city of Toronto which was probably 550 square feet or so almost 6 years ago. It felt SO small at the time as it was my first apartment experience, but I quickly got used to it and it felt very cosy – I still in fact, miss that first apartment alot. Since then I’ve lived in a few more condos/apartments between 630-650 square feet or so including my current place. I purchased a new construction condo close to 2 years ago now, which is 700 square feet. I think it’s the perfect amount of space – I felt like I needed a bit more than 630 in my last place, but I don’t need more than 700. I get to custom design it from the start which is the fun part!! I do think that it is easiest to live this way as opposed to a bunch of big rooms to clean, but in my opinion the biggest advantage in living in smaller spaces in the city is location.

    Location, location, location! I can’t imagine living anywhere other than the heart of the city and I know many others who feel very strongly about this. I just can’t do the suburbs, personally. It’s a bit of a topic of debate at work between those of us who live in the city and those who commute via the suburbs. If I was living in cities as amazing as New York or Paris, I would still consider location to be top priority and I absolutely would sacrifice space for that…living the way I have for the past 6 years, it has taught me that it’s absolutely possible. It’s far less stressful to hold onto less stuff and less home maintenance. But it’s not ALL roses – it’s not always nice to be completely surrounded by neighbours all the time, to not have a yard, etc. But that’s where, in the city you can just step right outside to experience the outdoors and whatnot. The city essentially becomes a part of your home, your backyard, your lifestyle.

    That said, when I get married and start a family, I hope to move to a house, but still keeping it in the city!

  16. Oh how I love this post! 🙂
    As another Brit, living in a smallish Victorian terraced house (tall ceilings, big windows, not so big rooms – our largest, the living room, is 3m x 4m), I also can testify that our houses are generally a lot smaller. As Sol pointed out, we are an island and space is finite.
    My love for living more simply grows year on year, and I’ve always been a fan of ‘less is more’ – possibly one of the reasons I love your blog so much, you inspire me to think quality over quantity, every time! 🙂
    I would still kill for a walk-in closet though …
    Have a great weekend!
    Gill xx

  17. Having moved my parents from their home to a smaller retirement community, then to an even smaller assisted living space and finally to a nursing home room, the futility of spending ones life buying furniture and decorative items only to have to discard them again at pennies on the dollar or even tossing them, was firmly impressed upon me. How much better to live simply and to spend your time and money on experiences and time with friends and family rather than buying things only to discard them in the end.

    1. Wow. Well put and then some. I too have been through that and you are correct. In the end its all given to charity, family members, sold or thrown away. The items are never worth anything the second time around. Its the memories you take with you and its about the life you led when you are finally put into that last station on your trip to the great beyond….the rest home. When my time finally comes to be in that home, I will want to have my adventures to look back on. Not my furniture! We are downsizing this coming month from 4 beds, 3.5 baths, 2 car garage and yard to a 1 bed, 1 bath and hoping that life becomes less filled with stress and housework.

  18. Wonderful post. I’ve found that developing a creative eye for how space may be used is critical to enjoying small homes/spaces. I bought a home that was originally 725 square feet with a basement of the same size — but wet and unusable. The previous owner had dedicated some DIY investment time into building a French drain around the home and drying out the basement and then drywalling it and finishing it, thereby creating another 725 square feet of totally livable space — there is an extra bedroom and full bath down there with a living space as well! When I bought the home, I added a custom made book nook into an awkward corner of the basement living space. Built right against the wall, another person can actually sleep in that space, there is shelving for books and other items, and it just took some planning, bartering with friends for labor, and paint and fabric. It’s quite glamorous and makes a huge design impact when people see it. Even though my home is small, especially when viewed from the outside, there is a huge back and side yard and the open flow and design of the inside makes people want to come and visit and stay! It just takes time to let ideas simmer.

  19. Amen to it all!!! Have you ever seen the blog Zero Waste Home, I think you’d love it for the above aspects! Over the past 2 years (18 months living abroad and only taking 2 suitcases of clothes and buying minimal furniture and housewares from Ikea) we’ve appreciated and honed in on simple living and minimalism

  20. My husband and I live in Brazil, in a pleasant 360-sq-ft apartment we built within the detached garage building of a larger home which we previously owned and have now sold. We love our little place, for all of the reasons you mentioned. We edited our possessions and life, whilst keeping our books and tools. An added bonus was seeing the delight of those who inherited the things we passed on to them.
    The main room layout is quite open, with a 5.5×6 ft kitchen (no dishwasher, an undercounter fridge, a very small stove which produces wonderful meals); 5.5×6-ft dining area (round table and four chairs, extending to six); and 9×11-ft sitting area (small sofa, 2 cane chairs, and we bring in the dining chairs in a pinch). All the areas are separate, yet all are contained in the one room without any crowding. The bedroom/office and bath are adequate and more private, though I do miss our previous walk-in closet. The garage section of our building is large enough for my husband to have his workshop, and we have a lovely garden with a gazebo for entertaining larger groups. When our grown children come to visit, we let them sleep in the workshop or (if they come in a bunch) they get hotel rooms. It works perfectly for us. I don’t ever want to go back to a large house.

  21. We have a cute 750 square foot home in OKC that was built in the 1950s and I love it! (2 beds, one bath) It sounds tiny but the kitchen (black and white tile flooring!) and living room are completely open and no hallways make the rooms bigger. Layout is everything! It has been a fixer-upper but we can add our own touch. Storage can be a challenge, but you get creative and get rid of clutter and realize what you really need. A huge yard and storage building help a lot! So many people say, “That will get small fast” or “How do you live like that?” We are just low maintenance people. I think it helped that both of us didn’t grow up with much and had small-ish homes to begin with. As a newly married couple with a toddler and a baby on the way, it’s perfect for us! I also love the fact that it takes such little time to clean! We have saved so much money mortgage wise and we rarely have heating/air bills that are over $80! We wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. We definitely believe in living beneath our means. Eventually, when the kids are older we will probably add on another bedroom and a bathroom. A laundry room would be wonderful as the washer and dryer are in the garage, but for now that’s what we have. I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world! 🙂

  22. Our last home was a 3 bed 1 bath in the city. I always thought it was too small for our family of 4 but since relocating to the country and living in a large 4 bed 2 bath rental I’ve realised that the larger house doesn’t make me as happy as I thought it would. We really only use half of it anyway and like others have mentioned, it takes ages to clean and with two little boys it never stays clean (by the time I’ve finished cleaning it they have messed up the other end of the house!) we have just purchased a 1950’s home on a 1/4 acre block in a great location that we can fix up and we will have a much smaller mortgage than what we had in the city. A smaller house means more cooperation and compromise and more time spent outside which I believe is healthy for us all and a good message to send to our children. We might add another bedroom and bathroom in the future but for now, it is within our means and that’s the most important thing.

  23. I am late to happen upon this thread – thought I’d share anyway! Just a few days ago, I moved into a small cottage on a hill overlooking the bay in Florianopolis, southern Brazil. (Apparently Brazil is popular with your readers?) Living abroad has always been a dream for me. In coming here, I have learned that my house, seemingly tiny and fit for just one by American standards, is actually the normal size lived in by a family. By traveling, I have learned to live with less. Less stuff, less financial responsibility, even fewer amenities than I ever thought I could get used to – the only hot water is in the shower! – but I love my life. I have a huge garden to play in, room to tuck visiting friends, and I awake to the sound of birds and the view of the sunrise over the water each morning.

    1. Thank you for sharing this experience! I think we are each more capable of living with less than we think, but it is in making a life we love – passions, career and relationships – that makes it easier to see. Thank you again.

  24. Currently, I’ve been living on the road for over two years, and I finally got a travel trailer that I live in (for 17 months so far). I’m not worried about “downsizing,” as I would be upsizing into a tiny house as commonly built because my travel trailer is 7.5X12 in the body and has EVERYTHING except laundry and dishwasher. It is small, but I am small-bodied even though I’m 5’8”. Even then, my 20”-wide bed and the common shower stall with a seat is cramped, but I’ve learned to live with it, and I’m home much of the time, doing extensive reading on comparative studies on religion and doing some writing for my boss. I am considering the possibility of converting this travel trailer into a tiny house or a “better-built” travel trailer by getting rid of the delaminated sidewalls, the roof, and the redundant interior design.

    When I first moved out of the big city, I put nearly everything I had into storage and worked in various places including a ecology ranch, an organic produce farm, house sitting, working renaissance faires, and now writing. I stayed with friends and family until I got my travel trailer. I went to work at the three renaissance faires in Texas with it, and now I’m in southeast Texas on a friend’s property, and I’m seriously considering settling down (I will be 50 in January) so that I can either convert this travel trailer to a house or step up into a tiny house. I have most of my things in storage, and I only have with me what will fit (limited wardrobe, only the tools I need to work on the TT as needed and the Jeep, only electronics books on the computer, and buying a week’s worth of groceries when I go to temple and resupply on the same day, and taking the trash to the gas station once a week).

    It is absolutely freeing, although I have to be mindful of repairs as needed, which cost money to fix. I can just hitch up to the Jeep and go anywhere I need to go, anytime. I would also have to be thinking about giving up the freedom to be moving anytime I want, since a tiny house would require a driver for me because my Jeep simply can’t pull that much weight. I am wondering whether it’s possible to convert the TT to a tiny house of the same size and relatively similar weight, since redundant/unnecessary interior engineering will be taken out and simplified.

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