Friday, November 28, 2014

minimalism: house size

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the last post! As always, I love hearing your insights.

I recently saw an infographic that the average five person family in the 1950s lived in a house that was a 1000 square feet.  The average four person family in 2014 lives in a 2500 square foot house.

When my mother was growing up, she lived in a two bedroom, one bath house in southern Ohio. It was about 1000 square feet in all. My mother recently moved to China and all of the family pictures are in storage, but here is a picture of the exterior taken from Google Maps.

The first floor was two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen with eat in dining area.  There was an attic that ran the length of the house that was my mother's bedroom. While the attic was probably about 12 feet wide, due to the pitch of the roof you could only stand up in the middle.

Here is a not to scale floor plan:
The kitchen was TINY--maybe 8 x 6?  There was one upper cabinet in the entire kitchen.  Along the back wall was a fridge, the sink and 12 inches of counterspace.  My mother reports that when they originally moved into the house, there was a wall between the kitchen and the dining room (running right where the fridge is in the above illustration), but it was torn down shortly after moving in.

On the opposite kitchen wall was the back door to the garage, and a tiny stove that had a pull out cooktop.  It looked sort of like this:


The stove was about 20 inches deep, and the electric burner stove top could be rolled out for use, and rolled back into the stove when not in use, although you had to wait for it to cool down before rolling it back in.  Rolling the top out meant that the available space between the fridge and stove was cut in half, so clearly you would want to roll the top back in when not in use.

 My grandparents bought the house when my mom was nine, for about $2,000.  My grandmother lived in that house for forty-five years.  It was the first home my mother lived in that had indoor plumbing.


On the other end of the spectrum were my paternal grandparents.  Although they moved many times, for a long time they had a split level ranch house in southern New Jersey that was about 2300 square feet, with four bedrooms and 2.5 bath. (Again, I clipped the picture from GoogleMaps--when my grandparents lived there, there was an RV and a huge station wagon in the driveway, not fourteen garbage cans.)

That house was bigger than the 1950 average of 1000 sq ft, but keep in mind that my father is the oldest of eleven children, and thus there were 13 people living there, which brings us well below the average amount of square feet per person.

Over the years the Mister and I have lived in ever-larger homes.  (Mostly.)  We started off in a ridiculously massive winter share (3000 sq ft), which quickly taught us that we couldn't afford the rent on a large house, and even if we could, we couldn't afford to keep the utilities on.

We moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in a pre-war apartment complex, then another 2 bedroom apartment in the attic of an old Victorian.  These were about 800 sq ft.  For a few months we moved in with the Mister's parents, then with my parents. After our wedding, we bought a 2 bedroom condo with a small loft, where we brought home our first child. The condo was 1100 sq ft.

I didn't feel like the condo was cramped--we had a small attic storage space with some junk, but nothing out of hand.  We bought the condo after we got married, and we really didn't have much furniture yet.

Then we bought our sidehall colonial that was about 1400 sq ft.

This is where I had my second and third child.  After having my second child I stopped working, and started reading design blogs for intellectual stimulation.  Prior to reading design blogs I enjoyed decorating but didn't spend much time or money on it. After reading design blogs the "lets buy fun stuff for the house!" train really took off.  (This is a topic for an entire separate post.) I also started buying stuff for the kids.

By the time we moved out, we had a full basement, and a full attic, and it felt cramped. In retrospect, it was a great house--we just needed to have less stuff in the house.

After we sold that house, we moved into the apartment above my inlaws, which was quite spacious.

That house was like a magic trick--it looked like a small Cape Cod, and then you walked in and it just kept going on forever.  The upstairs apartment was at least 1500 sq ft.  It was huge, for an apartment. And it had a ton of spacious closets. But we still had stuff in the basement and half of the garage. And I bought more and more decor stuff.  

Then we moved to the sidehall colonial in Westfield that was similar to the sidehall we had owned.

 Again, 1400ish sq ft, with large attic, basement, and garage.  Although the rooms were small and storage was lacking, it was a nice house.  (Except for the rats.) Regardless of the lack of storage, we still had too much stuff. We had so much stuff that when we moved out of that house to California, the moving company told us we were over the weight limit that the Mister's new company would pay for.

You think that would be a wakeup call, wouldn't you?

The wakeup call was when we moved into our house in California, which was similarly sized, but lacking the attic and basement.

And ALL THAT STUFF got put in the garage.

We couldn't find stuff, we couldn't move around the stuff, we couldn't move the stuff, we couldn't get the garbage cans out of the garage because there was no room to move, we couldn't reach the washer and dryer because of all the stuff.

And thus a small seed began to bloom....maybe we don't need all this stuff.

We got rid of at least three quarters of the stuff in that garage before we bought this house.  This house looked empty for a while. Remarkably, we didn't buy much new furniture for this house.  We simply figured out how to arrange the furniture.


Our current house is 2594 square feet. For years, we thought this size house was what we wanted. Tons of space! Tons of storage!

It has much more space and storage than we need.  It costs quite a bit to keep up, from the mortgage and taxes to cleaning and keeping the lights on.  It is more space than we need.

My mother grew up in a tiny house that had approximately 333 sq ft per person.  My father grew up in a large house that had about 176 sq ft per person.  We are living in a house with about 500 sq ft per person. I could get rid of our formal living room, formal dining room, and fourth bedroom and not miss them. I would miss them two or three days a year when we have out of town guests, but 99.99% of the time, wouldn't  miss them.

When we move in the spring, for the first time in a decade, we'll be going to a much smaller house, rather than larger.  I'm looking forward to having less, cleaning less, paying less.

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