Think Big – Build Small

Via Nan Fischer
on Sep 23, 2011
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Big is not so beautiful anymore. American home square footage has been ballooning for years, but that’s got to end.

In our patriotic efforts to live up to our international reputation of being over-consumptive, we are living in way more space than we need. We have media rooms, master suites, walk-in closets that can be mistaken for bedrooms, and extra living and dining areas. I grew up in a house, some of which was reserved for company – formal living and dining rooms. I never understood that excess. It eventually dawned on my parents that they actually lived in about 1000 square feet, and they built their final house accordingly.

passive solar home, new hampshireMy first house, as a single 30-something, was a 16’x24′ passive solar post and beam saltbox in New Hampshire. It had more space than I needed – full basement, two stories and a cozy reading loft on the third floor. Utility bills were low. Being passive solar, it did not need supplemental heat on sunny winter days. Being small, it did not take much wood to keep it comfortable at night. (photo ©nan fischer, 2011)

I now have children, and my house is about 2000 square feet. The space has served us well for the last 13 years. We have lived in every inch of it, and I even remodeled to reduce my energy bills and improve the traffic pattern and heating/cooling air flow. As the kids are growing up and moving out on their own, though, I am drowning in the extra room. I am ready to downsize.

A friend of mine owns a pumice passive solar duplex, one side of which is 665 square feet. It is one bedroom and a full bath with a petite kitchen, a living room and a storage room with a washer and dryer. Every time I’m in it, I think, ‘I could live here with no kids.’ It’s just enough room. I’d buy it if she’d let me!

Extravagance vs Simplicity

Why do we think bigger is better? Ask yourself that as you consider these parts of home ownership:

> cost
> maintenance
> cleaning
> utilities
> waste

Do you really need more of all those in your life? Right. I didn’t think so.

Downsize Without Sacrifice

> Make sure you have storage space. Not too much, otherwise you’ll continue to fill it up with ‘stuff,’ and stuff is what we are trying to get rid of!
> The furniture must be to scale. Small room, small furniture. That is why the pumice duplex seemed so spacious – the kitchen was small but complete, and the living room furniture fit in the space it was given.
> Built-ins take up interior wall space, not living space. Use them. Double-duty built-ins, like a bench that is storage below, are very effective and space-saving.
> Get rid of your stuff! Have yard sales, and donate to churches and battered women shelters. Visit second-hand stores, freebox and recycling center regularly. Dump your stuff! The less stuff you have, the less room you will need. My rule is if I have not used something in six months, I get rid of it. If that makes you nervous, use one year as a timeline.
> Raised ceilings, which I don’t recommend for heating purposes, give the illusion of more space. Raise them if you must. Just don’t tell me about it.

The Benefits

> Save money on utilities and maintenance.
> Save money on your mortgage or your rent.
> If you are building, you will cut costs with less material.
> If you are building, you will create less waste (good for the landfill).
> If you are building, you will have a smaller footprint, eating up less of the planet’s precious vegetation.
> Reduce your carbon footprint and save our natural resources.

Next time you move or build, think big by going small.


About Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for decades. She writes from the heart and personal experience, blogging at desert verde, She lives north of Taos, New Mexico with one of two daughters, a dog and a cat.


9 Responses to “Think Big – Build Small”

  1. I love this, Nan! I don't understand why houses keep getting bigger…who needs 3000 sq ft for 3 – 4 people? I think we have about 1,600 plus basement that is reasonably usable (and will probably be finished off at some point) and it's PLENTY! Love your tips for making the most of space.

  2. Fantastic article! I feel a shift occurring in our society… many of us are tiered of cluttering our life with useless 'stuff' that requires time and energy to manage. Hopefully we continue to evolve towards a more balanced lifestyle where consumption of resources and the display of wealth is not our goal. Thanks!

  3. Bruce says:

    Here in California, we call oversized houses "McMansions". I've seen huge houses with 6 burner stoves and restaurant sized refrigerators where 2 people live. It is ridiculous. I want everyone who lives with such excess to learn about aparigraha, or "non-hoarding".

  4. nan says:

    Thank you, Cody! I think this recession helped open people's eyes to what they really need. I have read that the trend is smaller houses, so that's a start!

  5. nan says:

    I think people are empty inside, so they stock up on unnecessary stuff to fill the void. It's insane.

  6. nan says:

    That could be. I have kids, and they were outside all the time, like I was when I was a kid. People think they have to spend according to what they make, so they buy big and have huge credit card balances. If we didn't have credit cards, people would live within their means, and their lives would be so much simpler.

  7. nan says:

    Wow, Jenifer, that sounds like heaven! Good for you for functioning in a small space. People are so afraid of not having stuff and space. They would never dream of living in 600 sq ft. How sad.

  8. […] live in a supersized society. This bigger-is-always-better mindset causes most of us to feel like the balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Unless we eat […]

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