Reconsidering the Home

Okay, this post is my first big dive into some of life’s other what ifs that have been circling my head.  And as the first dive, it seems only appropriate to start with one of my biggest passions: architecture.

Rowdykittens happened to write a post on this subject today, too, but I swear I’ve been wanting to write this post for weeks.  I’m giddy and even jittery with excitement as I sit here at B&N.  Great minds just think alike.

What if I don’t need so much space?

Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with Extreme Makeover Home Edition.  The stories are heart-wrenching and the interior design is gorgeous, but the houses they build are so freaking huge!

When did homes become so big?  According to Rowdykittens’ post, the average home size in America in 1950 was less than 1000 sf while today it’s 2300 sf.  (I keep thinking about how Wally and the Beav shared a room.  Do kids even share rooms any more these days?  No wonder they have such a hard time adjusting to having a roommate when they go off to college…)

Why have houses become so big?  I think a large (pun intended) part has to do with having a place to house (pun intended) all our stuff.  Paring down is a good place to start.

Thinking about the size of these homes also inevitably leads me to think about the associated costs as well.

What’s the average home price nowadays, $200-300K probably?  I Googled “calculate my mortgage” and plugged $200K into the first site with a 30 year loan and 7% interest to get $1330 per month.  And that’s before utilities, maintenance, and property taxes.

And let’s say that you decide to just get a condo instead because they’re cheaper.  The HOA fees are a still a few hundred a month.

Honestly, I don’t know how my fellow single friends manage it all on one income.

Another issue that’s raised in my mind is that of permanence versus flexibility.  What if I lose my job or have to relocate?  Stuck with a mortgage, may have to sell the house, or end up with a job that’s further away.  I cannot imagine having to commute an hour each way to work like so many I know.

I’m completely satisfied with paying $800 a month for rent/utilities/internet/cable, in the heart of a charming little city, walking distance from everything, and if something in my home breaks the landlord has to repair it instead of me.

I feel like I need to throw a big disclaimer in here: I’m not knocking home ownership.  For some people, it truly does bring them joy.  And maybe my mindset or circumstances will change in the future, but at this point I can definitely say that it’s not for me.  And I worry about how making home ownership the goal has affected the debt and stress levels of so many in our country.

Oh, and grass.  I could go my whole life without owning grass and be very happy.  Allergies, upkeep, why do people have lawns again?  Not my cup of tea.

With all that said, in this age of starter mansions let me introduce you to my idea of a dream home:

*Gasp!*  Ally, that’s a trailer!

You’re durn right it is.  It’s a model from the Tumbleweed House Company called Fencl.  (All images from their site.  They’re not paying me to advertise or anything; I honestly just think their stuff is cool.)

Nineteen feet by eight feet, 130 sf total.  Sleeping loft, storage loft, kitchen, bathroom, and main living area – including a gorgeous nook that would be perfect for a windowseat.

But, there’s no room to do anything!

Sure, it’s not like I’ll be the prime location for hosting a Super Bowl party or cooking Thanksgiving dinner for twelve, but I’m not doing stuff like that now anyway.  Think of your own dwelling over the past seven days.  How much of it did you use?  I think most of us don’t need an extra living room / family room / rec room / home theater for those occasions a few times a year that you have a bunch of people over to visit.

In fact, living in such a mild climate as my current home, if I were to have a whole bunch of people over why not take advantage of the beautiful outdoors?  BBQ!  Picnic blankets!  Maybe even a projector set up to show a movie against the siding of my tiny house.

So how much does this home cost?  Tumbleweed’ll build it for you for $54K, or they provide a materials breakdown estimate of $23K if you build it yourself.  Yeah, the cost of some cars, folks!

If the idea of living with your house on your back isn’t appealing, check out some of the amazing cottage designs from Ross Chapin Architects.  (My personal favs are the Lizzie / Lisette and Pears and Cherries.)

Or check out some of the inspiring design ideas profiled by Sarah Susanka in the “Not So Big” books.  (I’m writing this post from B&N because I wanted to flip through her books again.)

From my perspective, our culture is caught in a vicious cycle.  We work to make more money to pay for our stuff, and we need to house to put it all somewhere, so we need to work harder to pay for that house, and we all end up overworked, stress out, and drowning in debt.

Now imagine owning a teeny home like this, one that you could pay for in a few years instead of three decades.  AND imagine that home is small enough that it inhibits you from buying more “stuff” because you have no place to put it.

If you’re not spending money on mortgage payments and “stuff” purchases, what are you going to do with all that money?

Maybe you could do things you always wanted to – like go back to school, travel, start your own business.  Or cut back your hours at work and use that extra time to pursue one of your other passions like art or volunteering.

Anyone else thinking that the small house movement is kind of a brilliant idea?

Me too.

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4 Responses to Reconsidering the Home

  1. Aimee says:

    Welcome to my world… most European, or at least London-basin homes are horrendously expensive, and tiny. I’ve lived in places the size of your described “dream cabin” and while I agree on the principle, I can say with some experience that you are more comfortable with just a bit more. The key phrase is “just a bit more”. If you glued two of those houses together, I’d be pretty overly excited, especially on a nice plot of land. (I’m a garden-girl, not a grass girl). It’d still only be $100K! (could I turn the extra bathroom into a garden storage/laundry room?)

    • Alissa says:

      If my trailer’s too small for your tastes, did you check out the links to those cottages – 500sf to 1300 sf and adorable to boot?

      And I agree, it always seems like my something in my life would be better if there was “just a bit more”. But personally I get into a horrible cycle – reaching that little bit and then there’s a new little bit I want!

  2. Richard says:

    I’m in complete agreement that houses have become WAY out of line with what people actually need. Perhaps I’m a bit odd, but I lived for years on boats where space is at a premium. In one instance I lived for six years on a 26′ sailboat and loved every minute of it, too.

    I worked for a while as a driver for a limo service picking people up from airports and delivering them to McMansions in southeast Florida. In many cases it was ridiculous. I’d take people to these enormous homes and it was like dropping two BBs into a 55 gallon drum. Why do they NEED all that? You can only be in one place at a time. In reality most people come home, plop themselves down in a chair where they spend the rest of their waking hours until they go to bed. And they think I’M weird?

    • Alissa says:

      Not to mention that so many of those McMansions are – in my opinion – ugly! Row after row of the same house in any color you want, as long as it’s beige.

      Living on a boat would be amazing – but probably not in Colorado. Regardless, I think there’s a lot that designers can learn from things like RV and boat design about maximizing the use of space. I’m waaay more impressed with a small but well thought out and designed home than a sprawling monstrosity.

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