09 April 2008

Smaller Homes Happier Homes

I've got a meme developing this week on this blog about smaller, sturdier and more urban houses being better. Just in time is an article in the Wall Street Journal Blog:

More Americans are eschewing the “bigger is better” rationale and are purchasing smaller homes, writes Scott Lindlaw for the Associated Press.

He notes that according to the American Institute of Architects, the size of U.S. homes is leveling off. The average is expected to level off at 2,500 square feet...

In the article, Mr. Lindlaw highlights one New Jersey couple who sold their 6,100-square-foot Victorian, which cost them $20,000 a year in property taxes and maintenance. They bought a home for half the size in Connecticut. The couple now has more time to share together because they spend less time working around the house, Mr. Lindlaw says.

This got us thinking: Do bigger homes makes us less happy? In a column on happiness and income in Wednesday’s Journal, columnist Jonathan Clements noted, “Despite the sharp rise in our standard of living in recent decades, Americans today are little or no happier than earlier generations.” One reader, commenting in an online forum on the column, wrote: “I think if people spent less time working and more time enjoying the things that work should enable us to do then we would all be happier. Instead we buy all these things thinking they will bring happiness, then we work all day long trying to afford them.” In the case of larger homes, we sometimes work all weekend long, too — on home improvements, renovations and maintenance....

8 comments:

VisuaLingual said...

There's an annual decor competition on Apartment Therapy called "Small Is Cool," for homes under 850 square feet. Basically, people enter photos and floorplans of what they've done to their homes, usually without the aid of an interior designer or architect. Some of the entrants live in very expensive areas, but some simply choose to spend less and live in/with less.

Anyway, they're always asked to explain the advantage of living small and tend to give a lot of the same answers -- smaller environmental footprint, proximity to all their stuff, splurging on fewer pieces of furniture, less time spent on maintenance, paring down their belongings to only what they truly love, etc. It's pretty interesting to see how people carve out comfortable lives in small spaces, especially couples and families.

For instance, people with babies forego a lot of the specialized, single-function furniture and accessories that people say you absolutely need to have. And they're fine! Or, they maximize storage in creative ways, buy dual-function furniture, etc. In some ways, they live the way people used to live, and it's refreshing to see that, and to see that it doesn't have to feel like a sacrifice. It's nice to be reminded that a bigger home isn't a better home.

5chw4r7z said...

I've always said bigger isn't better, better is better. As a matter of fact thats the tagline of my Parker Flats blog. I didn't realize how much I hated out 2,000 sq ft house until we sold it and moved out.
One thing I found is we don't spend money on stuff any more, theres no where to put stuff in a small apartment. All that time and money spent on a big house is now spent on us time.

catherine said...

I have always admired spaces that fill many functions and can never understand these houses that have seperate rooms for everything and everyone: dining, breakfast, living, family, study, seperate bedrooms, seperate bathrooms, sometimes seperate laundry rooms. When do these rooms ever get used? When does anyone see each other? I can't even keep our apartment clean and still feel guilty that the upstairs TV room is so neglected....
I always loved the interiors of boats with their compact usefulness, every object serving three functions: pull it up, its a table, collapse it back, its a bench, pull it out its a bed! The fact is that smaller spaces require some thought in design, boats being a prime example. Any idiot cna just keep adding rooms.
My ideal house, however, since I do get a bit seasick, is a yurt; one big round room for everything and if you get tired of the scenery you just roll it up and move! Not too much to design there but perfect in its simplicity.

DP said...

My wife and I lived in Manhattan for 5 years before moving to Cincy a year and a half ago. We had a 650 sf 1BR that was great for the two of us. Not that I would have complained if we'd had an extra 100 sf and a half bath (esp when the parents came to visit...). But we did fine. Of course NYC had so many "3rd places" that you didn't need a big place, but that's a whole separate urban planning lecture...

Of course now that there are three of us (the reason we left NYC), we sucked it up and went for a house. But even then, we decided we didn't need the 4-5 BR, 4BA, plus a study and a 3 car garage (and certainlty didn't want to live in the boonie-burbs). So we went for the small 3BR in Mt. Lookout with a small yard. We like it alot, but after a year I'm already looking ahead 20 years to when we don't have any kids at home and can "downsize".

CityKin said...

Dp;
I was just in Mt Lookout last night, and was thinking about the relative walkability and how the older houses are being continually improved and maintained. One of Cincy's most successful neighborhoods for sure.

VisuaLingual said...

I recently read that, in the Middle Ages, people lived had "open floorplans" and multi-functional furniture that got moved around converted at different points each day. It sounds so winderfully efficient. [Of course, privacy was scarce, as were some aspects of domestic comfort.] Anyway, I feel like I'm seeing more and more of this -- a reassessment of how much space and stuff we really need. It's refreshing.

distracted by shiny objects said...

Can't believe my hubby and I are so ahead of the curve with our little mouse house in Clifton! Never been much for the uber-renovations or remodelings...people can put so much of their time & money into a building that can get tornado'd away or burn to the ground. We've put our paltry monies into education for the kids-- and if my daughter changes her major again that money will be needed forever. My husband walks to work and gets fired up if asked about the lack of mass transit.Glad, glad, glad to see and hear that there are people out there thinking about these issues who can actually design the changes we need. Hubby and I spread the world to our captive audiences in the ICU and ER. Sometimes I think they just pretend to agree with us...Thanks for the interesting posts.
PS. I'm stealing Dance Party Friday. Makes everyone at the hospital laugh. Now we know what we truly want to be when we grow up. AnnieH

gerard said...

“Despite the sharp rise in our standard of living in recent decades, Americans today are little or no happier than earlier generations.”

This passage reminded me of the Story of Stuff video. If you haven't seen it yet, you must watch it as soon as possible. It fits right in with all these themes.

http://www.storyofstuff.com