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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Less is More project: Week 7 - Your biggest investment

JulieSaintMleux, 2012


After I mentioned the cleaning chores I had accomplished on a certain housebound day (winter storm number 259!), along with the time it had taken me, my friend S remarked: "you do have a big house".

Funny... I don't think I have a big house. Granted, it's not small, but it certainly does not qualify as a McMansion. 

Upon verification, our house is around or slightly above the US national average and median in terms of total square footage. According to the American Enterprise Institute, in 2013, the average size of new houses was 2679 square feet, whereas the median was 2491 square feet. The United States Census Bureau gives numbers a touch smaller for 2010: an average of 2392 square feet and a median of 2169 square feet for single-family houses. (As some of you know, we live in Canada, where the numbers seem to be inferior, a 200 square feet difference or so.)

For an interesting comparison, the site Shrinkthatfootprint has put together the numbers for other countries (based on 2009; the numbers might be higher now):

Honk Kong: 484 ft2
UK: 818 ft2
Canada: 1948 ft2
US: 2164 ft2
Australia: 2303 ft2

The interesting thing about those numbers - the North American ones anyway - is that they have increased significantly over the past decades. Houses have been getting bigger. I assume my house's size is "just right" for a family of four, but truth is, we do not need all that space. Before we bought the property, we lived in an apartment that was significantly smaller. We did fine. The kids have grown, but we could still live in the same apartment, even if I would probably miss, although only temporarily, the 2 full bathrooms we have right now, as well as the formal dining room (currently used as my home office). (We also have a third toilet in a powder room that really we don't need - how often do 3 different people have to use the bathroom at the same time?) As for the storage (right now I benefit from generous closets, including a walk-in almost big enough to be used as a nursery), you suddenly don't need as much when you cut down on stuff. The only real issue would probably be the following: where to store 4 bikes and all the camping equipment? 

If you currently have small living quarters, how do you make it work? I'm specifically interested in knowing where you store your sports/outdoor equipment.

So. "Big" houses are nice. And what's wrong with them if you can afford them? The question is: what does it mean, exactly, to be able to "afford" a big house?

Let's say you would like to work less. Or do something else that you are passionate about, but pays less. Or maybe you would love to travel more. Yet you don't, because "there are bills to pay". The biggest of which are most likely house related: mortgage payments, insurance, maintenance, heating, electricity. You are stuck working more than you want and/or in a job you don't really like in order to pay for that house. Feeling resentful yet? 

Big houses usually come with land as well. We opted for countryside/forest living, and have close to 2 acres (or 75 000 square feet) of greenery around the house. Surely I appreciate it: tons of space for the kids to play, for the dog to run around, for us to make a big garden. Unfortunately, big spaces also mean lots of work: just mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway is a Herculean task here. Luckily a good part of our property is wooded, which requires very little work. Still, all that maintenance - house and yard - takes time and/or money (depending on whether you do it yourself or hire someone).

All that time and money, you don't have it for other things. There are days in the summer when I have to pick between weeding the flowerbeds and going to the beach. Frustrating. I know it's the ultimate "first world problem", but why can't I have a nice front yard AND a nice relaxing day with family and friends?

If you are lucky enough to have the time and/or money for a big house, take a moment to think about your environmental footprint: is your choice of property kind to the Earth?

Even if we don't need to move (we still made a reasonable choice with that house), some days, I do wonder: would we be better off (and would Mother Nature thank us) with a smaller property? I know it's a dangerous thought: I might like it a little bit too much, become addicted to the sense of freedom and simplicity, keep downsizing, and end up in a tiny house (nothing wrong with that, you might say). I thrive when we go camping, and our camping style is rather minimal: a tent, some basic gear, no water/electricity/electronics. No car access either, meaning we have to carry everything on our backs. I love that way of life. (My only questioning is whether I would take to it 12 months a year - it does get pretty cold around here.) 

I have dreamed of moving into a "treehouse with a view" or even a sailboat. What's so special about those kinds of places? Mark Boyle, author of The Moneyless Man - A Year of Freeconomic Living, has experienced the joys of living in a smaller, closer to nature dwelling: 


"My favorite times were when it rained heavily. I'd listen to the rain crashing on the roof with a real appreciation for the shelter that was keeping me dry and protected [...] Such gratitude increases as you get closer to nature and the things that you use; the more degrees of separation you have, the less you appreciate them.


This is exactly what I like about camping. And so I have a feeling that if we moved to something smaller, I would quickly embrace it. Despite all that, there is something about living where we live that is hard to renounce... what is it called? Oh yeah, I got it: it's called status.

To be honest, I don't even know if status is something that bothers me all that much - but I can't come up with any other reason why moving into a smaller house would be problematic - unless we have to leave the neighborhood... and what I like most about the neighborhood is not the status, but rather the close-knit community, the peaceful atmosphere, the nature that surrounds us.

Any thoughts?




WEEK 7 IN REVIEW


Temptations 

Once again, I had to go to the pharmacy for one small purchase (medication for a family member), but almost got sucked into buying more. Did you notice how big most pharmacies have become? If you wanted to, you could probably do half of your groceries and buy half of your clothes there! That on top of acquiring cosmetics, candy, toys, books, school/office supplies, decorative items, gadgets, etc.  


Donations

This week I tackled my hutch. I filled 3 boxes with various plates, glasses, bowls and vases I haven't used since we moved here in 2007. (Don't worry mom, I still have the one vase you told me to keep!) 

This wasn't as easy as one would think. As I cleaned the shelves, I was tempted to simply move the things around. When I got to the shot glasses, I thought "What if I want to do shots with friends?" (D doesn't drink). Then it occurred to me that I don't remember the last time I had shots with friends (other than one random time in a bar 2 years ago). We are grown-ups. We drink wine. Okay, and beer. But shots? I don't need those glasses.

Come to think of it, there are very few things that you should keep in your kitchen if you don't use them at least on a weekly basis. One exception is the fondue set (we love fondue in this family). Other than that... toss it!

Good news: I found the screwdriver I had been looking for! (Please don't ask me what it was doing in the hutch.)



Observations

The Less is More spirit also applies to the projects we take on, and in my case, one of them is reading. When I go to the library, I take too many books, and then have to rush reading them all before they are due back (they cannot be renewed when somebody else places a hold on them). I need to get into the habit of taking only 1 or 2 books at a time.


Cogitations 
 

Just because you can afford something is not a good enough reason to buy it. I cleaned my pharmacy this week. I keep all medications in a high cupboard in the kitchen (the bathroom is not a good place as it gets too hot and damp), but it's been kind of messy, and I though that a small, inexpensive basket would help me keep all the little bottles organized. Problem is, I am on the Less is More project, and not supposed to buy anything. All my baskets are already put to good use. What to do? Well, I was inventive. I found a rather sturdy and empty shoe box, cut the top off, and filled it. Who cares if it doesn't look pretty. It's gonna be inside a cupboard! And now I can say that I did a good deed for the environment: reused something that was perfectly fine instead of acquiring something new.



What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? How did that make you feel? Please comment below! And...






45 comments:

  1. My house is a bit over 900 square feet. We have 2.5 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. One bedroom is my craft room and the other bedroom is really a gun room where we reload shells and have 3 gun safes in and of course our bedroom that I hate but will someday tackle. Having a smaller home means everything has to have a place. We do have a garage and a wood shop plus a fire barn where we have 2 firetrucks and a crew cab truck and camper. Having the smaller home is why less is great.
    I did made a purchase this week, out of need. Our bowls are not microwavable and I ordered a set of 6 bowls that we can use. Now does that mean I should donate the ones I'm replacing?
    I think our living in the country, up north where status isn't quite as important makes a lot of difference. We (at least us) don't try to keep up with the Jones.
    I am very impressed with all that you're doing and reading just how far you've come and changed each week. I love that you're sharing your process and progress with us.
    Have a blessed week.

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    1. This is a good point: "Having a smaller home means everything has to have a place." Maybe that's where people should start before even trying to downsize!

      I have a feeling that yes, we should donate things that we have replaced with better options. Let us know what you have decided!

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  2. Splurged this week -- bought new running shoes. My Mizunos weren't working for my feet so back to Asics -- bargain rack but usable, at $49.00

    Once I set my new studio up in Fallbrook, I will look to buy a small motor home -- circa 1980 or so. This will be my next house. My goal is to park it M-F so I can work, and spend the weekends beachside with my mammal.

    I can't imagine 2,000 sq ft anymore. Currently living in a 600 sq ft guest house and it seems too big.

    Keep this project rolling.

    Curious, what's the smallest space you think you can live in...? Ok to email me the answer. Would your girls be good with it...?

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    1. Good running shoes are an investment!

      And yes, if you live alone, you need way less space.

      I will certainly give some thought to your question!

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  3. I have similar feelings about the house thing... and I get confuddled thinking about it. First of all, I can't decide if I live in a big house or a small house. Officially, my house is 899 square feet (such an odd number, don't you think?) But, and this is a pretty big but - it has a full basement. So really, my house is closer to 1800 square feet. Of course the basement is only partially finished, but it's still space (space that houses 2 of my 3 bikes as well as laundry & storage & pantry & workshop & spare bedroom & extra bathroom & lots of other random stuff.) Plus, I have a 2.5 car detached garage (which houses the car & my errand running bike plus a pile of other gear & garden stuff... and a LOT of junk) so that probably puts the total square footage available to me over the 2000 mark. And all this is for one person & 3 cats! On a per-person basis, I'm WAY above the mean housing size, but my house is considered "small" by real estate standards.

    So, I always wonder if those average square footage numbers include basements & garages or not - seems like a pretty big variable to me. Anyhow, that's my long-winded way of saying that I have no idea whether I'm in the big house or small house camp! What do you think? Do I live in a big house or a little house?

    I dunno... Could I get by with less space? Obviously, I could - but I'm not sure I really see the advantage at this point. My house was dirt cheap and now that it's paid for it's even cheaper! The utilities are only about $100/month, and my property taxes are very low since I'm in a "low income" neighborhood. Plus, I'm not entirely convinced that less space would be easier to clean - it might just be more cramped. It would be easier not to accumulate stuff in though (garage full of dumpster dives... I'm looking at you!) But it would be hard to find a house smaller than mine - I guess I could get one without a basement, or move to an apartment or mobile home... but honestly, I enjoy having space to garden & enjoy the outdoors.

    So there you have it - I have absolutely NO idea what I think about big houses vs. little houses! :-)

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    1. I think the square footage includes any livable, heated space. So: no to a garage or a 2 season porch, yes to a basement used as living space. But I'm not an expert!

      I like your comment! I contains a lot of things to ponder!

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  4. My husband and I live in a 700 SF condo. We find this to be much more than we need. We haven't filled all the cabinets or closets, however, we like that it feels open and roomy. We also had a house that was 900 SF. It was a 2bd/2ba with an attached garage, so I could easily see how two parents and a child could easily fit in there. I don't like large spaces. I prefer very small, but probably not to the tiny level. :)

    I could see easily living in a 300-400 SF house with my husband if it was laid out properly with a separate bedroom, a bedroom door and a tub. Those are my basic requirements.

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    1. Interesting! I agree that the layout is important. And not trying to fill any nook an cranny with stuff.

      I once lived (on my own) in a place that had a tub but no separate bedroom or bedroom door. I was pretty content.

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  5. I live in a small home - it is 1400 sq feet which includes a double garage. We have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small lounge/dining/kitchen area and that's it! Just my partner and I live here but we have it all set up for three grandsons. We have toys, bikes etc for them and of course the two spare bedrooms are for them. We store a lot in the garage (and still get two cars in there) plus we have pull down stairs for the attic space so most of the stuff not used much goes up there. I keep an eye on what's up there so I don't start collecting junk!

    I have a place for everything and everything has a place. Before I ever think about buying something I need to consider where I'd put it or what needs to go to make room. That alone stops me buying much :)

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    1. Interesting that you mention the grandsons! I have been wondering if I should wait until the kids have moved out to move into a tiny house, but then what about the grandchildren when they visit? I would like to have space to have people over once in a while. But maybe there are alternatives to that?

      I am curious as to what kind of stuff your attic contains. :-)

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    2. My attic contains: Luggage, a tent and camping equipment, clothing that is out of season (kept in big plastic containers), books I've read, Christmas decorations, CDs (they have been loaded onto iTunes but I can't bear to get rid of them just yet) and misc kitchen items I don't use but will donate eventually! I also keep clothes that I don't wear now but keep them for one or two seasons "just in case". If I don't wear them in that time I give them to charity.

      So not too much really. Yes, it's important to us to have room for our grandsons! They have their own toys and clothes at our place too :)

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    3. Some of those things are what fills my basement.

      I wonder if I would want my grandkids to have clothes at my place... it sounds like a lot. A few toys, however, yes. I still have a few years to think about it... :-)

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    4. Just a set of spare clothing like pyjamas, T shirt and shorts... As we have them here at least once a week it means nothing needs to be packed for them. Also their own toothbrush and cuddly toy. They have a drawer each in the spare room - works well for me but I realise everyone is different. They are such a big part of our family we always joke that they have two homes.

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  6. Our grocery store has a huge section of clothing for children and adults. There is always a tempting 'sale' sign hanging over something and I am very tempted to check out the children's clothing racks for our grandchildren. This week I just walked right on past with my eyes averted. It's too easy to spend an unplanned fortune in there.
    We have a very small house, 1050 sq ft and have been ruthless in downsizing our possessions. Still need to pare down more and that will happen eventually as we are waiting for a condo to come available. Of course, we do have a full, dry basement and that helps a lot with storage (and also feeds our habit of accumulating things we don't need).

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    1. Our grocery store has this too! Talk about temptation.

      I like what you say about your basement!

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  7. I live in an average sized "Canadian" home. It's the only home I've ever had. Originally my builder gave me a book of homes, and he said to pick one. In the back of the book was a short list of smaller "vacation" homes. I picked on of those. It had a western mountain look and we re-designed it to fit this Florida landscape. It still looks good after many years although the cost was way below what my colleagues spent on their homes. Surrounded by large oak and pine trees and natural Florida flora and fauna, it's been my shelter from the storm.

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  8. Chris and I have bought 3 houses together and each time we have gone bigger (the next one will be after we retire and smaller:). it is nice to have the space but the downside is bigger homes mean more stuff!!!

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    1. Absolutely, as for some reason our brains feel the need to fill the space.

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  9. I was really surprised to see that the AVERAGE home is more than twice the size of mine! Mind blown. Houses here are mostly in the 900-1800 sf range (mine is 1200), where are all these gigantic houses?!

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    1. You might be talking about one level only? I think those numbers take into account all the livable, heated levels.

      I can think of some neighborhoods, in my own town, where the houses are significantly bigger than average.

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    2. Since my town is situated atop an area that floods easily and is positioned on a fault line, it is unusual for homes to have multiple stories and/or basements.

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  10. "The Less is More spirit also applies to the projects we take on, and in my case, one of them is reading. When I go to the library, I take too many books, and then have to rush reading them all before they are due back (they cannot be renewed when somebody else places a hold on them). I need to get into the habit of taking only 1 or 2 books at a time."

    Out of all you mention in your post this one jumps out at me, and I can see myself here...... next week WILL be different.

    All the best Jan

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    1. Ha! Glad to see I'm not the only one with that problem! :-)

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  11. I'm living in 380 square feet, with another flat above mine, two on the side (one downstairs, one upstairs), and four flats behind me, (two upstairs two downstairs) I have a small side garden that may be around 100 square feet, but it isn't truly mine since all the grounds here are communal. But it does have things I planted in it, herbs and flowers etc.
    I would love more space (I can't afford anything bigger) just so I could walk around without constantly shortening my steps.

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    1. I wish you had a little bit more space, if you feel the need for it! Your space is small. Trying to think of the smallest space I have lived in. It was tiny, but I was alone, and I knew it was temporary.

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  12. Im currently living with parents and CANNOT wait to have my own space/place!

    theglowwithin.com

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    1. You get to pick! What size are you gonna go for?

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  13. The choice of my latest home was driven by three main criteria: we wanted to live in the country, we needed workspace because we both work from home, and my partner is a bookworm (bookhoarder?), so we also needed wall space. So, contrary to the frugal people whose posts I read above, I live in a +- 4500 sq ft house, excluding garage and storage space.
    When it comes to houses and lifestyles, however, “less is more” can take other aspects than simply size. Our house is geothermal, which means that we spend less on heating and air-conditioning than the average 2000 sq ft house owner, and we do not rely on fossil fuels at all. Because we live in the country, we have a large garden (organic) which suffices to feed us all year. I start all my plants from seed, so I hardly visit the Garden Centre. We also have neighbours who have laying hens, raise happy free range chicken and pigs, and provide us with clean meat (no fake smoke, no nitrites, no antibiotics, etc.) Granted I have 2 freezers and a large pantry, but I know where most of my food comes from. I also never buy processed food: I do my own canning; I make yoghurt, bread, pizza. I need a pressure canner, a yoghurt maker and a pizza stone, but I have the space to keep them. And we hardly ever eat out.
    And we have guest rooms for when family or friends come visit.
    We recently cancelled our TV subscription because we simply so not watch it enough, thus saving close to $1000 per year!

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    1. Good example that a minimalist, environmentally-friendly life comes in all shapes and sizes!

      I certainly don't complain when we visit you. Although it IS a little bit difficult to find the person you want to talk to in such a big house. ;-)

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  14. Amen to not doing shots anymore... So very glad we are now adults and have graduated to wine, definitely beer, oh yes and whiskey!

    Our house has nearly 2000 SF in Oklahoma. We appreciate the space with two Mini Maroons and a Maroon Mutt running around. But we could certainly get by with less. Several spaces are oversized and not utilizing the square footage very efficiently. An extra bedroom would be handy though for guests...

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    1. Same here: several spaces are oversized. It looks nice but does not serve any practical purpose.

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  15. PS, I planned on going through my "plastics" this weekend, all the old tupperware and cheaper versions; I have so much from when I cooked in bulk and froze for future meals. I still do that but only for one and only have a tiny freezer, so don't need so many plastic containers. But that cupboard is out on the back porch and it's close to 40C out there, so that job will have to wait. I'll be weeding out the bookshelf again, although I do hate to give away books.

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    1. Good idea! About the books: I will be writing about that... stay tuned!

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  16. Love reading about people downsizing! It makes smile big time to know there's decluttering happening out there.

    Our current apartment is about 82 square feet. It's a sweet little place, but a littler small even for us. We're looking for something slightly bigger, say around 148 (ish) square feet, but definitely no bigger than that. :)

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    1. Yes, that does sound very small... but doable I'm sure. I think the tent I use when I go camping is smaller than that! LOL

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  17. I love your minimalist flair! I'm extremely pared down right now. Just moved into a rental house and still living like I'm in a hotel, right out of a suitcase. It's getting me ready for full time RV living! Love your blog! :)

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    1. It must be very liberating! Keep us updated as to your RV living!

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  18. "That is exactly what I like about camping" - me too! Love it.

    We've lived in smaller scale living, but exactly as you said, we have bikes, sports gear (golf clubs, cricket bag) and lots of camping gear. Those hobbies bring so much to our life, but we do need space (like a garage) to store it all.

    I also desperately missed 'free play' space for our son. We have a smallish block now but 1 acre of wooded land next door. I don't want to move unless we can replace that.

    Everyone mentions 'electricity and mortgage costs' but my apartment living experiment showed us that we can have a higher electricity bill in a smaller place - most of it comes from usage patterns.


    Mortgage is lower in our bigger house because it is further out of the city and not in a 'trendy' area.

    Maintenance is an issue but we try to pace it to times when there's less 'opportunity cost.' We are looking to downsize but only to move to better educational areas. I think I will miss our bigger house.

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    1. I guess the thing to do is to make a list of your "must-haves", and find the smallest house that includes them all! Thanks for commenting.

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  19. Storage always seems to be the question! We live in a small apartment and have no storage (as of right now) outside of our own unit. I think we just don't purchase things because we don't have a place to put them! That said, I much prefer my gym membership to owning lots of outdoor equipment. It's convenient that my hobbies take up very little space. ;) I loved reading this post! xo

    Daisy
    Simplicity Relished

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    1. Nice comment Daisy! There is a middle ground for storage. Right now, as I am getting rid of many things, I find that my house actually offers too much storage.

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  20. There are different seasons in life, each one has varying size requirements. We have 8 children, one bathroom, four bedrooms with every room in the house very well used. I look forward to the season when life will be simpler again but I would't want to be without any of those wonderful people in my family which make it what it is right now.

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    1. Well, with 8 children, I can only imagine! And I agree that I wouldn't be without my children either! :-)

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  21. The comparison of average house size in different countries is crazy! Our first house was 2,266 sqft on a half acre of land. It was WAY too big for us, so we downsized to our townhouse, which is 1,646 sqft on a 3,920 sqft lot—a much better fit. ;)

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