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 ft
UK: 818 ft
Canada: 1948 ft
US: 2164 ft
Australia: 2303 ft
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.
WEEK 7 IN REVIEW
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.
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.)
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.
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...