Bigger isn't necessarily better

elisabeths small house

Small house. Big dog.

By Elisabeth Draper

In 2008 my husband and I bought our first home: a two-bedroom, one-bath, 1929 Dutch colonial in Albany. In an age of bigger is better, we went the opposite route; our house is a mere 900 square feet.

As first time homeowners we were somewhat intimidated by the responsibility and demands of home ownership, but a small house we could handle. Many of our friends also bought homes around the same time, but those places are considerably larger. Their homes are similar in size to many of the suburban homes highlighted during AOA's Real Estate Week. To us, our friends had found their "forever homes." Most have at least four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, master suites, two car garages... they're in it for the long haul. When we bought our house we knew it was a starter home.

But now that we've added a 90-pound dog and a new baby to the mix, we've realized something: there are benefits to small house living.

Less is less -- to clean

Our house is best described as cute and quaint. At a mere 16-feet wide and 36-feet deep, the most obvious benefit to living with limited space is less time spent cleaning. If left with an hour and half of uninterrupted time (I say uninterrupted due to the demands of life with a four month old), I can have the house vacuumed, dusted, bathroom and kitchen cleaned, and bedrooms tidied up. With less time and energy spent cleaning, we have more time as a family.

The need to edit

Another benefit of small house living is that it constantly forces you to edit your belongings. While our house can certainly get cluttered, there is simply less space for clutter to collect and it forces us to stay on top of it. We spend at least one Saturday every few months taking stock of our belongings and getting rid of what we don't use. If we haven't used it and there's not a plan to use it, we give it away or sell it on Craigslist.

The size of our house also comes into play a lot when choosing baby gear. While our daughter really isn't at a stage where she plays with toys, the amount of stuff that is marketed towards new parents is pretty mind boggling and most everything is huge. When we set up the registry for our baby shower we made sure that everything was small, or could fold down and be easily stored.

Savings

There are also real financial benefits to living in a small house. We have a smaller mortgage, so we can still afford to take vacations, and even with a reduced income during my maternity leave, we don't feel like our standard of living has drastically changed. We also save on heating and cooling because of the small space.

Our 83-year-old house also has loads of character -- something that can't be said for many homes built today.

Challenges

Of course, a small house is not without challenges, in part because the size is out of step with modern trends. For example: because rooms and doorways are smaller -- and furniture today is mostly oversized -- it took us months to find a small sofa that would fit the scale of our living room. The challenge of this decision was compounded by the fact that our living room is truly our only living area as we don't have a family room, a sunroom, a bonus room, etc. Finding furniture for our house is always an adventure in measuring, availability, and cost.

And sometimes you just have to compromise. When we were preparing the nursery we needed to find a new spot for our desktop computer. We decided that the only logical place to move it to was... our dining room. Not having the space for a traditional desk in our dining room, I scoured the internet for a secretary desk that would fit in the small space.

We're also very cognizant of not over improving our home when we think about what project to take on next. This proves difficult since I want nothing more than an upgraded kitchen. But we know that there's a danger in over-improving a house, especially in this real estate market.

The future

We know our years in our small home are limited. At some point we'd like to have another baby (and adopt a friend for our dog) and we just don't know how we'd be able to have two kids in a tiny bedroom. But, for now, our small house works for us and we plan on staying here for as long as we can.

Elisabeth and her husband's dog is named Ruby. She's a Bernese Mountain Dog. She has a lot of fur. So they spend a lot of time vacuuming their small house.

More Elisabeth on the Soapbox:
+ Talking trash in Albany
+ Albany High School: An alum's perspective

Comments

Another great piece, Elisabeth. Well done!

Good things do come in small packages!

I know that my wife would like nothing better than a house where I couldn't run away/get lost in another room... :) I think that there is a lot of benefit to this smaller size home. We would need to do some SERIOUS "editing" to get all of our stuff to fit a smaller house though... Nice though! Variety is the spice of life. Not all houses have to be cookie cutter mcmansions. =D

Great insight. I wish I'd learned this lesson at a younger age. When you do trade up, bring those same sensibilities with you.

14 years ago, my husband and I found a small, fairly inexpensive house, much cheaper than we were approved for. It was 1526 square feet and needed some work, but we paid off the mortgage early, did some work to make it our own and now, as empty nesters, we actually want something smaller. I'd much rather have this house, money in the bank and opportunity to travel than a big 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom starter castle.

Great article! I also live in a small place - 766sq ft, although it's a condo and not a house. All of the positive (and negative) things you mentioned about owning a small home I've found to be completely true.

The part about 'over-improving' your home may sound funny to someone with a larger home... but it is something I've had to think about too. As you said, part of the draw to a smaller living space is the smaller price tag... and if you over-upgrade, it's possible that the higher-valued property will be a lot harder to sell. I was in the same position as you with your kitchen, and recently decided to redo mine anyway - but try to do as much as I could myself, to keep costs down. I figured I don't intend on moving for a number of years, so I should enjoy my kitchen!

Great story. I second the "need to edit". My wife and I built our home without a basement, garage and very few closets. This means that we only buy/keep the stuff we really want and need.

Great piece! My fiance and I currently live in a 1-bedroom apartment in Menands. Initially, I lived here on my own when I moved to the area to start a new job, and it was spacious here. But when he moved in a year later with all of our stuff (from the old apartment), it's now...cozy. :) However, it forced us to edit our stuff, too, and we found that we could easily cut down on the clutter. We've sold a lot of stuff at Community Garage Sales and we are avid donators. It's a freeing feeling. We'll definitely be in the market to buy soon, but I hope, as Joseph Fusco mentioned above, that we take our sensibilities with us and live lightly.

It's still cozy here, by the way, and my fiance's mother complained that it was too small, but she was visiting with 3 other people plus the two of us at the time. Hey, I like smaller places, regardless of what my future mother-in-law thinks. ;)

Small is great, but I'd sell my (fill in the blank) for a half-bath. Seriously, just a toilet in a closet would greatly improve the quality of my life. Especially in these last few weeks of gestation.

Elizabeth - I know this house. I think it is adorable. I often wondered if the 'owners' like it or not! This is a great piece on something so many people are forgetting these days. One thing though, you can never go wrong upgrading a kitchen (at least in my opinion). Thanks.

I know the dangers of having too much space. While my house isn't huge, it's big enough that we have a spare room that collects the clutter. We're in the middle of remodeling and this post is an inspiring reminder of the need to edit. So many things have remained in boxes since moving in. If I didn't need these things before, I probably won't need them in the future. Time to let them go.

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