Save Money On Housing: Live Well In Less Space

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Speaking of internal frugality, I’d say one of the most basic ways to save on rent or mortgage payments is to… live in a smaller place. No, wait, really. Let’s think about it.

Even though it’s now easy to make fun of 10,000 square feet McMansions, they are only a side effect of an overall trend towards larger houses. According to this 2006 NPR article, the size of new houses has more than doubled since the 1950s. The average new home sold in 2007 was a whopping 2,629 square feet.

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I know we’re getting fatter and need a bit more space to move around, but not by that much! In fact, the average family size has actually been decreasing over time. Here are some stats I pulled from the U.S. Census:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

From 1970 to 2004, the average household shrunk by 27%, but the average square footage grew by 66%. Using median numbers gave similar results.

There are several theories as to why this is happening. For starters, we may simply want a higher standard of living. (Sharing bathrooms? That’s for people in 3rd-world countries!) Perhaps it’s from us continually one-upping our neighbors. Maybe builders are pushing bigger homes through marketing. Or it may be a result of the breaking up of the American family, and how we don’t like spending time together anymore.

Most importantly, we don’t need the extra space. If a family of four could live well in 1,500 square feet back in 1950, there is no real reason they can’t do so today. It’s just a choice like any other, and we have to examine whether it is really worth the price. In cities like New York, Tokyo, or Hong Kong where space is at a great premium, families have long adapted to much smaller living spaces.

Finally, the extra costs don’t stop with the bigger sticker price. There’s the higher property taxes and insurance rates. A bigger home costs more to heat, cool, maintain, and repair. More rooms means more furniture, more wall decorations, more room for clothes, and just more stuff in general. More appliances mean more electricity used. The list goes on and on.

In my opinion, many people don’t even notice that they are stretching to buy homes that just keep getting bigger and bigger. They just follow the crowd. It’s hard to be different. This unconscious choice may partially explain why many of us feel so much more stressed financially than our parents.

Update: After the housing bust, there has been a growing counter-culture celebrating living well in smaller places. There is even the extreme end of buying tiny houses and the small house movement. We may not need to all live in 300 sf houses, but it’s good to explore our options.

This post has been added to my Expense Reduction Guide: Housing.

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  1. One other cause to the larger houses is that some areas require a minimum square footage for new houses.

  2. The inflation of our houses and our lifestyle in general is one of the reasons families are no longer able to get by on one parent’s income alone anymore. In the 50’s and 60’s we all lived in smaller houses, and every family had one car. That was the time everyone looks back on as the heyday of American prosperity. I’m sure there’s a lot of unrealistic nostalgia involved in that attitude, but perhaps an inherent frugality is essential for real, sustainable prosperity.

  3. You left out the main reason people need more space now, cramming all the stuff the average family owns into 1400 square feet is pretty tough.

    As someone who lives in the frozen north with 3 kids, my 2300 sq.ft. split-level is well worth it (of course, its 50 years old, paid for, and not impressing any neighbors, so maybe we’re talking about 2 different things here…)

    • I think it’s more often the case people buy a home with no intentions of letting stuff take over their lives, and then fill their homes and garage with stuff. Who has not noticed garages are not places to park vehicles so much as places to store more stuff? The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has, or is considering inclusion of “hoarding” as a recognized mental health condition. There has been a well-spring of businesses profiting from helping people and parents organize, sell, donate and dispose of stuff.

  4. I’d add my vote for “the average family has more stuff” as a reason as well. When you have 1,500 sq. ft., and suddenly you fill it, you want to move to a bigger house – get an extra room or two. So in an easy credit/housing market, might as well go big, right? Move up to 2,500 sq. ft., and start to fill it with new “stuff”, and the cycle starts all over again…

  5. I really loved this article. I’ve recently become very interested in living in smaller living areas. I’ve even thought about moving aboard a sailboat as a live aboard!

  6. It really seems that everyone wants “must have” specialized spaces in new homes. However, there are a ton of old row homes in cities and old municipalities that have well over 2000 sq. ft. that were owned by just one middle class family in the 1950s.

    I’d actually like to see a comparison of homes from 1900 to 2010.

  7. One of the networks last week trotted out the typical academic liberal babbler. She said the explosion in credit card debt was due to “the war on the middle class” wherein “a family with two people working hard can’t maintain the lifestyle they did with one person working a generation ago.”

    I have to wonder where these people grew up. My father was a school teacher and my mother stayed home with us. My recollection was of being clothed largely in homemade and hand me down clothes. Of turning the heat completely off at night and living with one window AC unit in the house. Our house was smaller than the one I now live in and we had a larger family. We grew a lot of what we ate including eggs and chickens. Mom hung the clothes outside to dry. My parents shared one (usually old) car. We sometimes had a phone with a party line. My parents went to a restaurant maybe 2-3 times per year. The weekly groceries usually included only one treat, either a bag of chocolate chips or a quart bottle of sprite.

    I lived in an older 4000 SF house. I now regret that. What a waste of utilities. Worse it allowed us all to isolate ourselves from other family members whenever we felt like it. That often felt nice at the time, but now that my kids are gone I regret it. Three years ago we moved into a 2800 SF house with one child left at home. He will leave for college in the fall and the house is again too big.

    I’d like to downsize once more, but my wife loves the new house. It seems a shame to heat and cool so much room for two people. We can shut part of the house off and keep the thermostat in the slightly uncomfortable range, but it seems like a house half the size would be more economically and environmentally responsible.

  8. I think Strick has a good point. The US and world economy is driven by the need for never-ending growth and increasing consumer spending… i.e. this means that, per capita, generation n+1 would own more “stuff” than generation n. This “stuff” would include the house itself as well as the contents of the house. So, it would follow that if we are to have economic growth, we would also have to see a person’s house increase in size over time. After all, never-ending growth means there would be a point when everyone would truly live like billionares, with large houses and the stuff to fill it, and this would be “normal” (as ridiculous as this sounds, this is the implication).

    Since infinite growth is clearly impossible, I would propose that the reverse would be true as well: if house sizes do not increase (or decrease), then it is a symptom that economic growth has stopped or reversed.

  9. The average size of today’s garage is about 500 square feet — about half the size of the average 1950’s house.

  10. My Life ROI says

    I was just talking about this the other day with my parents and other family members.

    They mentioned this based on their own observation. It is good to see the data to backup their statements. I didn’t doubt them but it was an interesting thing to hear.

    I am pretty simple, I think I will buy a smaller house as everyone goes for their Mini McMansions :p

  11. We must not go thinking that the 1950s were a time of prosperity for everyone. Ever hear of the one valium a day for the stay at home wife? That line came out around the 50s because women were very unhappy with that situation. It wasn’t as ideal as everyone makes it out to be. Okay, strike that, it may have been ideal for the men – especially the white men.

  12. I think the increase in house size has a lot to do with our spending less time outdoors. People are happiest in open spaces, in general. Lacking the openness of outside means we need to make the insides of our homes more open. I think there’s been a huge increase in window surface area, too, though I have no stats to back that up.

  13. You ignored one main reason for larger space. : Office or computer room.
    Now everyone needs an extra room to spread computer paraphernalia.
    Nobody wants to share a bathroom or office for privacy,

  14. I Love this topic, even though it makes me feel a little dumb for buying a 4 bedroom house before the birth of our first and only child. However it is in the midwest and it is around 1900 sq ft.

    I saw an economist talking about this topic on PBS perhaps a year ago and indeed it is the home that is reponsible for the lions share of our increased consumption.

    My suggestion is that we need to increase our building codes so that we have much higher energy standards built into new homes. That would slow down the size increase because more money would go into windows, HVAC systems… oh wait. this advice was needed in 2003, not 2009. too late. : (

  15. Gretchen, there were surely many, many factors contributing to general unhappiness in the 1950s, and I suspect the size of one’s home was relatively low on the list.

    The most interesting part to me is calculating the square feet per person: we’ve gone from 446 in 1970 to 896 in 2004.

    Strick, your 2300 square feet for five people (I’m assuming, sorry) works out 460 per person, much closer to the 1970 average than today.

  16. the 1950’s are a unique section in our history that make many modern comparisons very disjointed. At that time we were having tons of children, and a single income was enough to fund a household. We had just evolved as the leading nation in the world and had higher wages because everyone elses economy was destroyed in ww2. We stood over the ashes as the only strong economy left in the world.

    The 70’s are a much better area to compare against, oil price hikes, reduction in birth rates, two earner households.

    in response to mark, most new building codes do have higher energy efficiency standards, i spend less on electricity now then i did when i lived in a 300 sq ft apartment.

  17. As a side note, it’s just more efficient and easier to manage less space.

    less space = less chores = more time

  18. lol so true.

    My parents and I went from single bedroom studio? -> 2 bedrooms apts -> 4 bedroom house.
    Of course part of it is b/c of “making up for lost time” and what not…

    But now it’s just my parents in the house heh. I will say that they are in a place relatively unaffected by the bubble (Midwest) but still funny

  19. I do think people feel more and more compelled to have the big house and associated trappings that come with it. I think it’s for a combination of many reasons – societal pressures, aggressive marketing to make you feel inadequate with what you have, desire for privacy, etc. It’s kind of sad because I think for a lot of people it leads to them feeling alienated from their neighbors and pressured to associate material wealth with happiness.

    I recently moved from a 3000+ sq ft house I was house-sitting for a friend to a small houseboat (~600 sq ft). Like Baker @ ManvsDebt, I’ve been considering the liveaboard life, but thought it’d be an easier transition to do house->houseboat->(eventually)boat. At first, I thought having such a smaller space would be a concern, but I’ve been finding it’s really great. It forces you to have things with purpose (do I really need it?) and be more creative about being organized. It’s almost nicer to not have my belongings as spread out – it’s easier for me to find things and keep the place clean when entropy has less volume to work with.

    All in all, the move has been good. I find the small space sufficient (but I’ve always been one to try and keep my possessions at a level where they’d fit in a car) and I’m meeting and interacting with my neighbors a lot more (as well as the ducks). Now I just have to figure out what to do with the bikes..

    PS – Jonathan, I’ve been following your blog for quite a while, but this is my first comment. Thanks for all the thought-provoking posts/saving tips!

  20. Ah, keeping up with the Jonses. It is gettign harder and harder, especially sicne the Jones just got forclosed on. Luckily, my wife grew up in the city with three sisters and her living in a 3BR rowhome so she is not hankering for a giant house. She knows that it comes with not only financial responsibility but cleaning as well.

  21. Our 3 1/2 bedroom ranch is 1,250 sqft. We couldn’t be happier. Low maintenance, little cleaning, more time.

  22. ThinkingFinance says

    I don’t think people had 50 inch bigscreens years ago. Generally people nowadays have more financial resources and have the desire for more space. Not to mention that people are moving further away from cities and demand that more resources be contained in their own home.

  23. My wife and I make over six figures combined income.

    Our house is about 1200sf with a mortage of only $750 per month, and it only costs about 150.00 per month electric/gas, and that’s with keeping it a nice toasty 73 degrees in the winter and cool 67 in the summer (we live in Georgia).

    I’m sure it’s no coincidence that we have no credit card debt (just pay cash for everything), and are able to max out a 401k and STILL save 20% cash every month.

    Meanwhile, my brother who has the same income, but bought a 4000sf 600,000$ behemoth can’t even buy a compact disc after he pays his bills every month.

    Just sayin’.

  24. with a little bit humor borrowed from some one else.
    ]thanks to PBen[

    If You Lived Here You’d Be Home(less) Now!

    “Hoovervilles”, tent cities of people who have lost their homes
    to foreclosure during this economic crisis, are being dubbed
    “Bushvilles” in honor of the man behind the modern version….
    Other names that have been suggested:

    – Shruburbs
    – Georgetowns
    – Bushburgs
    – Dubtowns
    – 43 Legacy Estates
    – Dubvilles
    – Pretzelvania
    – Bush Boomtowns
    – Dubyapolis
    – Mayberry, W.M.D.
    – Bush Gardens
    – Atlas Shrubs
    – Lucky Ducky Estates
    – Dispossession Vista
    – Defaulty Towers
    – Crapacre
    – Peasant Valley
    – Trickledowntowns
    – Zero Downs
    – Deregulation Station
    – Dow Jonestown
    – Market Falls
    – Goldman Shacks

    And those who have an extra large tent/shack in these areas
    will, naturally, be living in a Dubya-wide….

  25. lets also take into consideration lot sizes. many places rules were put on the books to require subdivision regs to kick in at 5 acres or less per lot. in rural/suburban areas, a lot of 5.01 ac lots were created to avoid these rules. this means more yard to care for as well – and of course you need a pool, shed, 3 car garage, out building, pond, and volleyball court.
    look at cuyahoga county, ohio – cleveland for those not familiar. from 1950-2000 the population grew from 1.3 million to 1.4 million – and the amount of land in “urban” uses more than doubled. thats twice the infrastructure (roads, sewers, snow plowing, mail delivery) for the same number of people – so higher tax rates for all. sprawl (increase in urban space without increase in population to match) is hurting us all – both as a society, and within our individual homes.

  26. The article addresses the square footage of a family of four. I, like an increasing number of americans live alone in a 1,309 sq foot cape. I would like to know what the average (or earth friendly sustainable) house size is recommended for us singles out there! I don’t want to live in an attached housing unit, such as a condo. Please someone let me know. Thanks.

  27. My wife already spent a lot of time cleaning up our 1500 ft house. So, I’m not gonna move to a bigger house unless I can afford a maid (or I gotta do the housework!)…

    BTW, the mortgage of my house is just around 10% of my household income. It’s virtually nothing! Wait… who can’t afford their mortgage?

  28. At the moment, we are living in 1900 sq/ft (not including the garage, which is filled with tools and man-stuff). It’s roomy, but not that big. I like it. It’s just about 400 sq/ft bigger than the house I grew up in — which was fine at the time, but actually too small for a family of six. We could have used another good bathroom (we had two, but only one was good enough to shower in).

    I guess that’s why as soon as I could add space to my house, I did. And do I dream of many beautiful bathrooms? Naturally, having to compete for a shower when I was young made me dream of my very own boudoir.

    The difference between now and 1950, is that we don’t have so many children anymore. These houses would have been perfect for our parents.

    • Susan Goble says

      I’m not sure what fancy word for bathroom you were going for, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean “boudoir,” which is defined by Webster as “a woman’s dressing room, bedroom, or private sitting room.”

  29. This article really got people talking! It seems the best route for choosing the size of a home would be a blend of several things. Choosing not to live above your means, finding a home that is as “green” as possible, the size of your family and your lifestyle.

    I like the way your article stimulated much conversation. Great job!

  30. I live in a 740 sq ft house that was built in the 20’s. It took living in such a small space to learn to appreciate it. Another way that a small house helps you to be frugal – no space for stuff. I don’t buy nearly as much junk or anything that will take up precious space. Here is a post I wrote on the same topic:

    KISS – Keep It Simple, Small

  31. What I find interesting is people who include the square footage of their home when talking about it. I always ask “Why are you telling me the square footage of your home?” Most people chuckle and say they don’t know.

  32. @steve: because everyone else is telling me the square footage of theirs! btw, mine’s 900 sq ft! teeny tiny 🙂

  33. I think it also depends on layout. We have 2200 sq. ft., but virtually no hallways.

    If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have purchased such a large, old home. Big mistake. However, at least two of the rooms were furnished for less than $800 total. That includes a living room set and a dining room set.

    Hand-me-downs and craigslist to fill our massive caves is the way to go!

  34. auntie_green says

    another advantage of living in a small space. The kitchen will be small too, so you won’t have to host for the holidays! Not enough room for everyone!

    But I do wish that lots on new construction were bigger. If I could find a brand new, 2400 sq ft house on a 15,000 sq ft lot (new construction), I would buy it. I have zero interest in a 4000 sq ft house on a 4500 sq ft lot across the street from a “pocket park”

  35. I think the desire for additional room for a home office could be part of it, I definitely wanted that myself.

    Giving kids their own room earlier is a good point too. Maybe my friends are just richer now, but their kids all have their own rooms from birth and their own TV by age 4.

  36. my wife and i are downgrading our house after a couple of years of debate on it. we moved to texas from california in 2000 and plowed the equity from our house in cali to a bigger texas-sezed home. i was fixated on having a house over 3000 sq ft. so we doubled our house size from 1650 to 3400 and cut our mortgage in half. unfortunately, the house has been a noose around our neck since we moved in…too much to cool , too much to heat, teh yard is too big to take care of in an hour or two, etc…fast forward 9 years and we are selling the house, going to a green garden house that is 1800 sq ft. no game room, yard is non-existent and my 2 boys will have smaller rooms but more realistic rooms. we can’t wait. smaller IS better

  37. I just bought a smaller home and I am so happy with it. I always bought oversized houses and too much cleaning. Now I can enjoythe yard and go slow with the cleaning and enjoying my smaller space
    and getting rid of stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. lynn ziglar says

    At least 6 years ago I was having dinner with parents who live in a large home in a well to do subdivision. They were remarking that their child and her friends talk about the square footage of this friend’s home etc. They were shocked by it. So were the rest of us. Now everyone knows the square footage of their home–not just the kids.

  39. We like a “big home” but we are homebodies. I often defend our decision. Since we are in Cali, “big” is 2600 sf. This is average in many areas of the country, but we own a larger home than most everyone we know out here. & we LOVE it.

    My issue with the frugal crowd is they seem to think going big, then everything must cost TWICE as much. With the economies of scale, this simply isn’t the case. Home repairs, etc. usually cost 10% more – not 100% more. & we bought a new home from a builder. The 1500 sf house could have been had for about $230k. $153 per sf. The extra 1000 sf cost only $30k. That’s $30 per square feet for the extra square footage.

    Of course, since we moved somewhere cheaper I admit our experience is truly unique. We used to own a 1300 square foot condo. The utilities (old building; not near as energy efficient as new green construction), the property taxes and the insurance are all about the same here, if not less. For the condo the association fees were $250 when we owned, and are like $400, MONTHLY, today. We don’t spend near that much to maintain our current house.

    We want home offices and music practice spaces. We use the dining room as a dining room, for now, but will turn it into a game room eventually. No need to leave the house really.

    Another nice perk, is lots are so small here, we have MUCH more land than our neighbors with one-story homes. I’ll take my big house any day!!!

    I do like the article though – it is interesting. We both grew up in homes considerably smaller. If it was really that much more expensive, in our case, we wouldn’t have gone so big, for sure. We could certainly do just fine on much less. (I also just remembered it’s nice that in an emergency we could always downsize. Today our house would fetch a $100k premium over our next door neighbor’s 1500-square footer. We didn’t pay that much more, but that’s the spread today. We could buy something smaller and pay off the mortgage probably, if our situation changed).

  40. I had to add, our yard being twice is big is merely 0.13 acres all told. LOL. But I think in California lot sizes have NOT increased while houses have. In fact, lot sizes have decreased over the years. IT’s nice having a little extra room to move in our yard. Doesn’t mean much yard work at all.

  41. We moved from a 2250 sq. ft. home to a 1650 one. It is much easier to keep clean and maintain…we have an open floor plan now, which I love. Also, in my old house, the laundry room (which was huge) was downstairs and all the bedrooms were upstairs; in this house the laundry room (a room off the garage just large enough to hold the w/d) is right next to the master…so convenient…

  42. When we moved, we thought our new house was big at 2,020 sq. ft.
    I have since started a home business and the only space to have
    a home office is in my bedroom walk in closet. I don’t mind working
    from home in a “closet”. It is much better than driving to and from
    work with the gas prices. I only have a few steps to take to my “office”.


  43. This is a very valuable thread. Madison Avenue and corporates did a great job carrying out the military-industrial complex outline for planned and perceived obsolescence (build stuff to break and make people feel inferior unless they have the latest stuff). One other thing they did was to heavily promote the nuclear family. This is a fascinating and ahistoric shift away from tribes, clans and villages, and it is a fundamental drivef of modern ennui: the Valium-downing mom and the Man in the Gray Flannel suit father.

    My father, when he was a kid, actually shared a room for a time with his grandfather and thought it was great. Imagine that now?! Kids have their own rooms! The idea of “my own room” has been lionized in film, but it is a sad concept. We’ve moved towards grandparents living in tax havens such as Florida and communicating to their grandchildren via Skype. This is not progress!

    In previous centuries, couples could have children at a younger age (when it is healthier to do so) because child car was a built-in function of an extended family. An extended family means many people can share one unit of everything (1 toaster and over and washing machine, etc., instead of 3 or more). People took care of each others’ children. In short, there were economies of scale and synergies. For most modern Americans, these are gone.

    The 1950s WERE an unusual time…they made an uneconomic scendario like feasible. It is not. One great benefit of the depression we are only now beginning to see and feel is that we will have to return to a healthier, more ancient way of life. We won’t be back on the farm eating the fruits (literally) of our own labor, but we will get closer: a reversion to a (nicer) mean.

  44. Jennifer @ Money Saver 101 says

    We lived in a two bedroom mobile home for 3 years. We’re a family of four, and it was a little cramped and difficult, because we had no where to put certain things (we probably could’ve gotten rid of more stuff), but it was worth it. We paid off our loan in just over a year and just put that extra money in the bank.

  45. Chris Barry says

    From Bigger to Bigger to Smaller,

    I have been a home builder in the Midwest for over 20 years and your data proves true. With every community that we built over the years we have tried to figure out how to give people more footage for a certain price point. We would see other successful builders cutting amenities while pushing up square footage! People seemed to be buying homes by the cost per square foot. More space for less money was apparently desirable.

    My personal experience may be of interest to some:

    In the mid 1980’s I built my first home which was around 2,200 square feet. I finished the basement (lower levels as we call them) to add about another 500 square feet.

    In the late 1990’s I got married and decided that we need a larger home for a one child family. We both agreed that having a new home would be a nice start for a marriage. We built a home with the lower level finished for a total of 5,200 square feet.

    A couple years later we decided an in ground swimming pool would be nice and refinanced the house to pull some cash out to pay for that. The monthly obligations were doable but a bit stressful.

    After a few years of marriage we became one of the statistics that didn’t make it. We sold the house and I found a house that has been built in the 1950’s. It is 1,050 square feet which seemed very small to me compared to what I was used to. I gutted the entire house and made it surprisingly nice but didn’t want to go over board because I intended to tear the house down eventually and build another one on the same lot.

    I did subsequently finish the basement to add about 600 square feet but still have a total of less then 1,700 square feet.

    The point that I’m getting to is that this home, where I currently reside, is my most favorite home of the three I have had! It’s so efficient not only in energy conservation but also in ease of use. Everything is right there that you need. I lived single for a few years following my divorce in the 5,200 square foot house and just love my old 1,700 square foot home compartively!

    Times have been financially difficult for us home builders the past couple of years and I’m so thankful that I don’t have those huge monthly obligation that I used to. As a matter of fact, money has been so tight that I have subscribed to a whole different way of thinking regarding the use of money.

    No matter what amount of money you have in the bank (unless you are a millionaire) it is very finite. It has made me realize that you have to be wise in how you spend your money and make sure that you save enough to get you by.

    It has encouraged me to develop a website aimed specifically at money matters which you can visit at

    I wish the best to all : )

  46. Gretchen,

    Why are you a rascist?

  47. The trend for housing is going toward less square footage, with more open floor plans and increased amenities. The aging baby boomer population will be looking for this type of home.

  48. I live in a 60 year old 900 sq ft single story house with a small detached garage. A recent estimate for a new roof for house and garage came to over $7500. How do people afford new roofs on houses 2400 sq ft and up? Or it it cheaper to tear these new crappy houses down and build new ones rather than replace a roof?

  49. I wonder if the price per square foot (perhaps at the expense of quality/craftsmanship) has come down on a real, financed basis (including a fall in interest rates continually since the early 80s). That could explain some of this increase in size of the average house. As a good becomes cheaper people will consume more of it.

  50. Having just built 18 months ago, our experience was that finding a smaller house isn’t necessarily cheaper or easy, at least in the Twin Cities.

    We looked at about 90 houses. Part of our plan in the move was to downsize, from 2800 sq. ft. to … dunno, something smaller. But we also needed a good school district, proximity to work, etc., the things we want in a home which prompted the move in the first place.

    Of the existing homes we looked at, a few were smaller than 2800 sq. ft., a few around the same size and most bigger. The few we saw that were smaller were either ’60s and earlier and in need of work (structurally) or ’60s and earlier and updated, but prices on par with larger, better-equipped ’90s and ’00s houses.

    So, we looked into building. And built smaller (2200 sq. ft.), but not as small as I would have liked because of development minimum requirements for square footage. Still, we paid on par with some 2800-3000 sq. ft. plans for our area and still much more than existing homes of same size/amenities. But we really like the neighborhood, the schools, the fewer home chores and having less stuff.

    So, I applaud the idea, but the availability of existing smaller homes for us was limited and builders/developers push toward larger homes. As someone pointed out earlier, we are an economy based on consumerism.

    “Capitalism tries for a delicate balance: It attempts to work things out so that everyone gets just enough stuff to keep them from getting violent and trying to take other people’s stuff.”

    – George Carlin

  51. Layout and good use of available square footage is key. We live in a 4BR 2100 sqft home. Although I’m generally pretty happy with the house, I wish we have a larger kitchen/dining and family room (great room). We have a formal dining room that is hardly use. I’d love to roll that into one great room. Remodeling is not an option though.

  52. I’m surprised that actually the NE has the biggest average houses. I would’ve guessed that the more temperate latitudes would’ve encouraged larger house sizes (plus you always hear about how big houses and plots of land are much cheaper in the south).

    I know our house is too big for just the two of us. But we did buy it in mind with the possibility of having kids. Her parents had done the ‘small starter house’ idea, but ended up unable to move out once they did have kids. So we’re looking at the extra size as a insurance that this is a place we’d be comfortable staying in after we’ve started our family. Plus the loan is affordable even on one salary, so it wasn’t a stretch to insure against that possibility. Although at 1500sq ft I really can’t see how we’d ever really need much bigger even with an expected family of 4.

  53. david smith says

    I live in Japan where the average size of a home in just 1,021.0 sq ft – which is small, but land availability is limited. If I want to buy something, I have to consider first what can be throw away to make space for the new thing – which is a good way to save money – it reduces the impulse buys – and maybe this is also why the consumer goods economy in Japan has not been good for the last 2 decades.

  54. I would agree that market forces can make it harder to buy a smaller house if you wanted to; it would probably be easier to buy a condo than buy a smaller house than ours, but we like the features of a single-family house on a lot vs. basically apartment living. Still, definitely a lot of wasted space in our home, good thing we live in a temperate climate so I don’t have to heat it all winter.

  55. My wife and I moved from one apartment to a town house. We pay roughly $1000 less than we did because our new apartment is farther away from the city. It’s about the same size though.

    We rent. Our neighbors apartment, went up for sale. It’s virtually identical to ours. The price is affordable so I suggested we look into it. My wife said that the apartment we’re in is fine for now, but when she buys, she wants something bigger.

  56. Me, my wife and two kids have a house that is 3000 sq ft above grade, with another 600 finished sq ft below grade. 4 beds, 4 baths, 3 car garage. I think the dining room and the living room/office are wasted space (my wife disagrees), but we use the rest all the time. Our old house was 2000 sq ft with 600 finished in the basement. It lacked the guest room (which I like having) and the office. It also lacked an eat-in kitchen. But it had a nice living/dining room that we actually used since we didn’t have an eat-in-kitchen.

    I like both houses just fine. I do like having a spare room for a guest room, and would happily use it as my office on the 4-5 times a year I work at home. Based on family life so far I guess my ideal house size splits the difference.

    My wife grew up as part of a family of 8 in a 2k sq ft house. She has no desire to go back to that kind of density. When the kids move out I will look to drop down to smaller place, more for ease of maintenance than due to cost.

  57. If you are single, the size of your house matters just like everything else- the age and type of car you drive, what you do for a living, etc. Seriously, some women I know think I am unsuccessful because I don’t own a bigger house in a pricier part of town.

    The other comment I have goes to builders. Before I bought this house, I visited a new home construction area just up the road. Their smallest model available was 200 ft2 smaller than the house I bought, cost $25000 more, and offered both amenities and a layout I hated. As others have indicated, it was more economical to buy a bigger house that offered what I wanted than a smaller one that would annoy me.

    I bought this house hoping that one day I would be able to grow into it. I do expect housing in Vegas to eventually recover, and this allowed me to get a house for a growing family at the price of a starter home before my wage has to keep pace with exorbitant prices. I know this is my story and my experience, but I thought my perspective might be illuminating.

  58. I think the “Big House” buying trend is the common keeping up with the Joneses mentality that can be a serious problem for someone who is not financially secure yet. Forget what other people think, and find something you can afford.

    When you get rid of debt and have plenty saved up, THEN start looking at your upgrade options.

  59. Tips4savingmoney says

    I do not mind living in a small house. Living in a small house can be difficult at time but one your organise your house you will be surpised how much space you have in that small house.

  60. It’s crazy to think that less people need more space now.

  61. It’s a good thing I read this article. I was planning to purchase a house next year. Thanks to this article I am carefully considering on purchasing a smaller home for my family. I didn’t realize it costs that much to have extra those extra spaces.

  62. I think that we need more space is because in human nature there is always something to compete with. You have to have better car than your neighbor, you have to have a bigger house than your neighbor. So I think this is the main driving force.

  63. Interesting post. We purchased a 2,100 sq ft home last year and currently there are just two of us. I will agree, it is a lot of space. But the difficult thing was, it was also hard to find a good compromise. In our area you either buy a 900 sq ft home or a 2,000+ sq ft home. There seriously are very few in between, we looked. While 2,100 is more than enough, we knew 900 sq ft or less would not have worked once we have our first child. Some people may be able to live in tiny or small homes, but it wouldn’t have made sense on a practical level or for resale purposes either.

  64. Harry King says

    Buyers should concentrate on whether buying is affordable and the right decision in the long-term, rather than panic over house prices. Few people accurately predicted the end of the house-price boom in 2007 and no-one really knows what is going to happen to house prices over the next few years. It’s the biggest purchase of your life, and small mistakes can cost large.

  65. I recently moved from a 1500 sq ft townhome in the suburbs of the Twin Cities (that I lived in by myself) to a 625 sq ft single-family home in Montana where I live with my bf, 2 cats, and 1 dog. I was panicking at first thinking how small it was, but the yard is large and the location is ideal with mountains surrounding us and yet we’re only a 5 minute drive from “downtown.” We’re outside mostly anyway. It’s amazing how quick you get used to not having a bunch of stuff.

  66. I totally refuse to spend anymore than we need to, convincing my partner is not always so easy. My way of thinking is get it paid off as quickly as possible, not spend my life paying back an extortionate mortgage back for the 35 years of my life!

  67. As I’ve aged and got wealthier, I too have moved to ever increasing sizes of apartment, now living in 1170 square feet which is ample, if a bit big for myself. I think the ideal size for one person is 800-1000 square feet, or less if you can take less space. Currently I’m looking at throwing out things I don’t need in order to de-clutter, but there are some items of furniture that, though they are not absolutely essential, I struggle to part with. That said, I have tons of books, VHS and DVDs that I never as much as glance at! Oh the struggles of the modern consumer!

  68. I downsized from 1700 square feet to 900 after all my children moved out to follow their life adventures. Moving from an old farmhouse to a beautiful manufactured home community the savings are nothing short of amazing and the home was easily purchased with cash. I might not stay here forever, but for the time being it works perfectly and I have all the advantages of energy efficiency without paying an arm and a leg for renovations.

  69. Looks like I am certainly a bit late to the conversation, but I have not read a post quite like this before and it caught my attention. Reading the comments is great for seeing what everyone feels is an appropriate sized home or apartment. I try to keep the size of my home right where it needs to be to fit comfortably, because if I try to get extra space, that just requires extra costs on furnishing!

  70. Yes, we do use more and more space, but we also need it for all the stuff we buy or at least that most people buy. I believe that emptiness is more important than fullness and that we have too much and that many people would be more happy if they had less stuff. When you have too much of everything it is hard to find focus and appreciate what you really like.
    I prefer small houses with very little stuff!

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