Growin' Home: How Much House Do You Really Need?
Did you know that according to U.S. Census data, the size of the average home in this country has nearly doubled since the 1950s? What's more, according a report released in June, 2012 by the Census Bureau, the size of our homes has jumped 62.6% just since 1973 — topping out at 2,480 square feet in 2011. Evidently, of all the lessons the recent housing boom and bust taught us, restraint wasn't one of them.
And how are we using all that added square footage? The answer might surprise you. Even though the average family size is dwindling, we're designing and building our homes to include great rooms, four-car garages, man caves, walk-in closets, double master bedrooms, and guest suites. It seems the basic home of today would have been considered a mansion by the standards of any previous generation. (See also: Finding a Starter Home That's Also a Forever Home)
But, in spite of what the Joneses may be building, how much space do we really need? How can we build or buy with a sense of what's sufficient or even moderate in this new Gilded Age of home design? If you're in the market for a new home, here are a few considerations that might help you determine how much space you really need.
Review Your Lifestyle
Deciding how much space you really need begins with understanding your lifestyle. Are you active or a homebody? Do you entertain often and throw large holiday parties, or do you tend to go out? What about guests — do you have a large extended family that visits throughout the year, or do you do most of the traveling? Our spaces should be a reflection of who we are rather than what others expect us to be.
Understand Your Priorities
Large homes typically mean large maintenance commitments. Yard work, snow removal, window cleaning, painting, and housekeeping can all add up quickly.
If your time or your money is in short supply, consider how a large home might stress other areas of your life or tax your resources. Likewise, consider how much you enjoy maintenance tasks. Do you delight in all the responsibilities that come with owning a large home, or would you rather be free to pursue other activities?
Estimate Future Needs
Our lives are constantly evolving, and what works for us today may not work tomorrow. Do you plan on having a large family? Will you likely be responsible for the care of an aging parent or in-law at some point? Will your income in retirement be reduced to such a degree that the taxes and utilities on a large home might make it unaffordable? Understand how the changes in your life could affect your space needs down the road.
Benefits of Smaller Homes
Large homes can be dramatic and beautiful, but smaller homes aren't without their charms (and benefits). Whether you're building or buying small, here are some pluses to consider.
It's tough to accumulate too much when space is at premium. Smaller spaces help control clutter by encouraging us to differentiate between wants and needs and filter the objects we surround ourselves with. If you have minimalist leanings, consider minimizing your square footage first — the rest will follow.
They Consume Less Energy
A smaller physical footprint usually equals a smaller utility bill. Smaller spaces with more modest room dimensions mean there's less to heat and cool.
They're Less Expensive to Build and Buy
The cost of building a new structure is usually driven by a combination of materials and labor. Smaller homes that are well-designed with an eye toward simplicity tend to be less expensive to build. Likewise, since the resale price of an existing home is dictated, at least in part, by square footage, smaller homes tend to be less expensive. Whether building or buying, reining in the square footage can help rein in your budget.
They Encourage Activity and Interaction
While it's less obvious than the other benefits we've covered, smaller homes can promote activity and interaction between family members. In large homes, it's easy to get lost in our own separate corners and, whether we intend to or not, become a bit isolated throughout the day. Smaller homes encourage socializing and communication through sheer proximity.
Of course, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to space needs. Each family is different, and everyone's priorities and lifestyles are unique. But as we build the next generation of houses and consider buying and remodeling older homes, maybe it's OK to err on the conservative side of size. Maybe "less is more" overstates the case, but less may truly be more rewarding.
How much house is the right amount of house for you?