Downsizing our home

Our house is going to go on the market at the beginning of September and that is the primary reason we recently had a yard sale. The size and upkeep of our 2800 square foot Victorian home is just too much for us. We’re ready to decrease our living space and live a simpler life in a smaller home.

In a country where the average home size has increased from 1400 square foot in 1970 to a whopping 2330 square feet in 2004, it is a rarity for people to downsize. Everyone seems to want something bigger and better. While we definitely would like to find something better, we do not want anything bigger. The upkeep in our current home is too much and the energy costs are steep. Hopefully, with a smaller home, we will spend less on energy and less time cleaning.

I have really enjoyed living in our current home. It has tons of character and a lot of original features that are hard to find in houses these days, but the sheer size of the house proved to be too much for us.

Driving by some of the newer developments, I try to comprehend the need for some of the huge McMansions that pop up and I can’t figure out why people need so much space. It is their choice and they obviously prefer to live in a spacious house, but it just isn’t for my wife and me.

36 Comments for “Downsizing our home”

  1. posted by Chacko on

    If you haven’t read them I highly recommend Sarah Susanka’s books on ‘The Not So Big House’. They’re an interesting read on the merits of trading quantity for quality in home design. The books are targeted to people building new homes, but they do a good job of articulating the concepts and features you’re likely seeking in your next home.

  2. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    To add to Chacko’s suggestion, the Susanka book is one that I would definitely get in a printed version and not as an audio book. I’ve found that her books lose a lot from printed to audio form. The pictures are nice to have in this case.

  3. posted by Anonymous on

    Amen. Even if my husband and I could have afforded a McMansion, I can’t imagine how you keep up with the space. It has always seemed to me that you would need a lot kids to make that much space necessary!

  4. posted by Bobbi on

    My husband and I are about to buy our first home and we are definitely understanding your point-of-view. We want to have enough space to not only accommodate us but our future family without having to leave in a mansion. I tend to prefer the houses from 1970-1980 which are the smaller 1440 sq ft. (ironically the one I love it exactly that size) and shy away from the new developments that are popping up every where.

  5. posted by Magnan on

    Even with lots of kids that much space is NOT necessary.

  6. posted by Rhea on

    The Small House movement is growing in popularity. People are actually living in tiny places and are happy!

  7. posted by Kirsten on

    Amen!

  8. posted by Matt M on

    Dude, a “2800 square foot Victorian” is a Mansion.

  9. posted by Meesha on

    Kudos to you! My partner and I recently downsized from a (by today’s standards) modestly sized house to a slightly smaller apartment. We jettisoned enough stuff to fill a single-car garage, and now we have less stuff to take care of, plus a smaller space to clean. Which all adds to more time spent doing things we enjoy.

    If I may make a recommendation, Cottage Living magazine is a great shelter mag for small spaces of all kinds (not just fussy Laura Ashley-style cottage), and it’s definitely inspired me to think small for our next house.

  10. posted by Rachel B. on

    I would not mind having something a little bigger. I am not greedy. I just would like to have something above 1000 sq ft. The current house we own and our first house were between 835 and 865. We have two children, otherwise I would be fine with this amount. My husband and I both agree, though, that 1600 would be our tip top and that around 1200 should do just fine for the four of us.
    I don’t really like the status behind owning anything larger. It just isn’t us.

  11. posted by Magnan on

    We have 4 kids (and one on the way) and were going to buy a nice 1000 square foot house. We thought it was huge.

  12. posted by Minnie on

    I don’t know if this is true everywhere; but here is the trend in the suburbs of the Minneapolis:
    They knock down all trees. They build winding, crazy streets (is this to make sure people don’t speed?) They build HUGE houses, on teeny tiny lots! I don’t see how there is any privacy, the neighboors are so close! In fact, being that the houses are so big; I bet owners are technically sleeping closer to their neighbors than their children! (who are off in the east wing or whatever). I don’t understand the appeal. You’d have to have blinds up for privacy, all the time, and there is no big yard to play in, and no trees!
    A smart person would go for an older home on a larger lot with trees! And privacy!

  13. posted by Tony on

    Nice post. It’s great to finally read a blog post about downsizing your house without harping for paragraph after paragraph on why you HATE McMansions (and the people that buy/build them).

    BTW, I love my 850 square foot house. The fact that it has a basement is an excellent bonus. Just the right amount of space.

    Minnie: Putting turns in a subdivision street will slow people down. Harder to run a turn than it is to run a stop sign.

  14. posted by Magnan on

    But the banks don’t think an older home on a larger lot will hold its value in this market so they are not making any loans on them.

  15. posted by jenk on

    I think a lot depends on how you USE the space.

    Our house has a “living room” and a “family room”. I always thought that would mean wasted space. In our case, the living room has our books & is my get-away-from-the-TV space (a DOOR would make this better, just need to do it… ). The family room is setup for TV/videos and DH’s computer area. The dining room table is used for bill-paying and eating, and we have portable file boxes in one corner.

    What isn’t really being used right now is one bedroom setup as a home office. I occasionally use it when a) I’m working from home and b) I need to get away from others to focus – when I’m the only one home I just use the dining room or library. We are considering making that room into a workout room…

  16. posted by Kristin on

    This may sound weird but we’re purging and downsizing BUT just bought a 3000 square foot house, which is huge compared to the 2000 square foot one we are currently renting. However, we are moving with only half the stuff we currently have .. Goodwill is going to love us in the next few weeks while we purge and pack the bare essentials.

    My husband and I are both tired of ‘stuff’. We want space and open areas. The house we purchased is well made and has all the upgrades so we will actually be paying lower utility bills. We want rich colors on the walls, only the necessary (and functional) furniture, wireless EVERYTHING, and space. The fact that it’s on over an acre and is a ranch appealed too. That and the giant front porch where I’ll be living. :) It’s not in a subdivision, either, which was a requirement. I hate homeowners’ associations.

    So I agree it’s how you ‘use’ the space, like Jenk said.

    Oh and the house we bought was built in the 1940’s and we had no problem getting a loan.

  17. posted by Christie on

    My husband and I lived in an older home that was very large, 4000 square feet including the basement. We loved the old charm but wanted something much smaller seeing as we aren’t having children.

    Now we live in a modest just over 1200 square feet home with six acres of land if we ever needed to expand. We could honestly live in a smaller place, but we moved to this house to be closer to my sister-in-law who lives just up the mountain. When we were looking to build we wanted something smaller than this but it worked out better in the end. We have room to breathe, but not too much room to store clutter or to clean. I love it.

    It amazes me the people who buy these HUGE new homes and flat out can’t afford them. Banks were willing to loan us way more than we should/could afford for our income. People love to keep up with “THE JONESES” and that is what makes the large home subdivision so popular.

  18. posted by Mira on

    I applaud your decision to downsize. My husband and I are wrestling with that decision ourselves right now…as the kids go off to college we need less space. Do we wait until they are all graduated or just cram in when they are home? Good luck in your move.

  19. posted by StarXLR8 on

    Good for you – I’ve been encouraging my parents to do the same! Blogs like Unclutterer and Zen Habits, shows on TLC and HGTV, and magazines like Real Simple and Cottage Living are slowing helping people simplify and change their lives. Thank you for what you do and living what your write! Kudos!

  20. posted by Tara on

    I completely agree with you…I’ve always thought I wanted a big house with several bathrooms that are fairly large. Now I live in a house on an Army post that is about 40-50 years old that has 1 small bathroom and I love it. It’s so easy to keep clean!

  21. posted by Andamom on

    Come take a trip to visit us in NYC — You’ll find that a family of three can live in a 300 square foot apartment. That family isn’t mine — but I read about them in Time Out NY Kids… Our family of 4 lives in 907 square feet. One of the reasons I spend an inordinate amount of time on unclutterer is because I am constantly trying to whittle down our possessions to make our quarters feel larger.

  22. posted by Louise on

    We downsized from a 1200 sq ft condo to a 300 sq ft RV exactly three years ago, and I can’t imagine needing more space that this. I love it. If we ever move back into a bricks and mortar home, it will probably be a studio or possibly 1 bedroom condo/apartment.

    The freedom from “stuff” must be experienced to be appreciated.

  23. posted by Aimee on

    I admire the “not so big house” series because although it’s not always big, they are very custom and made for the people who live in them. I think this is the key to being happy in a house, no matter the size. The house has to serve the needs of the people who live in it, and for some that may mean a bigger house, and for others, a smaller home.

  24. posted by Charles on

    @Minnie

    No, thats pretty much the case everywhere. I live in Oregon, and I was just saying to my wife our next house will have to be an older home, because we want a yard.

    And, while a small house can be nice if you don’t do a lot of parties and so forth, I’ve found it to be pain. We did our family’s Christmas in our 1500 sqft home, and it was a bit of a nightmare. Mostly with the kitchen. However, I have seen some people do that quite easily.

  25. posted by David on

    Enjoy the downsizing, it’s fun and very satisfying! My wife and I had worked our way up through increasingly larger houses because that’s just what you do. Within a few years we found ourselves in a 2400 sqft + garage + basement house with 3 cars. No matter what size house, your posessions will grow to fill it! We downsized straight from there to an 800 sqft apartment with no cars (or AC, TV or microwave), and couldn’t be happier. Plenty of room to live and have guests even, and less time and money spent maintaining and fiddling with our physical posessions. They had started to own us! Getting rid of 80+% of our junk really lightened our mental burden as well as physical. Organization has become a top priority though, which is why I’m an avid reader.

  26. posted by Michael on

    2800 square feet is enormous. Two years ago, my wife and I (no kids) sold our 1200 sq. ft. house in the suburbs because it was too big for us; now we live in a 645sq. ft. apartment in the centre of town. Because of our move we were able to sell our car (since we walk everywhere), get rid of a bunch of stuff we don’t need, and now we live a simpler and more active lifestyle. Godspeed!

  27. posted by H20 on

    wow… 2800 square feet…
    How many kids do you have? I’m sure it’s more than enough space……

    Unless you have more than one wife….

    ~haslin jasman~

  28. posted by Anonymous on

    Many people in my demographic (yuppie 30 somethings with or without kids) are stressed to the limit by their possessions and households. So many of us were brought up to think that a big yard, big house, multiple cars, a boat, and tons of sports equipment are the markers of happiness. But in reality, these things can quickly become drags and sinkholes of money. My suburban friends are victims of this.

    I think that NYC’ers have these quality of life issues nailed. Having a small living space enforces discipline and keeps clutter in check. When you don’t have an extra room to use as a place to toss stuff to deal with it “later”, it keeps you aware of how much you have and forces the decision to remove something when something new is brought in.

  29. posted by Jasi on

    I’m so with you on this. My husband and I purchased our first home in the country about 3 years ago. Since then we’ve devoted every weekend and spare moment to repair, rennovations and maintenance. And now with a child, we’re really hurting for free time. We’ve come to the same conclusion.. that we don’t need this space, that it’s ‘pwning’ our asses, and the extra money could well be spent on college funds and vacationing. We plan to downsize in the next few years -after- we decide where to go next. Any suggestions?

  30. posted by Anonymous on

    Amazingly, the older suburbs are a very good deal these days. Pittsburgh has a lot of them.

    I’m no longer there, but I grew up in a suburb of pittsburgh called Mount Lebanon. During my teen years I felt it was an oppressive “voted-for-reagan-twice” enclave. But now, people from my generation are buying there and starting to raise their families and totally changing the demographics. Anyways, the housing stock consists of very well built smallish homes with manageable lot sizes, good public transportation and top notch schools. To top it off, it is undervalued because the former residents have all diffused into the more remote exburbs.

  31. posted by Metrozing on

    @andamom: in the spirit of whittling down your possessions, you might be interested in a blog written by a woman who wore one brown dress every single day for a year. Interesting. For more info: http://www.littlebrowndress.com

  32. posted by Anonymous on

    Metrozing: Thanks for the reference to Littlebrowndress website. That is the most inspirational ‘simplicity’ journey I’ve read in ages! Reading her blog should inspire everyone to clean out their closets.

  33. posted by Native Woman on

    This is great. There ARE people out there who don’t want to have it all. That having it all means time and family not stuff. We raised 4 children in a 1200sq ft home, 1 acre at the end of the street. We are now in a larger home with one that bounced back. But really I don’t think bigger is better. I am ready to sell as soon as this one is back on her feet. I want to move further out, with land and a smaller older home to fix up. I can hardly wait. Great site.

  34. posted by N'Awlins Kat on

    We have 1650 s/f, but it’s not well-apportioned. The kitchen appears big, but actually doesn’t have enough room to swing a cat. (My husband has accidentally knocked the arrowback chairs through the kitchen window twice, trying to move the table back against the wall to make a little more space. Sigh.

    I truly laugh myself silly at the McMansions in all their tawdry finery, but I must admit, I’d like a bedroom that’s just a wee bit more than the 12×12 that I have. I’m constantly whacking my toes cutting corners around the bed too closely. And my husband’s office is about 9×10, with three computers, four book cases and two desks. It’s impossible to cool. We have a beautiful piece of property to build on eventually, but my only real requirements are a huge seating area for dining, a claw-foot bathtub deep enough to soak in, and an office I can lock myself in to write in peace. My desk in the bedroom really doesn’t work for privacy. I’d love an older Victorian, or even a Craftsman bungalow style, with nooks and crannies, but as I loathe housekeeping, more space probably isn’t a good idea.

  35. posted by kweeket on

    @Tony: You said “Putting turns in a subdivision street will slow people down. Harder to run a turn than it is to run a stop sign.” What would slow people down more is a gridded system (like older neighbourhoods) with narrower roads. Wide, winding roads with no sidewalks are an invitation to speed, which is why they so often include speed bumps.

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