Monday, May 3, 2010

Is Bigger Always Better?

 by Niki Turner

My mom used to admonish, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!" when I overloaded my plate and couldn't finish my meal.

My husband and I recently realized our "eyes" were bigger than our ability to maintain the house we bought in 2001. It's not huge, just average, but we've decided to find a dwelling that's easier - timewise and financially - to maintain.

We're not alone in our desire to pare down, based on the growing popularity of "small house" blogs, magazines, and websites. Slowly, the housing pendulum appears to be swinging away from huge, designer "starter castles" and toward smaller houses, or even the tiniest of homes.

For many of us, that requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. I grew up watching Dynasty and Dallas, where luxurious mansions were something to be expected, not something to be earned. In the back of my mind was the idea that no one lived in a small house by choice.

But I don't believe that anymore.

House size does not equate to success or to happiness, at least not in the terms of success outlined in God's plan.

The average house size in the US has nearly tripled since the 1950s, that magical era of happy, content nuclear families living out the post-WWII American dream. A new home in the 1950s averaged 983 sq. ft. By 1970, that number had increased to 1400 sq. ft., and in 2006 the average square footage of a new home had expanded to 2,463 sq. ft. Did the size of our families grow? No. Logically, there's no reason for these larger dwellings.

Why, then, do we feel the need to own homes that sprawl across the landscape? It's not for practicality, and it's not for need. I hesitate to think it has to do with comfort and luxury alone, because it simply isn't comfortable to pay off a huge home mortgage month after month, or scramble to keep an oversized home clean, landscaped, and maintained, with or without hired help.

In discussing a move into a smaller home, the biggest concern my boys had was whether or not they would have to share a bedroom. *GASP* The horror! Their reaction clued me in to something.

I think we don't want to share our "space." We don't want to be forced to interact with each other, or make room for one another, even the members of our own immediate families. I admit it, I get annoyed when I have to wait for my husband to finish rummaging through the refrigerator so I can get what I want.

That's just plain old selfishness, and selfishness doesn't have any room in a HOME.

So, whether you live in a McMansion with a pool and a sandbox room for the grandkids, a vintage cottage with a rabbit warren of tiny rooms, or a 500 sq. ft. studio apartment, the size of your abode is not what makes it a home. And a bigger house will not guarantee a happier household.

What makes a dwelling place into a home is the absence of selfishness and the presence of love. And that's something we can all work on, no matter where we live.

Tiny House Blog
National Association of Home Builders

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  1. Well said. And I couldn't agree more :) Home is a special place made beautiful by the beauty that lives within. :)

  2. I've always been drawn to a small place and, although I love storage space, I'm very glad to be in a small home after trying to take care of a big farmhouse. It 'fairly bursts t' overflowin' when the whole fam comes with their dogs and suitcases and now, two grandchildren, but we enjoy it anyway.

    I hope part of that is love and not just mom's home-cooking.

  3. I have to agree, Niki. (Although it may be jealousy talking! I'd like a larger living space.) But then again I just moved over the weekend. In the 10 1/2 years of my marriage we have moved 9 times. I have learned that home truly is not a place. Home is people. So if your goal is to get a house that will allow you to interact as little as possible with one another, well, then you've bought a building and maybe some land. Not a home.

    We've been considering a multi-family home. As in our family plus both sets of in-laws. Eeek! We have a special relationship that would make that sort of thing work. ;o) But I was told the other day, that it's a trend right now even in America. Have any of you all heard that?

  4. We went from a tiny post-WWII (literally built just after the war!) to a McMansion that looked almost identical to the picture you posted! Then about four years ago, we downsized to another older home.

    The greatest benefit? The smaller home with one living area required our family to spend time together! And with three teenagers, that was (and is) huge! I believe we are a closer family today because of it.

  5. Hmm, lots to talk about. I confess my house is averaged sized, and if you swap out the brick for fake stucco, looks almost like the one in the picture. I also confess, it's a lot of work.

    On the other hand, I've always craved open spaces. I feel trapped and sad in small dark places. They aren't "cozy" to me. We have high ceilings and tons of windows, which makes me feel happy and light and peaceful. I guess its the architecture more than the size that blesses me so much.

    My family still spends lots of time together. We have a central greatroom (living room, kitchen, dining room) where everyone seems to congregate. But I'm also thankful that the video games have been vanquished to the garage, and that I can hide away in my bedroom when I want to be alone.

  6. Lisa, my sister's family and my parents have been tossing around the idea of getting a beach house together with an in-law suite. They asked if we'd like to join in on the fun, but I don't think my mom and I would get along well at such close quarters. We're too different. I think she and my sister could pull it off, though.

  7. I really needed to hear this today. Thanks! We've been struggling to sell our teeny tiny place because it's like we're crawling all over one another. Contentment is priceless.

  8. It's so interesting to hear everyone's comments on this subject!

    Tabitha, so true! And sometimes so hard to remember!

    Deb, I love the small, older homes and the big farmhouses. I want to have the "grammie" house that the kids and grandkids love to come visit someday!

    Lisa, I have not heard of the multi-family living trend. We lived next door to my folks for almost ten years. At the time, it was great. Today, the idea makes me shudder. It takes great grace to mix households like that!

    D'Ann, I just chatted with a friend who lives in a little-bitty pre-WW2 home about this subject. She said the same thing about raising kids and teens in a small place -- there's nowhere for them (or you) to hide!

    Dina, I completely understand. I need light and space, too. What I'm realizing is that I need a lot LESS space than I THINK I do.

    Georgiana, you pray for us to sell our house and we'll pray for you to sell yours! The prayers of the righteous make much power available, and it seems we need supernatural power in today's real estate market!

  9. Hi Gang,
    I would love to live in a mansion of any size just to have the experience. I grew up in a 2 bedroom farmhouse with multiple family members. Our current home was built in 1927. Small rooms, tall closets. My mom moved in a year ago and Katie is still in her apt.

    Lisa, we are thinking about buying a home where Katie and mom could have their own apts. but I don't even know if that would be possible. We have to stay put for at least another year. I didn't know the multi-family home was a trend at this time. Interesting dynamic.

  10. AMEN!!
    Blessings and prayers,

  11. There are six of us in my family and how I wish we had a larger home! But your right it's all stuff and one day this house will be just fine.

  12. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from a friend with 5 kids close in age to my own brood. Her husband is one of 10 kids, and they all grew up in a small house, with multiple children sharing bedrooms. My friend said, "In just a few years, they'll start going to college, and getting married, and then this house will be almost too big!"
    The time we feel crowded in with kiddos around (believe me, teenage boys WILL make you feel crowded) is SO short compared to a 30-year mortgage!

  13. Okay, I see your points, however, I've gone through 4 kids (still 2 left)in homes no larger than 1300 sq ft. One kid has always had to sleep in the basement where I constantly worry how she (now he) will get out in case of fire. Yes, I put our lives in God's hands. But the thought is still there.

    Logically, there's no reason for these larger dwellings. Ah... I'd like to debate this point. I need a place to write. Somewhere there's room for my research books, computer, reams of paper, journals, etc. I need a place that I know I can leave and be assured that no one will touch anything. Yes, I'm selfish. If one little pen is out of place, I roar!

    I slept in a double bed with my sister until I moved out at 16 yrs old. We shared everything in that room. It was like a commune. About the only thing I could call my own was my diary and due to my mother's belief that I must be hiding something or up to 'no good', my diary was open to public scrutiny at any time.

    I will not subject my kids to that. They need a place they can call their own and hide away from the world. Especially in their teens. I'd much rather they hide in their room where I know they're safe than only-God-knows where else.

    I'm not saying I agree with 'monster' homes because that's just a senseless waste of heat and energy, especially up here. But, a home is a place of love and comfort where every member can choose to join or retreat as their mood allows. I just wish I could provide the comfort part to the one who lives in the cold basement.

    Very good post, Niki. Very thought-provoking.


  14. Great post, Niki! Lots to think about. Like Lisa, I've moved a lot since I've been married. Seven times, I think, in 16 1/2 years. I confess that I struggle with house-envy sometimes (or yard envy!); it's a personal issue I have. Sometimes I can't even watch HGTV because I don't feel inspired, I feel frustrated. It's just part of my particular sinful nature. I have to work on contentment and remind myself that everything I have (house, yard, and furniture) is to be used for God's glory and to His service.

  15. Susanne, I remember about 10 years ago we were still in a small town house, and we were driving through a neighborhood with big gorgeous homes. I literally had to cover my eyes and ask my husband to get me out of there. :)

  16. Okay girls, I think we've hit on something here... house envy. v. contentment. Whether we get it from watching HGTV, or driving through a beautiful neighborhood, or (for me) visiting my in-laws who have that extraordinary knack for decorating.
    Is this the crux of the problem, what drives us to overextend ourselves with houses we cannot afford in some way?
    Hmmm. My thoughts are humming.
    I tend to do this more with clothes. I had to cancel all my subscriptions to catalogs because it was making me discontent!

  17. Great post, Niki! The house my family is buying (which you will find out more about tomorrow) is only 1200 square feet. That's about the same size as our apartment, but I'm so excited about getting into it. I just want a place that we own, that I know my husband and I will be able to grow old in.

  18. Great topic! I totally agree that a home is the love within the walls. It also puts into perspective where our treasure lies (as a nation and as individuals). I live in Texas though and everything truly is bigger here!

  19. Fun post! I sure love my space but have gotten greener and leaner and meaner over the years! LOL.


  20. Jen, I can't wait to find out about your house! Fun!

    Bex, you're right, our treasure has to be the people, not the building, no matter the size!

    Patti, LOL... "leaner, greener, and meaner," I love it!

  21. Niki, great post! Being content where we are is so important and a home is definitely more than the building.

  22. Dear Niki:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I am glad that it encouraged you to remember taht YOU ARE LOVED. It can be a struggle when "old tapes" try to drown out the truth and love of God. I wrestle with it daily!

    I love the phrase "McMansion" in yours -- amazing how thought provoking one word can be. I'll be pondering that one for a while ...

    May the Lord bless you as you serve and love Him with your whole life!


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