Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiny Houses

Wow. Some headlines leave me underwhelmed, if you know what I mean. How about this one:
Average Size Of Single Family Homes In The U.S. Down To 2,343 Square Foot.

Oh, my. That's less than a thousand square foot per person - average. I am sincere.

Did you know that the average home in 1950 was 1100 to 1200 square feet AND the average household population was 3.37 and in 2003, the last year I could quickly find stats for, it was 2.37. I'm pretty sure the size of homes increased since then. Fewer people, bigger house.

What does that mean?

Maybe that we're more spoiled, spend more money, care less about the environment, need more privacy... or all of the above. It could be.

Enter: The tiny house. The small home. The little dwelling.

The history of a small home is long, as long as you'd like it. (Think "cave-man.") Castles and churches notwithstanding, most personal homes in the more distant past were quite small compared to today's buildings. Even large families lived in small dwellings. Today's 3,000, 4,000 and up square foot buildings are aptly called monsters for good reason. I don't mean to step on any toes, but I don't get it.

When I looked up "small house," I found references to homes under 2500 square feet. That's not so small, really. So I looked further and found references to homes under 1500 square feet. Getting closer... but it's still not so uncommon.

On down the list: Under 1,000 square feet. As a matter of fact, wow. Under 600 square feet.

You could use one of these small homes as a guest room, a home for an aging parent, a detached office (good tax break), or a special room for a hobby or craft.

Or you could live in one.

They're usually between the size of a pickup camper and a small mobile home, with a lot of built in comfort and convenience. They're cheap to buy and cheaper (and a lot of fun!) to design and build yourself, as this Tiny House Design blog shows.

Mortgages are a lot lower for this type of house. Maybe... just maybe, if everyone hadn't thought they deserved the biggest, fanciest house they could borrow money for, the housing bubble might not have burst quite so forcefully. Who knows?

All I know now is that if I were in the market for a house, I'd definitely be looking for a tiny one.


  1. A lot of investment gurus say that people should buy the biggest house they can afford, because it is the biggest investment they will probably ever make. I couldn't disagree more.

    A house is a shelter. Why do most Americans see it as a status symbol? Why do we define our self-worth by our possessions?

    When my hubbie and I were house-hunting, we were pre-approved for a $260K loan. When we bought a house for only $140K, our banker was a little disappointed. (Do they work on commission??)

    But our house is 1,401 sq. ft., 3-bd, 2-bath, one acre of land, and suits us just fine. We are almost a family of five,and can't imagine needing anything bigger. Historically speaking, we live quite comfortably!

  2. A house can have a negative value, it can destroy your credit and the loss of it leaves you homeless. Some investment.

    I totally agree that a house is shelter and nothing more and I echo your questions - why is it important to own the biggest?

    Your 1400 square foot house sounds fine to me. It's easier to heat and cool and paint and clean.

  3. Pat,

    I agree that so-called monster homes can be over the top, especially for people who are never actually home! I grew up in a 3 bedroom home w/7 people, so I know small, However, as a wife and mom who "stays home" instead of going out to work each day, I enjoy and need a certain amount of space for my daily living. My family of three fully lives in and utilize every square inch of our 2000+ s.f. home, and often wish for more space!! It's a full house and a full life. It's also a paid for house.

    I home educate my child and so we are home 24-7 most days of the week while my husband is at work. My son's activities, indoor play, education, toys and stuff take up space. We have books and plants and pets and crafts and laundry and everything we need to live.

    Yes, I could live in less space (and have!), a tent, a camper, a cave or a smaller house, but I don't want to be cramped up or feel claustrophobic or like there isn't any privacy.

    Compared to the standards of many countries in the world, I and many Americans live in luxury, though most of us don't see it that way because we are too busy comparing ourselves to lifestyles of the rich and famous!! I'm very thankful for what I have and how I live.

  4. It's true that we compare ourselves with each other instead of paying attention to what we really need. That's "keeping up with the Joneses," something that has put Americans in debt and kept them unhappy, too.

    If your house suits you and it's paid for, good for you! The problem comes when people want larger houses because their neighbors, friends, family or whoever they're comparing themselves to at the moment, have larger houses.

    Personally, I'd like to have a smaller house. It's just me, myself and I and none of us take up much room. ;)

  5. My house was built in 1954 and it is a ranch styled home with a "mud room" that I use for the laundry room. The closets are small but then it saves me from stalk piling. I have a front and back yard and am re landscaping it and covering it with rocks to avoid watering it in the summer. My home is plenty big enough for the three of us. If we feel "cramped" we go on a camping trip and sleep under the stars! I don't know about anyone else but I didn't grow up with fancy stuff we made due with what we had and I still live that way! I know I am not popular because I am not "brainwashed" into believing that I have to have the latest and greatest to "fit in" with society! My house is small but it is workable and I don't stress every month trying to figure out how to pay for it. I know I am probably looked at as an "oddball" at this moment I am waiting for a part to fix my weed whacker. My front lawn looks like a jungle. I could have shelled out the 120-200 plus $ it would have cost me to buy a new one and my weeds would have been gone but no I ordered a part that cost $25.00 and I have to wait for it to come in. Same with my refrigerator. I could spend 500-3000 and more on a new one. I went fridge shopping this morning. The smallest one was 500 and I just don't want to shell out that kind of money! All I need is the magnetic part inside the fridge and my fridge will be fixed! Small amount compared to buying a new one even with the rebates promised by the governments. I just don't want to jump thorough the hoops in hopes that I qualify either!
    Same with my new glasses. I just spent 29.95 for the exam and the glasses store wanted 188.00 for my new glasses. I went on line and got them for 73.00! It's stuff like this that drives people crazy! I mean wow I don't have what I need in my hand is 0.1 seconds! The CONVENIENCE of everything is more than the saving of money to many! We do live in an I want it now and I want it fast and I want it my way society! But what I really want is to save money so that when an emergency happens I have a pillow to land on! I can't get that if I am so busy spending, spending ,spending on everything I want! I am glad my house is small. It saves me from having to clean and clean and clean it!

  6. Anonymous, I loved your post! How true it is.

    You said, "I know I am not popular because I am not "brainwashed" into believing that I have to have the latest and greatest to "fit in" with society!"

    Well, welcome to an alternate society. ;) If you haven't been to the Dollar Stretcher Community, take a look - you'll find more people who think like you do, including me.

    Why buy something new when you can fix the old one? Got to get those landfills filled up, I guess. ;)

  7. I was always fascinated at the size of houses in USA... Back n England we have pretty much always had small homes, probably because we have a small island :)


  8. That's very probably why, Forest. I think older countries/cities have smaller houses anyway. The huge house thing is a more modern trend. My house was built in 1956 and by most standards, is small, but it has three bedrooms. A three bedroom house built here today would dwarf this one.

  9. I love this post! We are a fairly recently blended famiy and we decided that we "had" to build on to fit us all. The house was a four bedroom two story and paid off in a very nice town. Now we have six bedrooms and LOTS more downstairs space...and a mortgage.
    We also have to heat and cool it and pay the outrageous taxes our "very nice town" forces on us.
    It is NOT worth it.
    We are now considering cutting our losses and buying paying off a small house somewhere else with a basement that we can finish off with bedrooms for those kids who, by the way, are growing up and moving out.
    My biggest mistake was to allow the children to grown up thinking that it was their "right" to have their own rooms. No...their "right" was to have a roof over their heads, meals and to be clothed.
    We live in a town that even 9 and 10 year old HAVE to have a cellphone and an Ipod Touch. The 16 year olds get their own BMWs for their birthdays. Crazy. Irresponsible parenting and CRAZY!!
    So, I'm ranting today...and getting rid of things to ready this MONSTER for the market. Too bad you all don't live close...I'm gonna have a heck of a garage sale!

  10. Rant on, Beth!

    Children growing up and moving out is one thing that catches people by surprise that really shouldn't.

    Best of luck in selling your home and finding a smaller one you like.

  11. I'm also all for smaller homes!! For me, it means less to clean, less to heat, less to maintain, etc. I own a few acres of land around my smallish home and that property brings me far more pleasure and happiness than an over-sized home ever could.

  12. Pat, I'm an American expatriate living in Ukraine. Mwife, my 18-year-old steps, and I live in a flat that is considerably under 500 feet--with no car and no yard, by the way. The main stores are in walking distance, and for everything else there is a public transit stop nearby. Before I moved here, I got rid of most of the "stuff" that was cluttering my life--and I feel much better for it.
    A "home as an investment" is advice that has crippled many families financially. The recession has shown how slender a reed that is to lean on. When values are rising, fine--but home values simply don't rise always.
    Were I to move back to America, I'd be building something very small--certainly no larger than we have here. Whether it is "claustrophobic" is all a matter of attitude.

  13. So very well said, David, thank you. The voice of experience says it better than all of my rambling.

  14. I am a simpleton, and I am proud of it! My son and I just downsized to a 750 sq ft apartment (from 1050 sq ft).

    We gave away a lot of furniture and household items during this move. It is so liberating to get rid of all of that stuff!

    Most new homes in Houston are mansions. To be a status symbol here, you must own 5000 sq ft or more! What do people do with that much room?

    I am happy to have downsized. Once my son goes to college, I will have so much room, I won't know how to handle it all.

  15. Oh, I'm envious, Terre. I own this house and haven't even had the courage to try to sell it. In this market, it could take a very long time. 750 square feet sounds nice.

    It's good to hear from you again. :)

  16. I loved the house I grew up in. It was a post WWII cape cod; it was about 1200 square feet. DH and my first house was a bit smaller and much much older. Our next, and current home started out as 1800 square feet; we expanded, inexpensively, to about 2000.

    We raised six children and had two businesses in our home. Our family of eight has dwindled down to six, including the addition of my mother who needs care. Almost all of the rooms have dual purposes.

    I still think fondly of that cape cod that was a somewhat larger than the Levittown (LI) houses. My cousins lived in one. I preferred the layout of my childhood home.


  17. Yours is a great testimony to the appeal of small houses, Gigi!

  18. We live in a tiny 900 square foot home built in 1950. We're a family of four. At one point, it was was five (my parents, myself, and my two children)! Been living here for 12 years.

    It takes creative thinking to live this small, and you have to purge on a regular basis (Goodwill runs for outgrown clothes, donations to the library for books). As far as stockpiling food, stashing under the bed and in closets!

    We also remodeled to optimize our space. We gave up closet space and a mudroom to gain a halfbath (so worth it!). My husband has done a great job over the years of adding built-ins and cabinets to make the best use of the space we do have.

    My oldest moves out in just a few years (I hope!). And this house won't be "too large" for us once they are gone.

  19. Creative thinking is good! :) It sounds like you're satisfied with your 900 square foot home, "Busy With Kids." I think most houses are not built with convenience and efficiency in mind, but it sounds like yours has become that way.

  20. Our house now is not huge, but much bigger than the 1200 square foot place we owned in Las Vegas. I hate our power bills and miss the little place when I am cleaning.

    What I found funny is when you see people like Jay Leno on TV talking about greening up their house by using Solar panels when the house it self took more resources to build than some villages or towns use in fifty years.

  21. I agree, bigchambers. If you want to be "green," it doesn't mean solar panels on a McMansion - it means not building it in the first place.