The trend for small homes is catching on like wildfire. Is it the economy? Baby boomers planning their retirement? Shrinking retirement funds making downsizing a necessity? But young people are also interested in smaller spaces in order to have a place of their own. In fact, average home sizes are declining, and smaller homes have become more popular than ever.
When Sarah Susanka published her landmark book The Not So Big House in 1999, the real estate market was coming down from a high. The concept of smaller homes caught on, and now there are many interesting resources for people wanting to explore the possibilities that downsizing can offer. Homes now are actually double the size they were In the 1960s, but down slightly from a high of 2277 square feet in 2008 when it became clear that the bubble had burst. Something had to change, and it is unlikely that super-sized McMansion homes will be popular again any time soon.
Here are some of the reasons why Living Small can be affordable, rewarding, and fun.
1. The "Cappucino Factor" : If you want to walk to your favorite coffee shop, you will probably need to be in a smaller space, whether in a house or in a high-rise condo. When you live right in town, you can consider using public transportation, or carpooling as well. Think San Francisco, or in Hawaii it’s Kapahulu. Many homes in this neighborhood are on lots in the 2000 – 3000 sq. ft. range.
2. Gnomes are hot, dinosaurs are not : Small has become chic, just as a Mini Cooper is way cooler than a Suburban, and Chihuahuas are more popular than Great Danes. Conspicuous consumption is not so popular these days. But you can still have some touches of luxury…
3. Luxury and beauty, redefined : When your home is only 700 square feet it’s much easier to afford the real hardwood floors and granite counters. Homeowners want efficiency, but they don’t want to feel cramped. Creative use of space can be vertical rather than horizontal. High ceilings and skylights can do this beautifully. Well-designed cabinets, clever storage, and compact furniture make it work. Some of the popular design trends are decorative hooks and coat racks, corner cabinets, trundle beds and under-bed storage, trunk tables, and storage ottomans. Uniform flooring throughout a small space helps, such as bamboo or porcelain tile everywhere.
4. Time and money: Ever try to vacuum 4000 square feet of carpet on 3 levels? If so, you might understand how much simpler it is to clean and maintain a small home. The cost to heat and cool is proportionately lower, and painting, yard care, roofing, etc are more manageable.
5. New and affordable: Manufactured Homes are nothing like the trailers of old – you know, the ones where you choose between single-wide and double-wide. They are hot again, and a great choice when price is the main factor, averaging 10 – 35 percent cheaper than similar-sized conventional homes. In some parks you own your land in fee simple, in others you just rent it. Depending on the area, you will pay a monthly fee ranging from $100 and up per month for your share of amenities and for your land.
6. No Building Permits Needed ?! Not if you select a Manufactured Home. They fall under federal guidelines administered by the Federal Housing Authority, or FHA, unlike “stick homes” which refers to everything else. Their building standards are set at the federal level, and inspections are handled entirely at the factory. You generally get to bypass the local building authorities. That alone is makes them worth considering! Perhaps that is why they are not available here in Hawaii where our local officials like to control everything. Or perhaps it is that big ocean separating us from the factories, and the shipping by truck that is needed. 7. Size is relative. For someone moving from a 4200 square foot home – common in many areas – a home of just 1800 square feet is true downsizing. A retired submariner might have a lot elbow room in a 400 square foot condo.
8. Family togetherness. Where can you go when you can touch all the walls – at the same time? Still, I think we all agree that there are some families that are not good candidates for "tiny living" due to family size, ages, and habits.
9. Be a child again – How serious can you take the little ups and downs of life when you are in your own playhouse??
10. The Cute Factor: The adult fascination with things in miniature is not to be dismissed. Who can resist kittens and puppies? Miniature horses?? Don’t forget model trains. Baby vegetables. Those cute little hamburgers oddly called “sliders”. Gotta love 'em.
Resources for Living Small
On the Web: The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company – http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ - Tiny Houses from 65 to 837 square feet. Buy house plans and build it yourself, or buy ready made houses delivered to you. In Northern California, of course. You won’t believe what you can do with 89 square feet!! Keep in mind that a queen sized bed is about 24 square feet.
Tiny Green Cabins- http://www.tinygreencabins.com/ . Located in Minnesota, where it’s hard for some of us to imagine spending a winter in one of these rustic cuties. Their motto "Simplify simplify, simplify" is taken from the words of America's first "greenie", writer Henry David Thoreau.
Smaller living is all about enjoying life with with less worry and more fun. If you are intrigued about simplifying your life in a smaller nest, I hope that this inspires you to explore your options. Be sure to check with your local city building authorities to determine what you can do. Work to change restrictive laws that prevent small homes from being approved.
Copyright 2010 Stephanie Gieseler, Honolulu, Hawaii. All rights reserved.
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I adore these darling "mini-houses". I think it'd be so awesome to have a neighborhood where the streets are lined with nothing but mini house with mini cars and mini trees!
Very interesting. Love the idea of being able to keep up with cleaning and maintenance. However, in many cases you couldn't do without AC.