How Much Space Do You Really Need?


How Much Space Do You Really Need?

By Ginny Figlar Colon

How much space do you really need? When my husband and I bought our first place, my answer to that question would have been 440 square feet per person.

We had everything we needed in that space, including a spare bedroom for guests and enough “party space” for gatherings with friends. But it didn’t take long before the lure of our first house — an 1800s Victorian — made us feel as if we needed to double our living area to 925 square feet per person. (Sound familiar?)

Now, after living in another large home in Sweden for five years, we just moved back to the States and bought a house with less finished square footage than we’ve ever had: just over 400 square feet per person for our family of three.

And it appears we’re not alone, as a downsizing trend has taken over the country. One recent MSN headline stated that “living small looms large amid real estate bust,” while a Dallas Morning News article from last month reports that the National Association of Home Builders expects the average home size to shrink to 2,150 square feet by 2015, down from over 2,500 at the peak of the market in 2007.

But, despite being in good company, it wasn’t an easy decision for us. In fact, every time I approached the idea of “maybe it would make more sense to live smaller and simpler,” my husband felt pretty strongly that we needed at least 600 square feet per person to not feel cramped. Visits to homes with poor layouts only seemed to fuel his argument.

That is, until we stumbled upon our current bungalow, which has two things going for it: an open floor plan that sacrifices bedroom space for “living space” and a great neighborhood with a huge park nearby. The trade-offs made it all worth it, and in the end I feel like we are living better than we ever have.

How we’ve made living smaller work

I’ve been surprised by how much I feel like we are truly living larger now. Here’s what I’ve come up with to explain it:

  1. Living in a temporary apartment with the bare minimum got us in a better frame of mind. Case in point: When our moving boxes arrived, and I couldn’t fit all of our toiletries in the cabinet, I turned to my husband and said, “For the last three months we’ve been living out of a toiletry bag. Do we really need all this stuff?” It was easier to say no.
  2. Decluttering makes any space feel bigger. We’ve made a point of not furnishing with cumbersome pieces that overwhelm the space. Plus, when the things you’re storing overflow your storage space, that’s when things start to feel tight. That goes for the kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets and bedroom closets. If all your stuff fits, your space just seems to fit, too.
  3. Ditto on windows and floor-to-ceiling ivory paint. With these features, we never have the feeling of being boxed in.
  4. If we don’t love it, we sell it or donate it. Homes should be filled with love, so this rule applies no matter what size space you live in. In just six weeks, we’ve sold $1,200 worth of furniture, books and DVDs on Craigslist, eBay, Powell’s Books and Amazon. And we have a huge “garage sale” pile waiting for a sunny Saturday.
  5. Living closer is cozier. We have spaces where we can individually get away, but we still always feel connected. I like that I can hear what my three-year-old is doing in her room.

Downsizing to a smaller home doesn’t make sense for everyone. If you are fortunate enough to have square footage to spare, consider how you are using your space. Is it just storage for meaningless stuff, or is it truly room to live? After owning four different homes in 13 years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not the space that matters but what you do with it.

What about you: are you living large in your small space?

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