5 Reasons I Love Living in a Small House

As I write this, I’m sitting on a couch in the office area of our master bedroom, overlooking unfinished floors, narrow-but-necessary wardrobes (no closets here), and windows peeking out at the backyard where I can see my neighbor’s backyards just as well as my own.

For an American family of five in the 21st century, we live in a relatively small house: just under 1,400 square feet. A fixer-upper to the Nth degree, Kyle is in the process of renovating the entire thing literally by himself (he’s yet to hire a subcontractor or labor). Except for how slow it’s going, we both love that he’s doing it himself.

But I don’t think he would necessarily want to renovate it completely free-solo if it were any larger — I can’t even imagine the time it would take if we had a second floor, or several more bedrooms, or an extra living room.

Last week, Haley wrote a Twitter thread on the benefits of small-space living, and I made this little comment:

It got me to thinking about a statistic I found while doing research for my first book (now a decade old!): the average American family in 1950 had considerably more people than today’s families, yet the average home size in 1950 was 983 square feet. In 2004, the average was 2,349 square feet, almost 900 square feet per person for today’s average families of 2.62 people.

Somehow, we’ve bought into this idea culturally that we “need” a lot of space. But friends, there are genuine benefits to living in a small space. Here are my favorite reasons.

1. We have less to maintain.

Because we have limited space, we don’t have room for much stuff. I was already a fan of having only what we needed before moving here, but the size of this place officially requires it.

The kids each have their own room (it’s surprisingly a four-bedroom, thanks to Kyle’s skills), but they all each fit basically a bed, somewhere to put clothes (wardrobes or dressers), a desk, and a small nook for personal items. That’s it.

We have zero space for extra tchotchkes, collections of things that don’t also serve a purpose, or closet or shelf space for anything beyond the essentials. And I love it.

Yes, there are challenges, and sometimes it feels like one of those handheld puzzle games where you move the square tiles — shifting stuff from one place to the next to figure out where everything should go (especially during this renovation stage). But I’d still rather deal with that over filling extra rooms with things just because we have the square footage. I love looking around and knowing that everything is necessary and needs to be here.

2. It’s easier to clean.

Sure, smaller spaces look messy faster — leave a small pile of books and clothes in our living room, and it instantly looks disheveled. But the flip side of that coin? It doesn’t take long to straighten things up, because you can’t let things go more than a day.

We’re decidedly NOT perfect at this (our kids are very normal kids in this department), but when we’ve got a rhythm of quick daily pick-ups and regular chores, it doesn’t take much for our entire home to feel mostly clean.

And as I said on Twitter, I don’t love to clean, but I love living in a clean space:

If we lived in a larger house, I’d feel beholden to the house, having to spend more time maintaining and managing it. I’d rather spend more of my time living here.

3. We’ve got lower utility costs.

Because we’re heating and cooling a smaller house, as well as all the other utilities that come with homeownership — water, gas, and the like — our bills are considerably lower than they’d be with more square footage to maintain.

This is a huge one for me. Any time we’re at a friend’s large house, my mind starts watching the dollar bills rack up just to cool off the space. I’d rather spend our money on other things.

4. We’re forced to spend more time together.

This has its challenges, of course; there are times when I wish we had more space for us to retreat to our own private corners. It can also get really loud, simply because there’s really no room where kids and their friends can hang out together behind a closed door to be loud. It’s either outside, or right in our living room.

But here’s what’s wild: even with their own small bedrooms, the kids spend most of their waking hours together, out in our main living space. They do their homework together in the shared space, even though they have desks in their rooms. They read books out in the open, next to each other. When one of us is cooking a meal, we can chat with whoever’s in the living room just a few feet away.

I’m an introvert, so yes, by the end of the day I am DONE and need everyone to stop talking. I’m very grateful for the doors on our rooms. But I also know that I’ll look back and be glad we spent so much time together during these formative years. There are very few spaces here to run off and hide, and that’s mostly a good thing.

5. We theoretically could be here the rest of our lives.

Kyle and I are in our early 40s, and in our adult lives we’ve also never lived anywhere longer than three years, so it’s strange I even think about this. But technically, this is a great house for our older years.

Because there’s less square footage to maintain, we’ll never have much space to accumulate stuff. It doesn’t take long to clean the place. It’s a very easy house to navigate (from the outside, it’s literally one long rectangle; no weird angles or nooks). And heck, there’s no second floor, which isn’t a big deal now (sometimes I wish we had one), but it means we’d never have to mess with stairs if we’re here in our senior years.

I have no idea if we’ll keep this house that long — knowing us, if we did I doubt it’s because we’ve lived only here for another fifty years (just ask me about the list of countries where we still want to live). But there’s a strange amount of comfort in the idea of holding onto this house, knowing we could come back here and keep this as our home base.

After packing and unpacking 28 times to move in our adult years (I counted!), I love, love, love the idea of not moving again, at least substantially or permanently with our stuff. Spending a year here or three living in France, Thailand, New Zealand, or Costa Rica? Sign me up.

But I’ll be happy to come back home, here, in our tiny little cottage, and sit on our small front porch as we wave to neighbors walking by. Just like we do right now.

Yes, there are benefits to living in a larger space, and I think families need to do what’s best for them; living in a small house doesn’t make me a better person. But perhaps this is an encouragement if you find yourself wishing you had more square footage: there’s a silver lining to having less space than what’s considered “normal.” I’m choosing to lean into those benefits and enjoy them.

p.s. Nicole felt the same way and wrote about it a few years ago.

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28 Comments

  1. Suse

    As a ministry family, we expect to move into a new church house every five years or so. To have a little place to put out chairs, put down roots and just nest… I so fully understand your contentedness!

    Reply
    • Karrie

      We’re a homeschooling family of nine, plus three cats and a dog, in a 2500 sq feet house (278 sq. ft. per person). It’s open concept with three bedrooms. The boys share a room, and the girls share another. We have one closet for four girls and another for three boys. No dressers; shelves with baskets. I love that it requires us to keep “things” to a minimum.
      I also feel the same way about when I think about cleaning big houses with lots of rooms! I encourage people to go smaller, and collect less. 😊

      Reply
  2. KC

    I do think hobby/sport/lifestyle choices and financial means can make a significant difference in space needed (someone who likes to do canoe camping but can’t afford to replace their gear all the time: more space needed; ditto for some crafting hobbies done on the cheap, or that require more of a long-term setup, such as weaving)(and, of course, bulk-grocery shopping needs some storage space to work out, and if friends or family members frequently stay with you while visiting, that tends to take some extra space, if but for the bedding!). But 1. your house is a sane size for the number of people you’re fitting in it, not ultra-tiny (but certainly smaller than average for that family size now), and 2. it really is lovely to not have as much square footage to clean up and to not pay as much for utilities – although well-insulated larger spaces can have lower utility bills than poorly-insulated small spaces, as I’ve discovered in our assorted housing options over the years. 🙂

    Other factors include whether the whole household is compatible in terms of sensitivity to noise vs. producing noise, etc. – it’s really nice for someone with frequent sound-sensitive migraines to have a spot they can retreat to without kicking everyone else out of the house – and things like small business space needs (not so relevant for most digital content, but for those making and shipping out physical items: it takes some space!) or disability equipment needs. Some things are lifestyle choices (like enjoying canoe camping, or raising your own seedlings indoors for a large veggie garden, or bulky craft hobbies), but other things are less choice-based. I guess, I have mixed feelings about what size of space is ideal for me personally – torn between wanting more space for plants and not wanting to clean that extra space, for instance! – and the slide-the-blocks game you describe is sometimes a pain – and it would be nice to be able to host more people – but I also feel it’s important to be clear that living within a smaller square foot range is going to be a healthier and more financially-sustainable option than more square footage for some people… but a less healthy or financially sustainable option for others (if you don’t have the spare cash to just buy another from the thrift store when you need it, it’s better to have the space to store something that you only use once a year, if the extra space isn’t going to cost you more than the cost of replacement canning equipment or snowboots or whatever). Of course, financial considerations depend on how expensive the square-footage is – I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that paying an extra $1,000/month for an apartment with better grocery storage space can possibly be recouped by buying toilet paper at Costco instead of by the four-pack.

    I guess, there’s this weird snobbishness that I see, often, about Less Stuff and Small Spaces (I see less of that snobbishness at AoS, thank goodness! – which is why I’m here!), and I always want to keep reminding people that their particular lifestyle choices are not always possible for everyone else (or, in some cases, might be possible but not *better*). Thank you for keeping this discussion open and real and comparatively non-judgy! 🙂

    Reply
    • Jessica P Hoffman

      I agree with your sentiment so much here. I want to live in a small space as much as possible, but we are leaning towards building a new home that will be more than 2x the living space we have now. We’ve been in our current home for 11 years. We try to keep things as minimal as possible, but we’re at our wits’ end at making it work. So I partly feel guilty for wanting a big huge McMansion, and partly feel justified. Our kiddos would like their own rooms. My spouse and I both need a home office. We also want to move to a different school district and would really like to have a basement. We also do not care for our back yard, close to a busy road. I’d like to think that our current house would work if it had a basement, or if we had the skills to make some major design changes. But then again, the money we’d spend on design changes, wouldn’t necessarily add value to the house. So, I’m working to give myself permission to want a bigger space, after 20 years of living in smaller-than-most-American homes.

      Reply
  3. Sarah Lee

    Yes downsizing is one of the best things one can do for themselves

    Reply
    • Sharon Millsap

      You are so right about large families living in much smaller spaces in the past. We were a family of 9. The 5 girls shared the master bedroom with an on suite bath, while my parents took one of the other 2 bedrooms and shared the hall bath with our 2 brothers. My parents sacrificed a lot for the benefits of their children. I dare say and admittedly with some shame, that I’m not near as unselfish.

      Reply
  4. Jean | Delightful Repast

    Love this post! Food for thought for those who feel they could possibly do it and non-judgy for those who feel they couldn’t for whatever reason. We love having a small house, but we have friends in the same age group and family size who have a house 2.5 times larger, and that’s okay.

    Reply
  5. Beth

    This article basically hit right where we’re at. We lived in a one bedroom apartment for a year after we first got married, then moved overseas for five and a half years to a country that basically only does apartments (and added two kids). Then spent a transitional year and a half living in a US apartment or living with family. Finally we decided to stay in the States and that buying was cheaper than renting for our now 5 person family. So what did we get? One of those 1950’s 914 sq ft houses. It was what we could afford, but honestly, housekeeping is definitely not my strength (or passion) and the thought of something bigger was very intimidating. It’s like living in an apartment only WITH A BASEMENT!! 🙂 AND A (tiny) YARD!! 🙂 The basement gives us almost another 3/4 of the house of usable space. The three boys share a bedroom used for sleeping, their clothes, and a bookshelf. The smallest “bedroom” is my husband’s office (he works from home). The basement has a playroom and a guest room (for very understanding guests). We’ll see in another five years what we need – I can envision us wanting a second bathroom and the boys wanting a little more personal space (especially if there’s a #4.) However, for all the reasons you listed above, I doubt I’ll ever be tempted by something big.
    On the flip side, my parents moved into a very large house a few years ago because the main floor had the floor plan they needed to care for my wheelchair bound grandma. It just happened to come with a huge upstairs and a huge basement. But it’s been wonderful for extended family and for the friends and church related guests that stop through regularly. We slept my whole family there a few weeks ago (14 of us) and it was a blast. Also on the flip side, my mother is a much better housekeeper than I :).

    Reply
    • Melissa

      “It’s like living in an apartment only WITH A BASEMENT!! 🙂 AND A (tiny) YARD!! 🙂 The basement gives us almost another 3/4 of the house of usable space. ”

      Yes. We’re a family of 4 living in a 2 bedroom apartment (mom, dad, son, daughter) and I’m still waiting to find my small house – it’s hard in our area – the new builds are either huge and fancy, or 2-bedroom town houses that are deliberately made with a master bedroom and 1 kid bedroom to discourage bigger families. The older smaller homes get bought my flippers that gut them and make them big or put fancy finishes that double the prices.
      We aren’t even a big family by most people’s standards. I would like to give my kids their own rooms, but the rooms don’t have to be magazine-worthy, just separate. However, I refuse to move to a bigger apartment just to have one more bedroom. What I want from a house is privacy, no one above, below or attached to our walls, a basement for all the things that are seasonal (and laundry!) a yard that it ours and to be able to have a dog, which my children want.

      Reply
    • Amy

      We have a family of five in 1350 sq ft upstairs and a ~150 sq ft laundry/storage room (no garage). We rent out a 2 bdrm suite downstairs. We originally thought that by now we’d want to take over the suite, but we don’t – for the reasons you mentioned. Yeah, a second bathroom would be amazing, and our split level entry is cramped and we have to take turns getting ready to go out…but cleaning a larger space and knowing how much we could accumulate is a little terrifying for me.

      The main struggle is that much of our family lives out of our town and fitting a guest family of 4-6 is challenging to say the least! Plus the amount of bedding I store for those fairly frequent occasions 😳

      For one summer between tenants we hosted our family downstairs and filled the remaining weeks with Airbnb-ers. That was great, but a LOT of work and cleaning!

      Reply
  6. Anne-Cathrine Nyberg

    We are a family of 4, one cat, one guinea pig and fishes, living well in a 970 square feet apartment.

    Reply
  7. Melanie Riley

    We have lived in our small ranch house for almost 30 years. We raised two boys here. We never had the desire to move to a bigger house like a lot of our friends did – we didn’t want to go into that much debt just to have more square footage. And guess what? Several of those friends eventually lost their big houses because they couldn’t afford them. We always made things work – when we had parties and/or people over for BBQs or dinner, we use the living room as eating space, too. People don’t mind where they have to sit, as long as they have a place to do so. All they will remember anyway is whether they had a good time.

    We are now empty nesters and our house is paid off. Will we stay here forever? We’re not sure yet. Hubby still has 5-1/2 years to go until retirement. But I have loved knowing that this house has – and will – suit us our entire lives. There is a couple that lives behind us who are in their early 60’s. They moved into this house just two years ago and we scratch our heads wondering why they chose this house: it’s a two-level (plus a basement) with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. They don’t have any grandchildren. Why would people purposely choose a big house like this when it’s just the two of them? So much to clean, take care of, and navigate! Oh well…each to their own, I suppose. Have a great day!

    Reply
  8. Michelle Morales

    We are a fam of 6 and recently moved from a 1950 sqft house to a 2750. Since day one I’ve thought it is a lil too big wish I could shrink it to like to 23/2500 sqft. The reason we purchased it is not the size, although my husband and kids love it. We all loved the location, in quiet cul de sac, next to walking trail, walkable to library, some restaurants and tea shop etc. closer to kids school. We also live in Arizona and I was tired of not having a pool so now I don’t dread summer it was great to have an enjoy this time. It also has a chimney and a hot tub, so many things that made me like this house besides the square footage. It needed major remodeling as it was older and we fixed it to our taste. I don’t need to fill every inch. But I do feel like we could live with less space. I am a minimalist at heart so I like things to be open and clear yet still homey and cozy. What I’m trying to say is that more went into this decision than the square footage.

    Reply
  9. Ellet

    I actually don’t agree about how it’s easier to clean. For me, it’s -less- to clean, but it’s so much easier so clean rooms and surfaces that are bigger (but in Swedish standards, 2400 feet is a huge house). Other than that, I love living smaller as well. Efficient rooms and the cosy feeling, I prefer it!

    Reply
  10. Brooke

    My husband and I just bought a house that is on the smaller side but we love it. We too have felt the pressure to have a bigger house and one that comes with a garage and multiple bathrooms. I’m sure there will be moments where we wish we had a larger house with multiple bathrooms and a garage (especially since we live in Michigan) but I believe we made the right choice for our family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is encouraging to know we are not the only ones who intentionally bought a smaller home.

    Reply
  11. Michelle

    We live in one of those 1950s houses. My two children grew up in this house. I would say the biggest benefit of living in a small house was that we were forced to live with one another. There are four years between my children and my daughter has commented that if we had a bigger house she doesn’t think she and her brother would have such a close relationship. Tight quarters forced us to work out our differences and work on our relationships. Of course, other things contributed to all of this, but the smallness of our house had a huge impact. In fact, a big enough impact that when my daughter got married and they were looking for a house, she wanted a small house. As you say, a small house is not for everyone but it has been a big benefit for us.

    Reply
  12. Barb

    I would consider a 1400 sq ft house large, not small! My family of 4 lives in an 800 sq ft house. It definitely makes me long for a home with closets and a laundry room. And my own bathroom would be nice.

    Reply
  13. Trish

    I love this! We’ve lived in 3000 SF the past ten years, and just moved 800 miles for hubby’s job. I am wanting MUCH less space this time around for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. This is just confirmation that I’m not crazy – will, about the house thing 😉

    Reply
  14. Brenda Moore

    I enjoyed this read.
    Small is cozy in my book! The smaller the better. I do not like spending my free time cleaning but I also like living in a clean house. Small and clean is sweet.
    I, as well as my kids, grew up in a not so big house and quite often I’d find all four of my kids cozied together in one bedroom taking turns reading a favorite book. We had three not-very-big bedrooms, two to a room. Yet they’d gather together; bonding time! As adults they’re still very close. And lean toward the minimalist lifestyle. The coziness of a smaller house/cottage is just so comfortable – physically and emotionally. At least to me it is❣️

    Reply
  15. Angela

    I live in New Zealand where 3 bedroom houses are the norm. But my husband is a minister, and we’re currently in a huge 5 bedroom (plus office) house with a very high maintenance garden (not planted by us) and boy do I find it a LOT of work to clean and maintain! I definitely prefer the ease of smaller homes.

    Reply
  16. Sherilyn

    Fifteen years ago, as empty nesters, we were going through job changes, some financial difficulties, and worried about losing our small 1100 sq. ft. house. My little 5 year old granddaughter who was not aware of our concerns was visiting one day. Being the “old soul” that she was (and still is) asked me to write down why I love my house and to please number them. I was surprised by her request and answered her with the following.
    1. My house has a park behind it. 2. My house is close to the river. 3. My house keeps me warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry when it rains. 4. My house is small enough to be cozy and large enough to hold everyone I love.
    Here we are 15 years later still in the same house. Our family
    has grown to 18 and we all gather in our home for holidays and special celebrations. The list my granddaughter asked me to write still hangs on the refrigerator. Life is good in a small house.

    Reply
  17. Rachel Nordgren

    AMEN to ALL of this. My husband actually works for a tiny home company here in Colorado, and I love visiting him at work because I get to see all the different designs and storage solutions that people have come up with. I think smaller spaces are often so much more interesting because they force you to be creative and imaginative, and to really prioritize what is most important to you. Thank you so much for sharing the journey of your home as you guys have been bringing it to life!

    Reply
  18. Anya

    We moved from a newer, smaller, more expensive house (1900 sf) to an older, bigger, less expensive house (2500 sf) when we had our fourth and last child— 425 sf per person. Our new neighborhood is closer to the Catholic school the kids were already going to, and it’s much more diverse, which I love— both ethnically and in terms of different ages (young families, families with teens, empty nesters, elders who are original owners from 1963). There are true sidewalks with a median between the sidewalk and the street (not all those ramp-like parts of the sidewalk with the driveways), so people walk a lot— their dogs, their kids— and our friendly 6-year-old, the baby for whom we moved, has introduced us to so many people because he says hi to everyone. 🙂 As for the house itself— it’s from 1963, and it was designed for the big families of the baby boom. Compared to our 1985 house, the bedrooms are smallish, there’s no master suite, the bathrooms are tiny— but the living areas are big and comfortable, with room for multiple activities at once, and I love that, because it makes it easier to hang out together as a family or have friends over. As for energy usage— the old house had cathedral ceilings. This one has regular old 8-foot ceilings (plus, we bought solar panels, as we’re in SoCal), and thick plaster walls, so it’s a lot more energy-efficient. With us, as with so many people writing here, there are a lot of different factors in these choices. 🙂

    Reply
  19. Frex

    Small house has maaaany advantages and living there is much cheaper than in a big house.

    Reply
  20. Heather

    We’re not in a huge house at around just under 2k feet for a family of four, but I’d love to go down a bit more for all of these reasons. It seems most people we know are constantly upsizing to a bigger house, which I really don’t understand. When we visit their new homes I nod and smile as they give us a tour but all I can see is all the work involved to maintain it! Every time I leave, no matter how beautiful and expensive these homes are, it just validates the fact that I definitely don’t want that. Give me a cute little cottage any day! But, while I’d love to go a bit smaller, I do love our current house’s style and yard and especially its location, and those things aren’t worth giving up…so I will just continue to daydream about the beautifully sparse tiny homes I see online. Maybe when we’re empty nesters!

    Reply
  21. Heather

    Thank you for this post! When my husband and I got married we moved into his childhood home (approx. 1000 square feet give or take a few square feet) In the past 8 years we added 2 children, 2 cats and a dog. I find myself grumbling about the size of the house and not having any room for storage or closet space. This post has shifted my view point. I will be revisiting this post from time to time when my mood gets the best of me!

    Reply
  22. April Best

    We recently downsized for all the same reasons you listed. We also really value living in a walkable neighborhood and the space in our house is immediately expanded with a walk to the library or the rec center down the street 🙂

    Reply
  23. Jennifer Pepito

    We live in a small (1600 square feet) home with four of our 7 children (there is a detached garage where two adult sons live, and a daughter is living overseas), and we love it for many of the same reasons that you listed. It’s inexpensive to heat and cool, there is much less space to fill with furniture, or pay to repaint, and it will be a totally manageable home as our children leave the nest and my husband and I are here on our own. We ended up here in part because we discovered that what we love much more than having a big home, was traveling as a family, in part because of your book, At Home in the World, so thank you for that.

    Reply

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