Our (small) house. In the middle of the street.

We live in a small house. Our main house, where the four of us spend 85% of our time is 635 square feet.  We have a converted garage that adds 300 sq/ft, and the ability for us to have a family member, or two at most, stay from time to time.

We had a big house, with big rooms, high ceilings, integrated sound system, hardwood floors.  We had a guest suite on a separate floor with a private bath. We had a double car garage, and a finished attic.

We also had big energy bills, big property taxes, big mortgage payments, very few guests, and a massive list of wants:

  • New furniture to fill the big rooms
  • New music to play on our big sound system
  • New cars to fill our garage
  • Even a new kitchen at one point!

Now. In this house. I want a new rug for the living room.   My husband, however, is fine with our current rug.

I’m surprised that downsizing our living space has downsized the “need” for stuff.  There is the obvious: less space = less space for stuff.  But it’s more than that.  When you live in a small house the stuff you DO have is more visible.  There is no hiding, losing, storing, closeting, etc.  The things that you have and hold onto invade your daily living as constant reminders of all the things you ALREADY have. When your life FEELS full, you lose your appetite for more.

While many of us aspire to lead happier lives and reduce our impact on this planet, I wonder how much we consider our living space as our inspiration?

This brings me to my current fascination: The Tiny House Movement

“The rhetoric of modern tiny-house living begins with the assertion that big houses, aside from being wasteful and environmentally noxious, are debtors’ prisons.”

via The Rise of the Tiny-House Movement : The New Yorker.

Our house is enormous compared to Tiny House standards (100-130 sq/ft), but the effect on my life has mirrored the ideals of the movement.  Tiny houses are the outcome of ideals: less debt and less impact on this planet.  My small house is not the outcome, but the inspiration of those ideals.

I have planted vegetables for the first time since elementary school science.  My kids wear hand-me-downs.  We do not have car payments, nor plan to in the near future.  We are more thoughtful about where we spend our money.  Most importantly, we talk less and worry less about money and “stuff”.

Consider these numbers:

From 1950 to 2000 in the U.S., average residential living trends
have been towards bigger homes with fewer occupants:

  • the number of occupants per house decreased by 22%. 
  • living space per person increased by 183%. 
  • home size increased by 120%
  • 26% of available edible food is wasted at the consumer level.
  • In 2000, the per capita consumption of all materials in the United States was 23.7 metric tons, 52% more than the European average.
  • In 2008, the average American generated 4.5 lbs of municipal solid waste (MSW) each day, with only 1.1 lbs recovered for recycling.  For comparison, MSW generation rates (in lbs/person/day) are 2.42 in Canada, 3.5 in Germany, and 3.44 in the UK.

–  Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. 2010. “U.S. Environmental Footprint Factsheet.” Pub. No. CSS08-08

We did not buy our small house for altruistic reasons, but living in a smaller space has had the unintended benefit of curbing my desire for “stuff”.

The Tiny House Movement is most likely not in our future, but hopefully what we learn from this small house, we will take with us to our next (admittedly, probably bigger, but not as big as it might have been).

For more information about the Tiny House Movement and other small house endeavors, check out the Tiny House Blog, This Tiny House, and The Small House Society.

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