Regardless of where you live and what “small” means to you, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve considered downsizing, or are in the market for a first-time home, there are absolutely some BIG benefits to living in a SMALLER home.
When Jesse and I bought our house in 2012, we did not view it as a “starter home”. We also did not go into it thinking about whether or not it would be our forever home. Honestly, we made the decision after randomly checking out an open house that happened to be across the street from our rental at the time, and we left thinking “Wait, we can BUY a house for basically the same amount that we’re paying in rent? Obviously, let’s do that.”
Over the past 9 years, we’ve grown a lot in our house (in maturity, life experiences, financial stability, and our little family from a party of 2 to 4). In that same time, we’ve seen most of our friends on similar paths upgrading to larger homes. While we sometimes think about how nice it would be to have some of the amenities that come with a bigger home – like a separate kid’s bathroom (because boys are gross) or an oversized 2 car garage – we truly do LOVE our small home and have no plans to move in the foreseeable future.
I know the term “small home” is relative. Living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, our 1,750 square foot house is considered a nice starter home by many, and the 3 bedroom/2 bath setup is not something that a lot of families of four in our area would consider. However, when our friends from New York, NY visited for the first time, they couldn’t get over how much space we had. So maybe I should clarify to say that our house is modestly sized for our income and location. That being said, there are so many things that make small house living the perfect choice for us!
So, here are the top 8 reasons why we love living in a (relatively) small house
- A Small House Means You Are Not a Slave to Your Mortgage. Possibly the most obvious (and I think the most important) benefit of living in a smaller house is that you WILL have a smaller mortgage payment.
First, this gives you more room in your monthly budget to cover other important needs like monthly utilities, fuel, and groceries.
Second, it allows you to save and spend more money on things you want, like clothing, travel, and dining out.
And finally, it can put you on a path toward financial freedom. We have been contributing 15% of our income to retirement accounts for the past 5 years since we paid off all of our student loans and car debt. We’ve also been making increasingly large extra payments every month on our mortgage, and are on track to pay it off completely in less than 9 years from when we bought it! The freedom and internal peace that this will allow is, in my opinion, priceless.
- Smaller House: Cheaper Utilities, Maintenance, Etc. A second financial benefit to buying a smaller home is that several of your monthly, yearly, and “once in awhile” bills will scale down with square footage.
Energy bills are the most obvious example. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it takes more gas and electricity to heat, cool, and power a 3,000 SF home than it does a 1,500 SF home (even more so when you have grand, vaulted ceilings that are common place in a lot of new builds).
The yearly property taxes and insurance that get built into your mortgage are a second factor. These get adjusted each year based on the value of your home, and (SHOCKER) the costs are almost always going up.
Some of the costs you might not consider when you’re house shopping are those maintenance expenses that come up once in awhile. One of my least-favorite ways to spend money on our house is paying $400 to have our ducts cleaned. While I do feel it’s important to keep us breathing easy, it’s not a super visible or fun improvement. This cost would be even more expensive and even less fun if we lived in a bigger house.
- A Small House Means Smaller Environmental Impact. Not to get all hippy-dippy on you, but did you know that residential buildings are responsible for over 20% of the total U.S. energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions annually? Your environmental footprint can be lessened in many ways by living in a small house.
We purchased a home that was built in 1929 and is located near downtown. This means that we are utilizing and improving an existing plot and structure, rather than developing undisturbed land and using lots of raw and processed materials (and associated energy) for new construction.
We also love our location because it allows us to walk to downtown events, restaurants/bars, the library, bike to the farmers market, and run to nearby parks when the weather is nice rather than driving everywhere we go. And similar to point #2, smaller square footage means we use less gas and electricity, which lessens our carbon emissions.
- Small House = Less Space to Clean = More Time to Enjoy. I love the fact that we can complete a quick tidy, vacuum, and wipe down of major surfaces on our entire house in about 2 hours.
Who wants to spend their free time scrubbing 3 or 4 bathrooms, mopping a foyer and formal dining room, picking up kids’ rooms and playrooms, and dusting that other spare bedroom?
(If you’re raising your hand frantically, I think you’re a bit weird but come on over. I have some things you can do.)
I am not one that actually enjoys cleaning, but I do feel much less anxiety relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine at the end of the day when things are *mostly* clean and in their place. So for now, I’m thankful that cleaning our house is a manageable task that can be kept up in small spurts.
When we pay off the mortgage this summer, I fully intend to treat myself to a professional deep cleaning service, and maybe even go monthly after that. Because guess what? WE CAN AFFORD IT.
- Living in a Small House Forces You to Have Less Stuff. I am a firm believer that if you have extra space, you will fill it. Most likely with things that you don’t need.
We are pretty good about doing periodic purges of our closet and our relatively small storage areas, and it still amazes me how much shit accumulates that we may not touch for years at a time.
Before we had kids? Our second bedroom upstairs was an “office”, which meant that we had a desk, an extra bed, and PILES AND PILES of anything that we needed to get out of sight. Seriously, we kind of looked like hoarders when it finally came time to clear that room out and turn it into a nursery. And having all of that STUFF is stressful.
Now that there are four of us living primarily in our 1,100 SF main level, we utilize almost every space that we have. Sure, there are still some problem areas. Our basement living room and guest room have been a bit neglected recently, since with young kids it almost seems like too much work to go downstairs and try to relax for a few minutes.
We’re certainly not 100% organized or perfect, and sometimes we still pile things somewhere temporarily to “deal with later”. Again, our house and storage spaces are pretty small, and we STILL have more than we need. So I cannot imagine what I would do with an extra 1,000 SF of space, other than let the stuff and the dust pile up and my stress go through the roof. Having less extra space means that we have to think harder about what we bring into our house, how it will serve us and where we will put it.
- A Smaller House Encourages Family Togetherness. Yes, in our house we are together almost all of the time.
We have 1 and 3 year old boys. Jesse sometimes jokes that we are messing up our kids because they’re being raised in our 12×20 ft living/dining room. I am confident that even if we had twice as much space, 1. at this point in our lives, our kids would still want to be on top of each other and/or us 90% of the time, and 2. we would find other ways to screw them up.
In all seriousness though, while we don’t have many places in our house where you can hide for personal space and quiet, it doesn’t bother us. We happen to really like each other.
Our kids share a bedroom and they don’t have a playroom (gasp!) Newsflash: neither of these are new concepts that we invented. The room sharing probably will not last for 18 years, but we are hanging on to our separate guest room for now. Future “we” will deal with that problem when our boys start to get real stinky and hormonal and may actually NEED their own space. I am hoping in the meantime that they will become close friends, learn some good lessons and maybe even enjoy sharing their room.
- A Small House is Easier to Update and Make Your Own. After several of the home improvement projects that we’ve completed, we’ve said something like “but THIS is it, now we’re done.” But we’ve come to realize, we’re never done. There are always more things that we can do to update and improve our space and the functionality of our home, even in small nooks and corners that you might not think twice about.
The nice thing about having an affordable mortgage is that you can make room in your budget to do these things. Not only that, but there are fewer, smaller rooms to “complete”. So it’s much easier to justify a splurge on what you really want, rather than skimping because you need to buy multiple bedroom sets and bar stools and sectionals just to fill your space.
I’m really starting to get into the mindset of fewer, better things. With a smaller house, you can: Buy nicer furniture. Update those ugly light fixtures. Complete that bathroom renovation (and go with the pricey tile). You get the idea.
- A Small House Means You Don’t Always Have to Host (But Still Can!) You know how on House Hunters, one of the comments when people are shopping for homes with an extensive wish list is always “We just LOVE to entertain”? And so they have to have big impressive spaces and patios to do so? Maybe I’m in the minority here, but as an introvert I DON’T always love to entertain, and having a smaller house means I don’t have to.
Several of our friends have big, open basements and large backyards with patios that are great for get-togethers where our kids can run around. Our house isn’t exactly the go-to party location, and I’m totally ok with that.
At the same time, we have successfully hosted a new years bash, birthday parties and lots of casual hangs with friends. We don’t always have perfect places for everyone to sit, and sometimes we eat or drink just sitting or standing in the yard instead of at a fancy patio set. But I’m pretty sure our friends enjoy our company enough that they really don’t mind.
Now I’m not saying that a small home will work for everybody. If you’re living large and you love it, I’m happy for you!
However, I do hope that if you’ve been struggling with the constant grind of keeping up with the Joneses, and you feel like there just has to be a better way, this will get you thinking. There are some major benefits to living in a smaller home that can improve your life and happiness. These 8 big perks of living small may just outweigh the temptation of a larger, more expensive house.