While I’n on the road, I’m featuring guest posts. Today’s comes from Owen over at PlanEasy.
In a past life, I had a 4500 square foot home. It was ridiculous. Why does a family of 4 need a home with 4 bathrooms (although I did kinda like having my own toilet)? Why did we need a bathroom/master closet that was over 150 square feet? We didn’t, so we moved.
We’re better off in our modest home of 1850 square feet, but it’s still not ideal. If I designed a home, it would be no bigger than 1500 square feet (sorry, I love that number). Maybe I’m still thinking too big though? In today’s post, Owen shows us how a family of 4 lives (and thrives!) in 1,000 square feet.
Take it away Owen!
Believe it or not, our family lives in just 1,000 square feet. Two adults and two small children. We could afford much more but we choose to live small.
Why would we do this, you ask?!?
Well, housing is a major decision. One way or another housing will drive about 50% of your annual expenses. Approximately 35% of your annual expenses are for shelter and another 15% are for transportation, which of course is closely linked to where you live. Choosing the right home can help you save big in both categories.
We’re living small, but not living “tiny.”
With four people sharing 1,000 square feet we’re averaging 250 square feet per person. I’ve created a floor plan below to help you see how we do it.
Traditional “tiny” houses are between 100-400 square feet for 1-2 people. While I LOVE the idea of a tiny house this is way too small for us and not something that we could do with two children.
But when you compare our home against the median size of a new home built last year, we’re definitely on the small side. The median house built last year was 2,422 square feet and on average 2.58 people occupy this house. That’s almost 1,000 square feet per person! We’ve got that much space for all four of us. We’re living in less than half the space of new houses built in 2016.
Why did we choose to live so small? Let me share some of the reasons.
Living small is less stressful
Every day we feel stress: financial stress, work stress, family stress, health stress. Why not try and reduce that stress even just a little bit? Believe it or not, living small is way less stressful.
We own less stuff (there’s just no room). We have everything we need, but not much more. In our experience, less clutter means less stress.
We have less to maintain. There is less stuff to maintain and there is less home to maintain. Fewer things means we have fewer obligations. There’s a certain peace-of-mind that comes from knowing we have less stuff that needs to be done.
We worry less about home repairs. We’re in a one floor bungalow. We can access all the mechanicals from the basement or the attic. Even if things went seriously wrong the damage could be easily repaired.
Upgrades are easier and a lot less stressful. Rooms are small so cosmetic changes take less time and less money.
Living small is also less stressful because it puts less strain on our expenses. We live more efficiently and that gives us a lot of financial freedom. We worry less about our finances.
Living small creates more time
Living small also gives us more time. More time to focus on what matters. We have more time for fun activities with the kids. More time to hang out with friends. More time for vacations with family.
Cleaning takes a fraction of the time. We vacuum the entire house in 10 min. This also lets us use one of those fancy Dyson cordless vacuums which makes it even easier. We only have one bathroom to clean. We put the kids’ toys on rotation (toys are put away periodically and old toys are brought back out) so there’s less to put away each day.
Regular maintenance is easier too. Cleaning gutters? Under an hour. Painting a bedroom? It’s smaller and much easier. Washing windows? Simple, they’re all on one floor. This frees up more time for fun activities.
Living small makes frugality easy
Being frugal is integrated into our daily lives, there’s no room for meaningless “stuff.” All the things we own are either very useful or have sentimental value. There is literally no space for meaningless things.
Buying something new becomes a decision about its value. Do we value this new thing more than we value that old thing?
This completely changes the want vs need dynamic. Unless we truly need something, there isn’t a reason to clutter up our home with extra stuff.
Living small doesn’t mean sacrificing
Even though we live small we don’t have to sacrifice any of the essentials. We have a full-size kitchen, bathroom and living room. We save a lot of space in the bedrooms which are ~80-120 square feet each.
Below is a basic bird’s eye view of our floor plan. As you can see our house is about 1,000 square feet but very well laid out. There isn’t much wasted space. Even the “hallway” spaces between the living room, kitchen and bedrooms become part of the rooms when not in use.
(I apologize profusely to any architects reading this for my poor-quality floor plan)
And just for fun, here’s our floor plan including furniture. As you can see we have all the typical furniture you’d find in a family home. Living small doesn’t mean sacrificing with tiny couches or tables that fold into walls.
We have a couch and two large chairs in our living room. We have a dining room table that can seat up to eight people, although its normally just set up for the four of us. We have a fully functional kitchen. No hot plates or mini-fridges like in those tiny houses.
Here’s a view of the exterior of the home. It’s a small one story bungalow. The exterior is entirely red brick which we love! In a few years, we’ll be upgrading the roof to black asphalt shingles or perhaps a fancy solar roof, if I can convince my wife!
A picture of the living room. We’ve been slowly making improvements here. We just finished painting the walls which is why they’re somewhat bare at the moment.
(Does anyone have experience painting brick fireplaces? We’re looking to paint our fireplace white and replace the tile. Let me know if you have any tips)
A picture of the kitchen too. Full-size fridge, stove, dishwasher and sink. We’ve also got a huge window above the sink that overlooks our large backyard.
The older, smaller homes in our area have large lots. This was another feature for us. We’re on a huge 60×190 foot lot. Newer homes have lots that are just 30×80 feet. This gives us more room for the girls to play outside. It also gives us room for a large vegetable garden and some fruit trees.
Living Small Will Reduce Your Expenses
One of the best parts about living small is that we save approximately $15,000 per year vs newer family homes in our area. We save on things like mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance rates, electricity expenses, gas/heating expenses and maintenance costs.
The news homes in our area range from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and can easily cost an extra $150,000 – $200,000 vs our 1,000-square foot bungalow. With the extra cost to purchase, plus the larger size, these homes cost quite a bit extra per year in carrying costs.
Having a large home also makes it harder to save on utilities. My new obsession has been lowering our electricity bill. Because our home is so small we could quickly make some big changes. As a result, our electricity usage is down below 200 kwhs per month saving us about $360 per year.
My next goal is to reduce our water usage. Although we have a second bathroom in the basement our main floor bathroom gets used 95% of the time. This means we can save about 15-20% off our water bill just by installing one ultra-low flow toilet. This is a $150-$200 investment that should pay back within 2-3 years.
Location, Location, Location
By coincidence smaller homes in our area are also well located. We’re walking distance to groceries, banks, restaurants, coffee shops etc. We’re also just two blocks away from the public school. Newer and larger homes are typically located further away, in new developments, and require a car to get anywhere.
Because of the location, we’re able to be a one-car family. Most of the time car stays home and we bike around the city. My bike ride is 6 miles to work each way. My wife uses her bike plus a double bike trailer for the girls.
When need to go further than 5-6 miles, or the weather is shitty, then we take the car, otherwise we try and take the bike everywhere. Avoiding a second car saves us another $5,000-$7,000 per year.
In total, our annual housing and transportation expenses are just $13,220 per year.
Living Small Means Saving Big
Living small means less expenses, less stress and less demands on your time. When coupled with a good location this can also help reduce transportation expenses too.
This one decision will drive ~50% of your monthly expenses. Before you make your next housing decision think about how living small can help you save big.
Bio: I’m an avid traveler, father and personal finance geek. I founded PlanEasy Inc. to help make financial planning easy. PlanEasy provides inexpensive financial planning advice entirely online. I write about personal finance topics on my blog.
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