Saturday, October 8, 2011

small house

“You have a small house.”

This five years ago from my daughter’s new playmate.  He stood, wedged in the corner of our kitchen and proclaimed his truth with authority. He wasn’t the first candid kindergartener to offer his opinion about our supposed shortage of square footage.  In those heady days of the booming real estate market, oversized houses had popped up like dandelions in my neighborhood. I felt like Gulliver in Brobdingnag.  

In the bigness of Brobdingnag, the ordinary appears small, and my 1940s rambler had suddenly taken on the characteristics of someone else’s walk-in closet.  Each of my two bathrooms, I was sure, could slip right down the drain of my new neighbor’s double Jacuzzi.  And my own closets?—about the size of a modern day medicine cabinet.

Bigness is contagious.  Stores now bulge with bloated household items designed to fill cavernous homes.  Couches and window treatments have swelled up like soaking raisins; wall hangings and coffee tables come bulkier than an athlete on steroids.  I saw a flower pot the size of a bathtub at our local nursery the other day.  Big stuff equals big price tag.  They wanted over $100 for that hunk of clay!  I went for the mini-replica at a whopping $10.  

Most of this big stuff won’t fit in my house.  Literally.  Even the small things have gotten big.  Have you bought a new garlic press lately? Measuring cups? A cheese grater? All of these tools have sprouted bulbous rubber handles that gobble up precious storage space.

I suppose it would be sad to find a skinny little melon-baller lying all alone in the corner of an oversized drawer, like a forgotten toothpick.  But should we pump up the melon baller? Or downsize the drawer?   

When we moved in 16 years ago, we found our 1,650 sq. ft. abode perfectly adequate, and I recognize that by some standards, it's not that small at all.   According to an unevaluated internet source, the average American house currently measures at around 2,800 square feet.  That makes us under average: not little, not teeny, just small.  But everything is relative, and since apparently, we live in Brobdingnag, where the idea of 6,000 square feet doesn’t turn a head, the house can feel teeny. 

A few years ago, I began to think bigger—not 6,000 square feet bigger, just something that could accommodate a modest melon baller.  Steve and I made the big decision to move.  We even picked out a house—a fairly ordinary 4 bedroom colonial with a sort-of-finished basement.  I liked it.  Steve loved it.  But when we tentatively agreed to buy it, I went home and, shockingly, cried for two days.  This had been my idea.  I had said I was frustrated with our lack of storage, tired of squeezing dinner guests into a sardine can for their meal, annoyed at moving the laundry basket so I could open the refrigerator door. 

So why the blubbering? 

I think I sensed something rotten in the state of Brobdingnag.  The market had a teetering quality to it.  Plus, how would we pay a bigger mortgage? How would we afford to heat and air condition so many rooms? And look at all those light bulbs! Did we want to burn that much energy?  How did this house address my concerns about climate change? How would I ride my bike for groceries on that windy road?

I also worried that the new house would stretch our little family too thin; I would become a desperately overreaching Gumby trying to keep a hand on each of three floors.  Would our connections grow thin and tenuous? It would be hard enough to talk to my kids as they approached middle and high school, how would I do it through imposing floors and ceilings?   

We didn’t set out to live in a small house; 16 years ago, we simply bought what we could afford, and we reveled in its unapartmentlikeness.  I expected we would someday “upgrade.”  I didn’t expect that the house would shape us, teach us, hold us.  I didn’t expect that we would stay.


  1. Coming from someone who does live in one of those "monstrosities" of the No. Va area, I have to agree that smaller is better. Now that my kids are teens, the walls and ceilings have gotten thicker...not literally, but with typically closed bedroom doors of your normal teenager, your only means of communicating would be a text since bumping into them in the hallway is not an option. At one time the house seemed to fit our big family of six. With three teenagers and one preadolescent (accompanied by numerous playmates at any one time), our house handled the traffic well, giving me my own space when needed. As my kids have gone off to college, the house seems to get bigger & bigger, but I think it's just more empty. So my question we wait till our kids start their own families and welcome them with open arms for untimely visits and busy stressed out holidays without a care in the world since there is room for all or do we abandon our castle for an RV and visit our kids in their own homes.....big or small. My likely predictions.... like father , like son, our son will take pride in the biggest house of all..... The smallest, yet classy will be our 2nd daughter with the flat in NY.....our oldest daughter will be in the cutest cottage ever....and the youngest, after my own heart, on a farm. It will make for interesting travels in our one bedroom RV!

  2. Interesting article:

    and movement on tiny houses:

    I LOVE these ideas. Though I wouldn't want to go quite that small with kids!

    We live in a townhome now, and I'd still like to downsize and simplify.

    My teen is used to being at people's houses with big basement playrooms and lots of 'teen privacy.' He used to love to have people over to our house, now he wants to go to their houses. And I think they eat junk food there rather than healthy food (I sooooo remember devouring the little debbies I could get at Kristen's house growing up!). Ahhh. Well. So it is.

    1. yes, the tiny house movement is so cool. it does seem daunting to fit a family into one of those. Gareth does the same - goes to other houses for privacy and junk food. we are having some success in luring them back here, however, by cooking for them. it takes a lot of work, though! haven't looked at the denver channel article yet, but will...thanks!

  3. Here I am again! So I guess I do live in a small house, too! It is just under 1800 sq feet, and we are in the process of adding a "teen" room in the basement, but me and my girls' craft room will be right next to it, with no door in between, so no much smooching will be going on in there, until, I guess, we decide we'd rather have teens smooching there instead of somewhere where they can go on and on. That's not an issue yet, though, as my oldest would rather die than have a girl come to our house. Our last house was just under 1200 sq. feet, with 1 bathroom. And we did have four kids there. The one bathroom involved doing tricks when the toilet broke. Ahhhhhhhhhh, I now feel toilet rich, as we now have, drum roll please, 3! Ta da! Still no extra room, like a family room, and therefore, that is why Husband started this basement project, which nearly broke us apart. No, not at all, but neither one of us is enjoying this renovation stuff. I like my stuff where it is, and like having that box to put other stuff into in the basement. Too many boxes to be sure, but some useful. Boxes of kids' artwork and such. Boxes of animal feed, (dog, guinea pigs, fish, and ohhhhhhhh do I want chickens!!!) Boxes of extra school supplies, and I feel like I am magic when First Born says he needs a new notebook, and I pull one out practically from my sleeve. I totally agree with how obnoxious the bigness of America is. I guess I should not say America, because in some places of our country people still live in "small" places. But I feel like I could belong better in some European place where everything is smaller, closer, and people can wear the same clothes for a few days, at least openly wear the same clothes. Here I have to swap 'em around and pretend to have a fresh shirt on everyday. I don't even wash my hair everyday, why would I wash my shirt everyday? What a waste.

    I will be sending you an email very soon. I feel like I have no patience left. We are going to the shrink tomorrow for the other twin. She has some anxiety also, but much less than twin B. Was twin B just too close to my mouth and brain where she heard all *my* worries when in the womb? And twin A was down low, listening to stomach noises, which I guess would be much more lulling. Who knows, but the CBT must begin ASAP. Thank you so much for your email address. I look forward to knowing more about your experiences.

    1. as usual you crack me up. i swap my worn clothes around too! don't know if you're a big reader or not, but i read a book years ago called "Lost in Translation" by Evan Hoffman. It's excellent - about her immigrating from poland to america in the 60s. one of the things she found so difficult was all the space between everything. she missed her apartment where she slept in the kitchen and shared a bathroom with everyond on their floor. it sounds crowded to americans, but she made it intimate. i think we do miss out on that...