“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.