“Your home is living space, not storage space.” —Francine Jay
Recently, the New York Times referred to our generation as the most stressed, tired, and rushed generation of all time.
“A Portrait of the Modern Family,” is how the author chose to title the article. She is, of course, correct. We are tired, stressed, and busy. In the article, the author cites a number of reasons why this is the case: public policy, workplace structure, unrealistic expectations, just to name a few.
Around the time that article was being published, a different kind of report was being produced, The 2014 U.S. Department of Commerce Report on New Housing, an annual study surveying the size and cost of new homes being built.
I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a significant correlation between the two.
Certainly, there is a direct link with the number of possessions we own and the stress we experience. Every increased possession adds increased anxiety unto our lives. There is a direct relationship also with excess possessions and an overall lack of time, energy, and focus.
The 763-page study on the homes we live in confirms what most Becoming Minimalist readers already know to be true: We own too much stuff—and yet, rather than getting rid of it, we just build bigger homes to store it all.
Here are some findings from that 2014 report and other related sources:
- In 2014, the average size of new homes built increased to an all-time high of 2,690 square feet. In 2015, the average grew another 30 square feet to 2,720.
- While our houses have gotten bigger, our families have gotten smaller. Because of these two factors, since 1973, average living space per American person has doubled.
- The growth in square footage of new homes has wiped out nearly all the efficiency gains. In other words, though energy efficiency has developed rapidly, we’ve increased our home size to the point that we’re still using almost the exact same amount of energy.
- As would be expected, housing costs have risen alongside square footage. In the U.S., the existing home median sale price is $210,800 (up from $154,600 in January, 2012).
- Housing expenses, all totaled, accounted for more than 33% of the average consumer’s total expenditures during 2014.
- Renters aren’t doing much better. In fact, it’s the worst time in 36 years to be a renter in America. The median rent nationwide now takes up 30.2 percent of the median American’s income, the highest cost burden recorded since tracking began in 1979.
- Meanwhile, Americans aren’t even building the largest homes in the world. Australia holds that honor (they are even filming television shows about it). The U.S., Canada, Denmark, and France round out the top five for largest home sizes in the world.
Our homes continue to increase in size, cost, and responsibility. Our biggest investment has become an ever-increasing drain on our resources.
But this doesn’t need to be the case.
Your biggest investment also represents your greatest opportunity.
When we first began pursuing minimalism, we made a lot of changes in our home. We removed the excess from every room in our house. But when we began removing entire rooms from our home, we started to experience even more significant benefits.
Four years ago, we intentionally decided to downsize to a smaller house. Our mortgage payments were sliced in half. Our insurance and taxes were also lowered. Our energy bills were slashed. Our ongoing repair and maintenance is a fraction of the expense it was before. And our cleaning responsibilities are noticeably easier.
Recently, I was asked by a friend how we are able to make ends meet financially while still doing a fair bit of traveling as a family. My answer immediately centered on our decision to minimize—not just our possessions, but our home as well.
“When the rest of the world was building bigger and bigger, we decided to buy smaller. And that decision has freed us to do many wonderful things.”
Choosing to buy a smaller house is a decision I have never regretted. Likely, neither will you.