Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The little home

Editing this post because, as several people have pointed out, I totally messed up the numbers. I should never attempt to deal with numbers when writing late at night. :o) My apologies.

Lately, things have been kind of crazy here. We are facing the prospect of moving soon, and I feel my blood pressure rise just with the thought of packing and how the house will be turned upside down. In addition, we have taken on a building project of a wooden cabin/vacation house. In short, we haven't had such a busy summer for years. I'm kind of beginning to wish we could all take off on a leisurely trip for a few weeks and come back and see everything ready (one can dream, right?).

While browsing ideas for more effective storage, I came across a couple of articles about people who have chosen to buy, rent or build smaller homes, in order to live in a more affordable manner and/or to spend less time cleaning and taking care of their possessions.

Here is an article about the average size of the American houses. It says that in the 1950's, the average size of a house was 983 square feet (91 square meters). In the 2000's, the average was 2300 square feet (213 square meters). Wow! I can just imagine having to clean all that. And the average family isn't all that large either. Now, though, it seems that the trend is to have smaller homes (the statistics are probably bolstered by the people who chose to radically downsize and live in a really tiny house).

Obviously things are a little different in Israel because land is very expensive here. I haven't actually done any research, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that here, much more people live in apartment buildings. There's not much of a "suburbs" concept with private lots and houses.

I grew up in an apartment of 56 square meters, which equals 603 feet. Granted, there were only three people living in that apartment, but still. When I got married, the first home we bought was a little house of 70 square meters, with a blanket-sized back yard. We lived there first as a couple, then with one child, then with two, and I didn't feel we're running out of space. Almost all the houses on the street - except those with various additions - were of a similar size, and most families had at least 3 children. One even had 5 children, and they lived in a house no larger than ours.

We later moved to a bigger house, not because we felt we needed the extra space, but because it was the only available house in the area we wanted. We actually felt it's a little wasteful to have so much space, when it means extra bills. In Israel, you pay "house tax" per square meter, and of course a bigger house means wasting more energy to heat/cool. How many square meters do we have now? Around 110. That's 1184 square feet. This house was previously home to a family of eight - our landlord, his wife and their six daughters. And do you know what people said to us when we moved here? "Oh my, this house is huge. It is just enormous. You only have two children. How are you EVER going to use all that space?"

It just so happens that my husband has a tendency to accumulate possessions (tools, books, clothes, computer-related stuff that might be used "some day"). So, our extra space was just gradually and slowly taken up for storage. It's like fighting a losing battle - as soon as I donate some old clothes and free a shelf, it's taken up by some more computer parts. Now that we are moving soon, I find the prospect daunting.

Many families in our neighborhood live in caravans - a kind of mobile home. They usually amount to 46 square meters - 495 square feet - of space divided into two tiny bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen/dining area. No doubt this is very crowded, especially if you consider that families with four and even five children live there.

So how do families in those tiny homes manage? Almost all of them become very skilled at efficient space management. When I visit, I see no space unused for storage - under the beds, along the walls, in every nook and corner. Vacuum packaging is used a lot, as are folding beds and two-story beds. And almost all build a small storage shed attached to the outside of their home.

Many also build a large covered front porch - sometimes as large as the whole house - that is used for sitting outside in the shade or relaxing in hammocks, eating meals with company when there is no room inside, hanging out the washing, as a playing space for the children, etc. We have a newly married couple here living in a caravan divided by half; they have 23 square meters - 247 square feet - that make a tiny bedroom, tiny bathroom, tiny kitchen and very, very tiny sitting/dining space. They made an original move of placing their refrigerator and washing machine outside. True, it's hotter outside and so it means a little more waste of electricity by the refrigerator, but they simply have no room in their home so they manage with what they can have.

Obviously there is an advantage to a tiny house over a tiny apartment. If you live in an apartment, you can't build a front porch or a storage shed, and you can't send your children to play outside as easily. Having said that, my husband and his siblings grew up in a very small apartment that consisted of a bedroom, living room, and a little closed-off balcony that was like half a bedroom. The parents slept in the bedroom, the boys in the living room, and the girls in the half-bedroom balcony. The curious thing is that, though the family members had so little physical privacy, they were and are all very respectful of each other's private emotional and mental space. There is a healthy distance thanks to which nobody forcefully pries into anyone's affairs.

Someone asked me about toys in little homes. I know a family here who has five children, they live in a caravan, and they homeschool. They opt for toys and games that take as little space as possible, stored as efficiently as possible. Also, whatever the children don't play with is packed away and donated. I tried doing this too - without telling my girls - and they never noticed anything was missing, which just shows they didn't really need it. My personal choice is less toys and more craft supplies - paper and crayons, markers or paint take far less space than a bunch of board games, and children never tire of them.

Image from buildipedia.com.

I just love this little house. Don't you? To me, it spells cozy, peaceful... and easy to clean.


Jana said...

I think it's a difference of culture. I am American and I live in Germany for 9 months. It was quite a shock to notice just how different things are. The most noticable were the cars. They had no trucks or vans or SUVs. Everyone who had a car drove a small car. Gas was 4 times more expensive than where I grew up. In the states, we are used to "wide open spaces". Personal space is highly valued and coming inside of that 3 ft radius is considered very intimate. Only children disregard that rule. Homes are large but bedrooms are few. People practically live inside with their devices (tv, computer, tablet, phone, and music players). Going outside is where the dangerous sunlight, sunburns, smog, allergies, etc are. Not to mention gangs, shootings, kidnappers, and terrorists. Americans are afraid. Much of that fear comes from our newspapers, schools, and government. We have a lot of crazy laws. One that pertains to your post is that in some states (Washington and California to name a few) require a bedroom of a specific size for an adopted child that they cannot share with anyone else.

Not everyone here lives in such worry about space and such, but those who do are bucking the norm. Tell us about your normal. We only know our normal and obviously it is not the same. Thank you.

Lindsay C. said...

I believe you need to find a different calculator to convert square feet to square meters; the conversions didn't sound quite right to me, so I did a little mental math and then confirmed with an online calculator, and I believe 318 sq.ft. converts to just over 29.5 sq.m., and your stated area of your house is more like 1184 sq.ft.

The main idea of your post still stands, of course. Many here in the US have a much different idea of "necessary" space for living, compared to much of world. The average square footage of a house built these days has increased dramatically over the last 50 years, while average family size has decreased. I must admit that 318 sq.ft. does sound quite small to me, even as I want to decrease the amount of "stuff" we own and plan on our two boys (infant and 2) share a room as soon as our youngest is ready to make the move.

I just thought you might want to take a second look at your calculations so you might make your (valid) points more effectively. I enjoy your blog and the different perspective you are able to provide. Have a nice day!

Leah Brand-Burks said...

WOW! WOW! WOW! I had NO idea you lived in such a compact home! Nor did I understand that such was the norm! Now I feel guilty when I say I live in a 1270 square foot home. There are 5 of us.... Here, though, people shake their heads and wonder how we do it! They think we need at least double this space! I love living here, and for now, while the children are small (age 5 and under) we all fit nicely. :)

Tracy said...

I had no idea the size of your home. I'm intrigued by smaller homes, and while this would be big compared to what you live in, I love this woman's blog.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I found your site today through The Legacy of Home's blog. We share a lot of the same interests!
When my husband and I were married 35 years ago, we rented a small one bedroom apartment in the SF Bay Area, I would say it was maybe 300-350 sq ft... not quite sure, but we had our first 3 children there and were quite happy. Unfortunately, our landlady did not care for that idea and wanted us out. It was affordable on one income and we were not able to buy a house at that time in California.
When we finally did buy a home, after having 5 children and only 2 left at home, we wanted one that would be nice for our retirement years, not too large, single level, etc. It is 1,725 sq ft which is on the small side as far as homes go these days, with newer homes being built with close to 3,000 sq ft in many areas. I think in the United States there are many with feelings of entitlement and are willing to substitute large houses for large families.
Thank you for writing this post, it was very interesting and I will be thinking about it for some time, I'm sure! Blessings, Katherine

Lea said...

We are a family of 4 in a home slightly more than twice the size of the one you read about. Our home in approximately 900 square feet with three bedrooms, a bath, living area with full kitchen. Our yard is quite large by most standards.

Here in the US our home is considered TINY - most are at least 1600sq feet with some type of two vehicle garage/covered parking and/or basement and/or shed/barn. Many are over 2000sq ft. Many parents would never consider having any child share a room with their siblings - my Mother-in-law often received truly mean comments for having her children do so (my husband has 8 siblings). We are definitely spoiled here space-wise!

It's very interesting to me how different things are around the world! Oh - and our taxes are based on the monetary value of our home and land, which usually includes the size of the home. So larger home = larger taxes here too.

Thanks for sharing!

Cecelia H. said...

Using the above link I looked up the conversions and 70 sq m = 753 sq ft. The house the family downsized to is 29.5 sq m. Small living is quite interesting and I often lose time looking at videos of tiny homes on Youtube.

Hilde said...

Are you sure about the numbers? I once learnt that 10 square feet are approximately 1 square meter, so the 318-square feet house would have about 30 square meter, which is really quite small.
I am always shocked about the size of American houses, too. Not only do they have a bedroom for each child, but a family room, a dining room, a living room, a den, a home office etc.It seems you could spend the whole day at home without seeing a member of your family.

Lisa said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog for a long time and find great encouragement from your writing. I have three small children in similar ages to your two. I was wondering how many and what sort of toys they have. My children do not have a lot of toys but I still feel like they are constantly spread all over the house. Do you have any idea what young children in small houses do to play or entertain themselves? I'd like to find things for my children to do so I can give away some toys :)


Jana said...

Our laws in California are pretty strict to avoid overcrowding. Here's a legal review of how many people can be in one room of an apartment. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/many-people-can-legally-live-one-bedroom-apartment-83311.html

Jana said...

A square meter and a square yard are very close. There are 9 square ft to a square yard. A rough estimate would be to multiply your square meters by 9 to get the square feet.

Lady Anne said...

My husband, like yours, is a Certified Computer Parts Collector, and to make it worse, I build dollhouses, so we really do have a bunch of stuff to dispose of it we ever decide to move. Both of us try to go through and toss what we can from time to time, but there's always that ONE little thing which looks as if it might come in handy.

We raised four children - our own three girls and The Squire's nephew - so we have a pretty big house, but every room is used. Some houses in American are being built today with only a "country kitchen" and no dining room or living room.

The problem in many areas is that builders are only erecting three types of homes - condominiums, townhouses (three stories), and what we call McMansions. We'd like to downsize to a plain old "house", but unless you happen to catch one on the market, it's almost impossible to find a new one. (Not that that is a problem; this house was "used".) We are both in our 70s so climbing steps in a townhouse doesn't appeal to us, and we've lived without close neighbors for so long that an apartment or condo doesn't appeal to us. Picky, picky!

I looked at some of the mini-houses on that website and they are way too small, even for two people. A place for everything and everything in its place, but there's no room to lay out a pattern to make a dress or set up a jigsaw puzzle. (Or build a dollhouse!) I don't see myself spending an hour dusting and then sitting in front of the TV all day.

Rose said...

Small space living is our new norm as we are living in a motor home and traveling across the USA. I think we have about 300 square feet for the 9 of us. It is quite cozy. We've learned to be creative with storage and with getting along with one another. The great outdoors is quite appealing, even more so when we share a small inside space.

As I write this, we are all indoors enjoying our own pursuits, reading and games and such, and looking out the window at an incredible thunderstorm.

Gothelittle Rose said...

Fascinating reading about all these differences!

Being in America, I live in a house that many people actually consider 'small'... technically it's 960sqft. We have three children.

Well, "technically" it's 960sqft. In actual fact, it is an interesting and ingenious little design called a bi-level or split-entry. The lower floor is only halfway dug into the ground, and the upper floor has the main 'heart of the home' in it.

The house has two small bedrooms upstairs and two large bedrooms downstairs. My husband and I occupy the 'master' (second smallest bedroom!) and the 'second' is used as a sewing/craft room. Our boys share one of the rooms downstairs and our girl has the other.

We're very glad that we don't have to put the fridge or washing machine outside. It wouldn't last long! Then again, our climate is upper humid temperate, so we have temperatures from 95F in the summer to -20F in the winter plus plenty of rain, sleet, hail, snow, thunderstorms, and a tendency to grow moss on forgotten objects...

My experience is very different from Jana's. We live in the New England countryside. My house sits on a four acre plot, mostly wooded, and our grocery store is far enough away that I make weekly trips. We are not afraid to be outside, and we are not afraid of our neighbors or our streets. I will walk alone for a good half-mile from my brother's house to mine, at night, even without a flashlight! I've lived here for over 35 years and I know my way home.

Right now, my 11-year-old son is about a half-mile away at the 'neighbor's' house (few houses down) swimming with their boys. My 5-year-old daughter is playing outside in the yard. I'm getting ready to make supper. We're happy here!

Tracy said...

So, now that you've revised your numbers, I definitely think should peek at the blog I mentioned above. They have a family of five living in about half of what you have, and it's very cosy.

We lived in the same sq footage that you're currently in for years. It worked just fine.

Jo said...

Thought you might find this interesting. Houses in Australia is around 10% larger in Australia than the USA. In Australia they are around 243.6 square metres compared to 222 square metres in the USA. See link below.

It's a personal thing, I prefer room to move and now that there is only two of us the house feels better and more roomy compared to when's here was four of us.


Anonymous said...

Everything looks "larger than life" in the US! :D
I'm always amazed watching movies in which they depict poor families living in houses or flats that are about twice the size of our apartment in Italy (and they complain about how cramped the space is lol).