Did you buy small or build small?

frenchkittyJanuary 14, 2007

I was wondering if most people on this forum just bought a small home, or actually built a small home to start with? Do most people just start small, planning to buy up or build on, or are most of you downsizers having been there and done that?

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We're of the been there, done that type. Our current house is about 1/2 the size of our old and I'm still getting used to not having an escape room like our old house had. Big big advantage - less to clean!!! This is the "they're taking us out in an urn or a pine box" house - we never have to move again!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 6:44AM
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Since the definition of this forum is 'under 2000 sq. ft.", I guess we've always had a small house! Our current house is 1600, our last one was 800, and our next one (which we will build) will be 1200-1400 sq. ft. I simply fail to see the reasoning behind a couple (empty nesters) 'needing' any more than that. My BIL just 'downsized' to 2850 for their retirement home- I could get lost in there! What we want is more land, not more house. Our lot we are going to build on is 7 acres of woods. I will admit, though, that we will have a couple outbuildings, so our actual square footage will be quite a bit higher, but I will only have to heat, A/C, clean, and maintain a small house on a regular basis. In the global picture, even modest American homes are huge. I'm starting to come around to the fact that huge houses squander resources much the way an oversized SUV does. (Gets down off soap box) My mother's place has an interesting set-up: Her house is very small, but half of her barn is finished as a great room, complete w/ central heat and A/C. It only gets used for big get-togethers, so it costs her little the rest of the time. We are planning a similar idea, with the addition of a bathroom, so overnight guests can have their own guest house.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 9:48AM
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We down sized a couple years ago. The biggest challenge has been storage. It has made me think twice when I think I need something. My first question is "where will I store it?". I almost always decide I really don't need it. As far as overnight guest? If it is one of our children we make arrangements at a nearby motel and pick up the bill. We think it is cheaper than buying a bigger house and paying extra in taxes.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 11:05AM
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We bought our small cottage, which was 500 sq ft, and now is a little less than 700, as we opened the kitchen to the utility room and enclosed the tiny front porch, making it a library/my computer room. We've lived here since 1973. We have built a workshop, next to the house, have a small barn, and a storage building that we also built, and two factory made sheds. All on 1/4 acre, plus gardens. We are thinking of making the workshop into a great room, but we'll see. It's just an idea right now. Opening the kitchen to the utility room really made a difference in here, and so did enclosing the front porch.

If we ever move to the country, we still want something small, not this small, maybe twice the size, for some elbow room, and to be able to display the paintings we have collected over the years. We want some acreage too, with a view.

Since we've done our remodeling I've really fallen in love with our little place. It is easy to keep cool and heat, and easier to keep picked up. Although, I'd rather be out in the gardens than indoors. ;-)

We are about to open our bedroom to the tiny room that is full of stuff and that will make a difference too. We put down canyon oak laminate flooring last year in the kitchen, liv. rm. and hall and love the new look. We will lay the flooring in the bedroom also when we remodel it. It sure beats the UGLY grey lino tiles from the 50's. Our cottage was built around 1951.

The smaller one's home is the less expensive it is to maintain. Plus one doesn't have to buy, buy, buy to fill up empty spaces like one feels compelled to do living in one of those McMansions.

We are having perfectly gorgeous weather today and the past two days have been beautiful as well. So the windows and kitchen door are open (kit. door to screened in porch) and the breezes are blowing through. It feels great!

May you all enjoy today's beauty living in your smaller home.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 11:16AM
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We are building on a lake in MN, & owned the property for years with a seasonal cabin and the idea of building a retirement home eventually. Well, funny how things change - DH lost his job, and our dream got moved up a bit (just not the retirement part) but fortunately landed on our feet and are building our "forever" home. Lake values continue to skyrocket, which is good news on paper but we don't plan to sell. But as long as we can afford the taxes and insurance, this is "where I wanna be."

The home we are building fits us, fits the site and since we are building it, made sure we have ample storage. There isn't a nook or cranny that I haven't planned a built in for, using kneewalls, and a laundry under the stairs and will even have a "hidden room" in the upstairs bath behind the bathtub, accessed from a swinging bookcase style cabinet.

There's a 3 car garage/shop with attic and a shed so DH has plenty of room for his boy toys. I got a sewing/craftroom, so everybody gets their space. (DS goes to college in the fall, so we'll be empty-nesters). We'll also have a 26 x 10 covered porch lakeside, could enclose it for a 3 or 4 season eventually.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 12:11PM
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I bought my small house, but plan some day to "move up". I still want a smallish house, as I prefer the look, but yearn for a basement for projects and stuff. It's a drag having to spread all my tools out on the kitchen floor for projects. It's just so messy, and when I'm done, the need to pick up right away just tires me out more. I don't feel the need for huge rooms, I find smaller rooms in the right house cozy and friendly.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 2:00PM
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Rachel, that is rather the way I feel. I'm not OCD, (some would beg to differ ;-)) but I find that I like to have things orderly around me. Of course, there are times when everything is in disarray for one reason or another, but in general, there is something about having a room with everything in its place. For example, a bedroom with enough room for a bed, side table, dresser or armoire, and perhaps a rocker can so much more easily be kept cozy looking than a huge room with several large pieces, a sofa, TV, endtables, bench at the end of the bed, etc. We are talking, of course, of the way I personally feel. I just love to go into someone's home, and each room is put together so tastefully and yet is so simple. Now I love to decorate, and I love using old things on shelves and in glass front cabinets and such, I just have learned to love it in smaller doses--just using the most favorite things. And if I find something I like better, I give something away or sell it. As a quilter and crafty-type, I would want a little shed turned into a sewing room outside if I did not have a designated room indoors for that. I HATE to start a project and then have to go hunt down the scissors, measuring tape or quilter's rulers!! And where did I put that bag of new fat quarters??!!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 4:24PM
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BTDT. Our first house was a tract-home 1600-sq.ft townhome, and it was plenty of space for just the two of us. Next house (free-standing) was around 2200 sq. ft and had some rooms we really never used. Next house (the "forever" house!) was a custom-built townhouse with 1700 sq ft on one level and no need to ever go downstairs except to change the furnace filter, but we finished the basement anyway (3200 sq. ft total). Ex kept the house; I bought an 1800-sq. ft rambler (1100 feet up, 700 down) and I have rooms and a basement I hardly ever use. I really am not interested in any more room than this, and, quite frankly, I would be happy with less square footage if 1) it was open; and 2) there was a basement for storage. I have no idea if I will be in this house for three more years or 30, which makes home improvement a bit difficult. But I'm very happy with the size.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 10:01AM
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We have a little Dutch Colonial that is our first house. It's approx. 1400 sq. ft., plus a semi-finished basement.

It has high ceilings and tons of windows and southern light, so it feels bright and spacious. The living and dining rooms are open to each other around a central staircase, and the MBR is huge (half of the second story).

It also has a huge, enclosed yard with many mature trees, and all of the south-facing windows look out on the yard, so it feels like a park in the middle of town.

We don't have that much stuff, so storage isn't an issue, but I do regularly "audit" our possessions to see what can be given away or sold.

I feel like that keeps us from becoming "possessed" by our possessions.

I'm always happy to come home, and the house always feels pleasant and peaceful. That tells me we made a good choice.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 11:01AM
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Your home sounds wonderful! I love the Dutch Colonial style, so nice to have all that room upstairs. I'd have an older home with the character if I could, but have a DH who would rather build a new house that looks old. You can tell how content you are with your home and life. Good for you!


    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 10:40PM
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I loved reading this thread. I am wondering am I the only one here who has children. We live in a small house and always have. My husband is a builder and we built a small house of 1000 sq feet and two kids then added on to make it 1500sq ft. We sold that house and remodeled another house of 1500sq ft, sold that one and now live on 5 acres in a small garage/mother in law cottage of 600sq living/400sq garage and 5 kids! YES, 5 kids. We have lived this way for one year and I will admit I am ready for a bigger home. Our plan it to build a 1700sqft home next to this one and we are almost ready to start, but I feel this might be too big! It sounds big but doesn't look big on paper. We are going to build it small at 1100sqft then add on a year later to complete it at 1700sqft. I think this is the best avenue and the best way to save money. We are building out of pocket thus it will be slow.
I quilt/sew and home school so I know I will use up all the space we will have but I never want to move again so I hope in 20 years I don't feel like I have to down size.

frenchkitty: since you like to quilt there is a good quilting forum here on garden web.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 8:55AM
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Suntoadmom, My hat is off to you, girlfriend! 5 kids in 600sf?!! My mind goes back to the days of the one room cabin...we actually took our children years ago to the site of Little House on the Prairie, and the re-creation of the Ingalls' cabin from the size of the foundation. It was tiny, but they did not own a bunch of unecessary do-dads, either! Then we toured the actual home of Laura and Almonzo, and it was a nice story and a half, though still simple. Our minds in America are just so used to thinking that more is better, but I think many are now striving for contentment and peace of mind.

Thank you for mentioning the quilt forum. I have gone there to lurk, but I am not ready to jump in, as I want to be ready to start some projects and have something to contribute first! So many things to do...

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 10:09AM
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Frenchkitty - I'd love to know where the Little House on the Prairie recreation is. That was my favorite show growing up. I've always been amazed at how our houses seem to get bigger and bigger, when in other cultures (and even ours in the past)made do with what they had. I love muli-function furniture that makes the most of the space that is available. That said, I'm kind of lurking on this forum because my house is WAY to big, but one day I want to live in a cozy little house. I actually yearn for it. I know just what furniture I want to keep and the rest can go burn in a pit for all I care. Everyone on this forum is very fortunate to live in these more manageable spaces.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 1:11PM
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golly, You made me laugh when you said that about your stuff burning in a pit! I have felt that way about the mini-storage unit that we have. Remember that Rubbermaid commercial about the family that bought all the plastic storage bins and cleaned up their house with them, and then they said, "Now we need more STUFF"? Ugh. Whenever I drive around and see the slew of mini-storages popping up all over, my stomach crunches. I just want to get out of that loop once and for all. Just not worth it. Granted, I have things that I am really fond of, but like you, I yearn to purge down and keep only what really speaks to me. My DH and I often lie in bed at night and ask each other what we would like to keep if we moved to a small cottage. I know it would be liberating. Having a little house decorated just so with the things we really love, easy to keep clean and maintain. Sigh...Our home at present is actually laid out quite nicely and is easy maintenance. We just have rooms that are larger (thus more furniture) and a bonus room above the garage set up as a family room. (Thus, another couch, TV armoire, table and chairs, etc.) That is why I get so excited when I see other people's cottages or mobile homes that they have decorated just so. Makes me inspired to make changes. My husband is an electrical contractor and inspector, so I often have opportunity to accompany him on some jobs, and I have seen some wonderful little houses. I have also seen some beautiful estate types, but they do nothing for me.

The link below will show you the museum sites of the Ingalls and Wilder families. We visited both the one in Independence, Kansas, and the one in Mansfield, Mo. Small towns, but very nice experience. Just click on the links to each of those.

Here is a link that might be useful: little house sites

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 2:14PM
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Frenchkitty, it is funny you said that about the mini storage. We had a unit for a year and just recently emptied it and donated almost all pieces of furniture we had in it. We went without the things for a year so why did we need it. Moreover, why did we store it for a year!LOL My husband built a storage shed and we now store just the things we will need once our house is built. We kept mostly books and more books!LOL
Since my husband built our house we have done many things to conserve space. Our kitchen is small and we got creative for space. I share a bedroom with our newborn and my quilting (that is a must have, LOL). Four of our children share a room. They would like rooms for themselves but are not too upset about sharing. They have been raised to appreciate what we have and have not been over indulged. Unfortunately our society teaches the WANT WANT WANT mentality instead of JUST NEED. Thus, debt occurs.
One problem I have found is finding furniture for small places that is attractive. I had to find a baby bed this past fall and I did a lot of searching online. I did find a nice wooden baby bed that is half the size of a normal one but looks exactly like one. My 15yo son built the bunk bed system for him and his brother and my DH built a small trundle bed for my two younger daughters. What I really want is a small rocker recliner to fit in my bedroom but when I find one that rocks it doesn't recline and vice versa and usually they aren't very stylish.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 2:57PM
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I hear ya. We still have a storage unit we need to deal with. I'm sure alot of stuff I could just walk away from, but there are things I do need later. DS is working toward getting his own place, and he could use some of the furniture in there. We need to build a storage shed, but were putting it off until we decide whether to move or not. Like I said, most of our SF on this house is in large rooms, not many rooms. We have a large eat-in kitchen, no separate dining, 3 bdrms., 2 bths., large living room (to us), and the bonus rm upstairs. We would feel alot better if we got rid of the storage unit, and cleaned out the attic. My biggest wish is that we got rid of the mortgage, which we would if we built once more. But land is not easy to find anymore since hurricane Katrina, and real estate has gone through the roof. So we just keep plugging away around here waiting for the right signs.

I always shared a room with my sister until I was about 14 or 15, then I got a room of my own which was about 7x11 or so. I had a twin bed, a little table next to it, and a little dresser, and that was it. I never thought I lacked anything because I was uptown with my own room! DH came from a family with 10 kids, so when we married, we never thought about having really nice stuff. But then, we got into flipping houses before that was even a real term, and then built and sold, each one getting better quality and weeding out our junky furniture. But we really want to to focus on keeping a simple eye.

So you are a quilter, too? Do you hand quilt or have a frame? We sure need our diversion, don't we? I am itching to start a quilt top; already have a kit.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 4:59PM
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Too funny!! I'm a quilter too. I usually use a hand frame unless I need to get it done in a hurry, then I use my machine.

I've been holding onto some stuff for my daughter when she's old enough to move out. That is probably going to bite me later because she's so picky, she won't want to take it with her. She should just do it instead of spending her $$$ on stuff I have duplicates of.

When we moved into the big house, I thought that it would be great because there would be plenty of room for my friends and family to come and visit, and plenty of room to spread out. I've grown up a lot since then (tragedy in the family does that to you), and realize that we could make do in smaller spaces when company comes. Now, with the three of us here, we're all in different parts of the house. It takes much more $$$ to heat and cool, and it's just as messy as my smaller house, it's just spread out. I seriously need to visit the organization forum. I wish before we were house hunting the last time, I'd have found this forum first. We actually found the perfect little house (you know, the one I yearn for), but the commute would have killed DH. Oh, well, I'll just have to pine away...

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 5:50PM
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I made a dresden plate quilt years ago, and completely handquilted it in a cross hatch pattern, and NEVER PUT THE BINDING ON IT! Last couple were baby and lap quilts, and I machine quilted with meandering stitches, but I am very critical of my own work, and I would say I need a lot more practice!

When my daughter married, she did not want anything I offered! I think she had the Pottery Barn look (Or West Elm catalog look). But eventually she broke down and took a few things when she realized there was no money tree in their back yard! I think one day she will kick herself when she thinks of all the things she passed up!

When we were planning on building on this land, we had a completely different floor plan in mind. It was only about 1,400 SF, but we tweaked it and it ended up about 1,800. A cute single story. But then we saw this plan with a great kitchen, and we LOVE to cook together, and instead of tweaking the first one a bit more, we built this one. The outside is not really our style, even. So, I feel your pain on that one! We do like it, it just cost a lot more because of high pitch, roof angles, and many more windows. At least we don't have any car notes....

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 6:46PM
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Oooh girls,

I feel right at home here, you are quilters, too. Not that I would call myself a great quilter, just enjoy it and look forward to having a space to sew. Very novice, some tied, most machine quilted in the ditch, I am a terrible hand quilter, no patience.

I have a 9 patch ready to quilt, been sitting there a while. I hope to finish it for our new bedroom. One can always dream, huh?


    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 10:50PM
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I wish I could've found an existing small house that met our requirements, 'cause I really did not want to spend THIS much money to build a custom house. It's an expensive luxury to find/purchase the "perfect" lot, and to design and build the "perfect" house. I discovered that when you build a high-quality small house you truly end up paying a very high per-sq ft price.
And, speaking of quilting, it sure played a part in the design, and the construction, of our new small house. Here's the first one that my wife did in her new quilting room (this room was supposed to be the small bedroom in our new small, 2-bedroom house)

    Bookmark   January 20, 2007 at 11:07AM
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Jilliferd -- Thanks for the nice message! I do love my house, but I have to say that a new house with the charm of an older home sounds mighty appealing, too :)

    Bookmark   January 20, 2007 at 8:51PM
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Token non-quilter here. ;-) (Me and sewing is a baaaaad combination. The most I'm willing to do with needle and thread is string beads on it!)

I have one of the bigger houses on the group, at 1900sf - it's our first house. The first sentence out of our realtor's mouth when we looked it was "it's small but..."! Isn't that nuts? We don't need all this space but it was a no-brainer to buy it because it was dirt cheap and it's a good house for resale (first floor master suite, 2.5br upstairs with its own bath, decent yard, fabu school system), at least when the market in this area un-tanks. I want to downsize, definitely. I wish we could build the perfect little house but I seriously doubt it'll ever happen. I used to draw floorplans for fun before reality set in and they were always between 1200 and 1500 square feet, 2br 2ba on a single floor, which "feels" just right. So I figure when the time comes to sell this place that's what we'll look for. My mom has a cute little doublewide that's about 800 or 900 square feet and that's too small - I need a bit more "personal space" than that, but this is too much! We rarely even venture upstairs most of the time now since DH isn't telecommuting full time anymore. What a waste! I've always lived small, and I've never wanted a really big house. My first thought, being a true Yankee, when I see a big house is about how much it must cost to heat the darn thing! :-)

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 1:00AM
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"token non-quilter" Hahahaha... Most of my friends are that way. I only do SIMPLE ones.

Willie - that quilt that your wife did is gorgeous!!!

Re: building your own house, how did you go about the process. How big is it? Did you have a design in mind?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 4:13PM
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Another non-quilter here...

I swore off sewing in high school after my home ec teacher forced us to make useless pillows in the shape of pigs.

I do enjoy needlepoint, though, which I don't really consider sewing (doesn't make sense at all, I know).

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 10:26PM
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Thanks for the compliment on wife's quilt. She's been sewing since very young. Prior to this new house we were "fulltiming" and traveling in our large diesel-pusher motorhome.
Our new brick house is single-story with 1,720 sq ft of heated/cooled area, BUT has a 3,300 sq ft foundation footprint, due to full-width front porch, side porch and large, rear-attached 3-car garage. We designed it ourselves because nobody designs a small house like what we wanted.
Here in San Antonio, you can build your own house (as owner/builder), and can pull your own permit if the city approves your plan and you hire an approved, bonded certified structural engineer who will take responsibility for the design and construction of your concrete foundation. I found a qualified engineer who "signed off" on my design and the drawings. I did some of the work myself, and I hire sub-contractors where necessary. Presently, we're working on the second half of the exterior concrete flatwork. The fencing and the landscaping will be next.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2007 at 9:49AM
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House #1: 2304sqft, full basement, 9' ceilings 1/3 acre
House #2: 1860sqft, 3/4 basement, 2.12 acres
House #3: 804sqft, zero basement, 26 acres---- >>stillNo mortgage (the root means "death pledge" you know...), no heating and very little a/c bills, and the plan is (LOL, plans do have a way of changing don't they?) by the end of 2008 solar hot water and seperate circuit 12 volt lights through-out.... A little wood cookstove too. A big Garden, lots of fruit bushes and trees and berrys and nut trees and other fun and fine eating stuff both tame and wild too....Life looks good at 54

I really do enjoy reading everyones comments here, even those I disagree with

    Bookmark   January 27, 2007 at 5:02PM
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We bought small - about 1800 square feet with 4 bedrooms. Only complaint is one bathroom for the two of us, but some day that will change! Our choice was tough - for the same money we saw 6 and 7 bedroom houses at 3000 square feet+, 3 floors..., but our house is in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the area (parks, shopping, pretty). It was the best trade off and you can learn to have less stuff! :-)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2007 at 9:30PM
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We built small - almost 1,800 sq. ft. w/ 3 bedrms and a 2-1/2 car garage :) The new construction big houses are monsters here... with a lot of wasted space. I keep our things pared down, use clear containers to see what I've got stored, and have outfitted all closets with the most efficient shelving. The decorating is minimal for dust allergy reasons (and I love that I can clean up the whole place quickly).

What I'd do differently: a circular first floor layout with a combined office and craft room for me and a kitchen w/ a Bluestar stove and cabinets with more drawers. I'd keep the same sq ft. - I'm sure if we had a different layout, I could get all these things with the same sq. ft. I'd rather have more land and a small house (I'm a gardener).

I'm going to work on adding built-in storage/furniture, such as window seats/bookcases; the book "The No So Big House" has great ideas.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 1:30PM
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Bought small and now we're stuck. Trend here is no more trading up, you buy once and stay there, due to Prop 13 and the recent run-up in RE prices.

Example: Our 2bd 2ba home was purchased for $180K in 1989, gutted and completely remodeled. RE prices fell after the Loma Prieta earthquake, and our property taxes were actually reduced twice during the next 9 years. Then values started to rise, and the county appraiser has been raising our appraised value since.

However, the value has never been raised more than 3% in any given year (Prop 13 "freezes" your taxes when you purchase and limits future increases until the property is re-sold, when they can tax on the new purchase price). So when you hold on to your house for at least 10 yrs, the value is so far above what the tax appraisal is, many people can't afford to "trade up" any more.

So our house has a tax basis of $287K but now has a market value of around $600K. Since a larger house would cost us at least $650K, more probably close to $800K, our property taxes would jump drastically. Instead of $3600 a year in taxes, we would be paying almost $10,000 a year in property taxes alone.

This is why a lot of Californians leave the state to retire elsewhere. Since only a few counties allow reciprocal Prop 13 transfers -- where a senior aged 55 can "transfer" their original Prop 13-level property tax amount to a property in another CA county and not have to pay the increased taxes on an inflated purchase price -- it makes financial sense to sell the CA house, take the profits and buy another house somewhere else, being able to pay most or all of it in cash to eliminate a mortgage. Thus you can retire and only have to pay the utilities and property taxes.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 10:11PM
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We bought a 1904 Dutch Colonial at about 1600 sq ft that had already been enlarged by a previous owner, who attached the main house to the garage and put a bonus room over the garage. We're remodeling it to about 1800 sq ft. We opened up the main floor into one big space and that's where we added the 200 sq ft, for a much better kitchen. Upstairs we're going to divide our oversized master bedroom (the bonus room over the garage) into two smaller rooms, add dormers to both rooms, and a bay window. It's just me and my husband here, but we both work from home and need work spaces more than a large bedroom. We presently share one room for both work and all my art projects, and guests get to sleep on an inflatable mattress in the small clear spot in the center of that same room! They tend not to return.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 1:07PM
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We bought small with the intention of staying put until we retire - 1500 sq. ft. 1870 tenant/farmhouse on 1/3 acre. Only the two of us and there's plenty of room. We've made lots of improvements but never changed the footprint. Because it's an older house, there is limited closet and storage space, but we have eliminated a lot of extra stuff and learned to be more organized. My main gripe is when it comes to cleaning the small bedrooms -- it is brutal maneuvering the vacuum cleaner in the tight area around the beds and bending down to clean under them. And there is no space to store a vacuum upstairs, so the task always involves carrying the cannister and attachments back and forth. The one thing I wish we had is a small area to work on projects so I wouldn't have to spread out on the dining table.

We were fortunate to buy our home in early 1996 before the housing market went crazy around here. Mostly larger houses are being built in the area and $250,000 smaller homes have become tear-downs. In today's market, we couldn't afford to buy our home. Housing prices in the Phila suburbs are high, but the taxes aren't too bad.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 6:29PM
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Bought small. My little 1938, 2 bedroom colonial was 960 sq ft with an unfinished basement, screened in porch and small one car garage when I bought it. Just right for a single parent with a 10 yr old child. 5 years ago I added a 336 sq ft family room / half bath addition. DD has grown up and moved on her own, now the house almost seems large. I've always lived in smaller homes or apartments. I can't imagine what living in a large house is like.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 1:53PM
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I'm a bit late to this thread, but found it interesting.

As a renter all my life, I purchased my 750 sq.ft. cottage a year ago after having rented it for two years. It has an interesting story.

It once was a doctor's office suite, built in the 1920's with very plain New England interior and solid bones. The basic design is of the single shotgun cottage type. In 1950 the bedroom was tacked on along with a 1/3 basement and the examining room became a kitchen, the toilet a full bathroom.

With tall ceilings upstairs and a partial basement storage/utility room, I feel like there is much more room. And I have never seen a crawling insect since I have been here, probably due to all the residual disinfectent used. ha ha!

The rooms are bright and airy, and I am in the midst of doing most of the restoration and upgrading myself, with help from eBay. (Been buying there for a decade and managed to get ceiling fans, plumbing fixtures, even some tile at a steal.)

As a 67 year old single guy, I am likely to stay here until the bitter end. But I am always open to other possibilities...


    Bookmark   February 5, 2007 at 4:53PM
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Wow - except for a houseful of kids in 600 sf (!!?) These 1100-1800 sf homes sound like McMansions to me. Live in a 440sf home - it is on a lot with garden, park and nature trail behind with large patio door viewing the open property and garden. The big windo wall makes it liveable, but how I crave a room to do crafts, quilting etc. in! When the "great" room is 12x 12 and includes entertainment center, office, reading and lounging area plus a cat and dog...it can get a little tight. Thanks for the thread!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2007 at 5:02AM
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Bought a small 3 br, 50-yo ranch, 1100sf, after a divorce. I love it! At one time had 4100sf. I ask... just how much space is REALLY necessary? Think its a question of 'wants' vs 'needs'. The unfinished basement is good for storage, but don't have much. One downside is tiny closets... but, how many clothes does a person NEED? Not to be judgmental, but as homes get larger, I question the values of many... the requirement of TV's in most rooms(and bigger is better), super-size MBR, and more bathrooms than people, kitchens that boast enough sf to qualify as workout time just walking around preparing a meal! Sure, I am older now, but realize that life is about the 'people' in our lives... not the things!!! (off the soapbox now)

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 10:35AM
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My only real complaint about a small house is the number of toilets. My MIL moved in with me, and I just hate having 3 adults with only 2 toilets. Back to fighting..."no, I'M using the downstairs john, you have to go upstairs!"

That was one of the things I loved when I first saw Hearst Castle in San Simeon. It was ground-breaking design that Hearst insisted on a bathroom for every bedroom, way back in the 1920's when many country people hadn't even seen indoor plumbing yet! That man had the right idea.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 8:20PM
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jkom, two toilets was one of the very few things I mandated when we were househunting, and is something I absolutely will not budge on. (We have 2.5 baths but only 2 function. The half bath needs to be renovated.) Two people with food poisoning in a one bathroom apartment was a horror story that I refuse to relive!

DH left his job (stress and hassle eventually outweighed the money) recently in favor of a new job where he will not be telecommuting. We started cleaning out his home office today, and except for the upstairs bath we'll almost never be going upstairs at all! If I trusted (and liked) people enough to take in boarders we'd be all set. LOL I feel a bit bad about it but there's not a lot to be done about it, except shutting the heat off in those rooms.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 1:05AM
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johnmari, reading your note about heating $$$. Playing cards with girlfriends the other night and talking the gas bill. One has 1900 sf split level, paid $230 for Feb. The other, 1400 sf raised ranch, paid $210. Mine was $110... another reason for smaller is better. And, I do have two toilets with 1 and 1/2 baths.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 10:14AM
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Our gas bill was $117 last month, not bad for one of the coldest spells on record for the Chicago area. Our place is 1400 sq. ft.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:36PM
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mcgillicuddy, that's not bad! My 50yo KC-area ranch only has 1" of exterior insulation and not much in the attic, really needs additional. We've had a cold one as well...

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 3:09PM
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Just stumbled upon this site today and felt compelled to jump in. We currently have a 1600 sq. ft. house and love the size.
Every room gets used - no more formal dining room or living room treated like 'museum areas."

That said, we are ready to remodel not because the house is too small, but rather because it is difficult for more than one person to be in the kitchen at one time. "I want help in the kitchen!" Even after the remodel our house will still be under 2000 sq. ft.

Living in a house this size means that "things" get used frequently...We don't have too many items hidden "somewhere."

Maintaining a smaller house allows more time for other things important to us.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 3:06AM
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When I think of a small house, I think of one of 1100 s.f or less. I have never lived in a house larger than 2400 sf - our present house, which is on two levels, the lower one having two bedrooms, a "lounge" my office and two baths. We only live in the upper level of 1500 sf and the rest of the place is mostly used to put our stuff and house guests as we are empty-nesters.

We are going to build another house this year and it will be about 1600 sf, which will contain all the bedrooms and living space. There will be a basement with a semi-finished room and storage and a crawl space.

The first home that we built was 1564 sf with a basement that we eventually finished off. When our children left home, we found we were living only in the kitchen, a small bedroom we converted to a den, our master bedroom and bath and sometimes the living room. But we were heating a huge space with cathedral ceilings and in Minnesota, that didn't make sense at all.

I just can't imagine why anyone would want a huge McMansion, especially for two people. Too much space to clean and heat. Our new house (and this one, also) will have all the space and rooms two people can possibly use and is designed (by me) for the way we live. We are downsizing, and using the equity in our present home to live mortgage-free for the rest of our years. The only negative is that it is a hillside house, built on a lot we bought adjacent to our present home when we built it, and we will have to go up steps from either the sidewalk or tuck-under garage to get to the living area. But once we are there, we don't have to go up and down to get to any room. And, we are installing a dumbwaiter so we don't have to schlep groceries, etc., upstairs from the garage. Hope it all works out. It sure is fun to plan. I know the actual building will be fun, but also stressful as I've been there, done that two other times.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 12:49AM
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built small, moved in jan 3 2006...912 sq ft of living
space plus a full basement....thats down from 1900 sq ft
which felt humongous compared to the new house.

plenty big enough for the two of us, but when we have a houe full of guests, i feel like i cant breath, lol, thank
goodness for the big ole country porch

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 4:44PM
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Homes are generally smaller here in Europe anyway. However, having said that, there is a trend here (in Switzerland) for young families to build big modern houses with a lot of windows now - as we tend to be a society of one-income families with stay-at-home moms, I wonder how this will work out long-term...! The prospect doesn't seem good to me.
We originally wanted to live in the country and as big a house as possible, moving to a rambling old house (built 1832) with a large attached barn, a huge attic the size of the house that included "maid" rooms, and a vaulted cellar (basement). This house had never been properly renovated since modernising in the 1940s, when it became a veterinary surgeon's practice till the 70s, so it was a bit higgledy-piggledy! After having invasions of mice and ants and generally high bills heating a drafty old large house, we moved to a cleverly designed more modern duplex house with a footprint of approx. 7x8 metres (22x25 ft), two floors of living space, full basement and space in the attic to make a room and bathroom if wanted. This was far more economical and it was around this time I learnt to appreciate the value of "less is more", switching to a very small car and "losing" a lot of unnecessary possessions. By this time our eldest daughter (of 3) had also moved out, so we became conscious of just how fast that happens...!
Last summer we were finally able to buy a home for the first time and are still on cloud nine. It is a half-timbered house built around 1770 as a washhouse for the mill next door. The footprint is around 25x28 ft, there is no basement because of being built right next to what used to be the millstream. 19 years ago an architect totally stripped the building, so it looks old and cute on the outside but the interior construction is modern (and level!) with the exception of the window placement (to fit inbetween the beams!) and the beams throughout the whole interior. The living space is a ground level entrance hall that has one room, a showerroom that includes the washer/dryer, a tiny room for the gas heating and electric metres (there is just room for sports gear and shoe storage) and an approx. 10x10 ft cellar with brick and pebble flooring to keep an even temperature - we previously had four large rooms in our basement, so a lot of decluttering was needed to reduce our storage items to fit! The freezer is in the cellar as well as all my husband's model railway stuff...
We mostly live on the first floor: the master bedroom, only about 10x10 ft and where we had fun fitting everything in (to the last fraction of an inch!) because built-in closets are rare to nonexistant over here. The full bathroom is also on this floor, though it is quite small, too, with the door set at an angle. The living/dining room measures approx. 14x18ft and is half open to the 3-sided oak kitchen. A narrow balcony runs along the length of the house from the kitchen to the upstairs hallway, with a French window at either end for access. It is just wide enough for a rocking chair... Upstairs the whole 25x28 ft space, with open beams and sloping roof to 1 ft at the sides, is where our two still-at-home girls have their space. The beams kind of divide the space into 3 and there is a window at either end and a gable window in the middle, so the 16 yr old has one end divided off by a string curtain, the centre section is lined with low-level bookcases and a desk (PC) and features a sofabed for guests and TV while the last third, where the open stairs come up, is the 11 yr old's "bedroom" and playroom.
Everyone wonders how we manage with so little space, but it is far more than many other people have (such as the small English houses my grandmother lives in, built in the 30s, and the newer ones are even smaller...) and in Russia a whole family will often live in one room or a tiny appartment, so we are living luxuriously. We can all retreat somewhere if necessary, though we tend to all migrate to the living/dining/kitchen area and spend time together as a family. Our mortgage costs the same as we have been paying in rent for the last 15 years (prices are very stable in this country), our utilities and maintenance are far lower and I have less to clean (yay!) and more time for work. I work at home on my laptop as a translator and am a part-time degree student, too, also studying at home. Modern technology makes me very flexible.
An important argument for us is that in a few years our kids will be leaving home. Although they will always be welcome with their partners and families, the uses of the rooms will change. For now, my husband needs to have his own space and office and the downstairs room is best for this (and clients don't have to traipse through the living areas). Later, we will move our bedroom upstairs to the attic and build an additional bathroom up there, and our present bedroom will become a guest room. Even as it is now, we can sleep 10 people easily. I have taken care when furnishing the house to keep a common "thread" and some unity in the colours and styles of furniture I used, multipurpose furniture and fairly large pieces so it's not too "bitty".
We couldn't be happier!
I know this is long but I am a newbie here so thought I would tell the story... if someone lets me know how, I will be happy to post pictures (people have said our house looks like something out of a Grimm's fairytale, it really is very pretty!).

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 5:31PM
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How wonderful to have a poster from Switzerland...to share another side of our smaller lifestyle. Your home is a lesson for all of us. I just read your bedroom post and was truely impressed with the creative use of furniture. And, realized I have to get over the "less" than what I keep thinking is necessary.

It is interesting that the trend for larger houses is slowly integrating where you live. I think a lot of this has to do with the electronic world and people being influenced by so much. Although I still wonder how all is afforded along with keeping a lifestyle outside of huge walls.

I know it is sometimes difficult to send pics, but would love to see your home and community. Visions dancing around here with your Grimm's fairytale comment.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 6:07AM
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Bought small. My present house is 3 bed and 2 baths and just under 1200 s.f. on 2 acres. The house, although architecturally undistinguished, was cozy and a perfect size for me as I was attracted to the possibility of turning it into a country cottage with grounds to match. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), life intervened and I married last March and, lo and behold, my new husband liked my small, neatly organized country house better than his also small (very messy) city house so we are currently squeezed in together in the country. Its taken him a year to clean out his house in preparation for selling and he's had to rent 2 storage units as "containment bunkers". So, once his house sells, we will be looking for a slightly larger place with a storage barn (the "cave" he says he needs). Another option is to add on to this place as, with 2 acres, there is plenty of building room although the original cottage is woefully energy inefficient. Either way, my maximum house size is 1800-2000 s.f. as I firmly believe the more space you have, the more "stuff" you feel compelled to buy to fill it so why encourage hoarding issues, a particular problem for my husband and an occasional problem for me. For me, having land is much more important than the house, anyway. I am currently restoring my front acreage to native grasses and wildflowers and have done a good bit of other landscaping with native shrubs and perennials. It's glorious to have a piece of land, albeit small by the standards where I live, to move around in. I simply don't understand those very large, expensive houses on miniscule lots where you look out your dining room window directly into the dining room next door. Wouldn't you really rather have a more modestly sized house on a bit of acreage that gives you some privacy?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 12:52PM
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I have read with interest all the posts thus far. It is definitely one thing to think about how nice it would be to downsize and thin out one's possessions to just what is the most special and really necessary; yet quite another thing to actually do it. Life can be like someone always jumping out of a hiding place and saying boo! when you least expect it. My DH and I have built and sold a few houses through the years, and we have been in this one almost two years now. When we started building, our two children were both living at home, and we figured we would be here awhile. But as soon as we started, our DD started dating and eventually married. Now our son has let us know he intends to get his own place soon and ask his girlfriend to marry him. So we will be empty-nesters. It seems too strange to even type that!

So now we are thinking that it may be the right time to sell and buy something easier to manage (we have 5 acres here), and become mortgage free. We are only in our forties, but we both have had some health issues now and realize how quickly things can happen. (Boo!) I was turned down for health insurance recently, and DH's keeps going up every month. So we figure that if we downsize now while things are relatively going smoothly, and the real estate market here is still booming since hurricane Katrina, that we could put away more savings for the future and live a more simple life. But when I walk around my home and realize how much furniture and things I would have to get rid of, it is scary. We have weaned out junky stuff over the years and replaced them with quality pieces. I guess you just have to have the mind set that you will never get out of them what you put into them and just go for it. There is a house in a subdivision that is very established in town here that is for sale. Everything has gone up in price since Katrina, but this is one we could pay for if we sold our house, and have enough left to spruce it up. It is very dated, but the bones are good. But it is a ranch style, and the rooms are small compared to what we are used to, and the MBath is a 3/4. So it is indeed a change of lifestyle. (Small closets, sinks, etc.) Yet I get excited thinking about fixing it up, because that is what we are good at, and I already have it decorated in my mind. So I have to stop and think if I am ready for the real-life downsizing issues. The biggest thing is the comfort of having no mortgage, a smaller yard, and putting money away for the dips that life throws at you.

I know this is rambling, but it has been cathartic to write it down! Has anyone else just taken the plunge when they were not in a situation where they HAD to do it? And how did you ultimately "dispose" of numerous things that actually had value?

I guess I really would like to hear more success stories of people that truly simplified their lives and made little havens for themselves and are happy that they brought their plans to fruition....thanks for listening!


    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 7:33PM
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We are building small I guess. We are going from a just a less than 1000 square foot apartment to 1969 square foot home. I just noticed that this qualifies as a small home. But cooling a home in Texas in the Summer is like $400-800 a month depending on size. Also, it's just the two of use. We wanted a little bigger..but we couldn't justify having 4000 square foot home for just us and our dog. We have room to grow at 2000 square feet and first our first home (mortgage) then building small is awesome.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 1:44PM
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There are a few posts here on scaling down and adjusting to smaller. I think the hardest is making decisions on letting go of loved items or those which have been in our lives forever. I chose smaller and really wanted a ranch... which was found with a nice size yard for my dogs and gardening.

Sometimes the decorating part becomes a challenge, furniture doesn't fit/look right, etc. I finally gave my beloved reading chair to daughter and after 6 mos the leather livingroom couch/chair/ottoman. Two positives...she is thoroughly enjoying having a nice set and I got to go shopping.

It has also become fun to see the changes, finding creative ideas for living small, and sure feels good to get rid of stuff which has been hanging around for so long. An admission though that I am still getting rid of things.

I wouldn't go back to larger and plan on being here a very long time.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 7:31AM
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We're selling smallish to buy smaller (and cheaper) in a less-nice town. DH just changed jobs because the stress was affecting his health, but the financial impact is pretty massive, so we're going to try to get the house on the market in a couple of months (the delay is for the "Designed to Sell" routine, as it would show quite poorly at this point). We've been told it may actually not be easy to sell our house because it is "so small" for a family house (4BR/2.5BA if we fix up the powder room) at 1900sf especially where prices are so high in my area. People think "if I'm going to pay this ridiculous amount (say $350k) for a house I want this and this and this and this" even though that amount of money doesn't get you a whole heck of a lot in this town! It's a mental block. The average 4BR/2.5BA here has half again more square footage than this house.

It's a very good thing that I don't need/want more space because there's very little even as big as we have now in our price range. Everything I'm looking at is about a third smaller; call me a space hog, but I doubt I can hack any less than half the space we have now even though there would be some lovely houses for the taking. When DH and I had a 900sf condo we were constantly in each other's hair, we had use of 1200sf of the house we rented and that was just right. We both need our privacy and when we do fight we both need someplace to go to get away from each other without leaving the house, we both have major emotional baggage about leaving the house during a fight. We also live on different schedules, I am a "night owl" and he is a "lark", and in too-tight quarters we wake each other up. I am hoping for fewer, larger rooms than we have now so that our furniture actually fits into them properly; the rental house had big open spaces so the scale of the furniture had to be bigger, and we couldn't afford to just ditch it because it was too snug in this one.

I'm actually looking forward to having the EXCUSE to ruthlessly prune our possessions, get rid of some of the CRAP we have accumulated. We're not even acquisitive people! But the Law of Storage is that "stuff expands to fill all the available space to store it"... LOL

It'll be mortgaged, of course, I don't know ANYONE who could buy a house without a mortgage. (Considering a freakin' trailer can bring a quarter of a million dollars in my town...) But I need to be able to make the mortgage payment without hyperventilating.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 3:36AM
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Yes, that is one good thing about moving; you are forced to deal with all that stuff you have been putting off dealing with! When we moved last time, a lot of our stuff was in a storage unit because it would not all fit into the two bed. apartment we were renting. (Think mom, dad, grown son and grown daughter in 2 bdrms.) Anyway, when we moved into the house and I began to set up the things from the apartment, I loved the way everything was in it's place. I probably could have thrown away the key to the storage and never missed the stuff. But, DH began to bring boxes in, and more boxes, and so on. Now there are boxes in the attic, stuff in the garage, and STILL stuff in storage! When I look at all the things I need to go through and purge, it makes me mad at myself for falling into the trap of buying and hoarding. I am very selective now, but I still have to deal with the stuff we already accumulated. I want to be one of those older couples who have everything just so, even the pegboard in the garage with the outlines drawn in for where each tool goes! LOL!
We have already started the purge-we just have to take one section of boxes at a time...

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 11:21AM
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A few years ago, I saw a nice ranch renovation in a magazine (can't remember which one).

It had small bedrooms, but the owners replaced an entire exterior wall of each bedroom with plate glass, and it made the rooms seem much larger (and made them brighter, too).

Just a thought...

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 3:56PM
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My DH and I are planning on purhcasing a 1950 sq.ft townhome- for my two girls and us. It has 3 bdrms 2full and 2 half bth. It has a family room and all the space I think we will need. Some people may say it may be small for us, but in exchange of this home we will buying a beach house (townhome) for the summers'.
I guess its the price we are willing to sacrifice to get what we want.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 9:37PM
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I'm so glad to have found this thread. I live in a 1083 sf house with my husband and three kids with one bathroom. We chose to move in, but in reality, we couldn't afford to live anywhere too much bigger.
Recently thought about putting it on the market and find a bigger place. Of course the realtor took one look and said, 3/4 of this stuff has to go!" So, I got a storage unit and started moving stuff in, getting rid a lot of other stuff and painting the interior. I think we've decided to stay. I've put much thought into the 'stuff' issue and the sacred cows of my stuff have all been rethought and have decided that as long as we all have a plate to eat off of and a place to sit, we don't really need much. It's liberating! However, I, too, would like to have a place to sew and refinish furniture and not have to spread it all out on the dinning room table and put it away, etc. So, we are now thinking about adding on less than 300 sf to make things a little less tight. any thoughts on that? we are on a VERY VERY tight budget...
Also, does anyone have an good web sites or know of any magazines that have REALLY small spaces for inspiration. Cottage Living is one of my favs, but only because they USED to feature real homes with less than perfect rooms and lots of ideas for those of us who can't afford to drop $5000 for one piece of furniture. any suggestions are appreciated!

Thanks for the thread, it's wonderful!


    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 6:07PM
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There are sites on small homes and through one of them I found a reference to the following book. I have not seen or ordered it yet, but looked interesting:

"Little House on a Small Planet: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities" - Shay Salomon; Paperback

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 9:33PM
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Thank you for the suggestion Nwesterner! What web sites do you think are good for this topic? I know I"m getting off thread, now, so I'll stop.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 12:31PM
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My fiance and I bought small because it was our first home and honestly that was what we could afford. We have his two children living with us as well. Our home is a Cape Code and about 1200 sf. I loved the house when I saw it and grabbed it because it was a 4 bedroom two bath and had a big yard. :) It is pretty easy to maintain and I am glad we made the right choice.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 3:23PM
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