Keeping It Real… Big Lessons from Small Spaces

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Have you seen any of those HGTV shows about tiny houses? I don’t mean small houses… I mean those garden shed-like structures that measure under 300 square feet – the rural counterparts to micro-apartments. “Tiny House Hunters” stops me in my channel-surfing tracks every time. I understand the philosophy. With no mortgage and minimal home maintenance, occupants have more time and money to enjoy life. And who doesn’t want to enjoy life more?

But unless you are committed to a lifetime of solitude, a primary residence that is tighter than some prison cells does not strike me as a realistic long term option. I suspect that parked within 15’ of every one of these tiny houses, you would find an equally sized storage pod packed to capacity. Maybe I’m just cynical.

McMansion vs. Tiny House. Full-size SUV vs. Mini-Cooper. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous vs Dirty Jobs. Why is our society so fascinated with extremes? The reality is that most of us fall someplace in the middle. In southwest Connecticut, “Tiny Houses” aren’t a realistic option. Let’s face it, you need a cheap plot of land on which to park it – and that’s not something readily available around here. When it comes to finding homes, our options are more traditional.

The wish lists of traditional home buyers are often at odds with each other. We want a bigger kitchen, more closets — and smaller electric and heating bills. We want to be closer to town — with a bigger yard. Satisfying conflicting criteria often means pushing budgets out of the comfort zone, or sacrificing something. Too often, home buyers make the mistake of sacrificing things that are intrinsically important to their happiness – like location — for the sole purpose of fulfilling some idealized square footage requirement.

But the market inventory is full of modestly sized properties that buyers often overlook. But with smart design choices, these practical houses mean you CAN have a functional, beautiful home without assuming excessive financial burden. You CAN have more time, and more disposable income, to enjoy life – and you can do it while still having space for a washer and dryer. (There is zero chance that anyone can convince me that “tiny house” owners are enjoying life more at the laundromat every week.)

Prioritize. For YOU.

When setting your priorities, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “What makes me happy?” If you want more time with your kids, focus on a location with a short commute. If you love to garden, find a a great yard. If you like to host big parties and holiday dinners, don’t buy a house with cramped living spaces, simply because it has big bedrooms.

Recognize That Sometimes, Less Is More.

Don’t obsess over square footage. Instead, focus on how well a home’s layout works for the way you live. I am convinced that my family of six could comfortably live in a home half the size, if it had twice the closets. Smart design choices pack a lot of function into a small space. Extend the “less is more” philosophy to your belongings as well. Purge often — closets, toy boxes, books, kitchen gadgets. If you don’t use it regularly, you probably don’t need it.

Give Everything Purpose

When someone chooses to live in a micro-apartment, or “tiny house,” nothing is superfluous. A piece of wood that folds down from the wall serves as an ironing board, dinner table, dish drying rack and a desk. By contrast, many traditional homes have “formal” rooms that go unused most of the year. If you can’t make dinner because Algebra books cover your kitchen island, turn your dining room into a “Study Hall.” If your husband wants a man-cave, let him put a pool table and flat screen TV in the living room. There’s no right or wrong way to use your space — as long as you are using every inch of it. You can make smaller spaces work by investing in pieces with dual function. If your mom visits you a couple of times each year, do you really need a separate guest room for her? A more practical option might be to hide a Murphy bed within the home office built-ins. It’s less costly than an additional bedroom and it sure beats an inflatable mattress.

Remember That Family Sharing Can Be About More Than Data Plans

If you need to give up a bedroom, so that you can get home to your kids an hour earlier every night – or be in a better school district — don’t sweat it. Some of my best childhood memories are from time spent sharing an 8×10’ bedroom with my sister. We competed for wall space for our posters, giggled past bedtime and built forts around our bunkbed. Maybe your kids would sleep a little better in their own rooms, but time spent with you is more important…whether they realize it or not. And sharing a space teaches important life lessons…their college roommates will thank you for it. Don’t believe me? Google the emailed demands that a UCLA incoming freshman recently sent to her future roommates…this girl would have benefitted greatly by sharing a bedroom as a child!

Written by Tara Forrest



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