Is your house cramped or cozy?0
A friend and her husband visit the patio of Brophy Brothers at sunset near the end of every month to pay their bills over drinks. After each check is signed they look across the harbor toward Stearn Wharf, drink in the view, and smile. As tough as it can be to make ends meet here, they think, we get to live where others vacation.
Welcome to Santa Barbara, where keeping your financial head above water can be challenging and housing prospects are thin. What do you do when home and rental prices are high and inventory is low? The answer, for many, is to look for a smaller space. A 2010 New York Times article explored the signature phrase of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. “Less is more” encapsulated his philosophy that “less decoration, properly deployed, has more impact than a lot. Elegance, he believed, did not derive from abundance.”
But his philosophy failed to guide the second half of last century. A growing middle class in the 1950s meant the average home size would grow too – from 983ft2 to 2300ft2 in just over fifty years. Slowly, increase in both square footage and amenities became important parts of the American dream. According to the National Association of Home Builders, square-footage for the average single-family home is up over 2700ft2. Suffice to say, small homes are not the national norm. Other Western countries, however, tell a slightly different story. To compare, consider these averages reflecting new homes constructed since 2003 (the US leads the field at just over 2300ft2):
- Australia: 2,217sf
- Denmark: 1,475sf
- France: 1,216sf
- Spain: 1,044sf
- Ireland: 947sf
- UK: 818sf
So what would it look like to live well in small spaces? Our family has been practicing.
In 2010 my husband started a “home and away” doctoral program at the University of Edinburgh. Our then family of four spent 12 weeks that summer in a 500ft2 flat at the heart of Scotland’s capital city. It was tight, cramped, cozy, and wonderful. The experience deeply impacted our family. We started learning – or living – that less really might be more. Since then, we have repeatedly trimmed our possessions in attempts to simplify. The result? Five years later, we love our cozy 800ft2 cottage in the middle of Santa Barbara. Our three kids share a room and sleep in a triple bunk, stacked like sailors. While it’s not always convenient and there’s little space to escape cranky kids or clutter, we continue to find value in living simply.
Do you find yourself craving a bigger space for your family? We do too – nearly every day. It’s difficult to call home “cozy” – especially on days where all I seem to do is pick up after everyone. But a little perspective helps. That summer in Scotland my complaining stopped when I realized all the moms I lived around were doing life just fine in their flats. You’ve probably heard that Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I say it too, but comparison also offers perspective. And I am continuing to learn that contentment has little to do with the square-footage of my home. So as you scrimp and save for the next house, remember our friends dining at the harbor. And next time your paying bills, remember that you get to live where others vacation.