You don't need to live in a humongous house to be happy

Saturday, May 30, 2009


That's the theme of this issue's cover story for E Magazine. Perhaps the one silver lining to the real estate market crash and all the foreclosures that followed is the possibility of a rethinking of just how big houses really need to be. After about a decade in Asia (Japan + Korea) in fact, large North American houses have started to look a little bit creepy, to be honest. Friends of mine have started buying houses back home (Calgary) and more often than not a number of rooms simply go unused, especially in the basement area. I once knew a Korean family that had moved to Calgary and was renting a whole house to themselves, but they had no idea what to do with a house that size and more than half of the rooms plus the entire basement were completely empty (this was a family of four).

As for the politics behind smaller houses, I think there's a lot of common ground on both sides of the political spectrum. One side can argue that smaller houses are great because of the benefit to the environment / ease in creating public transportation, while the other can like them for their national security benefits (less energy use = less money flowing out to countries that sponsor terrorism), so it's win-win. You'll notice for example that during the last election there was a large push towards more nuclear power from the GOP side, and guess which country exports the most nuclear power? Yep, France. Basically, during the campaign both sides were making the argument that the US should be more like France.

I do find some of the houses people live in to be a tad too small though, as simply going small doesn't mean you should relegate yourself to something even smaller than a one-bedroom apartment (unless you really like that size). A certain size is necessary if you want to eventually own pets or start a family for example. One design I particularly like are the "maisonettes" in Japan that are about 46 sq. metres (500 square feet), spread over two floors. They resemble brownstone houses in a way, except that the design isn't as nice (to be honest). In semi-rural Japan a place this size can be rented for only $500-$600 a month.

As for whether there is a real increase of people buying small houses as opposed to just a slight increase (you'll notice the article doesn't cite too many numbers supporting a real change to smaller houses), we'll just have to see. Perhaps fivethirtyeight.com would be willing to crunch some numbers for us.

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