How Much House Do You Really Need?

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Most people, at some point in their lives, want to become homeowners. I’m definitely one of those people. Something to think about is how much house you actually need.

Some day I want to get my hands on a nice starter home that I can have some DIY fun with. I want to have a little bit more space than I do now, and I’d like a cute little yard to putter around in.

I don’t need a ton of space, since it’s just me, my husband, my cat and my dog. Children are far off in the distant future for me, much further away than I’m hoping home-ownership will be.

When it comes to how much house I want, I seem to be in the minority.

Most people my age seem to want a ton of space (three bedrooms at least) and a nice, updated home (stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops?).

Of course, these things come at a price, and with the Canadian housing market still going through a soft landing, this usually means the shelling out of a ridiculous sum of money in the form of a down payment, and stretching budgets to the max to make the monthly payment on a huge “dream home”.

 

Do You Really Need All That House?

Now, I’m biased. I live in a 400 sq. ft., one bedroom house. My little family is comprised of two adults and two pets, and there’s more than enough space for us in our little abode.

So, when I see similar sized families springing for a three or four bedroom, several thousand square foot house, I can’t help but feel that they are paying for at least some wasted space.

I get it. I grew up in a huge house. There was a lot of us in the family, six people plus innumerable dogs, cats, and hamsters. Still, even with a family the size of ours, we didn’t fill my childhood home. There was a dining room, and a living room that we were never allowed in, plus a basement that was used solely as storage. It’s nice to spread out, but is it necessary?

 

Paying For Wasted Square Footage

“Back in the day”, having a huge house was fine. The cost of that house when it was purchased was  fraction of what the same home would cost today. In this day and age, however, it seems exceedingly silly to pay an arm and a leg for space that isn’t being used.

In most major cities, buying anywhere with a decent location means either paying big bucks, or sacrificing on space. Instead of focusing on how much we can afford, and borrowing to the max to take advantage of historically low interest rates,  maybe it’s time to spend some time thinking about how much space we really, truly, need.

Some day in the distant future, I plan on buying a home.

I don’t want a formal dining room, because I know I’ll probably never use it. I also don’t want a second bathroom, because keeping one clean is hard enough. I don’t want a guest room that is only ever used when guests come around, and I have absolutely no interest in paying for a formal living room.

I only want to pay for the space that I’m actually going to use, every single day.

 

How about you? Are you paying for wasted space in your current home or rental?

Did you buy a big home in anticipation of a family expansion?

 

Comments

  1. Pauline says

    My old house is about 500 sqft and we built a new room on top, having three bedrooms for two people feels big but we are renting the extra rooms to tourists and often hosting family and friends, plus the price of real estate is really low so it was not a big stretch. In a big city I would need about 400sqft as well I guess, as long as there is a park nearby.
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  2. kelly @stayingonbudget says

    I am not going to judge what another person wants. For me, 1600 square feet is more than enough. It’s enough space to work and relax. I can’t imagine any more space–and I have lived in way less. I agree with using all the space you have…otherwise it’s just more maintain.

  3. Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says

    I understand buying a bigger house when you have kids, but too many people buy huge houses with rooms that are never used. I dated a girl whose parents had a huge house. There were three rooms that were never used, but they were fully furnished. In the years we dated, I never spent time in any of those rooms. Then, they put an addition on the house so they could have a sitting room! It just boggles my mind. Too many people don’t think about the “other” costs of buying a huge house.
    Jon @ MoneySmartGuides recently posted..Chicks Don’t Dig The LongballMy Profile

    • Jordann @ My Alternate Life says

      Totally agree! Unused space drives me nuts! My mother is currently building an addition on to her home – she currently lives in a two bedroom house – and she lives alone! When I ask her why, she says it’s because the house becomes so crowded when the whole family is there.

  4. Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says

    I understand buying a bigger house when you have kids, but too many people buy huge houses with rooms that are never used. I dated a girl whose parents had a huge house. There were three rooms that were never used, but they were fully furnished. In the years we dated, I never spent time in any of those rooms. Then, they put an addition on the house so they could have a sitting room! It just boggles my mind. Too many people don’t think about the “other” costs of buying a huge house.

  5. Dayle says

    I guess you could say I’m paying for a little bit of wasted space …. but, my home is/was a starter home. I’m on my own, and my house is a 2-storey 3-bedroom semi. So I have two un-used bedrooms … one set up as an office/laundry hanging room, and the other set up as a guest bedroom. I have two bathrooms, but one is in the basement and doesn’t ever get used, so only one to clean. My house is just under 1100 square feet, so while I didn’t necessarily buy it with the intention of expanding my family, I would definitely have the space to move a partner in, and/or have a couple babies without having to move :)

  6. moneystepper says

    I totally agree! Paying a lot for a large house (and particularly one that will have a detrimental impact on your long-term wealth) is like buying a £3000 top of the range guitar to practice your c chord!

    Its good for showing off, but really not worth it!!
    moneystepper recently posted..20 supermarket pricing mistakesMy Profile

  7. Sam says

    I totally understand your thinking! I myself have no use for a formal dining room and have turned ours into office space. However, I think a lot of people buy keeping resale in mind. Multiple bathrooms are more desirable to most people, so I think that influences decisions too. However, if you’re planning to stay put for a while I say buy what works for you & makes you happy. After all there is always a market for starter homes when you do decide to make another move :)

    • Jordann @ My Alternate Life says

      I guess that’s definitely a consideration always – buying something that you can sell in the future! Although, I must say, my minimalist tendencies work for me in this case, because the houses I’m drawn to are often priced lower than their 3 bedroom 2 bathroom comparables – mostly because they lack the amenities I don’t even want in the first place.

  8. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    I think it depends on the specific situation. We have a 150 sq. foot house, with three little ones, and we’re on top of each other because the house isn’t laid out very well. When we do buy again, we may go up a little bigger, but we’ll definitely look for something that’s more friendly to the size of our family in terms of how it’s laid out.
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  9. Kali @CommonSenseMillennial says

    I know our house is way bigger than what we actually need and sometimes I actually feel a little embarrassed about the size of it – but I don’t feel like we’re paying too much for it. We live in the American South and managed to buy a home in the suburbs when the housing market was almost at rock bottom, so from the start our house had a low price tag. One reason we went with a larger house than we absolutely needed because we plan on staying put for a long while. We didn’t want to outgrow the place in 3-5 years and then feel like we HAD to move. A second reason was also based on future planning – thanks to the market we could look at homes that would have been WAY out of our price range just a few years before. We took advantage and looked in neighborhoods that we knew would be in-demand, where home values were likely to rise as the market improved, and where it would be easiest to resell (which to us meant the likelihood of selling the house quickly and for a higher price than what we paid). So yes, our house IS too big for two people and three indoor cats – but I think in our situation this worked out for the best. We have plenty of room and we enjoy the space we have (plus I love being able to offer guests their own space when they visit, too!), and we should be able to easily sell our home when we decide it’s time to (and hopefully come out on top, financially – our house has already risen substantially in value in the last year). I originally wanted a much smaller home, but so far everything with the one we ended up buying has worked out so well. I think there is a case to be made for a larger house, but it just depends on everyone’s individual situation.

  10. Holly@ClubThrifty says

    I thought we needed a bigger house when we had kids, but we really don’t need all this room. I wanted a 4th bedroom as a guest room and we maybe use it twice per year. We have about 2400 s.f. right now and I could be happy with a ranch house with 1700 s.f.!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..No One Can Own Me: A RantMy Profile

  11. AmAnda says

    I’ve just bought a house so I recently had this discussion with myself. Its just me but I plan on having a child within the next year or two. I had hoped for 3 bedrooms but in the end I ended up with just two. The house I bought is very similar to the one I have now but it has a basement and a larger lot size. 775 sq feet + basement will be more than enough for me, my dogs and a couple kids.

  12. psychsarah says

    I agree that huge houses don’t make a lot of sense. I don’t want to heat, furnish, pay taxes on, and clean more house than necessary! I have better things to spend my time and money on. We just moved to a slightly bigger house (as we’re now expecting our second child) but the old house would have fit us just fine, had it not been for the minuscule yard and huge subdivision going up right on the edge of our back fence. We bought a bit more indoor space, but tons more outdoor space, which we love for our son, our soon to arrive daughter, and our dog. I’m happy to know that we’re in our “forever home” and never have to move again!

  13. Matt Becker says

    We haven’t thought too seriously about it yet, but with 4 kids planned I think 3 bedrooms will be the minimum with 4 more likely. Still, I agree with you that you don’t need a ton of space. More space just means higher costs and more maintenance, often without any significant benefit. The Pops had a good post recently too about what that space actually looks like. The same amount of square footage can feel very different depending on the layout.

  14. Missy Homemaker says

    We are a family of 6 with one dog. Currently we live in a smaller home, but we’re planning on going even smaller. In our experience, if you have a smaller house, the entire family spends more time outside. Yes, it gets loud with 4 boys running around, but that’s what family is. I enjoy being around my kids. I don’t want them to be at total opposite ends of the house.
    We’re currently looking for ground to build our retirement cabin on. It will be a small, build as we can afford it place. We talked about the big fancy house, but then wondered why we’d want all that space once the kids are gone. Bigger house=bigger bills and we don’t want that. We’ll have a one bedroom with a loft for visiting grand kids. We’d rather have the extra money for fun stuff.
    Missy Homemaker recently posted..Thrifty Thursday: How NOT to Visit the State FairMy Profile

  15. AverageJoe says

    My hot button! I love my house because it feels cozy. People who come and visit think it’s bigger than it is because the floor space is all usable and isn’t wasted, like many of the McMansions out there.

    Based on this piece, I think you’d love the book The Not So Big House. It has some really cool architecture and great uses for small spaces. As an example….one house had no room for a stairway, so in this really cool family room they added a British phone booth in the corner….but it’s really a spiral staircase inside!

  16. Ado says

    Great article. My wife and I are looking for a new apartment or a house. We have a small child and we really need to move out of our one bedroom place at some point. I think we can still manage it but at some point the little princess :) will need her room.

    My wife would love to get a house with a little yard for the princess to play. I personally really don’t care too much about it. I did grow up in a house and I know how much work and money it can be.

    But my wife and I do agree on one thing – we want something small and manageable. I do not need an office, a small section in the living room or bedroom is going to do it. We really don’t need a guest room. We have people visiting us maybe once a year.

    I rather buy a smaller place and invest the rest into the college fund or 401k than give it to the bank.

  17. Ann says

    Interesting Post. It is interesting in my opinion to see how people value things such as space differently. We currently don’t own a home but I would eventually like to. I’m not going to concern myself so much with the thought of wasting space, ultimately, it will matter what we can afford that is living beneath our means at the same time and what the size of our family is. I agree that if it is just you and your partner and some pets than you don’t need a lot of space, I’m the same way currently, however, once our baby comes, I know that we will definitely want a little extra space as well.

    http://financesofaworkingmom.blogspot.com/
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  18. Simon @ Modest Money says

    I certainly don’t see the reason for extra useless space especially if you will be digging down into your pockets to pay for it. The old English adage holds here, cut your coat according to your cloth. At the end of the day though, its financial situation and personal preferences that matter. If one fancies a McMansion and they can afford it, by all means spring for it :)
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  19. Nick (@ayoungpro) says

    We bought a pretty large home planning on future family expansion. We are wasting almost half of the space right now. I felt like it was the right decision because home values and interest rates were super low. I suppose time will tell whether or not it was a good decision.

  20. The Warrior says

    Definitely paying for wasted square footage here. I wish we lived in a small minimalist house (i.e. Tumbleweed homes). For now though, with a growing family, mother in law always visiting (good thing ;)), and working from home, it is nice to have the extra space. Can’t wait for the day to downsize though.

    The Warrior
    NetWorthWarrior.com

  21. Tammy R says

    Hi Jordann! I am currently living in a 1400 sq ft townhome which is too big for me. It’s two bedroom and two and a half baths. We’re heating and cooling spaces we do not need. In fact, your 400 sq ft home sounds delightful to me. If I had a home that size, my mortgage might be paid off already! Hindsight is 20/20, and I wish I’d rented for a lot longer, paid off all debt, and invested. That’s just me, though! I don’t like yard work or gardening. Ideally I’d live in a tiny homes community where someone else mowed the lawn. If you know of any places like that, let us know! If we don’t find one, we may end up creating one!

  22. Canadian Budget Binder says

    Many people do pay for wasted space and we see it all the time. Some of our friends have massive homes and half the rooms no one goes in. Our house is not huge but we have almost 3000 sq feet and hardly use any of the spare rooms or bathroom. For the size of the house and the area it was still a good investment for us especially if we were to plan and have kids.

  23. Budget and the Beach says

    My current place I’m using every square inch, so I’m not going to lie, I wish I had a bigger place. I’d like to have a second room or office so I don’t have to use my kitchen table as my office. I’d also like a decent sized updated kitchen. Mine would be totally find right now but it’s SO OLD! I’d also like my own outdoor space. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable. I hate those big McMansions myself. But I do strive for a bit more. :)

  24. Meghan says

    Right now I have roommates and it’s KILLING MY SOUL. Not to be dramatic, but some people need space. I don’t need a lot of space if I’m living alone (with dog), and if all goes well, I will last in this arrangement until the end of my lease in April. At that point, I’d be thrilled with 400 square feet. I could make a studio work out perfectly! I mean, right now, I avoid using my couches in the living room, because I have to talk 24/7. I’m basically living in a 10×11 room and the bathroom is down the hall. The shared kitchen is in the living room. Yack

    I’ve had 1650 square feet too and all anyone needs is a happy medium. 400-1000 square feet of personal space for yourself or yourself + one you love is sufficient.

  25. CeCe @Pink Sunshine says

    In my book space is very necessary! I lived in 400 sq feet for 5 years and the last 6 month of it with two. It was okay at first but I couldn’t stand it after a while. I definitely don’t want a house too big because it gets to the point where it really is unnecessary and you are just paying extra to heat and cool. We have 1800 and we use it all! I admire your ability to live happily in a tiny space!
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  26. Michelle says

    I currently live in a 495 sqf garden level condo in a triplex. I love it!! When I bought it a friend of mine called it a bomb shelter. That friend really made me doubt my decision-but, I went ahead and purchased it. I’m so glad that I did. It has literally sheltered me from the storm of life my mortgage is substantially lower than the rent I was paying and the price of the property has doubled. I am also actively getting rid of clutter and any excess stuff that I have in my place. It’s amazing how little you really need . When I think about investing/traveling vs. paying for space I don’t need. The choice is clear. When I have kids they will double up until they are about ten, then I’ll think about adding an extra room…I think!

  27. Lyle @ The Joy of Simple says

    ” How about you? Are you paying for was”ted space in your current home or rental? ” – Nope :) I live in a small apartment and love the convenience of what that offers me. I wrote a post about it here if interested:

    http://www.thejoyofsimple.com/small-apartment-living-in-montreal

    Now, that being said, if I COULD own my home outright, it would also be small since I am pretty much a bachelor with no children. But really though, I’m not good with fixing things or doing yard work so I think an apartment rental is it for me!

    Thanks for the great post and take care. All the best.

    Lyle

  28. Alexa says

    Ideally I would like a house to be about 2500 square foot plus have a basement. I feel like that would be a good size for the girls and I to grow into. Plus I love decorating. The 900 square feet I am in now isn’t doing much for me!

  29. C. the Romanian says

    Now that we have a child it’s pretty obvious that we need a bigger space. Actually, it’s not really the space that we need more of as we have pretty big rooms, but it’s the actual number of rooms: we have one bedroom and a living room that is now divided in two: a very small living room where we basically have a table and that’s it and the baby’s room. And a ton and a half hallways. It’s really a lot of wasted space in our house so we definitely need something new.

  30. Julia says

    It is much more costly to sell and move than to buy bigger right off the bat. That said, we mean SLIGHTLY bigger. We initially were looking for a 2 bedroom semi as our first home but decided that 3 bedrooms would be best, office/guest room + future child(ren). Our 3 bedroom 1 bath , 1,200 square foot semi is plenty although with a now older child we wish we had a 2nd bathroom which we will eventually add in the basement.
    We refuse to think about moving and have made this our forever home. We renovate to our liking and force ourselves to purge and limit *stuff*.

  31. JnsnPolo says

    We’ve only purchased homes when we’ve moved from one state to another. Our first home was 1100 sqft, had 3 bedrooms and all of a sudden we had 2 children (ok, wasn’t that big a surprise). Since we lived in a sunny, vacation destination area we had visitors all the time. We had a 3 car garage (why I’m not sure given size of house). We converted 1 of the garage spots to a 4th bedroom/office and it was used very regularly.
    After moving to a colder climate, we did purchase a home with 4 bedrooms and a formal living room. Since we love to read (paper books, not electronic), and do so daily, we converted the formal living room into a nostalgic library. Wonderful place to cozy up with a book or perhaps play music – most importantly the room gets used. With the kids now mostly grown and in college, we make our extra bedrooms available to people who are traveling thru our area or in shortterm need due to some unforseen circumstance. It’s worked out nicely and given us a chance to bless those who are in need.

  32. Alison says

    If you buy a house that is too small you will outgrow it as soon as you have kids. You will then need to either renovate or sell. Adding an addition costs about $200.00 per square foot in Toronto. Selling a small house for, say, $350,000 and buying a new one for $500,000 will cost you about 50K in tax and commissions alone, even before you add on the extra $150,000. So it is not wise to buy too small a house because you will throw money away that you would not have spent had you simply bought with an eye to the future. This is not to say you should buy a house in the suburbs that is 6000 sq. feet. Better to buy a house that will fit a couple of kids and a dog, between 1500 and 2000 and stay in it forever. You will save money in the end. I know this because I did it.

  33. Bryce @ Save and Conquer says

    We are a family of 3 and we are comfortable in our 1,370 square foot house. I’m afraid that if we had a bigger house, we’d just fill it up with more stuff. We bought this house with the knowledge that we would have one kid and that would be it. That’s the way it’s worked out, and we are happy.

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