Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Rational House

What makes a rational house?

When this whole house business bloomed in early summer we thought we knew exactly what we wanted in our future house. We wanted at least three bedrooms (preferably a fourth bedroom for guests/crafts), a family room and a rec room, a fireplace or wood-burning stove and a larger yard. All this while managing to stay in the same high school district.

Mind you, we originally had no intentions of moving this year, so our current house (multi-story, American Foursquare) would just have to do. That meant that for a few more years we'd all shuffle routines to make the one bathroom work, the girls would continue to share a room (the third bedroom is quite small while their current room is ginormous), and our gardening dreams would be limited by the urban-ish green spot that is our yard.

But the house that originally got us into the moving spirit had all our above requirements, plus was sporting a flexible timetable and what was, at the time, a very pretty price tag. And so we shifted house-selling plans into high gear and put our house on the market.

But things with the potential house changed; poor communications, misunderstandings and delays. We started looking at other houses for comparison. By the time paperwork was drawn up on the original house it had become glaringly obvious that the asking price was far higher than the property was worth.

And so we did not complete a contract on the property.

What to do? After much nail-biting and lengthy pro-con lists we decided to keep our house listed on the market and (thanks to generous personal financiers) were able to continue looking at prospective houses. Many of the showings we visited during those first few months met our above criteria; bungalows with additions, ranches that stretched and grew. Many rooms, many options, but nothing ever grabbed us in a way that made us think that it was The One. After looking at house after house without getting any further in the process, TMOTH and I started to do some soul searching.

This entire year - the whole point of the rationing project - has been an exploration of wants vs. needs, experiencing what it is like to live our values (or at least give it an honest try). When it came to houses, what would be enough? What would fit our needs? Which of our wants were reasonable? What kind of house would allow us to live more in line with our values of environmental responsibility and sustainable practices?

What was really important?

Reexamining our current house with these thoughts in mind we discovered that, for the way we live, there are several areas of wasted space; we rarely use the kitchen nook, the spare bedroom and the gorgeous (but excessive) grand entryway. But not all space is bad - a large kitchen is important because of the amount of from-scratch cooking and home canning we produce. And a large yard would allow us to grow more of our own produce and possibly provide space for chickens(!).

Sharing bedrooms and bathrooms can be an inconvenience, but heating, cooling extra space can be very inconvenient to your pocketbook. And think of all the cleaning required for that unnecessary space.

After examining our lifestyle and exploring how we really want to live, our 1600+ square foot house seemed...too big. That's not to say that a different family with different habits couldn't justify use of all these spaces. But it became clear that what we needed was a two-to-three bedroom house just big enough for family gatherings but not so big that we would all start living independent lives in separate corners of the dwelling. We needed a big kitchen and a larger than average sized bathroom (to make sharing easier).

We wanted enough of a yard to expand our gardening and raise chickens (but not too big of a yard that would require extra hours of maintenance). We wanted a single-level house to make exterior work (siding, roof, gutters, etc.) manageable and that would be friendly to our future aged and arthritic knees.

And we were willing to go outside of our current school district to find it.

Just before Thanksgiving we found it, quite by accident. The girls and I were headed to a realtor-run open house and passed by a "for sale by owner" property that was also having an open house; a smallish house with a little bit of land. Our intended destination, on the other hand, was a biggish house on smaller land.

The girls and I ditched the original open house for the FSBO and found The One.
New House

At just under 1000 square feet, the two bedroom, one (large) bathroom house is efficiently designed and immaculately maintained. The basement has a finishable area for a rec room and the two care garage includes a small workshop area. The 2.58 acres(!) of land encompasses a dry creek/wooded area, an established garden, chicken coop and pasture land.

Eowyn and the Chicken Coop

And so, all the pretty papers have been signed with a closing date of late February. And now the pressure is on to get our current house sold.

TMOTH and Sissy in the Back Half Acre

We know not everyone will agree with the decision we've made. Downgrading into a smaller home requires compromise, but it also follows historical example; in the 1950's the average size of an American home was 1,000 square feet, whereas today typical new homes are over 2,000 square feet. During the same time period the size of the American family decreased from three to four members down to two to three. So, as family size decreased home size increased. Does this really make sense?

Even with the anxiety of moving and getting our house sold there is a certain peace at the same time. The new house will be our rational house - not too big, not too little. Big enough to hold our love, small enough to wrap our arms around.

Let the dreams begin.

--Rational Mama

P.S. For more about living in smaller homes visit Living in Small Houses, Planet Green or Google "small living" or "living in small houses."


  1. I couldn't agree with you more! We currently (3 of us and a large dog) live in 900 square feet atomic ranch from the 50's. People think we are crazy. However, we never use our eating nook either. Another bedroom/office space would be nice, but we decided it didn't need to be attached to the house.

    Our new house is only 550 square feet. We are revamping one large shed outside into an office space.

    It is amazing how much you think you need, until you are there are realize how much it was all in your head :)

    Congratulations! Good luck on selling!