How much space do you really need?
I was reading through my Lone Wolf & Cub manga the other day and I thought about a sentence in one of the books that goes along the lines of:
Poor man, half a mat, one bowl of rice a day.
Rich man, half a mat, one bowl of rice a day.
(By the way, Lone Wolf & Cub is one of the best samurai series I’ve ever read, if you’re into comic books.
It made such an impression on me as a kid of 10 reading them for the first time, that I credit them to having made me long to live up to those kinds of values: justice, equality, indifference to opinions, and staying true to what I believe in among other things)
It wasn’t until about the time that I eventually turned into becoming a selective minimalist, that it finally sunk in and made me realize what it meant and how I could use it for my own life.
Being richer just means you can afford to sleep in a fancy bed rather than on a cardboard mat on top of a warm grate on the streets.
Being richer, just means you eat higher quality food and can afford to buy organic.
Rich or poor, we all basically use the same amount of space to sleep on, and basically eat the same amount of food (you can’t eat more than what your stomach will hold, I’ve tried..!)
But how much space do we REALLY need?
HOME BUYERS IN NORTH AMERICA SEEM TO BE IN NEED OF REALITY CHECKS
I’ve always gravitated towards watching Home and Garden Television (loving HGTV for me, started at a very young age) and over the years, I have wondered what is going on in the heads of people who say things like:
“3000 square feet? That is WAY too small for us [2 people and a dog]. We need at least 3 bathrooms and 5 bedrooms.”
“I DEFINITELY need a game room, an office for each of us, and a wine cellar, his and her walk in closets, his and her sinks, with a playroom for the kids, and a full guest house…”
“OMG look at how tiny this bedroom is! You can barely fit a California King-sized bed and all my furniture in here!”
[Reality check: The bedroom was the size of my studio apartment where I lived with BF, which was around 600 square feet]
My face during all of this: O_o
NOT FAULTING PEOPLE WHO CAN AFFORD THIS AND WANT IT
To be clear, I don’t really care if you want to spend 90% of your paycheque on a house you can’t really afford without the interest rates staying so low, and without that 20% down payment that you should really save up for before buying a home.
It’s your money, not mine.
(It’s also to your financial ruin, not mine.)
Did you know that the average long-term mortgage rate is 8.69%?
If you can’t afford a home that has an interest rate higher than current rates around 3.88% – 4%+, then you can’t afford that home.
Just look at the historical rates (we humans have short memories!)!
~30 years ago in 1983: 11.45% – 12.71% as a mortgage interest rate
Today’s numbers are positively shocking, considering how low they are.
If you know all of the above, and you are STILL able to afford that huge house even at an 8.69% interest rate over a period of 30 years, and you’re still able to save 25% of your income into retirement, by all means, go ahead!
BUYING THE HOME TO FIT THEIR FURNITURE
Another thing that made me snort in disbelief is when people say things like:
“This house has GOTTA fit my 60-inch wide screen TV!”
“This bedroom is NOT going to fit all of our furniture”
It makes me laugh because it seems like they’re buying a house to fit the furniture and their things, not the other way around.
It amuses me to no end.
IN SOME PARTS, A NORTH AMERICAN BEDROOM IS THE SIZE OF A HOME
In New York City, space is a premium — we rented a 500 square foot apartment for $5000 a month about a block away from Central Park.
That’s $10 per square foot in renting alone. Can you imagine BUYING it?
To put that into perspective, we stayed in a very nice area of Montreal in a 600 square foot apartment, paying $700 a month. That’s $1.17 per square foot, or about 9X less than in NYC.
Of course, true New Yorkers put up with either a long commute or a closet to call their home because they want to live in the “greatest city on Earth”.
(For the record, I didn’t enjoy living in NYC as much as I thought I would. It was exciting for the first few months but then became just like any other city, just with more places to spend your money (shops & restaurants), ill-maintained cabs with squealing brakes and trying to sidestep the constant rush of gawking tourists standing in your way when you’re trying to get to work.)
In addition, having traveled to Europe and Asia, and having stayed in what they called a “bedroom” because there was a tiny window in the 120-square foot hotel room, it makes you realize just how distorted our view of how large a home should be these days.
Note: These tiny hotel rooms were formerly APARTMENTS. Actual APARTMENTS of 120 square feet. They had a second level I think (loft), with a ladder.
Even a nice apartment in Paris with about 800 square feet of space came at a premium, not unlike NYC.
We may have all heard the statistics but it bears repeating again:
Homes have increased exponentially in the past, and in the 1950s, an average of 1100 square feet.
Today, an average home size is about 2349 square feet.
Can you imagine if you’re poor and living in the slums?
Whole families live in 400-square foot abodes, which includes a counter for the “kitchen” and a space in the corner for a “bathroom”.
Privacy? You can has none.
Beijing China: People in their dining room outside on the street.
SO HOW MUCH SPACE DO WE REALLY NEED?
Obviously my opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to how much space YOU think you need for yourself, but I reviewed my own needs and came up with this number as a guess from the way we’ve been living for the past while:
600 square feet for 2 people (quite a comfortable size in a studio apartment with a separate kitchen and bathroom).
Perhaps 800 square feet if we had 2 kids, which would include at least one separate bedroom for us (the kids can sleep in the living room and learn how to share).
Maximum: 1000 square feet if we want to get fancy and give 2 kids a room each.
(Right, like THAT is happening… Just kidding.)
This doesn’t sound like a lot of space to many, but it’s more than enough.
1000 square feet would do it.
I mean, it was certainly enough for folks in the 1950s!
WAIT, BUT YOU’RE AN ECCENTRIC MINIMALIST, SO THIS ISN’T A FAIR COMPARISON TO NORMAL PEOPLE!
I’ve stayed in plenty of homes and visited plenty of friends’ homes who have had about 1000 square feet for their entire family.
It felt rather spacious and “just enough space” rather than too much.
To further prove my point, my parents’ have a home that’s about 1500 square feet (er… perhaps more now that I think about it, closer to 2000 square feet, but let’s just say 1500 because I don’t know for certain other than the room sizes themselves), and they are definitely “normal”, with the emphasis on “normal” being that they’re certified border-line HOARDERS.
Note: This doesn’t include the garage, front yard or the backyard but no one lives there, because it’s part of the lot size.
From what I can see, at least half of it goes unused in terms of regular living purposes. The rest of the space is just storage for all their JUNK.
I’ve been casually observing their habits over the past few years, and came to this conclusion:
- Kitchen/Dining Area: 375 square feet
- Master Bedroom: 145 square feet
- Bathroom: 120 square feet
TOTAL USED SPACE: 640 square feet
The Kitchen/Dining Area is the hub of the house. My parents have an office in there, and basically spend about 80% of their waking hours in that room, doing work, eating, watching TV, etc.
( I too, spend 80% of my waking hours in the kitchen, because it’s near all the food and cooking going on, but that’s neither here nor there 😉 )
But let’s say that my parents use another room just to escape from each other once in a while, or maybe that room is for guests or an office space.
- Escape Bedroom / Office Space / Guest Room: 120 square feet
TOTAL USED SPACE WITH BONUS BREATHING ROOM: 760 square feet
About 750 square feet should do it nicely for a family with 2 kids, or a couple like my parents who need a little extra space to avoid having to bite each other when they’re feeling snarly.
Not including the hallways which probably add another 240 square feet.
YOU’RE PAYING FOR THAT EXTRA SPACE, YOU KNOW..
That means that they’re paying about double the amount of room that they need (1500 square feet) to house their junk, when they only use about half, or 760-1000 square feet to live.
If you consider the price of houses these days around the $500,000 mark reasonably close to downtown Toronto (e.g. a half hour away), that’s $250,000 for storing your junk, and $250,000 to live.
Interesting, don’t you think?
I came to about the same space needs as a minimalist, versus my parents the Hoarders, the only difference is that I could be flexible and live with less space than 750-800 square feet (if I needed to, not that I might choose to do so), whereas they have too much junk to do that.
I think this is a pretty interesting exercise to go through, to see which rooms in the house you use, and how much space that is (if you’re anything like me, you should measure it and not eyeball the space..)