Why choose a small home over a McMansion

I used to write about green building and green homes regularly for one of my clients and living small would come up often. I’m a big advocate of small homes; or well, I suppose “enough” home not technically small. I think you need what you need, but why have more space, you know.

Oddly, when I used to write about small houses or living smaller not larger, I’d get reader comments such as, “You’re so stupid – you’re just saying live small because you’re poor and jealous of rich people with big houses.” Um, yeah I’m so jealous of the McMansion lifestyle (not) and also, what a lame issue to get hyped up over. I’m not sure why the issue of living with less in a smaller home irks some people, but it seemingly does.

I don’t actually care what other people think though because when you get down to it, living smaller is greener. I don’t care if your home is totally wind and solar run, built with sustainable wood and contains all organic textiles and composting toilets; if you’re living in a house that takes up more space than you actually need, that’s a drag on resources.

Small homes are so much better for the environment than large homes. Why?

  • Fewer materials are needed overall to build the home. Even the most sustainable home building supplies require energy to manufacture and are a drain on resources. The less you can use the better.
  • The smaller the home the smaller impact you’re making on the actual planet. Think about it… is it better to take up four lots of green space for a McMansion or one lot for a reasonable home?
  • In my experience, people who live in a smaller house tend to bring in fewer material goods. Maybe because there’s less room for storage. Owning fewer things is one of the best ways to live green.
  • In the long run, it takes less energy, water, and other resources to run a small house than a large one – unless that large house is run extremely well with renewable resources such as solar power and rainwater systems.

If you like the idea of living small but still want to feel as if you have ample room in your home try the following…

  • Make one room, your largest room, your focal point – do you really need a living room, family room, and den? Most likely no.
  • Design an open floor plan which will make your home look and feel larger than it is.
  • Build taller walls. Building up creates less of a footprint than building outwards. Tall walls and vaulted ceilings open up a home creating a more spacious feeling.
  • Use natural light whenever possible. Natural light via windows (even toward the top of walls) counters the normally darker feeling small homes often have. Skylights also work well to open up a small space.
  • Paint with light colored interior paints. In a smaller space dark can make small look smaller and less inviting.
  • Open up your home plan to include outdoor living. Using large wide opening doors leading to a patio space or big balcony can create a second, outside living room or bedroom space.

Do you like smaller homes or do you feel like you need a bigger house?

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  1. Kathleen K. O'Connor says

    It’s insane how huge the houses are in the US. I am used to living in small spaces after living abroad. I am American myself, but I have to say that many Americans are just plain excessive. Everything is huge! The cars, the food, the houses, and even a lot of the people. I don’t think I truly realized how wasteful people are in the US until I left.

  2. Peggy says

    I like to be cozy, so yeah I agree with smaller spaces too. My former house felt too big to me after apartment living. It was almost like a monster was hiding on the other side of the house. Ha. I like being able to walk in and glance around and see everything at once, versus a huge maze of a place.

  3. Lynn says

    I think “need” is the operative word and the one we just don’t think much about in the U.S. There was an incredible example of a guy in uh oh, I think it was Taiwan? who took this tiny apartment and by creating all sorts of amazing things, made it useful for so many purposes. The idea that everyone needs his/her own room (starting with a nursery) is a start to the problem. One thing that does influence me personally is living in a climate where you are inside most of the year. When we lived in AZ, I think we could have done with a lot smaller house. Mental torture from being in a space with a bunch of others with little opportunity to get out has to count for something. But a McMansion, no way.

  4. Jennifer says

    @Kathleen I’ve heard that once you leave the country things look really different here. I didn’t leave the US but I did live in a tiny town right off the beach in Humboldt – no electric heat, only four rooms, tiny! BUT I loved it. It was way better to have the ocean view than too many large houses.

    @Peggy – With just you, M, and the kitties, you don’t need much space anyhow. I could do with a little more right now being that we’ve got 3 bedrooms, plus three kids and two adults because I work at home. Right now I’m sans office space which is hard, but other than that, I like it small.

    @Lynn – it’s a great point that everyone thinks everyone needs their own space from birth. Cedar co-slept, so he had a nook like room for books, toys, and such, but he really had no need for a bedroom as a baby. No crib, no changing table, etc. But for many here it’s hard to wrap their minds around because that’s what we see in the media – lots of individual spaces. I think it leads to too much space and a feeling of being cut off. I do agree about where you live though too. If we had very snowy winters and couldn’t get out, maybe I’d need more space. Luckily it’s so moderate here we go outside year-round.

  5. Peggy says

    Jennifer, we need more space too actually. Our one bedroom, one bath is a bit tight, plus I don’t have a good out of sight place for the litter boxes. I’m using the sun room area as an office, and there’s no balcony. And M wants a place to paint. So, probably a three bedroom house to allow office space, plus guest area would be nice.


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