Why do people assume everyone wants an upgrade to a huge house?

By Gail O'Connor
December 31, 2015
Credit: Shutterstock.com

"May your house always be too small to hold all of your friends." If like me, you live in a home that's modest in size by modern American standards, you've been able to take this Irish blessing to heart, and then some. I love my small house, but I suppose it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, judging by some of the comments I receive, said with no intentional malice. For instance, when my husband and I first moved in, full of excitement and long-term plans for raising our children here where they could walk to all of their schools and a nearby charming downtown, a neighbor commented that our new home was a "perfect starter house." (Starter? Start-to-finish for us, thank you.) Or when over the holidays one of the guests in my home asked what would it take for our family of five to move into the five-bedroom home under construction up the street, although I'd said nothing about wanting to move into such a house. ("Are we moving?" one of my confused children asked me.)

I feel extremely fortunate to live in my house, which sits at the end of a dead-end street where our three kids have spent hours riding their bicycles and scooters, and drawing rainbows with sidewalk chalk. Built in 1925 at a little over 1400 square feet, with three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, an unfinished basement, and one detached garage with original carriage doors, it's room enough for us, but is technically small by today's standards. "Small homes" are defined as 1,400 feet or less today, and in spite of whatever articles I've read about the merits of smaller-house living—cheaper (usually), less to maintain, and so on—small houses have shrunk to 4 percent of new-home construction. The average home size today is 2,600 square feet, up from 1,725 feet in 1983.

For someone whose childhood was spent with my brother and parents in a two-bedroom garden apartment, my house is a dream come true. (When I was a kid, all of our friends lived in small apartments, too, and I don't know if any neighborhood had more playmates available than ours.) That's the thing with homes: Size is all in the eye of the beholder. A friend recently told me that her family of four was going to have to move, because she doesn't have a master bathroom in her old Colonial home. Meanwhile, I have another friend with three children and a husband in a one-room large studio apartment in Manhattan, with no immediate plans to move.

Am I completely unbothered by the fact that my house is small compared to some of my neighbors'? No. I'm a product of my environment, and I wouldn't mind having a "bonus room" like the houses I see on HGTV's House Hunters. (By the way, don't you love when couples on that show walk through a cavernous mansion and wrinkle their noses at "problems" like a paint color they don't like? "But you can change that!" I want to yell at the TV.) And if I didn't have to share a bathroom with kids' bath toys—or, while I'm dreaming, with anyone—now that would be living. But when we're lighting a match to our fireplace, or moreso, when I look at photos of Syrian refugees, who have no place to call home, my complaints suddenly feel awfully, well, small, which they are.

The only real practical downside to living in a smaller home (again, compared to some of those I've spent time in as a guest) is sometimes I fall victim to my own thoughts of not having a space that's "big enough" to have friends over. I'll add that it doesn't feel "done" enough either, in that I've been decorating, slowly, in the six years since we moved into it, hanging the occasional picture while someone goes down for a nap or isn't being ferried to an after-school activity. I'm resolving to get over those phobias in 2016, and entertain more.

Because what's a home for, no matter the size, if not to make memories in? My fondest thoughts are of friends and family gathered around our kitchen—because no matter what its size, everybody goes to the kitchen.

And maybe, just maybe, someday I can add the screened porch I covet, to fit all of the friends who spill over.

Gail O'Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mom of three. She lives in New Jersey.


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