My friend Jeff is in his 70’s and now lives the RV lifestyle. He and his wife sold his home, all his possessions, and now drive around in their 400 square foot house on wheels. He said something to me a long time ago which still sticks:
You spend the first third of your life wanting things. You spend the second third of your life buying those things. Then you spend the last third of your life getting rid of all the things you bought.
You’ve probably heard before about parents who send their kids off to college – Ok; it’s time to downsize!
Most of us will own a place during our lifetime. So is bigger better?
What was it like 200 years ago?
I’ll never forget my trip to the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum and see what life was like during the Revolutionary War.
The original dimensions of the house were 34 feet x 24 feet, roughly 800 square feet. That’s 74 square meters for my international friends.
The family of five slept on a single mattress.
However, the small home was situated on 1,400 acres (566 hectares), the size of a small town.
People got by. I don’t think children complained back then about not having their own bed. Life occurred in a small house, and they probably thought nothing of it.
So how did we get here?
The average size home is 1,000 SF (92 m2) larger today than it was in 1973 while at the same time family sizes are decreasing.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- We need a bigger backyard for the dog.
- The kids each need a room.
- I need a room for my office.
- We need a bigger kitchen.
- We’re too cramped in this place
- We need to live where there are good schools
They are the things we tell ourselves to justify our desires to move on up. I’ve done it too – I wanted a bigger house because I wanted a bigger house.
Katie and I bought our four bedroom house when we had no kids and had no plans on having kids. And there were times I wouldn’t step foot in some of those bedrooms for months at a time.
- I wanted a bigger backyard so I could landscape and have a garden.
- I wanted a formal office because I was tired of working out of spare bedrooms and sharing my space with – a bed!
- And yes, we even wanted to live in a good school district because the house would have a better resale value.
What did we really need?
A roof over our heads.
Everything else is a want.
The mind is a funny thing. No matter how smart we are, we will talk ourselves into making a bad spending decision and look for ways to reinforce our choices.
- We need an extra bedroom because someday my family will want to stay with us. There are no hotels within a 1,000-mile radius, and those five days out of the year for the extra $100/month in mortgage costs are a good investment.
- I need a big backyard for the dog to run around. It’s dangerous for me to be walking the dog at night when I get off work.
- This school district is more expensive but those specific teachers who come and go every year will make our children successful. We must rely on the government to raise smart kids.
No, how did we really get here
From an economic standpoint, cheap money for mortgages has allowed us to scale up our lifestyle and our homes. Even at an early age. When I was 25, I bought my first home. It was 3-stories, had a full daylight basement, and 2,200 square feet. I was single with no kids. It was a beautiful home but a money moron purchase to make given my financial situation.
If you consider how we let society influence us, we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses.
- My sister just bought a house; I should have one too
- My co-worker is getting a bigger house if they can afford it so can I
- My friends are all moving into the up-and-coming part of town. I should too.
In my case, it was the co-worker that just bought a house.
It’s stretching our wallets too thin. Your friends might have careers that pay $20,000 more per year than yours. Maybe they got out of college with no student loans. Maybe they can afford the bigger home.
Statistically speaking they can’t. Sixty percent of all people in their mid–40’s don’t have two nickles to rub together.
Like when I was 25, and the bank said I could borrow a bunch of money. It doesn’t mean I should have. Just because someone can get into a new and bigger house, it doesn’t mean they can afford it. It doesn’t mean they sleep well at night. It doesn’t mean they aren’t stressed out about money. Chances are, they are stressed out about money.
Less home, less stress, more money
Homes cause stress in our finances. It’s the biggest check most of us will write each month. And you’ll do it for decades.
You will never stop dreaming of a bigger and better house. It’s called the new house fever, and everyone gets it.
The cure is to find contentment in your current housing situation.
What can you change about your living situation to change your sense of well-being?
Maybe you need to redecorate. Or, maybe you need to renovate. Maybe the kids need bunk beds. Perhaps you just need to throw out a bunch of stuff, so you’ll have more space.
My mom lives in a 400 square foot (37 m2) apartment in a retirement community. She loves it.
What do you want?
For most of us, we don’t need a bigger place. We want a bigger place. And that’s good if you’ve run the numbers and it fits your budget. Somedays I want a bigger place and some days I want a smaller place. Somedays I want to stuff a backpack and walk the Earth (not very feasible with a family).
If you’re hit with the new house fever, take some time to separate your wants and needs. And keep in mind what my friend Jeff said. You might be in the accumulation phase of your life now, but someday you’ll want less. And that includes having less house at some point down the road. You could save a lot of money and moving expenses by picking out the kind of house you’ll wish later on you had bought in the first place.