'Right-Sizing': Can We Really Live in a Smaller House?

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a row of white and green houses ...
Shutterstock"Right-sizing" is all about how you live in a house and maybe how much time you are willing to spend cleaning it.

Holland & Nick Brown were on a quest for a Net Zero Nest, remodeling a house (on a mainstream budget) into a home that is energy- and water-efficient. See the finished project here.

Part of our Net Zero Nest journey is to figure out how much space our family really needs. Our new house is about 1,950 square feet -- 800 square feet smaller than our previous home and 450 square feet smaller than the average American single family home. With growing kids, this may seem a little counter-intuitive. Our kids take up more space these days, so why would we want to get by with less?

That's why we like the term "right-sizing." For us, it's all about how you live in a house and maybe how much time you are willing to spend cleaning it. In our previous home, we used the downstairs master as a guest suite, because it was really far from the kids' rooms. That meant that despite our square footage, we all basically shared one upstairs bathroom. And when we didn't have guests, that downstairs space was largely unused. We also had a large formal living room that we rarely spent time in. It was lovely, but a space our casual-leaning family can do without.

losing storage space like this
Holland & Nick BrownWe will definitely miss our storage.
Our new house has smarter space for us. In a smaller footprint, we can create a true master suite that offers privacy without feeling like an isolation chamber. We can also give both our kids an adjacent bath, a definite upgrade. And we can create an office with a separate entrance, something that will help us work in peace and allow our kids space to work on group projects with their friends.

Nick calls this room the "slash" room, as in office/homework/den/guest room. Through careful design, we hope to make it a true multipurpose space that is part of our daily lives. That way we maximize our use of space and our square-foot efficiency.

One exciting aspect of a smaller house is that it will be cheaper to operate and maintain over time. Even without our planned energy upgrades, a smaller house costs less to heat and cool, offers lower property taxes, and has lower maintenance costs.

And as our kids grow up and move out, it won't be too big for two people to enjoy. In fact, our architects are already planning for what our daughter's bedroom will be once she is gone (sorry, honey). While we always want her to have a space to come home to, we can use her room as a true guest room, a study, or even a man cave down the line.

Our new home is also one story, so we can hopefully age in place when the time comes. And we weren't kidding about the cleaning. We can clean our new home in half the time, which we thoroughly appreciate.

collage of chid's artwork
Abby BarnesTake pictures of your children's art (here turned into a collage) instead of keeping originals.
As for the biggest challenge? Storage! We will definitely miss our storage. While we have a bigger garage now, our open floorplan maximizes living space. In creating a great room, we are removing walls, which means less space for closets and displaying personal items.

We are having to purge and it isn't easy. We have already sold some furnishings, but now we are sorting through the little things like games, kids' art, stuffed animals, sports gear, books, souvenirs, and all the other things a family accumulates over time.

Figuring out what we really need and want to keep requires discipline and a lot of compromise. A favorite suggestion so far is from our friend Abby Barnes of Paper and Cake: Take pictures of your children's art instead of keeping the originals. She made us some photo collages that are definite keepsakes.

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