23 October 2012

31 Days - A History

Growing up, I moved around a lot, but the house I spent the most time in, seven years, was a sizeable house in Canton, Michigan, a suburb in between Detroit and Ann Arbor. It was a classic pre-2007 home: two car garage, living room/parlor, family room/rec room, dining room, generous kitchen, decent backyard, four bedrooms, and two and a half baths. The master suite was gigantic. It was so big, in fact, that my parents built a huge walk-in closet and still had a huge bedroom. The second bedroom was also incredibly spacious. It was so big that, for a time, my sister and I comfortably shared it. But this bedroom had a door to the bathroom, and my sister, who was young enough at the time to need bathroom access in the middle of the night, got the enormous room while I was stuck with the tiny pink room the in back. But it wasn't long before my parents tore down the wall between the two tiny rooms, and we had three of the most gigantic bedrooms. I kid you not, my bedroom growing up was as big as a family room in most homes. I had two closets, two dressers, an armoire, a large desk, a bed, and the room still felt huge. I used to dream of turning my bedroom into an apartment, drawing up floorplans to section off part of it to be a "living room," which I sort-of did with my cousin's hand-me-down, neon purple, blow-up sofa. I would move two more times with my family, six more times by myself (counting moving around in college) and six more times with my husband, and no other room I had would ever come close to the gigantic room I had growing up. Each time I moved, I would imagine one day settling down in my own home, which I dreamed would have a spacious master suite, a library, a breakfast nook, a formal dining room, a colossal kitchen with two ovens, a walk-in pantry, a fitness room, sometimes even a theater/game room. When I moved to Florida and secured a job in real-estate marketing, I found myself touring multimillion dollar mansions. The gorgeous detail of the houses fulled my passion. From the Italian marble flooring to the Brazilian cherry coffered ceilings, I carefully noted my favorites so that I could imitate them in the house I swore I would one day own. I printed out and took home the floorplans of my favorite homes, modifying them to be my dream home. Bedrooms grew larger, library became libraries, and the theater/game room became two separate rooms.

But the more time I spent in the colossal mansions, the more I began to realize their flaws. Half the time, I worked with property managers instead of home owners. Property managers are people who make a living off coordinating landscapers and maids and Christmas decorators. People need to hire them to keep track of how many times a year the marble needs to be polished and close their homes up for the winter (or, in the case of Florida, the summer). Their homes are so big, they require staff. I realized that I would either need to be this staff for my own home, or I would need to pay the staff. The more bathrooms you have, the more bathrooms you have to clean. The more contractors you hire, the more bills you need to pay. Neither one sounds fun to me.

As I gradually became disillusioned, I also began to realize that I would probably never make enough money to afford one of those homes. Most lawyers are not millionaires and it takes millions to buy and care for those homes. We could either become house-poor or spend our lives working to make enough money to afford a house we couldn't enjoy. So I went careening in the other direction. I direction I found to be much more in keeping with the goals I had in my life.

I strive for minimalistic living. I don't keep elementary school awards and dance trophies. I don't have plane tickets and newspaper cutouts from exciting events in high school. I have two shoe boxes of memories: one is full of love letters from Matt, the other one with trinkets with which I didn't want to part. My favorite thing to design is actually business cards because I love trying to pare down the information to strictly what is necessary and making work beautifully in a tiny space. When I was a kid, I designed a camper that would fit in a truck bed - complete with fold-down tables and a hammock for a bed - so that moving wouldn't involve packing. So where did my love of mansions come from? I have no idea. But I think it was a phase, because after it passed, I never heard from it again.

I went the way of the tiny house movement.The average American home has more than doubled since the 1950s (cite), even as family size has shrunk. One man in particular is credited taking the tiny houses mainstream. I fell in love with his philosophy of having fewer, higher quality pieces in a smaller space. Plus a smaller house means less chores, less money on maintenance, and smaller bills. This translates to more time for hiking and kayaking and more money for traveling. I also love that when you have a smart space, it doesn't matter if it's a small space. I love having a kitchen small enough that I can reach anything in it in just a few steps. I do prefer galley kitchens and I have a floor plan sketched out of the perfect galley kitchen with a pantry at one end.

My husband, who spent high school in a bedroom so narrow that the head of the bed touched one wall and the foot of the bed the other, doesn't mind the idea of a small house, though he's not excited about the idea of a tiny house (usually defined as being less than 900-1000 sq ft). Luckily for him, even the largest tiny house on Tumbleweed's website is too small to fit 3-5 kids, so we'll probably have to stick with something slightly larger.

I haunt the TinyHouseBlog, Apartment Therapy (which has a really totally awesome annual competition for cool, small spaces, complete with floor plans!), and FreeCabinPorn for inspiration.

Additional bonus: small house living comes with the potential for off-the-grid living, which means less dependence and fewer bills!

So many things to love about the tiny house movement! Anyway, as I'm writing this, a nasty storm is blowing in, so I need to post this before my Internet and/or power goes out. I'll leave you with one final thought...in picture form:

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