On Simplicity

May 9, 2008

Can a Bigger House Be a Simpler House?

Filed under: House & Home — Serendipity @ 5:00 am

The conventional wisdom says that those trying to simplify should consider downsizing to a smaller house. The reasons are simple and logical:

  • Fewer rooms equals fewer rooms to furnish and less stuff to buy
  • Less square footage to clean
  • More togetherness

I don’t disagree with these points. But as in most areas, there are arguments on the other side that can be equally compelling. To be truthful, I live in a home that, it’s fair to say, is bigger than two people need. I didn’t choose it; I married into it. (Personally, I’d select a smaller house than we currently live in.) However, it certainly colors my thinking on this issue and has made me question the conventional wisdom that smaller=simpler.

Bigger Houses Allow Clearer Purposes

Having all those extra rooms means that each room can have a single purpose. While unitasking is often (and often rightfully) vilified when it comes to stuff, it can be beneficial in a home. Sleep researchers have been saying for years that bedrooms should be only be sleeping and sex. Not entertainment centers. Not media rooms. Not offices. You get the picture. Similarly, your office can be your office–not your office/workout room/play area. Having a unitasker office isn’t necessarily wasteful; in fact, it can be less distracting and boost productivity. Here are some rooms that benefit from being dedicated:

  • Bedroom: Better sleep is a gift to be treasured, so there’s much to say for not co-opting it to save space.
  • Kids’ Play Room: Leave it messy with no worries and don’t worry about tripping on toys all around the house. Safer and cleaner all-around.
  • Dining Room: With a dedicated dining room, the table is actually available for eating and sharing family time.
  • Home office: A unitasker office leaves less room for distractions.
  • Guest room: Guests can always feel comfortable staying without feeling like they’re in your way. Plus, it’s always ready for unexpected company. Family and friends can visit more often, for longer, without splashing out for an expensive hotel.

Other Cool Options for Single Purpose Rooms:

  • Home Gym: Who needs to pay for a membership or commute to a gym? Work out at home to stay healthy and keep medical bills down without having to turn the treadmill into a laundry rack on the weekends.
  • Media Room: These get made fun of a lot as part of the McMansion trend, but having a dedicated room to TV and movies means that you can contain media to just one part of your house, enjoy better lighting and acoustics, and also have a very good gauge of just how much time you spend in front of the TV. There’s something to be said for having a room that removes the television from the center of the house.
  • Sewing Room: Sewing is messy and requires that a decent amount of equipment be out to work easily (sewing machine, ironing board, cutting boards or space, etc.). Having a room that can be closed off can make you much more likely to keep out and use your equipment–which can a frugal boon.
  • Relaxation/Meditation Room: Nothing but a comfy chair, a CD player, some plants, and a gorgeous piece of art or two. Not hard to clean and almost impossible in a smaller home (though I do know that meditation is about the internal, not external surroundings). Hard to put a price on sanity.

So, What’s My Point?

My point is that simplicity is different for everybody, and there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for homes. Since many McMansions take up the same spatial footprint as a home half their size, I don’t think that larger homes should immediately be categorized as wasteful, inefficient, or ridiculous. As long as people are thoughtful and deliberate in how they create their homes (ie, not filling them up with crap just because there’s room), both small and large homes can function equally well.

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