When Tim and I moved into a 1,100ft2 flat in Colorado, it took some getting used to. Actually, it was frightening. Everywhere I looked, behind me, left, or right, there was my husband. “Tim,” I said, “this is not going to work.” Instead of agreeing—though surely he must— he said, “well, let’s see how it goes.”
One of our two daughters residing in Colorado expressed no empathy, “Mom, seriously? This is as big as many family homes in Denver.” The look on my Millennial told me she wasn’t joking around. In a defensive move, I offered, “But, you know, I’m living with your dad.” And she said, “And he has to live with you.” They just don’t make kids like they used to.
After a couple of months, not only did I grow accustomed to my small space, I liked it. Tim didn’t seem to move around as much, making it less frightening. It was in those first few months of small-space-adjusting we drove by a state fair with a display of Tiny Homes. Paying $40 for the two of us to check them out seemed too expensive to satisfy our curiosity. So, we peered through a chain-link fence, like kids wanting to climb a neighbor’s apple tree.
IKEA stores have samples of small-space living. It’s nothing short of ingenious. Their Brooklyn Tiny model apartment is 391ft2. The 605ft2 floor plan includes two bedrooms and an office. In Japan, apts.jp suggests one person can live comfortably in a 269-409ft2 apartment. For two people, they recommend between 409-538ft2.
In the US, we place (placed) a premium on everyone in the family having their own bedroom. It was foremost in our minds as we remodeled our home that each child had a space of her/his own. It would make for a more harmonious life, I reasoned. Wrong. They just quarreled and fought in the halls where I could hear them better than before. So, it didn’t surprise me to learn that there doesn’t appear to be a positive correlation between living space size and a feeling of well-being. In 2019, the US— a country of big homes — dropped another point, to 19, on the world’s happiest country survey. The top four spots belong to Scandinavian countries where the average apartment size is 800ft2.
Boomers, the first post-depression generation, returning from the service or graduating from college, bought the biggest house we could afford. We wanted bigger and better for our kids. Now, better (for all generations) is smaller energy-efficient dwellings that require less maintenance and more opportunity to enjoy leisure activities.
Alan, a single father who loves fly fishing, purchased a wooded piece of land unsuitable for building an ordinary home on, but just right for what he had in mind, a nature sanctuary near lakes, rivers, and wildlife. To the environmentally conscious and short on cash Millennials, a small house can be an alternative to renting and an opportunity to save money. For others, it’s about embracing simplicity and freedom. For Baby Boomers specifically, it’s about living independently. Why?
Many of us share a common fear of ending up in a nursing home. Even an outwardly beautiful assisted living residence can hide a hollow heart. Sometimes people will say, “it’s better than the alternative.” Others declare they’ll die before that happenes. Not sure how they will manage that, but it may explain why the smaller concept is catching the attention of independent and healthy seniors.
Bette Presley (72) in Arroyo Grande, California, asked herself, “How can I exist in my old age” without leaving heaps of stuff for her children to dispose of and needing to take care of her. Like Alan, she wanted to live close to nature. Choosing a 166ft2 home on wheels, thanks to solar panels and willingness to simplify her lifestyle, Bette is living her life off the grid. This choice, she hopes, will avoid a nursing home altogether. After hours researching the small home trend, it was time to call one of my children.
“Gréta, when you and Quay purchase your ranch land, keep in mind that one day dad and I may need to build a small house on it.” She had me on speakerphone, most likely enjoying her first cup of coffee. I continued, “It must have a good-size deck for dad, me, and Quay’s rocking chairs.” She asked why she was not included in this Little House on the Prairie family scene. “Well, Gréta, you will be cooking and doing our laundry,” I explained. Instead of responding, she called to her eight-year-old daughter, “Hey, do you want to live with amma and afi and take care of them?” Andrea’s exuberant applause and yelling, “Yes, I love being with amma and afi!” got me considering forgiving Gréta some of her high school shenanigans. The feeling passed when Gréta lied, “Andrea says no.”
John Louiselle wanted to make sure if his 80-year-old grandmother should need to be near family, she could. He built her a 240ft2 mobile home that could be moved onto loved one’s properties. “Everyone wants to be independent. Nobody wants to have to move if they don’t want to or aren’t ready for it. This is just a wonderful transition,” Shirley explains in an interview in a Minnesota local newspaper.
Humans are an ingenious and creative bunch continually seeking to update and improve. For example, Japan offers senior women an alternative, called “Jikka,” a tent-like community (built with concrete and timber) nestled in nature. The co-housing concept, originated in Denmark, is a way for a group of people to work together to build and develop places to live that offer privacy and community for people who value independence and mutual concern.
There is one scenario least to our liking, “what if we can’t live independently?” Thanks to technology, it no longer means sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home hallway waiting to die. N2Care, a Virginia company, has created an alternative to “grandma is moving in with us” and nursing homes. It’s a MEDCottage that’s temporarily placed in the family’s backyard designed to meet the needs of forgetful seniors who need help with some tasks and some oversight. These “granny pods” have customized safety features, are cost-effective, and prolong aging in place.
Both young and old alike are gravitating towards smaller dwellings. Today, high maintenance spaces are out of favor, replaced with more modest and less upkeep. It’s a trend seeking smaller footprints, social interactions, independence, convenience, and more opportunities to continue the activities we enjoy.