Large House vs Small House

Most of you following this blog will know that we are making the shift from a small rental house to an un petite bus-house. A bus-house with an uber generous 23 square metres of living space on board.

Australia has one of the largest house sizes in the world with free standing house sizes sitting at about 243m2.  With an average of only 2.66 people living in these large houses that leaves a lot of free space.

While the UK has a very small house size (at an average of 76m2). That popular program Grand Designs often raises the hopeless case of their upper-middle-class renovators and self builders in finding those ‘hard to find’ bits of land for their dream houses, these people manage, in increasingly creative ways, to fill vacant blocks with floors and walls and rooves. These vacuous spaces are then relegated to housing just a couple of bodies on a regular basis.

In an increasingly populated world people seem to continue to want their own space.

Australia has a lot of space and I guess that is why our homes are bigger, but to what end?

What is the use of these large expanses of dead space (dead as in: they do not grow anything and in order to liven them up certain elements must be introduced such as air conditioning and electric light).  They are often devoid of people from at least 8am to 6pm.  What is the point of all these vast, empty buildings?

The point is that with more space you can buy more stuff. You can build more cupboards to fit more things. You can clear a wall to hang that flat screen television of epic proportions. You can have a second lounge suite, a comfy living-in one and a more presentable entertaining one. You can have a breakfast table where the family gather, scruffy and disheveled, in the wee small hours of the morning and also an elegant dining area where those waking breakfasters would never dare spill their morning cereal.

For some strange reason we feel the need for all these different spaces, all these different things. Interior decorating magazines convince us that we should have them.  Advertisers sell us their products, which we gullibly start believing we need. We add clothes, makeup, perfume, shoes, coffee mugs, cushions, linen, kitchen gadgets, gimmicky toys and tools of every persuasion. If we’re smart we might remove some of the old stuff along the way, but still we consume. It is a known fact, we consume up to our income level. If we have money we spend it – that is what it is made for after all – even if we save it we do eventually spend it.

I have been resisting these compulsive spending urges since knowing we were drastically reducing our house size.

In a home this tiny every little object matters and every square centimetre of storage must be seized upon. The ‘bedrooms’ are only as large as they need to be. Both kids have a private space, their bunks, which equal about 2 square metres each, with room enough only to sit. Every part of the bus is shared, except for the drivers seat, we have only one table with enough room only for us four, and there is one lounge.  Our living space however will be huge. It will be the great Australian outdoors. In this bus the outdoors are very close. I was sitting in it yesterday while the rain poured down and it felt very much like I was sitting inside a waterfall. It was beautiful and sensory and I relish that kind of living.

Downsizing does not feel cramped or like a negative lifestyle shift. It is better! It is better than living where we were. With a cut in living space comes a closeness to the outdoors and a reduction in things that we never really needed in the first place.  Cutting down on space, and ergo things, should not scare anyone. It is quite liberating.

A big benefit of renovating a very small area is the way in which we can inject quality into it.  Rather than a big kitchen, for example, we can have a well designed, well made kitchen with a high standard of materials.

This last point is very important to me in my quest for a sustainable life. Ultimately a sustainable life is not fast or big or full of things or expensive, but it is a life of excellence. That is the strength of sustainable living.

I would be rather interested to see the trend of housing in Australia in the future. I wonder if a nomadic lifestyle, like ours, might become more popular as house prices continue to soar, I hope people will learn to live in smaller spaces, leaving more room to live outside.

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