When the average home size has increased nearly 1,000 sq ft over the past 40 years (from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,690 square feet as of 2013), most people are thinking upsize, not downsize. But bigger isn’t always better and in most cases that extra space is just costing you more money and often in ways you don’t even realize.
Our Opportunity to Downsize
After completing my first round of decluttering in our home, I found myself with 5 large pieces of storage furniture that were no longer storing anything: 2 dressers, a dining hutch, an office hutch and a 6′ long floor cabinet. My husband and I discussed whether or not we should get rid of the unused furniture. It occurred to us that without those large furniture pieces our home would feel rather empty. We didn’t want to have an empty house but we didn’t want to keep furniture just to fill up a house that was clearly too big. That’s when I decided to run the numbers, I wanted to know how much our unused space was costing us.
Our family currently resides in a nearly 3,000 sq ft house with 4 bedrooms, an office, a living room which we’ve converted to a den, a large family room, a large kitchen and a dining room. Our daughters share a bedroom so we have 2 spare bedrooms, one that gets occasional use and the other that is almost never used. Our office gets frequent use but is much larger than we need. We don’t use our dining room at all because we eat at our large kitchen island (seats 5). Our master bedroom is obscenely large, big enough for 4 king sized beds and a decent sized hallway between them and next to it is a “nook,” a room too small to do much of anything but big enough to stump us on what to put in it.
I decided to measure each room and make a guess at the amount of space we would really need for each one if we got rid of unused furniture and empty space. Here is what I came up with:
Here are some of the assumptions I made about our opportunity to downsize:
- Master Bedroom: In addition to our bed and nightstands we currently have an oversized chair and a dresser with a TV on it. The TV, dresser and chair have not been used in the past 4 years
- Similarly, the nook is completely unused.
- The bathroom has a large open space in the middle. We have separate, oversized vanities that could be reduced to a normal double vanity and our shower is larger than we really need.
- The master closet is half empty right now after I’ve downsized my wardrobe. We could easily trade in our walk-in closet for an extra-long wall closet.
- Spare Bedroom 2: This room is completely unnecessary for our family. If our daughters decide they want their own rooms in the future they could split between their current room and the first spare bedroom. When we have guests the girls could sleep in the family room and let the guests stay in their room(s)
- Dining Room: Our dining room has only been used on 3 occasions, the rest of the time it acts as a landing surface for anything and everything that comes through the door (mail, packages, purse etc)
- Office: The office has a long desk, a large wall hutch, a long end table and a leather chair. All items but the desk have been largely unused.
- Family Room: This room could lose two feet on each side without much impact
- Kitchen: We have 3 cabinets and one drawer in our kitchen that have nothing in them and I haven’t even gotten to this room to declutter. The kitchen is currently in a U shape but could easily be in an L without causing space issues.
- The pantry does get filled up but those items could easily fit into kitchen cabinets or find a new home in the garage.
- Powder Room: Our powder room has a counter that is over 5′ long and could easily be replaced with a basic 30″ wide vanity.
- Under Stairs Closet: Without stairs in our next home, we won’t have a large closet but since ours is currently going unused, it wouldn’t be a big loss.
- Hallways & Stairs: Without stairs and with reduced space and rooms, we could find (or build) a home that has more economical use of hallways.
Based on the diagram above, we could downsize by 43% without much impact to our daily lives. Based on the $137 per square foot purchase price of our home, we could have saved over $170,000 by buying a more reasonably sized home. That’s a sobering reality and one that we’re hoping to rectify in the next few years.
But wait, there’s more! The purchase price of a home or the monthly rental price of a space is not the only place you could feel the savings of downsizing.
4 Hidden Costs of Your Unused Living Space
1. Perceived Value paid in Taxes
Your property taxes are determined by the perceived value of your home. If your home is 3,000 square feet, you are going to pay more in taxes than your neighbor’s 2,000 square foot home with similar finishes. Even if you’re not using that extra space, you’re still paying the taxes for it.
2. Heating and Cooling Costs
It should come as no surprise that heating or cooling a larger home is going to cost you more money than heating or cooling a smaller home. Even in the case of a spare bedroom that has the heating vent closed and the door closed, you will still experience a small degree of heat loss.
3. Cleaning Costs
Cleaning products and appliances cost money (surprise!) and the more they are used, the more they cost. A vacuum that is used to clean twice as much space will wear out or break down twice as fast. If you have a cleaning service, you likely pay by the number and size of the rooms. For the majority of people who clean their own homes, there is a time savings element as well – wouldn’t you rather save that cleaning time for something that brings more value to your life? If you’re one of those rare people who just loves to clean, don’t let that be an excuse not to downsize – you can always offer to clean house for a friend (or a neighbor).
Like my husband and I, you may find yourself spending time and money looking for furnishings to fill out your unused spaces. You might think to yourself “I have this extra space in my bedroom, maybe I should get a treadmill” and then it never gets used. If you have a spare bedroom, chances are you have it furnished with a bed, a mattress, linens and maybe a nightstand and/or a dresser. All of these things cost you money and often won’t get used enough to return the value.
Take stock of your own living space and consider running your own calculations on where you could cut back. The exercise I completed above only requires about 20 minutes (and a tape measure) to complete.