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We All Say We Don’t Want a McMansion, But What’s The SMALLEST You Will Go?

During the heydays of the real estate bubbles, McMansions popped up everywhere. The mantra seemed to be, “build (them big), and they will come.” Then after the bubble popped, McMansions became the subject of public and private ire. Fine, we all say that we don’t want McMansions. But what’s the smallest you will go? And keep in mind, one person’s McMansion is another person’s cottage.

Tiny Houses: Just how small is small?

Tammy Strobel, a minimalist blogger at Rowdy Kittens, is building a small house. And by small, I mean, really small) Her 150-sq. ft. house-on-wheels will cost an estimated $35,000. The low-cost comes from a small structure – less than 1/10 the size of an average American home, but mostly I assume it comes from the lack of land. If you are interested in building or commissioning a home like this, check out these great resources: Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, Tiny House Blog, Tiny House Design, and Design Boom’s feature on small houses.

While I’ve always had fairly conventional real estate aspirations, it’s cool to see people pursuing a different path. I don’t think the tiny house movement is for me: I don’t need or want a McMansion, but my idea of small is 700 sq. ft., not 150. Our apartment right now is a very spacious 1-bedroom, and sometimes I feel like I can do with 2/3 of the size – and I will GLADLY do so for 2/3 of the rent! ūüėČ My ideal home would be probably a 3 bedroom, 2-bathroom home in a nicely-appointed 1,000 sq. ft. Craftsman bungalow or Spanish-style home. Big enough to not feel cramped, small enough to be affordable (I hope). The second bedroom can be a library – aka my dream room. If we have a kid, I’d like the third bedroom. I’d also like a one-story home, which will add to the square footage.

How small would you go? Would you buy a tiny house on wheels?

  • Cassie - My place is 3 bdrm, 1100 sqft, and it is MORE than spacious enough. I've had 2 roommates living reasonably comfortably with me, and the only real issue was that we all had so much stuff. If I was to pare down my stuff, which I'm working on, I could probably live quite comfortably in 500-700 sqft. This size just allows me a lot of flexibility. ReplyCancel

  • Alotta Lettuce - I agree – tiny houses are not for me, although I LOVE looking at them!

    Our home is a 60's ranch with about 900 square feet of living space in 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a sizable kitchen, and a great room that we use as both a living room and a dining room.

    However, we also have a ver nicely finished basement with a large family room, 2 more bedrooms and another bathroom. In fact, the basement bathroom is the nicer of the two! It's like a spa.

    So really, we have a total of about 1800 sq. feet of living space.

    The previous owner did a really incredible job of renovating the entire house and making great use of the space he had, and went to a lot of trouble (and expense) to ensure that the basement doesn't FEEL like a basement, by adding large egress windows in every room (even the ones that don't legally require them), letting in lots of natural light.

    That said, I could and would happily live in half the space we have. As it stands, we're two people with FOUR bedrooms. One is used as an office, and the two in the basement are guest rooms. And while it's nice to have 2 guest rooms when you have a lot of visitors, does anyone really need 2 guest rooms? No. Likewise, do we need two living spaces? Not technically, although I've thanked my lucky stars for them on several occasions.

    Overall, our house doesn't feel too big, but we definitely have more space than we strictly need. That said, it's a fantastic house for entertaining, which is something we love to do! ReplyCancel

  • Melissa - My target range would be 800-1,000 square feet. If I were to build a house I'd want two bedrooms (an office and a space for guests), yet I wouldn't want it so big that it was expensive to heat. I'd try to get on the solar and geothermal bandwagon, too. Honestly I can't say I want anything much bigger than, say, 1,200 sq. ft. The space would just fill up with stuff and it would be a pain to clean.

    But that's if I'm building my "dream home." How small could I go, theoretically? I could live in 200 sq ft for sure. A former boyfriend had a 300 sq. ft place and we spent weekends there together. It's all about being organized and minimalist (I am getting much better at both).


    • WellHeeled - I definitely cannot do 300 sq. ft. for a house, I'd just think, what about the resale value?! (Although if I was willing to buy a 300 sq. ft. house then obviously there is a market for these very small houses). ReplyCancel

  • Jimnet - I am definitely one of those people that can live very small. The biggest thing in my small apartments is enough room to storage all my canned goods. Other than that, I currently live in a place that is a little over 450 sqft. With the right space design and multipurpose furniture, I love it.

    I live in a very walkable and sustainable neighbourhood, so if I want to entertain I entertain in the neighbour. I rarely have people over (it's just my lifestyle!) but I do have space for friends to sleep over if needed. I feel like I have enough room for everything, but I don't need much in order to be happy. I put more importance on the neighborhood and those local amenities, than I do on my little space.

    I would never consider living in a neighbourhood that I couldn't walk to everything I needed – from libraries, coffee shops, pubs, medical centres, pools… without those things, I would probably want a bigger place in order to entertain more. ReplyCancel

  • Kim - I think I can do with a smaller space as long as I have higher ceilings. Having lived in the condo jungle in a major metropolitan city (Toronto) for the past 5 years, I have noticed that builders try to maximize space by building spaces with incerasingly lower ceilings. It's amazing how big of an impact this has on the "feel" of a space. I can do with a loft that is essentially two large rooms on two levels: living room/kitchen/front entrance + masterbedroom/ closet.. I don't need the extra bedrooms or specialty rooms such as library or guest room. This may of course change as I grow older – I've noticed my increasing need for "stuff" as I get older.

    I was stuck in a crowded elevator once for about 1.5 hours. Since then I've been a bit claustrophobic. Looking at the house that Rowdy Kittens lived in made me really anxious – I'm not being judgmental, I like the way it was decorated, and she seems really happy there. I just know that for myself, I would need a bigger space. Not a McMansion, of course. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - YES on the tall ceilings. Wouldn't hurt if they also had some crown molding. ūüėČ I'd need a place big enough for me not to bump into things – if I can stretch out my arms and touch both walls of my bedroom, that is too small. ReplyCancel

  • Abby B - I love the Loring and B-53 designs from Tumbleweed Tiny houses, and would love to be able to build a house that size someday. Right now, I think apartment living is just swell because 4 years of dorm living really changes your perspective on space! I'm pretty sure I won't end up in a 2k+ square foot house because every time I visit my parents house it just feels overwhelming and stressful. ReplyCancel

  • krantcents - When we gave up the big house (5 Bed & 3 Ba), we rented a 1,600 townhouse before we bought our 1,850 sq. ft. townhouse. If it were one story, we probably could live with less, but not much less. Our current place is a 2 Bedroom plus office, 2 1/2 Bath townhouse. We need the second bedroom for guests and my office has a gym as well. It would be difficult to go with much less space except if I am at the beach. I could go smaller to be overlooking the Pacific ocean. ReplyCancel

  • Kim - I saw one of those Tiny Houses in person once, and it was impressive. I was definitely blown away by how organized, clean, and efficient it was…and I know I would feel totally claustrophobic if I lived in one. Our 1-bedroom is 840 sq feet (plus a storage closet and a patio) and it feels just right. Perfect if there was an additional bathroom (or just an additional toilet), but it's really a great size for us. The last place was about 650 sq ft, and it was just a bit too small for two. Of course, I say that and feel foolish when I read about people in tiny houses, but whatever – I like my space. While I love sharing a home with Will, I also know that we both need enough room to not be on top of each other all the time! ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I think we have a fairly large 1-bedroom as well (I don't know what the square footage is, though). It's nice to have the space, although I can probably do fine with the bedroom being 1/4 smaller and I wouldn't miss the space. ReplyCancel

  • Money Reasons - With 2 kids, a 150 sq foot house wouldn't be an option for me.

    If I were very young and single, I'd think it would be pretty cool though. Of course, a mobile home would be cheaper than the tiny houses above…

    We use to rent a 1,000 sq foot house and it was very comfy. I could even see use living there with kids (although it would be crowded)…

    I sure does look cool though! Perhaps if a person did build one, they could always use it as a cabin in the woods someday if they change their mind…

  • Chris @ MyMoneyMess - I'd consider a motor home as my primary residence. When I retire. So I can freely travel North America. Until then I'd prefer my house in So Cal, tyvm. I would never build, buy or live in something like the one pictured on Rowdy Kittens. A motor home is designed for travel, which would be my main purpose for downsizing from a regular house when I retire. Though that tiny house is on wheels it's not really designed for travel (not in any way aerodynamic – meaning lots of fuel will be burned every time it's moved) so would not be practical for my purposes. ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I think I can comfortably live in an apartment at 650 sq feet. If it was a good layout, I can even go down to 350 sq feet… But if it was a house? I think it'd have to be at least 800-1000 sq feet. Or else, why bother even having a house. And no, I can't live on wheels. That's a bit… Too weird for me. ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - I don't think I could live in a house that small at 150 sq feet, but I admire her for doing so! The smallest I could go would be in the 800-1,200 sq feet range. I'm also thinking of starting a family some day so I'd like a house with 3-4 bedrooms and 2-2.5 bathrooms. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - 3 bedroom / 2 bath would be my ideal layout, and I think that is the most popular option for many potential buyers as well. ReplyCancel

  • Melanie - Smallest I could go would be 1500 sq feet. Right now I'm in 3000 sq feet and can't imagine l losing half my space. ReplyCancel

  • Serendipity - I'm probably going to be within the miniority when I say this but I think a house 2,000 sq feet would be perfect for me, Rambo and two children plus 2-3 dogs. Let me explain.
    Rambo's parents have a house that is a single story, 2,000 sq feet and then with the addition of their basement, is probably closer to 4,000 feet. The house in addition to the basement feels somehow overly massive, the house with just the one story plus the great room over the garage feels perfect. I would love to have a spacious house with that setup to raise a family in. Rambo and I really enjoy our space and after living in a 720 sq foot apartment for four years, I can easily move into something spacious I could grow into as a family. I could probably go smaller but that sized house would be ideal. :) ReplyCancel

  • Your Fab Life - I think it all depends on the layout of the home – if it was open (and high-ceilinged!), I would be fine with 1,000 sf. Not sure if I would ever go for a home on wheels. ReplyCancel

  • Brandi - For me and the bf, we need at least 1000 square feet. When we eventually add children, we will need at least 1300. one of the things we learned since moving in together is that we each need a little personal space. I get our bedroom and he gets our spare as a computer room/video game spot. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - My ideal layout is 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom. A master bedroom, a library, and a study / kid's room if we have a kid. I 100% agree with you on the need for some personal space. ReplyCancel

  • fabulouslyfrugirl - Good question!

    I think that I'd be able to live on 650 sf. I should really measure up my apartment to figure out how much space I am actually living in right now. I like the point some readers brought up about ceiling heights. I love lofts and the airiness of high ceilings, even if the space is actually smaller. I've never lived in a mobile house before, though I'd like to try it. ReplyCancel

  • Squirrelers - 3 bedrooms and say, 1400 square feet is fine for me. I lived in a bigger home growing up, and think that they're really nice but not necessary. I'd rather have more money for savings and investment growth, than extra space. But that's just me:) ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I just saw a 2bedroom home in 840 sq. ft. selling for $400K. SERIOUSLY!? For that much I'd rather throw in another $100K (that I don't have) and get a 3-bedroom. ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - BF and I love our current 1.300-sf apartment. I woudl not want to go smaller in our city because we can afford it, but I could go smaller if we moved to a larger, more expensive city. I grew up in a small 70s house and could live that way again. ReplyCancel

  • Eric - Narrow Bridge - I have been looking lately, and I have found 1,150 sq feet about as small as I am willing to take on with a roommate. I looked at a place that wsa 850 sq feet and it would have been fine for one person. But I would love a place closer to 1,500 sq feet. ReplyCancel

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