By: Revanche

Living spaces: how much and what do you need?

September 18, 2017

[Part 9] Once upon a time, and as recently as this spring, I wanted a house with at least five rooms: three bedrooms, an office, and a library. Maybe four bedrooms. Wide spaces, with room to stretch your arms out wide and wiggle your fingers. Then to race the dog down the hallway and see who successfully skids to a stop before slamming into a wall. Dreams of a country girl.

Thus I confess, occasionally I get bitten by the jealousy bug when friends buy a 5-7 bedroom colossus on a 10,000 square foot lot for much less than our down payment.

But the reality of our lifestyle (low-key, low-energy, focused on financial freedom) doesn’t line up with the commitment of such mansion style living. And just as important, the reality of where we’ve chosen to make our lives means that we’d pay dearly and be mortgaged forever and a day if we were so very expansive when we finally found our next home.

On the lower end, the average price per square foot ranges from $500-700 hereabouts. On the higher end, I’ve seen $900-1000 per square foot.

At these prices, we would be giving up our dream of being financially free for a house.

Now, if ever there was a hermit who could flog down that cost per hour-lived-in, I’m your daisy. It took me two and a half years of working solo before I even considered it might be a good idea to see people occasionally. Maybe. (No.)

Thankfully, sense and a bit of luck prevailed – we didn’t paying our maximum bid on the purchase, but we surely paid enough that I’m simmering some ideas on bringing down the principal, stat!

Even at that cost, we didn’t get the sprawling ranch home with a moat, and carriage house (and murder holes) I fancied.

We’ve maybe 1400 square feet. It makes up 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a wee sma office. I have and would give up a lot for the balance of comfort and safety (physical or financial) of my family but if either of us ever have any choice in the matter, two bathrooms is a must. No coveted laundry room, unfortunately, nor my wished-for piano or library.

In short, it is enough room to live in, grow a little, host a friend or three temporarily, and grow old together without fighting over whose turn it is to clean the sixth bathroom.

We have a lovelyย bit of yard where I can have micro container garden adventures, and Seamus can sun his bones. We splurged on the Fancy Stove for my cookery and a bench for my bath because it’s every day now that I’m too tired to shower. PiC got to pick all the design and color elements so that this is a home he’d be proud of, though it was never designed with showings in mind. That’s why, though I’m proud of the work we did, I won’t be sharing pictures. We were making our home, not a showcase.

I have mild pangs of regret thinking we should have held out for something a touch bigger, a few more amenities, a few less compromises. But PiC is confident this is what we need and I trust his judgment too. Besides, what a wreck I’d be if I had to build my dream library during this very small window of time we had to work on the house!

Anyway this is all luxury, in the end. I grew up poor in Southern California so space to myself still feels like an amazing thing. A whole house for just my family is like the icing on the icing on the cake.

  • Age 1, our family of four shared a 2 bedroom house with four other families.
  • Age 3-12, our family of four shared a 600 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment on and off with single family members. We had one room, they had the other.
  • Age 13-17, our family of four lived in a 1300 square foot house with three dogs.
  • Age 17-now, our family of four, then three, then two, were in a 1500 square foot house with three, then two, then one dog(s).

Now we’re a family of three humans and large dog going from 1000 square feet to 1400 square feet, with enough room to comfortably lodge our rather frequent visitors.

PiC’s probably right, this is the right place for us. We were told to only list three Must Haves and we ended up getting 15 of our 20.

We can make this work!

:: What’s your living space minimum/ maximum? What are your dealbreaker amenities?ย 

Before: Background, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Next on our Home Buying Adventure: Part 10, Part 11

23 Responses to “Living spaces: how much and what do you need?”

  1. I don’t know that I have a strict size minimum. When we were house shopping we once saw a 700 sq. ft. 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom place we would have been thrilled to move into. I wouldn’t want to live in a space bigger than 2000 sq. ft. for cleaning reasons though really it’s all about layout. Our place is 1000 sq. ft. with 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, but with enough common living spaces (dining, living, office) that we could partition a third bedroom in a pinch. The thing I worry about, like you, is a second bathroom, especially once we have kids and they grow. But we picked a place with attic space we can expand into, so fingers crossed that’ll work out. My biggest deal-breakers had to do with limited outdoor space, oil furnaces, and no gas in the kitchen.

    Hope you all are settling well into your new home!
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    • Revanche says:

      Cleaning is a HUGE reason I wouldn’t truly want to live in a 5000 square foot estate – no part of my dream life includes scrubbing 6 bathrooms ๐Ÿ™‚

      Having the flexibility and vision to make a space work for you is also key in affording the right size for your family.

  2. I get really frustrated when Jon tells me our house is too small to entertain in…it’s 1600 sf (another 700 in the basement, if we ever cleaned it out.) It’s plenty big enough for folks to come over…if we’d just get rid of a bunch of stuff to make room for people. But since he has accepted every piece of furniture his family members have offered, our living room and extra bedroom are unusable and our dining room is not people-friendly either.

    I don’t want to grouse as much as point out that a lot of time you can do more with less space, as long as you don’t fill it up with unnecessary stuff.
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    • Revanche says:

      I absolutely agree with you. Just getting more space is the easy way out, we don’t need ALL the stuff we surround ourselves with.

      Is it unlikely that he’s going to let those pieces of furniture go?

  3. Cindy in the South says:

    I live in the deep, very rural, South. My house (built in 1950), for one, is 912 sq ft. and contains two bedrooms and one bath. It was purchased, originally in 2014, for $25,000, and then I refinanced this past May for $37,000, so that I could buy back my time with the local government, and vest in their retirement. I realize these housing prices are cheap, even for where I live in the boonies. However, the house only appraised for that much, so that tells you housing prices are stagnant here, and have been for well over 15 years. There is no industry here but that also means there is very little traffic. There is no public transportation here. We do have a Dollar General and a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. The nearest hospital is 20 miles away. I go to the Army Core of Engineers’ park to walk, or go to local state parks or the national forest 30 miles away for entertainment such as hiking and swimming. My point is that there are trade offs everywhere. My salary is significantly lower than it would be if I were in California. I just wanted a cheap house in good shape, with a nice sized yard, and that is what I got, so I guess those were my non negotiable requirements. The bonus is that it has all hardwood floors and tile. I would prefer to live an hour north of here, but my $37,000 house would cost $100,000 there, and I do not work up there anyway (although my income would be higher if I did work up there, I am not sure I would want to work up there)….I do have serious house envy, sometimes, of my friends, who have 4,000 sq ft houses, with the latest and the greatest, but I cannot afford that, so I might as well suck it up…lol.

    • Revanche says:

      You’re very right – there are so many tradeoffs that we have to take into consideration, and it’s best to keep that whole picture in mind when we make these decisions.

  4. SP says:

    If we stick with no kids (and 1 dog), I think 2 bedrooms (luxury!) would be excellent, with one to use as an office/guest room. For 1-2 kids and 1-2 dogs, three bedrooms. I’m with you on two baths, although we’ve had one shower out-of-commission and it has been largely fine (sink & toilet still available as needed). So, 1.5 bath would be doable in a pinch for 2 adults. One shower/bath would get tight with guests or older kids. In the midwest this could be considered a starter home before you get the manshion, but we don’t intend for it to be a starter.

    Since it is just the 2 of us, I try not to get into habits that are unsustainable if we were to grow, like taking over spare bedrooms or spare closets for own storage or filling our kitchen storage to the brim. Minimal success on not taking over too many closets, but I’m working on it! We also lack a dedicated laundry room and instead have a small laundry closet, and I’m regularly putting the drying rack in our guest room to dry my delicates if it isn’t nice enough to put them outside. I’m not sure what the long term solution will be there.

    Layout is important too. With small spaces I think open floor plans help for entertaining / guests. I love our floor plan. We don’t have a bit “master suite”, which suites us – better to use the square feet in the common areas. I also like our kitchen. Unfortunately, our yard is not that useful, but if we had time and money, we could change that, and we are close to lots of shared outdoor space.
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    • Revanche says:

      I think spaces call out to us to be filled, and I hate that! I’m working on creating at least as much space as we fill, and not just through creative storage, either!

      Layout seriously affects how we can entertain – I think that perhaps we’re going to do a little more of it now that we have a different living and common space layout.

  5. A well laid out house of around 1500 sqft would be amazing. We have a very interestingly laid out house that feels about the same size. So, wasted space for sure. We need at least 3 bedrooms (4 people) for sanity purposes, and have house guests pretty regularly. I prefer a kitchen with enough room to actually put meals together, but we are getting by with a small kitchen that is, once again, poorly laid out.

    We met with a design/build company this week just to get a sense of what it would cost to make some modifications. Still within the footprint of the house, but taking out a couple of walls, combining two bedrooms & turning the dining room into a bedroom. $500-700K. . . So, that’s never going to happen. ๐Ÿ™
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    • Revanche says:

      We made do with a relatively small kitchen for a long time and I was grateful for that much because as a lifelong renter up to that point, we had always made do with whatever was possible in cheaper rentals.

      I’m in shock that removing some walls, and converting a couple of rooms would cost THAT MUCH MONEY. I don’t know if you’re talking to the right people but I wonder if you’d get a much more reasonable (for decent work quality) quote from a private contractor.

  6. Our house is 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, 1120 sq ft. It’s really well laid-out, so it feels bigger than that square footage sounds. It would be fantastic to have a real master suite with a master bath and a normal closet (our closet is small and bizarre). Maybe another 200 sq ft.? That would also let us get our room and Baguette’s a tiny bit larger. But mostly what we need to do is declutter.

    • Revanche says:

      You must have a fantastic layout! Our previous place was smaller but felt spacious because it was laid out nicely so I can imagine that yours feels the same.

  7. Linda says:

    I’m currently living in a 2 bedroom/1 bathroom house that is just under 1100 sq ft. Both bedrooms are usually occupied since I rent out the spare room on a month-to-month basis to make extra money. I also work from home, and have a section of my large living room designated as my office space, with a large desk for my work computer. The size works for me because I can use the attached single car garage as a storage area and laundry room. (It would be great to be able to park in the garage, but that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.)

    However, if I could afford it I’d love to bump out the back of the house to increase the size of the rear bedroom and add an extra bathroom. I would greatly prefer to use the rear bedroom myself, but it is the smaller of the two bedrooms and I need the extra space for Hannah dog’s bed and to put up my clothes drying rack in the winter. I’d estimate that adding about 100 sq ft more would be adequate.

    I really, really would have preferred to have two bathrooms — one for me, and one for the guest/renter — but it’s difficult to find a two bathroom house around here that was in my price range. My house in Chicago had three bathrooms, and it was wonderful to always have a “spare” bathroom available if there was something wrong with the toilet or shower in one bathroom.
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    • Revanche says:

      If foundation and building out a roof wasn’t so expensive, I would have been tempted to bump out the back, too! But that’s not in the cards for us.

      It’d be awesome if you could find a way to add that 100 square feet, it seems like a small ask in the grand scheme.

  8. The smallest place we’ve lived was 100sq ft (about 1.5 DH’s by 1.5 DH’s– we had a futon and had to close it to be a couch in order to use the computer). The largest place is just shy of 3000 sq ft.

    The place we liked best was 2200 sq ft. Two bathrooms makes life a lot easier. With good weather and a playground nearby, 1080 sq ft was no problem, though we would have preferred a smaller master bedroom and for the kids to have their own rooms instead of sharing. Layout is definitely important– narrow hallways can waste a lot of space.
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    • Revanche says:

      I kept thinking you had left off a zero or a digit somewhere. 100 square feet! WOW.

      I wonder what the best practice is for a good hallway that doesn’t waste space.

      • It ate more than half our income too. But was in an excellent location. The next two apartments we lived in were a luxurious 300sq ft (1br instead of efficiencies). Gotta say having a full sized stove and fridge and in house w/d and a dishwasher sure is nice.
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        • I should add, the place no longer exists. I believe it had been a converted dorm, and several years after we moved out they completely gutted it to make more uniform (and larger) apartments. (We broke that lease to jump on the chance for a 300sq ft apartment. Someone moved into our old place right away so we weren’t out too much money.). One neat thing about the place was that it was next to a music school and with the window open you could hear people practicing or getting lessons. Felt like being in an old movie.
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          • Revanche says:

            I love the idea of overhearing music lessons. Though MAYBE not for beginnners (remembering my early days of piano lessons).

  9. I live alone in an approximately 700 square foot apartment (1 bedroom, 2 bathrooms), and it’s a pretty good amount of space for one person, although I would like to have a bit of extra space so that I could have an office/guest bedroom. It would also be really nice to not have to use my second bathroom for cat litter boxes, but unless I buy a house someday, I think that’s the reality I’m stuck with. I haven’t yet moved into a bigger place because I get a lot more satisfaction out of squirreling my money away for retirement than I would from a bit more space.

    • Revanche says:

      If it had been solely me, or just the two adults plus dog, I think we would also have stuck with our smaller place for a very long time. Part of me is QUITE wistful at the lost savings.

  10. NZ Muse says:

    Houses from last century (including mine) are typically 100 sq m or less (which would be about 100 sq ft according to Google and I think is just about perfect); this one is about 80, or 800, and is a good size for us (but a bigger bathroom would be excellent, this one is tiny). It actually feels quite spacious and I think that’s because the living and kitchen are a good size, though the bedrooms are small – 1 double, 2 singles. I’ve lived in several smaller properties and always felt a bit cramped.
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    • Revanche says:

      100 m – 1000 feet, right? Because I’m still reeling from N&M’s 100 square feet ๐Ÿ™‚

      I love a spacious bathroom. I saw some AMAZING bathrooms when we were doing research for the reno! Of course, it was the size of my entire house.

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