We are close to moving in! Just another month of prettying up (plus plumbing and electrical). Construction updates to come, but in the meantime we have been thinking about when a house is more than just a place to live.
At minimum, housing provides shelter and safety but it satisfies psychological needs as well. I once met a woman who lived in a 6,500+ sq ft waterfront estate with just her husband. That’s like 3 normal-sized houses!! She lamented about the constant cleaning, renovation headaches, and hollowness of having too much space, but she enjoyed the beautiful views and hosting parties.
All I was thinking was that you don’t need a mansion to have great views and parties!
I had to ask myself, “why do people live in humongous homes when a compact or average-sized one will do?”
To answer this question, I imagined what it would be like to own that nice big house. Ample storage, privacy, stuff for entertainment, status and belonging…
Wait – perhaps it’s not the house that we want, but the emotional benefits we perceive to be tied to it. What we really want is the comfort & convenience – not having to go without or make decisions about one’s belongings; being able to instantly retreat away for alone time. A big home usually comes with benefits like social standing, a good neighborhood (i.e., security/convenience), and endless opportunities for leisure and self-expression.
At the root of it, a home is an all-in-one prescription for meeting our various needs – even if many of them are externally-motivated or could be met via other means.
Clarifying one’s needs makes a small house seem totally doable. For example, we realized that our need for privacy is more contingent on psychological “alone time” rather than physical distance. Even when we lived at a large country inn last year, we were content together in our little attached studio even when seeking solitude.
Part of life simplification is making room for things that contribute most to your happiness. For example, we missed having a sofa in our previous apartments so that is something we are including in our new house. Sure, there’ll be sacrifices in going tiny, but we are used to “roughing it”. We survived 2 summers in a drab bare-bones apartment and 2 New England winters in drafty old farmhouses, so we’re confident we’ll be ok pretty much anywhere.
So when you’re considering a big purchase, think hard about the needs you aim to meet. Are there other, less expensive ways to meet those desires? One of my favorite personal finance bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, argues that happiness comes from reducing life pains, not from enhancing things that are already adequate. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments!