In my last post, I was wrote an article about a very distinct absence of rich people at my local lake and it led to some very interesting comments from Kris and Jacq. Basically they both said that the richer the neighborhood, the less people you see outside playing. Kris notices it when she drives around her Michigan neighborhoods and Jacq see it when she goes RVing. The bigger the RV, the less those people are seen outside their camps toasting marshmallows.
Housing Statistics History
The US Government shows the median home size has grown from about 1500 square feet to over 2100 square feet in the last 30 years. That’s a 40% jump. Meanwhile, it’s no secret that the Average American is a lot fatter too. (Sorry, I didn’t have exact stats that lined up with these dates, but men are roughly 10% fatter).
Urban sprawl can be blamed for some of it. Clearly people in cities who have very small houses also do a lot more walking than their suburban counterparts, but what about when all things are equal? The town I live in technically classifies as a small city. There are about 40,000 people living here.
Since I have 2 young children, I’ll do a very unscientific study based on the dozen or so parks and schoolyards that we frequent. Are the parks in the neighborhoods that have 900-1200 sq ft homes with small yards more populated? Yes, absolutely. How about the ones near the projects? Jam packed at all times. It’s rare not to see someone playing a pickup basketball there. In the South and West part of town (where the bigger homes are) we are often the only ones there. Hmmm….there may be something to this theory.
My Personal Housing Story
Growing up in the city, I lived in a 2 bedroom house with lots of people. At one point in time, we had 7 people living there, 6 of which were adults. We were jammed up like sardines and there were 3 chain smokers among them. Cough cough. At the time, I was about 7. I remember I had 2 places that I could call my own. One was the back porch, and the other was under the stairs in my front hallway. We lived in a 3 story apartment building and there was a little nook between the second and third floor steps. It was similar to Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, but instead of having lighting and a cute little raised panel door to close, I had a stair shaped sheet of 70’s paneling that I would use to slide over the hole and close the area off. For lighting, I had a flashlight and one corner of a window. I convinced my mom to move some of the items she stored there to go up to the attic. I had a little bookcase against the wall with some 1940’s encyclopedias that I would read for fun. It was my little hideout and refuge. I loved that place. I spent countless hours there when the house was filled with smoke and too many adults..all of which did not want to play with me. If I were to pinpoint the exact date I wanted a home of my own, it would be at that moment when I was in my little personal hideout and I could do as I pleased.
Sometimes when I’d want to get some fresh air in the winter, I’d take the down comforter off the bed and park myself on the outside porch all bundled up in it like a little Eskimo. I imagined myself living out in the wild and building a nice little igloo or snow cave in the backyard. One time a neighbor saw me and asked if I was locked out of the house. I clearly must have looked strange all bundled up and just sitting there doing nothing but running away with my own imagination. I assured the neighbor I was fine and was outside getting some much needed fresh air.
Babci is much the same. If she’s not cooking, sewing or doing laundry, she is pretty much guaranteed to be out in her yard gardening. For her, the garden was her little private getaway that no one intruded on. If you don’t have the luxury of a lot of space, I really think people feel cooped up and are more likely to seek the outdoors as their form of refuge.
Bigger Homes Enslave You
Nowadays we have a family of 4 living in a 1700 sq/ft house. It’s plenty big for us, but it doesn’t take much for it to feel small. Keeping it feeling large requires constant vigilance. We also love to spent time outdoors. The main thing that keeps us from being more active is house repairs and maintenance. The bigger the house, the more to up-keep, the more lawn to mow, the more to paint. In fact, it seems that even JD at Get Rich Slowly is starting to realize the time it takes to have that kind of dream house. Does his recent weight loss have anything to do with his desire to downsize his housing as well? For me, the first major drop in physical activity came when we bought our home. Suddenly we had decisions to make. Do I fix something up or go for a bike ride. Many times the crazy wallpaper and shag carpeting in our fixer made that decision a no brainer.
Part of me dreams of having a big farmhouse in the country where I can plant a little orchard and raise a few chickens. I love the idea of having Babci living with us in a little guest cottage where she can tinker in a big garden and watch the children running around and playing. However, the other part of me doesn’t want to be enslaved to the time and money involved to maintain such a place. Am I really going to ever want to mow an acre when 0.2 seems like a chore on some days? That I don’t know. All I know is that I want to postpone that decision for at least a few years. Before I knew any better, I’d drive by a big beautiful farmhouse and say, “I’d love to live there.” Now, more often than not, I say “wow, I wonder how long it would take to repaint that house or mow that field.”
If you would, I’d love for my readers to take an unofficial poll/survey. Think of your fittest, most active friends. Are they also the people with the smallest and most utilitarian housing? For me, it’s a mixed bag. In general, yes, fitter people have smaller homes, but there are exceptions. The main exception for me are people who have a lot of acreage. Generally these folks bought a ton of land because they love the outdoors. They are outside all the time tending their property as a necessity and also as a passion. Then there are the people who farm out their housework so they have more time to do sports. Not everyone can afford to do that though, so I’d say that in general that’s more rare in regular middle class neighborhoods.
What do you think? Does super sizing your home also super size your waistline? In general, are you heavier now than you were when you lived in a smaller place?