When we designed our first custom home in 2002, we didn't pay much attention to size. Since we had five acres of land to play with, we had few constraints. The biggest problem we had was getting height approval by the city.
We focused, instead, on function. We made rooms for the all the people in our family and rooms for all the things we spent our time doing. And threw in a few more just for affect. And we ended up designing a very big house.
We had come from South Florida, where our first home was 1,500 square feet and had a zero lot line and our second was about 4,000 square feet on about a fifth acre. And no basements. With five kids (and counting), two companies, food storage, and homeschooling, we had lived like sardines for ten years. To us, it seemed, the bigger the house, the better the house.
When the excavators dug the new basement, Sam gasped. It was, he said, enormous. But to me it looked like a hole. A hole with plenty of land all around it.
It wasn't until the second story of the house went up that my lack of visualization skills became apparent. But by then it was a little late to revise.
I told the general contractor that I didn't want to know the home's square footage. If I was left in the dark, I could at least honestly answer that I had no idea how big the house was when the inevitable question came. And it did. The whole time we lived there. Not only were we asked how big the house was, but the jokes were endless. Our house was the “overflow church,” the “haunted mansion,” the “city offices.” There were rumors that the “garage wing” was for the second wife and her children and that we had a swimming pool on the roof.
While we had moved there with a dream home in mind, living in the largest house in the entire city wasn't exactly what we had signed up for. Growing up with the idea that frugality and simplicity were virtues, the house was hard to explain. And we did feel that we had to justify the indulgence of it all.
We moved in and landscaped a patch of ground around the house. Then we made plans for what in the world we would do with the rest of the wheat field surrounding the house.
It only took a few months after moving in before Sam really wanted to move on. But since we had long discussed the idea of settling our family there for good, I just couldn't let go of the dream of never moving again. This was the house we were supposed to grow old in and bring our grandchildren to visit the Grandpa & Grandma Ranch.
Each week, as we spent inordinate amounts of time on home maintenance, Sam would cajole me. “Wouldn't you rather be boating?” And the truth is, I would. In hindsight it shouldn't be surprising that more room just means the mess gets spread further. But I hadn't realized that until we were living it. The benefits of downsizing were becoming obvious. Still, the idea of moving—and starting over—was overwhelming and upsetting.
One day we went to the political caucus in our neighborhood. The corruption in the small town government should have been enough to make me run in terror, but it was something else that actually triggered the decision to move. We got a political flier for a man running for office in our county. The front page featured a family photo, with everyone cozied up on the lawn in front of a flower bed with a clean white fence behind it.
“Oh, look Sam. A normal yard!” I beamed.
I looked up.
“Well…we could have a normal yard. If you'd let us have a normal yard.”
Wow. Here I was coveting this tended, tidy yard while I owned a sprawling — mostly unused — plot of acreage…that I didn't even want.
By the next week we had hired a realtor to sell our home.
It was only in the process of listing the property that we found out our home had nearly 12,000 square feet of floor space. We also learned that we used almost exactly a half acre of our five acres of land.
Within a few days we were looking for a new lot — of about a half acre. And Sam began designing a home that had what we needed in a size we could maintain without giving up all hope of occasional recreation.
Now — after a couple of years refining and revising with an eye toward an incredibly efficient layout — we look forward to moving into a home that our whole family can truly enjoy.