Like Honeycomb cereal, America’s big, yeah yeah yeah. (It’s not small, no no no.) But a new survey shows that maybe we’re finally ready to embrace smaller living — or at least the idea of it.
Not surprisingly, millennials were the most open to the idea: 38% said “yes” they would consider it, and another 25% said “maybe.” Among Gen Xers, 28% said yes and 25% wouldn’t rule it out. Enthusiasm waned among boomers and seniors, with only 29% of seniors not flat-out rejecting the idea.
Now, as a shorter person trying to leave a smallish footprint in a compact city, I’m usually pretty dismayed by our penchant for enormity, from Big Gulps to Big Macs to bus-sized SUVs people drive to haul home 80 cubic feet of bulk groceries from a warehouse store the size of Monaco.
So the fact that more than half of Americans didn’t just immediately, straight-up squash the idea of living in a small home seemed to me pretty encouraging.
While our food and cars may be big, they’re nothing compared to our houses. The McMansion era is mercifully behind us, and the average newly built home is now slightly smaller than it was at its 2015 peak, but 2,571 square feet is still pretty jumbo for an “average” house.
And as Stephen Mihm pointed out in Bloomberg, that’s not even the real figure to worry about. What’s more amazing is how, as U.S. households have gotten smaller, the per-capita square footage of our homes has nearly doubled since 1895. We used to have roughly 400 square feet per person at home — now we’re lording over about 800 square feet each.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that many of us can imagine living in less than 600 square feet. That’s only slightly smaller than the average-sized one-bedroom apartment in New York City, after all.
Indeed, some tiny home enthusiasts will argue that 600 square feet isn’t all that tiny — more like “small.” And they’re right, if you’re not a big household. My wife and I lived in a 420-square-foot studio for three years, and it was plenty big, to be honest. I mean, we couldn’t host Thanksgiving dinner or anything, but we lived comfortably and even had overnight guests from time to time. The biggest problem was trying not to accumulate more stuff when you had nowhere to put it.
In a country where bigger has almost always been seen as better, it’s refreshing to learn that smaller living — in its many forms, from downtown studios to luxury micro apartments to in-law apartments to the ingenious tiny houses we see on TV and in design magazines — is drawing a bigger interest.