Friday, November 28, 2014

minimalism: house size

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the last post! As always, I love hearing your insights.

I recently saw an infographic that the average five person family in the 1950s lived in a house that was a 1000 square feet.  The average four person family in 2014 lives in a 2500 square foot house.

When my mother was growing up, she lived in a two bedroom, one bath house in southern Ohio. It was about 1000 square feet in all. My mother recently moved to China and all of the family pictures are in storage, but here is a picture of the exterior taken from Google Maps.

The first floor was two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen with eat in dining area.  There was an attic that ran the length of the house that was my mother's bedroom. While the attic was probably about 12 feet wide, due to the pitch of the roof you could only stand up in the middle.

Here is a not to scale floor plan:
The kitchen was TINY--maybe 8 x 6?  There was one upper cabinet in the entire kitchen.  Along the back wall was a fridge, the sink and 12 inches of counterspace.  My mother reports that when they originally moved into the house, there was a wall between the kitchen and the dining room (running right where the fridge is in the above illustration), but it was torn down shortly after moving in.

On the opposite kitchen wall was the back door to the garage, and a tiny stove that had a pull out cooktop.  It looked sort of like this:


The stove was about 20 inches deep, and the electric burner stove top could be rolled out for use, and rolled back into the stove when not in use, although you had to wait for it to cool down before rolling it back in.  Rolling the top out meant that the available space between the fridge and stove was cut in half, so clearly you would want to roll the top back in when not in use.

 My grandparents bought the house when my mom was nine, for about $2,000.  My grandmother lived in that house for forty-five years.  It was the first home my mother lived in that had indoor plumbing.


On the other end of the spectrum were my paternal grandparents.  Although they moved many times, for a long time they had a split level ranch house in southern New Jersey that was about 2300 square feet, with four bedrooms and 2.5 bath. (Again, I clipped the picture from GoogleMaps--when my grandparents lived there, there was an RV and a huge station wagon in the driveway, not fourteen garbage cans.)

That house was bigger than the 1950 average of 1000 sq ft, but keep in mind that my father is the oldest of eleven children, and thus there were 13 people living there, which brings us well below the average amount of square feet per person.

Over the years the Mister and I have lived in ever-larger homes.  (Mostly.)  We started off in a ridiculously massive winter share (3000 sq ft), which quickly taught us that we couldn't afford the rent on a large house, and even if we could, we couldn't afford to keep the utilities on.

We moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in a pre-war apartment complex, then another 2 bedroom apartment in the attic of an old Victorian.  These were about 800 sq ft.  For a few months we moved in with the Mister's parents, then with my parents. After our wedding, we bought a 2 bedroom condo with a small loft, where we brought home our first child. The condo was 1100 sq ft.

I didn't feel like the condo was cramped--we had a small attic storage space with some junk, but nothing out of hand.  We bought the condo after we got married, and we really didn't have much furniture yet.

Then we bought our sidehall colonial that was about 1400 sq ft.

This is where I had my second and third child.  After having my second child I stopped working, and started reading design blogs for intellectual stimulation.  Prior to reading design blogs I enjoyed decorating but didn't spend much time or money on it. After reading design blogs the "lets buy fun stuff for the house!" train really took off.  (This is a topic for an entire separate post.) I also started buying stuff for the kids.

By the time we moved out, we had a full basement, and a full attic, and it felt cramped. In retrospect, it was a great house--we just needed to have less stuff in the house.

After we sold that house, we moved into the apartment above my inlaws, which was quite spacious.

That house was like a magic trick--it looked like a small Cape Cod, and then you walked in and it just kept going on forever.  The upstairs apartment was at least 1500 sq ft.  It was huge, for an apartment. And it had a ton of spacious closets. But we still had stuff in the basement and half of the garage. And I bought more and more decor stuff.  

Then we moved to the sidehall colonial in Westfield that was similar to the sidehall we had owned.

 Again, 1400ish sq ft, with large attic, basement, and garage.  Although the rooms were small and storage was lacking, it was a nice house.  (Except for the rats.) Regardless of the lack of storage, we still had too much stuff. We had so much stuff that when we moved out of that house to California, the moving company told us we were over the weight limit that the Mister's new company would pay for.

You think that would be a wakeup call, wouldn't you?

The wakeup call was when we moved into our house in California, which was similarly sized, but lacking the attic and basement.

And ALL THAT STUFF got put in the garage.

We couldn't find stuff, we couldn't move around the stuff, we couldn't move the stuff, we couldn't get the garbage cans out of the garage because there was no room to move, we couldn't reach the washer and dryer because of all the stuff.

And thus a small seed began to bloom....maybe we don't need all this stuff.

We got rid of at least three quarters of the stuff in that garage before we bought this house.  This house looked empty for a while. Remarkably, we didn't buy much new furniture for this house.  We simply figured out how to arrange the furniture.


Our current house is 2594 square feet. For years, we thought this size house was what we wanted. Tons of space! Tons of storage!

It has much more space and storage than we need.  It costs quite a bit to keep up, from the mortgage and taxes to cleaning and keeping the lights on.  It is more space than we need.

My mother grew up in a tiny house that had approximately 333 sq ft per person.  My father grew up in a large house that had about 176 sq ft per person.  We are living in a house with about 500 sq ft per person. I could get rid of our formal living room, formal dining room, and fourth bedroom and not miss them. I would miss them two or three days a year when we have out of town guests, but 99.99% of the time, wouldn't  miss them.

When we move in the spring, for the first time in a decade, we'll be going to a much smaller house, rather than larger.  I'm looking forward to having less, cleaning less, paying less.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Minimalism vs. decor: where the rubber meets the road

I've been working on a number of minimalism posts having to do with food, and house size, and money.  They are turning into giant unwieldy tomes that need editing and and breaking up into smaller topics and blah blah blah they are taking too long.  So I thought I'd throw a quick little topic I've been thinking about out there in the meantime.  Can you adopt minimalism at the same time as being a decor enthusiast?

Minimalism starts with the concept that the "having of stuff" is not what defines your life.  Your life should be built around people, not things.

The notion of decor is, on the other hand, essentially defined by the having of stuff.  Pretty stuff. Stuff that will look nice on your mantel and in your bedroom.  Stuff that will make people walk into your house and gasp in delight at your design chutzpah.

What's a girl who likes (and sort of used to write) design blogs to do?  Can you be minimalist AND own pretty things and decorate your house and oh, say, RE-decorate your house again in a year or two just because you like to?

I feel uncomfortable with the question, because I fear the answer is no.

There are minimalist decor blogs, and they seem to revolve around the Scandi-chic look.  Paint all your rooms and the floors white, put up one black spider-arm sconce, a shabby vintage MCM sofa or leather sling chairs, a wooden trestle table, and the back wall of your house is floor to ceiling windows, and voila, minimalist decor.

But what if you like lots of color? You have some handmade quilts your grandmother made that you like to use in the bedroom?  You prefer layered rugs so your feet don't get cold traversing the bare floors in your wintry Scandinavian house?  Where does minimalism end and excess begin?

For a long time I've lived closer to the maximilist side. Only in the past few years have I thought about taking the minimalist plunge. I put away all our knick-knacks a while back, then brought a few back out.  But other people in this house also want to display stuff, so the majority of the tchotckes are probably going to be donated soon.

I read design blogs where people buy lots of knick-knacks, and it doesn't bother me--I don't feel the need to accumulate these things.  I can look at someone else's stuff and enjoy the beauty of it in someone else's house without feeling the need to own it.

Pillows, bedding and curtains, on the other hand, make me burn with envy.  Expensive pillows? I need them.  Bedding for every season?  Guilty.  To the trade fabrics that cost thousands of dollars? I WANT them. How do I justify spending thousands of dollars of fabric?  (I don't, but I want to.)

I  have more art than I have wall space.

 I also read design blogs/magazines/books where a room has cost $50,000, or a $100,000, or more.  If you can afford that, is it excessive?

Where does minimalism end and excess begin?  On the fifth painting or the fifteenth or the fiftieth?  When is your stuff too much?

Discuss amongst yourselves, please.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

One Room Challenge, Week Six: The Big (Seven Eighths) Reveal

As the title might indicate, I'm not quite done.

See Week One, Week Two/Three, Week Four, and Week Five.

I had some unexpected expenses last month and my budget ran out.  The room looks pretty good for nearly done.  

You might recall that the bedroom was originally navy blue, and the bathroom was full of gross carpet.

Since we are selling our house in the spring our realtor rather forcefully gently suggested that we paint the bedroom a neutral color and get that carpet the hell on up out of here.  As much as I liked the navy, I was thinking of painting the bedroom white anyways.

I love it.  It is so bright and airy.

I took an old canvas, painted it blue, threw a few stripes on it.  Nearly free art.

The only thing that I planned on doing and didn't get done in this room was new pillows. My budget ran out and I didn't want to buy something cheap just to be something new, so I'll eventually get the otomi pillow and embroidered shams when I save up some more pennies.

One thing I really like about the all white walls is that it makes the stupid pony wall less noticeable, and the space flows into the bathroom a bit more cohesively.

The new tile floor makes SUCH A DIFFERENCE.  Totally worth it.  Although my feet are freezing walking on that cold tile now.

I started painting the cabinets ugly beige, then changed course and just slapped a fresh coat of white on them.  I also decided to avoid mixing metals and am not going to put hardware on the cabinets.

We extended the tile into the toilet room.  You may remember Lady Vader from her time in the downstairs powder room.

Remaining to be done: I had hoped to get a window treatment up over the tub, and change out the vintage 80s Hollywood vanity light, and figure out what to do with the shower door, but it didn't happen.  The carpet will also be changed out, but not until right before we are ready to list the house.

I thought about framing out the vanity mirror with MirrorMate, but it is a few hundred dollars because of the large size.  I'll re-assess that decision in February.

The bathroom area looks SO MUCH BETTER now with the new floor.  I think the new floor took the room from "this is a gut job and I will make a lowball offer for this house" to "eh, its fine for now, although we'll have to do something with that tiny shower eventually." It is still dated, but it looks clean and functional.  I think a window treatment and a new light fixture would also go a long way towards making it feel a bit less white and sterile.    

Thanks to Linda at Calling It Home for giving me the incentive to get moving on this room!  See all the big reveals here.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

One Room Challenge, Week Five: Brass is stupid

The One Room Challenge continues.  I am way behind.

Catch up on Week One, Two/Three, and Four.

The cabinets were finally painted a fresh white this week.  Not by me.  My painter came by to discuss the estimate for some outdoor work and I wrestled him into the master bathroom and wouldn't let him leave till he painted the cabinets.  

In my original mood board, I wanted to paint the cabinets gray and put on new brass pulls.  I've obviously not painted the cabinets gray.  Now I'm debating whether to put hardware on the cabinets.

The entire bathroom has polished brass accents, except for the faucets.  The shower, the mirrored doors on the closets, and all the hooks are 80s brass.

While readers of design blogs know that brass is back, I think brushed brass is popular, not this shiny lacquered brass.  I hesitate to put brass knobs on the crappy cabinets, for fear of turning off potential buyers.  I also think mixing finishes by putting silver or nickel knobs on the cabinets will turn off potential buyers--it will just scream "I don't match the other outdated finishes in here, you'd better replace all the brass!"

I think I'm probably just going to skip the knobs and leave the cabinets plain.

My last brass dilemma is whether to replace the shower door.  Essentially, I have no desire to spend any more money whatsoever in this bathroom for other people--replacing the flooring was expensive enough.

The bottom of the door is corroding--it is literally crumbling away.  You'd think that would be an automatic "of course you should replace it."  However, that brass is not an in-stock option at any big box home improvement store, it has to be special ordered, and it isn't cheap.  If I went with the cheaper in-stock silver doors, then I'm starting down the road of half the bathroom is silver, half is brass.

My preference would be to figure out a way to clean the corroding part, and then slap Rub'N'Buff all over it.  That seems like I am turning into one of those homeowners that when you write a design blog you say "some jerkface previous homeowner did [insert terrible DIY fix here]!  Can you believe that dumbassery??"

I think I'm ok with that.  

I kind of have a lot to do this week if I want to finish by next Thursday.

See the rest of the link-up party at Calling It Home.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One Room Challenge, Week Four: Oh Noes!

I started painting the cabinets "Silver Drop."  Which looked very silvery on the paint chip.  The bathroom looks a bit stark with all the white and I wanted a soft pale gray to break up all the white.

On the cabinets it looked like "dirty ecru" mixed with a bit of "ugly beige."   Not gray at all.

I stopped there.  The cabinet still looks like that; it has been a busy week and I haven't gotten to the paint store yet.  Odds are  high that these cabinets will be painted in a fresh coat of white rather than go through the drama of picking another gray.  Hopefully they will be painted before Week Five.

Only two weeks left.  Ack.

Check out the One Room Challenge linking participants here.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Minimalism: how I got started

Over the last few years I've gotten interested in a minimalist lifestyle.  I'm not sure "minimalism" is really the best descriptor of what I'm doing.  I think "intentional living" might be a better way of looking at it.  This shift in perspective has impacted so many areas of my life.  It has made me think differently about my house, my clothes, my kids, the food we eat, how we use our money, and our lifestyle.

Some people go whole hog into minimalism and take themselves down to some tiny number of belongings. That is not me.  I'm more of a whatever floats your boat kinda girl--you want to live in a dumpster with a mattress, three pairs of pants and ten bow ties?  Go for it, if that makes you happy.  I am not quite that invested, but I am interested in having less stuff in order to have more room for my life.

I've been following Jules's William Morris posts over at Pancakes and French  Fries for a few years now. William Morris is the source of the quote that is all over Pinterest:  "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be use, or believe to be beautiful."  That was where the first seeds of minimalism were planted--I can live without this stuff, because they are not contributing beauty or substance or helping me live my life.


Last year I read two posts by the Nester that really had an impact on me.  The first was This Is the Next House.  The point of that post is to stop waiting for the next house to make your life perfect---the house you are in IS the next house, compared to the last one.  After reading this I sold off and donated nearly everything in the Garage of Doom that was being held in abeyance for the next house. (Of course, six weeks later I bought a house that was twice as big as our rental and I could have used some of that furniture, but eh, I was happier without it.)

The second post that really resonated was Nobody's Dream Job.  This post is GENIUS.  Pure genius.  To paraphrase, it says that my job is being a stuff manager, I spend all day long organizing my stuff, yelling at my kids to put away their stuff, washing and drying and sorting our stuff, training my kids to be stuff managers, and dreaming about buying a bigger house so that I can hoard more precious stuff, and no, I don't get paid to hold that job, I have a different job that I get paid for and I use that money to buy MORE STUFF.

HOLY COW, people, holy cow did that one knock me over the head.

I would like to spend less time managing stuff.

At the core of intentional living is figuring out what is important to you, and then acting on those life values.  I've spent the past year reflecting on what my values are, and whether or not our lifestyle reflects those values.  I've decided that our current lifestyle doesn't reflect what I want it to.  It is not all hookers and blow over here, but our cash flow could be better allocated to things that are more important.

Choosing smaller, less expensive options is not a popular part of the American Dream.  It is sort of the antithesis of the American Dream. It is certainly not a popular choice  where we live in Orange County, California, home of conspicuous consumption and ridiculous wealth display. But, that is where we are headed.

We will be downsizing our big house.  Owning a nice big house was a priority that we thought we really wanted, but now that we have spent the past eighteen months with how much of our money it actually costs, and how many other things we are deferring in order to live in this house....we think we can do better.

More on this journey in future blog posts.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Room Challenge: Week Two/Three

It is week three and I am making good progress (see Week 1 here), but progress has stalled a bit.

We ripped up the carpet and had tile installed in the master bathroom.

It looks FABULOUS. (Although lets admit that anything would have looked more fabulous than the grody carpet.)

I also painted the master bedroom and bath from navy blue to white.  It took forEVAH.  Never again will I use Dunn Edwards paint.   (FOUR COATS. And it could use a fifth but I ran out of paint and refuse to buy more.)

I am trying to paint some art for my room.  I never get this stuff right on the first try.

There is still a ton of stuff to do! I am falling behind!  The cabinets need to be painted.  I have scoured all of Orange County for new Euro shams and window treatents and can't find what I want. And so on and so on. Best get to work, as they say.  

Check out all the linking participants at Calling It Home.