Monday, July 4, 2016

My current mantra: "Everything you need, nothing you don't"

I often catch grief as a homebuilder who lives in an apartment. "Isn't that almost a sacrilege" they ask? "Why wouldn't you want to build yourself a big beautiful home?  What about the American Dream?"  Well, the American Dream is alive and well, and for many families it's what they live their lives for....working hard to buy a bigger house to contain all their "stuff".  There's nothing at all wrong with that, but for some of us we see all that stuff as owning you vs you owning it.

There was a time in my life when I had nice, fairly large homes.  With a wife and three children (and a dog), we needed lots of bedrooms and bathrooms and living areas and a big yard, too.  It was right for us at the time, and I don't regret it.  But for me today, when I realized I was paying utilities and insurance and taxes and maintenance on space that I wasn't using even half of for just two people, a little light bulb came on in my head.  Enough!

Today something like this would be my dream house.

I would love to find a postage-stamp-size lot in a decent neighborhood and build about a 1,000 square foot single story home.  A Great Room (kitchen/family room), two modest bedrooms at most, a bath and a half, small utility room, and a garage is all I/we need.  Can you imagine how little there would be to maintain?  Sweet!

Trouble is, no city around here will let you build a home that small.  It's all about the money.  Cities love McMansions because they generate a lot of tax dollars for them.  They can provide city services (parks, water, sewer, streets, police and fire protection, etc) to a small family in a very modest home, or to a small family living in a home four times as large, generating four times the tax revenue.  It's all about them, not the residents they serve.  The tail is wagging he dog!

I could go 20 miles further out of town and buy land in an unincorporated area and build pretty much whatever I wanted, but who wants to mow acreage?  It sorta defeats the idea of a "maintenance-free" lifestyle.  And who wants to drive half an hour to go to the store for some last minute supplies for the night's cookout?

I could buy an early post-WWII home....they were commonly around the size I would like....but most of those neighborhoods are today pretty....umm, "run down".  I like the sights and sounds of birds chirping and people walking their dogs, not random gunfire and crime scene tape. 

Townhomes are a possibility, but most are fairly new and currently in high demand.  To buy one and then gut it in order to build it back to my standards would be would be so "over-improved" I could never get my money back if I ever wanted/needed to sell it. 

Which brings me to apartment living.  Small, new and clean, with nice grounds and tons of popular amenities, and maintenance-free to boot.  I often have to take a deep breath and shake my head when I look at the cabinets, appliances, and such, but did I mention it's maintenance-free?  *happy dance*

I think my point of view is gaining acceptance.  Many empty nesters these days are choosing "lock and leave" apartments where they can travel for months at a time and use their apartment for a base when they're in town.   

HGTV now even has an entire series built around tiny houses.  Most are built on wheels and are just a couple of hundred square feet, which is even too small for me, and besides, I've sorta grown accustomed to indoor plumbing. *wink*

Whenever I need to have my inspiration renewed I just think of my friend in St. Petersburg, FL  who lives on a vintage 35-foot cabin cruiser, or look again at this video of a guy in Bordeaux, France who converted a garage into a killer residence.  It's small, compact, and utilizes every square inch of space.  Everything has a place.  "Everything you need, nothing you don't."


While the neighborhood looks rather shabby by our standards here (it's in a historic district), they say it's in a highly desirable area there.  It's really a cool watch, but don't bother with the sound unless you speak French.

Now I'll wish you a happy Fourth of July.  I hope you have a wonderful day.  I'll defer my celebration for another couple of days....we're moving into a new, cool, smaller space this long weekend.  

'Merica!  :)



  1. we could move farther out .... buy 2 or 3 shipping containers and build a dream place.

  2. I soooo agree with you - we, overall, as Americans have too much stuff and take up too much space. I like your idea about living in "reasonable" spaces. I have my doubts about families with kids living in one of those "tiny houses" (unless it is for a short time), but I'm all for small houses. My very first apartment was probably less than 90 square feet, but that was just for me. My very first house was about 875 square feet; no attic, no basement, no garage. It was tight for four people, but OK after my ex left (just me and two boys - the ex had too much clutter).

    But I'm rambling... Loved the video of the "garage house" in Bordeaux. Looking forward to pictures of yours and Kelly's new place!

  3. A smart person understands how much space they actually need rather than having space to impress people. Mrs. C. and I live in a townhouse and we have bedrooms we never even go in. And I love having the yard work done for me. Happy 4th to you.

  4. You should get an RV and you can take your house wherever you want. I'm glad I never bought a house. It would have been a couple of years before the housing bubble burst and I would have probably ended up seriously underwater.

  5. Married to a licensed builder/remodeler, we have had many houses. I don't think that just one house can possibly provide your needs/wants for a lifetime. Though my dad built a post-WWII bungalow and lived in it until the nursing home. We live down the street from the Oddball Observer Bruce whose blog I found you on, in about 1500 sq ft. It's a track home and we struggle with a challenging floor plan and killer leaves in the fall. We have restrained ourselves from over improving, though we painted ceilings for 3 days on this holiday weekend, so it still sucks our time/energy/money. I am thinking condo. Husband not there yet. Fascinated by the tiny homes/garage redo/etc. Good for Austin and Portland to be on the forefront of this! Son in Colorado is building an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) above a new 3 stall garage on one of his rental properties in Denver, turning that lot into an effective 3 unit rental. Denver is also ahead of the game, allowing carriage houses, garages, and ADU's as legal rentals. HOUZZ is a great website for creative tiny house converts. Our housing life has been like a string of charms on a bracelet and I know I'll be adding a few more before before I'm done.

  6. It's called addition by subtraction.