Buy a small home and win big

When it comes to homes, bigger is not better.



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Houses have grown to outrageous sizes. Termed “McMansions,” these homes would function as hotels in Europe or Asia, but here in Canada one family needs 3,500-6,000 square feet to not get under each other’s feet. Don’t even get me started on the rabid renovation cycle that sees perfectly good kitchens, bathrooms and floors being ripped out and replaced for the sake of fashion. “Oh dah-ling, cherry wood is so passé!” All this while we’re banking next to nothing for the future. Heaven help us.

Big ol’ TV star that I am, I live in a modest home. (Rumour has it the mansion being built down by the lake is either mine or Elton John’s.) I call my home, “My Little House” and I love it for a whole bunch of reasons.

Smaller means fewer carrying costs. My Little House costs about $94 a month to heat and just a little more than that to cool. And if you downsize your mortgage along with your living space, you can get to mortgage-free even faster! Hey, I’m there. It’s wonderful.

Smaller means more to save. Because my carrying costs are lower, I can stash away more for retirement. The thought of being old and sick is bad enough. Being poor too would really suck!

Smaller means less work. From vacuuming to yard maintenance and roof replacement, a smaller home means you have to pay out less to keep your home from falling into ruins.

Smaller means more time. If you swap a big house for something smaller that’s more convenient to work, your commute will shorten and your personal will grow.

Smaller means less stuff. There’s nothing to put a damper on spending like not having anywhere to put the stuff you would buy. I went to an art show with my girlfriend, Casey, recently and would have bought two paintings but for the fact that I have no spare walls on which to hang them!

Smaller means more family. One of the biggest downsides to a big home (from a mommy’s perspective) is how easy it is to spread out and not see each other. If your dining room doubles as the homework space, you can help with homework while you make dinner.  There’s a lot to be said for cozy.

I love My Little House. A girlfriend recently suggested I convert my three-season sunroom into a four-season room. I thought about it for a second and then gave my head a shake. I do not need more living space. My Little House is perfect just the way it is.

6 comments on “Buy a small home and win big

  1. I'm with you Gail. I love my small house, in fact, always looking for something even smaller, now that kids are grown & launched. My sister, on the other hand, is one who rips out perfectly good kitchens, as you say for fashion. I much prefer the simple life & no debt. Now I pass your tips & books on to my kids.
    I wish you could write up a course for high school kids that was mandatory. It is indeed the most important thing to know in life, as we are not always taught about money in familys. The idea that somehow we are suppose to gain this wisdom through osmosis, is a joke. Thanks for the real life lessons.


  2. We love our small bungalow. It sits in an area amongst heritage homes and renovated homes and each house is very different from the next – not like the cookie cutter houses. Our mortgage will be paid off in 5 years time and when friends complain about high heating and cooling costs I can sit back and smile. The only part of your article I don't agree with is smaller means less stuff. Thats the only drawback in a small house, no closet space! And I have way too much stuff…


  3. We were approved for a bigger mortgage than we ended up using and were tempted to buy bigger at the time. But, we only had one kid, couldn't have more, and I realized I would just end up being the one who had to clean a bigger house, so kept to a decent sized for us home, older and needing some updating, which we did for cash as we had it. Mortgage is gone, house is in great shape and kid is 20 and on the verge of leaving home in a year or two. We have 940 sq ft on main and 875 in basement, which has been fully developed and we can all find space to go when in bad moods, and still be very comfortable when all together. We spend our money on good windows, new roof, modernizing a 1973 tract house, updating wiring and plumbing, and energy efficient everything. I look at the bigger houses that we could have bought and am glad we are were we are, in a comfortable and mature neighbourhood.


  4. I adore having a smaller home. We can buy better quality finishes and fixtures because there is less space to cover, higher quality windows and roofs that last longer. Less cost to heat and cool. With careful planning (and not over-stuffing them) they can feel surprisingly spacious and airy inside.

    In my parents city some of the McMansion homes near them are about 15-20 years old now and it seems they are slowly tumbling down, a good percentage of them you can see failed windows, curled shingles, peeling paint, and bad patch temporary fixes. It was shocking because they did look "luxurious" when new. they've been this way for years now and these streets get progressively worse each time I visit. I'm guessing some of the owners got taken by surprise when they discovered how much a new roof, windows or siding costs when it's needed on a 5000+sqft house.


  5. I am curious, approximately how small is your house? I live in a 500 square foot apartment so anything with more than 2 bedrooms is a mansion in my eyes.


  6. We downsized from the family home seven years ago to a 1100 square foot, one-bedroom condo. We had to tell the 22-year old that she had to move out, it was time anyway. We now split our time from the cottage in the summer, to the condo in the winter. Here in Alberta, that means, no snow shoveling! We only have 5 months in the summer to consider doing any renovations, and keeping it in mind that it's a summer cottage, we even keep that to a minimum. We still have the perfectly functional pine cupboards that my husband made when we built the cottage over 20 years ago. We are completely debt free, and we sock the extra money away in RRSPs, TFSAs and non-registered portfolios! Life when we retire is going to be SWEET! Thanks for all the great advice Gail!


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