Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Power of Half of Our Too-Big House

The Salwen family were living a comfortable upper-middle class life. Hannah, a tender-hearted fourteen year old, was moved by the plight of the have-nots when her family had so much. This story is probably repeated in most upper-middle families.

What made the Salwens notable is that Hannah's parents were moved by her argument. The family cut their expenditures in half, so they could give to others more. They have written about their new life in The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back.

What particularly struck me in their story is that the family's biggest move was to sell their "dream house" in suburban Atlanta and move into a house half that size. I don't know the exact sizes of these houses, but I have seen suburban Atlanta upper-middle class neighborhoods, and they can run to quite large. Kevin Salwen, the father in the family, reported the unexpected effect of living in their large dream house:

In our big house, we stopped communicating. We'd scatter to different rooms, far from one another physically and spiritually. The house actually began to weaken our love, or at least our ability to express that love.

I think the richer classes in America are often afflicted with this unexpected problem: their houses are too big for their families to live in as families. The much-desired structure actually undermines family life.

Perhaps a silver lining of the bursting of the housing bubble is that more people will want more modest houses, with manageable mortgages. And the unexpected benefit will be greater intimacy in their families.


Wade Garrett said...

I recently read some articles on this (moving into smaller homes), now if only I can convince Adriana to downsize!

Next step - people eating dinner, cooked by them, at home, every night.

Rachel said...

I can appreciate the fact that smaller houses mean families are together more often. My family lives in a relatively small house, and we really do spend a great deal of time together in the living room and kitchen. We each have our own rooms but spend the majority of our down time with each other in the living room.

Anonymous said...

Although we could afford a larger house, we chose a smaller house for four people. We have one living room and one television. We have to compromise on what we do and watch. There are no phones in bedrooms and laptops have to be used in common areas. I think the more we give children the opportunity to shut themselves off, the more they will do so.

Garlee said...

Houses can be too small too. We were four in a 1001 square foot one bath house. It was too damn small, noisy and had no privacy.2252 square foot two bath is just right for us.
Curious what you guys consider large and small.

MJTC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MJTC said...

Too small is 1000 square feet with 9 people. Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths. We did not lack for togetherness. We tripled that size in our new house, but now it's an empty nest that's too big, except for parties and holidays. It's my parents' dream house though, and they wouldn't sell it to downsize unless/until they had to

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have three small children in a 4-bedroom, 2100 s.f. home. We are cozy, but it works well. The bedrooms are small, but adequate.

Here is an interesting link on this topic:

Anonymous said...

We make it work in 700 square feet for 4 people. You have to be very intentional about what you bring in and about furniture placement, etc, but I've always said I wanted to try simple living, but it took downsizing (from 1600 sq ft) to make it a reality.

philippine homes said...

I'd rather want to have a small house too for four people.

Deirdre G