I started cleaning out our attic recently, because it needed it, and because the building in which my shop is located is holding a garage sale in late September. The attic has needed a good sort-through for a long time. Our attic is a walk-up. What that means is that it’s the 3rd floor of our house. In theory, it’s simply another 2 rooms. I say, in theory, because these two rooms have never been weatherized (aside from some window sealing) or insulated. So it’s extra hot in the summer and extra cold in the winter. That makes right now, and maybe April or May, the only time it’s comfortable to be up there for extended periods of time. That also means, that unlike the drop stairs, above the ceiling type of attic, it’s extra easy to put things up there and accumulate way too much stuff.
The process of cleaning out the attic got me thinking about a few things.
First, we have a lot of useless stuff.
Secondly, I started thinking about the size of the average American home.
The average American home is well over 2,000 square feet. According to one article the size is still increasing too. There are all sorts of speculation about the home sizes we prefer, the mortgages we can afford, the current and future state of the economy, and how all these factors influence the other factors. It’s dizzying. (This is an interesteing article about our supposed love of McMansions.)
Our home is about 1200 square feet, I think that’s huge, but I guess it’s medium. I’m always amazed when I read about kitchen redo’s and the square footage of the kitchen is larger than my entire home! I can’t image tending to and maintaining anything larger than the house we have, let alone a house almost twice the size! The size of the average American home is staggering to me, since I’m trying to lessen my impact on the planet by consuming less stuff and trying to be aware of my consumption of resources. Sure, I was able to clean out some stuff I no longer use, but I can’t physically shrink my home. Logically (and I’m sure there are statistics to back up the logic), smaller homes require fewer resources to power, heat, and maintain.
So how does the American home compare to the rest of the world? Not so shockingly, we are space hogs. This great graph from shrinkthatfootprint.com visually exemplifies our cultural desire for more space:
Really? Only Australia has a larger average? Hmm, they have the Outback, we have the Great Plains and Wild West. And then there’s Canada, right up there – oh yeah they’re the “Great White North”, yet another name that indicates wide open space.
Sadly, these numbers may reflect many new buildings, because as many of you know, older homes are often smaller. And while I like the uniqueness and eccentricities of older homes, many people don’t. Older homes have often been “updated” in ways that leaves their larger original footprint feeling smaller. For example, one of our bedrooms is only about 6′ wide. It counts in the square footage, but isn’t much more than a large walk-in closet. Many older homes are in locations that people view as “unsafe”, “unfriendly”, “dirty”, or “outdated”, i.e. urban or older suburban plans. Lets face it, an old farmhouse has a different appeal to many home buyers than a 200 year old city home. Why? Chances are good your problems will be the same. We still have terra-cotta pipes. We had knob & tube wiring. And yep, we had a fuse box in a shower stall. And our home is NOT an old farm house, it’s an old city home (built around 1900).
And then there’s the question, how much space does a person really need? I’m sure answers differ. The last time I checked, Hong Kong, China, and Russia, were all inhabited by humans. And so are Canada, Australia and the US. Yet based on the above graph, Canadians, Americans and Australians use more living space. It’s hard to say how much space a person needs, because in some countries people sleep on the floor so do they need a bedroom? In some areas people cook outside all the time, how do they account for kitchen space? In some places bathrooms are communal – even if the community is just a large extended family, so that will shrink your footprint too. If you want some interesting info-graphics about the topic of space per person, check out www.persquaremile.com.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue living large in a small to medium American home and I’ll continue trying to shrink my home’s footprint, even if I can’t physically shrink the building. That may require a diligent effort on my part to edit what I bring into the house – because what’ s that old adage, “The more space you have, the more your find to fill it.”?