## April mortgage update: Living in a 1200 sq foot 2br/2ba for a year as a family of 4

Last month (March):
Balance:\$13,336.01
Years left: 1
P =\$1,157.03, I =\$57.37, Escrow =\$809.48

Last month (April):
Balance:\$12,174.40
Years left: 0.91666666667
P =\$1,161.61, I =\$52.79, Escrow =\$809.48

Amount saved from prepayment:  \$0

… instead of our usual 3000 sq ft ~5br/3ba.

Honestly, it hasn’t been so bad.  At some point, the kids may need to stop sharing a room or may need more space for their clothes, but not yet.

We use every part of the house instead of just a third of it.  I spend more time in our bedroom hiding out from everyone (DH spends about the same amount of time in our bathroom hiding).  I pretty much only use our bedroom at home for sleep (and activities involving the removal and/or putting on of clothing), even though it is comparatively ginormous.

Having people visit has been difficult.  If it’s my sister visiting, DC1 sleeps on the couch and she sleeps on the top bunk.  If it’s a parent, DC2 sleeps with us and the grandparent sleeps in hir bed.  We cannot accommodate couples unless a pair of people sleeps in the living room.  In our usual home place, visitors get an entire guest bedroom suite to themselves.  But… hardly anybody wants to visit us back home.

As with our graduate school days, it has been difficult to spend money accumulating stuff.  The first question is again not, “how much does this cost?” but “where would we put it?”  Only after we decide there’s room can we think about whether something is worth buying.  (Though DH and DC1 have been testing this proposition with their growing board game collection.)  But since the library system is so great and a short walk away, I don’t need so many books at home.

All in all, it’s been much easier to live here than I had expected.  (1200 sq ft is bigger than our grad school apartments, but there were only two of us then!)

Now, we’re not going to sell our monstrous house and move into a smaller place when we get back.  Why not?  Well, part of the reason it’s so easy to deal with a small space here is because everything is in walking distance.  A big park with playground, restaurants, the library.  And the weather is generally nice.  We don’t need to spend as much of our free time inside the house.  Back home, there’s really none of that, especially not near smaller houses; home owners associations are much more likely to have amenities like parks and playgrounds.

Another reason is that the neighborhood here is relatively safe and entirely free from college students.  Smaller places back where we usually live are either rural and away from everything, in high crime/bad school areas, and/or surrounded by students.  Home owners associations, though horrible, seem to be a way to get away from students.  We could downsize to probably 2200 sq ft and still be away from college students and coyotes and snakes, but the price differential doesn’t seem worth the hassle.  We can afford what we’ve got (as you can see from our mortgage update!).

And, I can’t lie– it is a bit easier to live in a small place that’s not in the best shape when everybody else is also living in small places that aren’t in the best shape.  Our standards are a lot higher where the housing is cheaper.  We wouldn’t put up with a lot of stuff in the small town that just doesn’t seem like a big deal here in the city.  The same was true when we moved from graduate school– peeling paint and uncovered radiators aren’t a big deal when you’re in an amazing location, but the new rural house has to be perfect and move-in ready.

How small a place are you comfortable living?  Is bigger always better?

### 54 Responses to “April mortgage update: Living in a 1200 sq foot 2br/2ba for a year as a family of 4”

1. Zenmoo Says:

Our house is a 3bed/2bath & is a shade under 2000sqft. I like it for our family of 4. It would be nice if our main living area was just a bit bigger, but honestly, it’s not the size that’s the problem, it’s more the awkward placement of the doors (the logical place for the dining table is smack between the external and internal door so it blocks the flow).

I’ve lived in smaller & larger houses – smaller was a bit cramped but we weren’t home much because we were in our paradise and away camping/traveling a lot. Larger was only a couple of months but I hated having 4 toilets to clean (for 3 people!)

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

That seems pretty reasonable, except for bad door placement. We only have 3 bathrooms in our mcmansion! (Though one is a jack and jill suite, so two sets of sinks on opposite sides.)

2. The house I bought 29 years ago is 1925 sq ft, 2 bedroom, 1.5 baths. During that time we converted half the detached garage to a “book room”, adding another 300 sq feet of usable space (not legal as an accessory dwelling unit, though—only as office or studio space, since there is no plumbing). This house has been all we’ve needed with one child in Santa Cruz,CA. The large rooms have turned out to be a mixed blessing—we don’t entertain, and so stuff gradually accumulates in the less-used spaces, so that the house interior now looks like something from “Hoarders”.

My first house was 1450 sq ft, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths in Ithaca, NY. Rooms were much smaller, but I had almost no furniture in those days and very little “stuff” other than books, so the house seemed empty—way too big for one person, or even 2.

3. Cloud Says:

I think layout matters a lot, too. Our house was somewhere around 1300 square feet before we added on- but that was a 4 bedroom, 2 bath (although the 4th bedroom doesn’t have a closet). So the common living space was small. When we decided to add on an office, we also expanded the living space. I have been really surprised by what a difference that made. Now there is space for the kids to play and leave their toys out without me having to step over them to get to the sofa, for instance. And the living area just feels less crowded. I love my new office, but that wasn’t a surprise. How much I love the new living room surprised me, and I have new respect for the importance of having a well-thought out layout.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

Coming from our 2br, it is hard to imagine 100 additional square feet being a 4 br!

Though one of our two bathrooms is ridiculously large– the owners had knocked out a bedroom to expand the bathroom and put in a walk-in closet.

• Cloud Says:

Just think 1950s! We have small, 1950s style closets. The baths are small, and one is a shower only, no tub. The master bedroom is tiny by modern standards, and the smallest bedroom is tiny by anyone’s standards. Also, the kitchen is still the 1950s style galley kitchen. But! The backyard is nice.

Actually, after the addition, I really, really like our house. I’d like to fix up the kitchen a bit to give us more cupboard space, but not enough to undertake the expense or the hassle of another renovation project yet. Once we finish the final things from the last renovation project, I think I may turn my attention to the backyard and patio. I want a lime tree and a vegetable garden, and some sort of lounge chair.

4. chacha1 Says:

Our apartment is nearly 1500 sf including our 150 sf fairly-private patio, which is ginormous for L.A., and is more space than we truly need – we could happily cohabit in a smaller space. But only IF we had more outdoor/private space. Like your big house not-in-paradise, the interior space has to furnish what the outdoors does not, i.e. bearable quality of life.

Our layout is fantastic. You enter to a huge open space encompassing dining room, living room, and den; the galley kitchen runs back from the dining room, behind the living-room wall. Kitchen, living room, and den all have big sliders onto the patio. There’s a little wet bar in the corner of the den/living room junction, which we use as a coffee & cat-feeding station.

Then there is a short hallway with a linen closet, the HVAC, and doors to the “public” bathroom; bedroom; and master suite. The only thing tricky about it at all is the hallway, because of needing to get furniture pieces in/out.

• chacha1 Says:

If we owned it free and clear we would make some changes. The clunky master bath + walk-in closet would get changed around to provide a laundry area, for sure. And I’m dying to renovate the kitchen. But considering the really craptastic places we’ve both experienced previously, it’s no wonder we are clinging on to this place.

5. ivy Says:

mmm like many of the people above, I feel that layout is just as important as overall floor area.

I’ve lived in places with a large floor area where most of it has been wasted (think acres of hallway, strange-shaped rooms, kitchens with massive floor area but no sides etc). Whereas now we’re in a place that’s nominally smaller but feels larger since no space is wasted. And we actually live in almost all of the space.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

One has to wonder how the weird floorplans happen. We saw some doozies back when we were house hunting.

Like, surely they can’t be original to the building (or can they?). But who says, hey, let’s renovate and make things even weirder?

• Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

I have two theories: (1) people decide to renovate because they need more space and it’s cheaper than moving, and they’re willing to live with odd layouts in order not to have to tear the house down, leave the neighborhood, etc. (2) in new houses, people decide to build their dream house, and it works great for them (see my reply below about what I actually want in a house) but not for anyone else.

Actually I have a 3rd, as well: people think they want to live in a particular way but may find out that they don’t. We looked at some houses that I loved but they really dictated a certain lifestyle (think Frank Lloyd Wright) and I will not let a house tell me how to live. For example, I need a closet where I can hang dresses, not just fold shirts on shelves, and I need big blank walls for bookshelves. So we rejected a gorgeous house that was all windows and open plan interiors, nowhere at all to put books in the quantities we have them. It might not have been “weird” to everybody but it was certainly special.

• chacha1 Says:

Our use of our living room would be considered “wasted” by most people, I think. We crammed the loveseat & media etc into the den so that most of the living-room floor would be free for dance practice. :-)

But yeah, there are some bizarre floor plans out there. I’ve drawn enough floor plans to know how tricky it is to fit in all the things that people conventionally “need,” and I suspect local trends come into play. Like here in SoCal, where the double-height grand entry is a thing (a thing that wastes SO MUCH SPACE).

• Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

Oh God yeah. I hate those. Also they waste heat if you’re not in SoCal!

• Rosa Says:

they’re a thing everywhere, aren’t they? Or they were 10-20 years ago? We visit several relatives with them. Also with bizarrely high “great room” ceilings that lead to one wall having decorative objects up so high nobody can reach them to clean them. Ick.

They are nice for the kids to visit and spend all afternoon testing the gravity of different objects over the railings, though.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

Our real estate agent offered to give us a trampoline they no longer wanted for our Great Room. (We politely declined.)

• Debbie M Says:

Wow, I never thought of using a trampoline to dust those high-up pictures. Brilliant!

6. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

I have come to think that layout is nearly everything. Our old house felt too small, though now I think it would have been perfect if we’d got rid of some stuff (but we couldn’t get at the stuff without messing up the whole place) and if it had a garage, of which there was no possibility. What we want is a small master bedroom and spaces for us both to work, whereas it seems most houses are designed for families with children, so, small bedrooms and a huge master where parents can “retreat” from children. We do not want to retreat from the cats. Downstairs, and this was a problem with the old house as well, I want EITHER doors that close (so as to separate feuding cats) OR a totally open plan where I can see what’s going on (and be able to intervene before fights get started). “Flow” with blocked sight lines is terrible. I’d be down with loft living if we had a small dark bedroom and somewhere to shut the TV away—just use bookcases to delineate work and other spaces—but my SO likes more conventional living spaces, where it’s clear which room is the living room and which is a bedroom.

We’re using the extra space of the current house, which I think is somewhere around 2000 sf, to get all the sh!t out of the basement and closets, sort through it, get rid of a lot of it, and then we want to get into something more like the old place, which was 1200 sf. Plus a garage. Preferably attached. I think 1500 sf would probably be just about right, but it does depend on how it’s arranged. I like the idea of ChaCha’s wet bar/cat feeding station. That would be really helpful and would ease congestion in the kitchen.

The current house is a classic mistake of type “we’d like to live like that” -> “oh no that is not at all how we live, it’s just not us.” It makes me feel very stupid. I was much relieved to find that one of my best friends, who is super-organized and knows just what she likes, made the same mistake once, before she moved to the house she’s been in for 15 years or so.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

We have definitely learned a lot about our preferences living various places. I don’t think we’ve figured out what “perfect” is yet though.

7. Rosa Says:

Our house is supposedly 1600 sf, but there’s a ton of unfinished storage so it feels really big to me. And it looks really big – two full stories, full attic. When we first got the place, every time a friend saw it for the first time they said “you bought a huge house!”

I want to trade it in on something with half as much space (I’ve been saying as soon as the kid graduates – 8 more years! – we’ll go down to 400-600sf in a building with NO YARD and shared amenities, but child informed me yesterday that he has no intention of living in a dorm and will be living with us during college. We will see.) But that half will require access to a second toilet so that when things are being fixed we still can pee. And larger closets than people considered necessary in 1902.

• chacha1 Says:

One toilet per adult is non-negotiable, sez me. LOL @ child’s so firmly-stated intentions. 8 yrs from now ze may feel quite differently!

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

Our poor little three year old was inconsolable the other night when zie found out that some day zie will move away from us. (A long time from now!)

• Rosa Says:

I just want two toilets, total, so that there is always one working even during renovations or repairs.

• becca Says:

Ha! Our school’s idea of a “college going culture” is to get kindergarteners to start thinking about college. Roo was *appalled* at the idea of going to college, until I told hir that theoretically ze could live at home and go. I doubt this feeling will remain, but it struck me as an under-appreciated downside of emphasizing college to young kids.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

We weren’t prepared for the reaction because at this age, DC1 was really focused on how to find a significant other (in the future, as an adult) and seemed to assume that zie would be moving out and eventually becoming a parent.

• Rosa Says:

the fifth graders, on the other hand, spend a lot of time fantasizing about dorms. Or fantasizing about the fabulous things they could do with their (new!) lockers, especially if the lockers could be expanded to the size of rooms and have couches in them…like dorm rooms!

8. debomill Says:

I was happy in my 960-square-foot house for two until I got my latest roommate/boyfriend who has a LOT of stuff. At first I was all, “No problem, we can find room.” Now I’m all, “My stuff is where it belongs against the walls but I can’t get to it because of the very thick layer of your stuff in front of it.” I also miss parties. And a bunch of my friends sponsor craft night, but although my living room is bigger than apartment living rooms, it doesn’t compare to their gigantic living rooms. So now I’m jealous.

BUT my house is in a WAY better location than all of their houses. And there’s plenty of room to expand if we get money. And I love the design–open spaces but also windows and room for lots of bookshelves. Having only one bathroom is only very rarely a problem, surprisingly.

We do use all our rooms, but not at the same time. I feel like we could probably combine some. On the other hand, I get tiny bits of exercise going back and forth. Kitchen for cooking, dishes, and laundry. Dining room for eating and playing video games on our iPads. Den for reading, watching TV and movies, knitting. Office for doing stuff on the computer. Living room for dance practice (hi, chacha!), music practice, parties and big projects (and storing way too much crap, dang), bedroom for the usual.

Still working on reducing our clutter and getting a job for the boyfriend before deciding on how to renovate. I hope that just moving the washer out of the kitchen and also taking over a hall closet to add a lot of counter and storage space in the kitchen will make it acceptable to my boyfriend who is famous for getting every dish dirty when he cooks. And I’m hoping an extra walk-in closet and a real two- or three-car garage (instead of a one-car-garage-sized shed) will be enough for his stuff. For me I want a dishwasher, a separate laundry room, and covered parking (we have hail! and blazing sun!).

• debomill Says:

PS Really I’m Debbie M.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

omg, [correction]: you have a wordpress blog now?

• Debbie M Says:

No, I was trying to figure out how to have a personal web page, and various things I read made it sound like WordPress would be a good tool. But no. But now that I made an account, it makes me sign into it every time I reply to your blog.

And I have started over with new software on my computer, so it forgot a bunch of things, like that I prefer to be called Debbie M here. So that’s the story.

Also, LiveJournal keeps crashing my computer when I try to log in, plus I can’t figure out how to post pictures again, so that’s why I haven’t been posting there for a while. Besides being out of town.

Sorry to get you all excited!

9. SP Says:

I like this post since I have a small house with enough bedrooms to last me for life, but I worry about whether more humans could fit. One room has a v. small closet, but we could probably make it work. I think we have a pretty good floor plan, although we could improve how we use the entry way. I guess smaller kids vs. teens would make a difference.

We’re not actually considering moving, but there is a certain city that we imagine sometimes, and we were looking at house prices there over the weekend. It isn’t a cheap area but we figured few places are as expensive as here… We found that while you do get a lot more space for your dollar, there aren’t really many small homes. So while we could have a larger house there, we couldn’t have a significantly cheaper house (unless we moved outside of the city, of course, which we probably would).

Our house is on the small side for family homes in our neighborhood, but I’ve seen smaller, and we aren’t freakishly small.

10. Linda Says:

I’m currently living in 828 sq ft quite comfortably, but if I added another person to the household I’d have to know that person very well.

Bigger living spaces aren’t necessarily better. All the comments about layout are spot on. Layouts that don’t allow for traffic flow or result in unusable space are the pretty bad, but small houses that have unusable rooms are worse.

I’ve looked at a lot of houses over the past year and it’s amazing how adaptable people can be in their space. In the past few months I’ve looked at four houses for sale that were small, but usuable…except for the tiny bedrooms. I mean, these bedrooms were so tiny the only thing that could fit in them was a twin or full-sized bed, and no room left over for even a nightstand! I just don’t get that. I’m not a fan of the enormous “master suite,” but I need to at least fit my queen-sized bed and a night stand in a bedroom. Then there was the house I saw a week ago that was very nice…except for the lack of a space in the kitchen to put a refrigerator. Seriously, there was literally no place to put a refrigerator except for in the adjoining dining space or around the corner and several feet away in the laundry area. That’s actually the second house I’ve seen with no place to put a refrigerator and it stumps me.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

We had an apartment in grad school where the kitchen was so small we bought a bureau for the dining room to use for chopping and we stuck a refrigerator in the hallway. (This was actually the nicest apartment we lived in during our time in grad school!)

• chacha1 Says:

We have seen numerous 1930s-era houses and apartments here in L.A. in which no full-size, modern refrigerator could ever comfortably live – except for the ones that are made and sold for commercial, i.e. break-room, applications. A dorm-sized fridge basically, or at most one of the five-foot-tall ones with a teeny interior “freezer compartment.” These places also typically have no air-conditioning and no insulation, so they are absolute hell in the ever-lengthening Hot Season.

And tiny rooms? Oh yes. It is really an eye-opener when you consider how little space people used to take up.

• Linda Says:

I think what really floored me about those kitchens with no place for a fridge was the fact that they weren’t original kitchens, they were remodels. If you’re going to remodel the kitchen, at least leave a place to put a fridge!

The house I’m renting was built in the 1920s and has small rooms, too, but not so tiny that I can’t fit my bed + nightstand in either bedroom. Heck, I even fit a shelf/desk combo thing in the (slightly larger) bedroom I occupy. It’s my dedicated work space.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

I totally don’t get that. At least the place we had where the fridge was outside the kitchen was pretty much unchanged from when it was built in the 1940s (or possibly earlier). It actually did have a fridge in the kitchen but a really tiny one. Possibly to go with the tiny oven. And yet, there was an enormous dining room (and separate living room). I guess it makes sense if you eat out all the time and never cook. (We had similarly tiny ovens most of the apartments we lived in in the city, but correspondingly smaller apartments as well– no dining room, often no living room either)

11. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

So with the preface that we looked at 32 houses, being basically ALL the not-terrible houses within 10 miles of the spouse’s work (note that the nearest town is a 45 minute drive away so we’re talking 10 miles of winding icy one-lane road in the rural South!)-

Our house is HUGE. 3100sf plus a 500sf screen porch and a 300sf workshop. And a carport. But we tried to buy smaller houses and none of them worked out! They mostly needed major (\$75k! One needed \$150k!) renovations or had something else horribly wrong (termites! mold! lead paint and 8 foot windows!) I wish it were about 20% smaller because it would be easier to clean. On the other hand, one day we will have three teenagers living here, and it has a MIL suite, and we hope to not move for 40 years or so. The layout is excellent and we can walk to everything but the grocery store. Obviously we had to make some tradeoffs because it’s so rural here.

We’ve lived in some pretty small apartments. It was better in places with nice weather and painful in places with much snow and very small children in my house. (When it’s snowed three feet and the child is only two feet tall…)

12. yuppiemillennial Says:

We live in a 2/1 1100 sf condo and find the size just enough or slightly more than we need for two people. The layout is pretty solid– big kitchen, decent sized dining and living rooms, decent sized bedrooms, and an office/craft room too. And so far we’ve found entertaining to be pretty easy as long as we keep under 15 guests (at least in our 20’s and 30’s crowd). Honestly, I wouldn’t mind terribly raising two kids here. Really would only need to convert our craft room to a third bedroom and add a bathroom… somewhere. In any case we have plenty of unfinished space (400 sf basement which we now use as sparsely populated storage and laundry, 1000 sf attic) that we could expand into later if we need.

I personally much prefer small spaces. I could probably live solo in 500 sf or less quite happily as long as it had a full kitchen, bath, and lots of sunlight. I remember finding my dorm room in college of roughly 125 sf to be too much space for me to use…

13. Katie Says:

This is a really interesting post! I feel like I was pretty open about the kind of space I could live in when I was single, and then when co-habitating, but having a kid has resulted in a lot of constraints, or at least strong preferences.

We (me, spouse, toddler, cat) are renting a little house, just under 800 square feet. It’s pretty well-designed, though, at least for us – big living room, decent-sized utility room/pantry (with washer and dryer!), small bedrooms and bathroom. The layout is such that the living room can be gated off as a free-ranging toddler zone, and you can easily keep an eye on the living room while cooking in the kitchen. We are contemplating whether we could make it work here with another kid. Trying to get a baby and a small kid to sleep in one bedroom seems daunting, in a first-world-problems kind of way. I keep thinking of people raising children in less space in New York City, and also in less wealthy parts of the world. We kept kid 1 in our room until 6 months – maybe kid 2 would stay with us for longer. It was good for our relationship to have our bedroom back to ourselves, though.

14. First Gen American Says:

Regarding the earlier layout comments, I’m currently fixing a lot of layout problems in my current house. In every case, it was cheaper to do it the crappy dumb way, then it was to do it right the first time.

One house I looked at had just a functioning toilet (no walls, nothing) sitting in the front hallway. An old lady lived there and with no 1st floor bathroom, someone plunked a toilet there because I’m sure there was some plumbing running right under it and it was easy.

It sucks renovating a big house though…Materials costs are more when you have more sq footage.
We are going to do another chunk of our siding this spring and one wall is going to cost as much as it would have cost to re-side the entirety of our last house.

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

Um, wow. My in-laws are putting a toilet in the laundry room in the basement because that’s where the pipes are, I’m pretty sure they’ll be putting in a water closet as well.

• chacha1 Says:

My in-laws also added a toilet in the” basement,” adjacent to the laundry hookups and utility sink. It is, at least, enclosed. :-) It even has a window! (This is a San Francisco basement, below street level but not really underground.)

• nicoleandmaggie Says:

They’ve got a 1.5 bath setup on the ground floor which is really weird. I think the house originally had one bathroom and the easiest way to add another toilet was to put it on the other side of the first toilet. So it’s like a full (small) bathroom and an adjoining door to their half bath which has a sink and a toilet. But to get to it you either have to walk through the first bathroom or through their bedroom. Which can be difficult with 10+ people in the house (which is what happens during holiday visiting) and someone in the regular bathroom already. We are looking forward to a third toilet!

• Linda Says:

The “toilet in the basement” (with no walls or door enclosing it) was pretty common to see in Chicago bungalows built in the 1920s and 1930s. I saw one in a house in Napa recently that was built in that same time period and had a good laugh. Of course, here it wasn’t in a below grade basement as found in Chicago, but in the ground level “basement” common in northern CA.

But FGA’s observation of a toilet in the front hallway…that’s bizarre. You win this round! ;-)

• Jenny F. Scientist Says:

A Pittsburgh toilet! It’s a thing. A strange, strange thing.

• Rosa Says:

yeah, the basement toilet is pretty common all over the Midwest, often with a roughed-in “room” around it for privacy but you can see all the studs.

Our house is so old the pipes were obviously an afterthought – they’re on the outside of the walls, mostly. One bathroom! And hookups for a sink in one of the bedrooms, for some reason.

• Jenny F. Scientist Says:

‘For some reason’ indeed! (We have a 1960s fireplace in the kitchen so not much room to talk. Yes, it was always a kitchen; we have blueprints.)

15. J Liedl Says:

We live in a 3br/2ba late 80s brick house in a very pleasant neighbourhood of our very northerly, snowy Canadian small city. It’s fairly modest for the neighbourhood in which new builds are sometimes 4-6br/4ba and occasionally come with three or four car garages.

Since we figure that Autistic Youngest will be living with us for some time to come, we’re not downsizing from our three bedroom raised bungalow any time soon. Eldest still claims her bedroom but we’ll see if she stays in big city or travels further afield for grad school. I might take over part of it to have the luxury of a home office space instead of a corner of the living room sofa.

We could theoretically downsize to a 2br/2ba condo or townhouse at some point, probably when i eventually retire. Having enough room for all of the board games, the books we can’t discard and my needlework stuff – those are the challenges!

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