Showing posts with label frugal housing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label frugal housing. Show all posts

Monday, August 30, 2010

The incredible shrinking house

I'm a little late off the mark on this one, but last week CNN posted an article detailing a trend in the US away from McMansions and towards smaller square footage in new home construction. Instead of more space, homeowners appear to be focused on amenities, including dishwashers and garbage dispoals.

I'm a huge fan of living small. I faced the question of whether bigger is better when I bought my co-op in 2001: Back then, the bank approved me for a $500,000 mortgage that I would have been extraordinarily hard pressed to make the payments on, and most people I knew urged me to aim at places three or even four times my salary. The apartments I saw within that range were really nice, but the cost of ownership was way too scary.

Buying small was partly my choice because I had a pretty good idea of what affordable meant in the context of my other financial goals, but co-op financing requirements in New York can be pretty stringent: I had to put a minimum of 20% down plus prove that I had matching funds in reserve, of which only half could be from my 401(k). The co-op's financial requirements radically limited my buying options, but as it turned out, that limit was certainly in my best interest.

Of course, New York is a weird place to buy a home relative to the rest of the country, and the kind of requirements I ran into aren't usually applicable elsewhere. It's not hard to guess why housing is going smaller now, though. After the last two brutal years, it's a whole lot harder to get a mortgage than it used to be. (Call me crazy, but I think that's a good thing.) In addition, I don't think there are too many people who feel secure enough about their income to want to take on the same level of mortgage they might have been open to a few years ago. I think the general difficulty of recouping one's investment by selling greatly reinforces this reluctance.

What other reasons are there for going smaller outside and/or more elaborate inside, in your opinion? Has your perspective on housing changed since the recession?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

There's living small, and then there's this

Zaarath and Christopher Prokop -- and their two cats -- live in the smallest apartment in the city, a 175-square-foot "microstudio" in Morningside Heights the couple bought three months ago for $150,000.

At 14.9 feet long and 10 feet wide, it's about as narrow as a subway car and as claustrophobic as a jail cell. But to the Prokops, it's a castle.


Yeah, these people are for real. You can read all about it here.

How is it possible for two people and two cats to live in such a small space? A few key points jumped out at me:

They don't cook
No cooking means no pots and pans and not a whole lot of dishes, so that opens up storage space in the kitchen (and no need for much kitchen space in the first place). This couple stores their workout clothes there.

Creative furnishings and appliances
With space at a premium, a Roomba vacuum is definitely the way to go. Similarly, the flat screen TV is a must if they are going to have a TV at all, and furniture doubles as storage.

Alternative storage
Storing clothes at the office and the dry cleaner? Really? Apparently it works. It sounds like they are also planning to assimilate some hallway space for temporary Christmas decorations, which the co-op board may or may not accept.

Could you do it?

I couldn't.

I like to cook and entertain, and I like having open space. (I feel a bit sorry for the cats since they don't seem to have anywhere to run.) Just the thought of trying to live this way gives me a little bit of agita, since having to remember what work clothes are where and when I can pick them up seems like so much work. It's neat that they can make this space function for them, though, and it's definitely the right price for home ownership in Manhattan.

175 feet. Could you do it? Why or why not?

You can find other small-scale living stories that involve even less square footage here.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Monster unleashed

So, grout.

I'm still walking into the bathroom from time to time just to gaze at the walls. I've never done a home renovation project of any significance, especially with my own hands, and it really feels good to see how nicely it came out - all thanks to my SO for guiding me through the how-to and doing plenty of the work.

Seeing how nice the bathroom walls look has made me want to take the home renovation further. I wrote before that I intended to replace the cabinetry and toilet, so I've had a couple of contractors in to take a look and write up some probably horrendous estimates. That's all well and good: I know I'm out of my depth with carpentry and plumbing, so the only way to get those things upgraded is to pay (and pay and pay).

However. . . I could probably paint the place myself, couldn't I?

I found a website called Monkey See, which is a collection of how-to videos on subjects ranging from gardening to pole dancing. (Monkey see, monkey do. Get it?) I've been viewing all the ones about how to paint a room, and it looks pretty doable, except for the ceiling.

It couldn't be that hard.

Could it?

Encourage me or scare me off: you be the judge.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

You said you wanted pictures (updated)

Before


I know! I know! It's horrible!!! The only before picture I took was the worst corner, which had been badly attacked by mildew. None of the rest looked that great, but it didn't look this bad, either.

After


I'm happy with how it came out.

To answer a prior question: Yes, I had help from someone who knows how to do this. There's no way I could have done it alone. . . but I think I could now if I had to do it again.

I'll edit this post with more comments tonight.

More comments:
This was HARD and it took about two full days of work, but it was so worth it! Here's how we did it:

Thursday: SO and I spent the evening getting rid of the old stuff. I scraped out all the grout in the entire bathroom manually (and THAT is one mofo of an ugly job), and he dug out years and layer upon layer of caulk. The caulk was only about 30% done by the time the grout was all out, so we added more caulk dissolver and called it a night.

Friday: We went over the grout again for missing bits and scooped out more old caulk. Then, since there was still more old caulk left, we switched to actual grouting. SO did the heavy lifting with the grouting since I was too slow to keep the grout from starting to dry out. I cleaned up the haze instead. Friday night, I had another go at the caulk again. About 75% in total was out by the time I was done, so I put on more caulk dissolver.

Saturday: I got the rest of the caulk out (and cracked a tile doing it, unfortunately). Then I grouted down to the joins between the wall and tub.

Sunday: I sealed the grout with three coats of sealant. I left SO to do the re-caulking while I made dinner.

The entire project cost about $90 in supplies. (I'm not counting making dinner for SO or taking SO out for dinner and a movie in my total project costs.)

The larger bathroom project as a whole consists of three things: regrouting and recaulking (done), replacing the cabinetry, and replacing the toilet. I have a cabinetmaker coming on Friday to give me a first estimate on the cabinetry, and I'm buying a new toilet in the next three to four weeks.

This project is a good example of the Pareto principle in action. The Pareto principle is simple: it posits that for many events, 80% of the impact is triggered by 20% of the cause. In this case, 80% of the problem (bathroom hatred) is caused by 20% of the overall unappealing aesthetic. When I was first considering a gut reno in there, my list of things I want to change about my bathroom looked like this:

--Disgusting mildew problem in the grout and caulk
--Crumbling grout
--Sloppy caulking
--Very old toilet
--Flimsy, water-damaged cabinetry that isn't optimized for space
--No exhaust fan
--Want to switch toilet and sink locations
--Want to replace floor tile
--Want to replace wall tile

As I looked into my building's renovation rules, I learned that I can't put in an exhaust fan or switch the toilet or sink locations. As a result, I had to decide between a small project that would be cheap and solve all of the things I wanted to change except the floor and wall tile replacement, or do a big, honking renovation, take out an extra million dollars in liability insurance (!), and possibly have nowhere to bathe for months. On top of that, the cost of the small project is likely to be around $2000 plus a few days of sweat equity, depending on how much the cabinetry work is.

The cost of the large project? I figured on about $20,000.

I decided that changing the floor and wall tiles wasn't going to give me $18,000 worth of happiness. In addition, once I benchmarked both projects against the Pareto principle (which I use regularly in my job), I realized that addressing 20% of what I hate about my bathroom is going to result in about 80% of what I wanted.

For me, 80% is enough.

When has an 80% solution worked for you? (And how do you like my new grout?)

Now if you'll excuse me. . . I'm off to take a shower.

Read more...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm goin' in

When the toilet in Carol Taddei’s master bathroom began to break down a few months ago, she decided it would be cheaper to buy a new one than pay for repairs. Ever frugal in this dismal economy, Ms. Taddei, a retired paralegal, then took her economizing a step further, figuring she could save even more by installing the new toilet herself.

Initially, things looked good with the flushing and the swishing. That is, until the ceiling collapsed in the room below the new (leaky) toilet. Rushing to get supplies for a repair, Ms. Taddei clipped a pole in her garage. It ripped the bumper off her car, and later, several shelves holding flower pots and garden tools collapsed over her head.

“It just kept getting worse,” Ms. Taddei said, ruefully describing what came out to be a $3,000, three-day renovation at her suburban Minneapolis home, finished by a professional from Mr. Handyman, a home repair service that takes emergency calls.

With the sour economy has come a class of ambitious do-it-yourselfers who are tackling things that, before the days of rampant penny-pinching, might have been left to paid professionals. An unlucky few like Ms. Taddei have learned that being thrifty sometimes comes at a high price and can bring along with it a new scourge of the times: saver’s remorse.


Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and that means that tomorrow I start digging grout out of the bathroom tiles.

I felt a lot better about the prospect of doing this until I read this article in the New York Times about other people who tried to renovate on the cheap and made a horrific mess out of it.

I'm marching forth tomorrow night anyway.

Wish me luck.

I'm gonna need it.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Coming up for air

The family shipped out today. I vacuumed, ran the dishwasher and four loads of laundry, put all the side tables back where they belong, and surface-cleaned the bathroom. It feels like I have my home back now. Did you have fun while I was away?

This place being under 600 square feet, packing a total of three people in for a week was interesting. Here are a few suggestions for both hosts and houseguests that popped up over the course of the week:

Money
Houseguests aren't cheap, so if you're having people come to stay, plan your finances accordingly ahead of time. My biggest cost center was food: my family isn't into the unprocessed, natural food thing as much as I am, so I ended up buying a fair amount of processed junk that I would ordinarily never bring into the house. In total, groceries for the week cost about $300. I also invited ten friends out to brunch with my family and picked up the check for everyone, so that was another $220. The total cost was about what I thought it would be, which was great. If I hadn't worked it out in advance, though, I think ringing up charge after charge on my credit card would have been stressful (even though I never carry a balance).

Having said that, houseguests don't really end up with a free vacation either. A gift for the host is always a nice gesture, and chipping in to help cover the costs of the visit is probably universally appreciated. Since my mom's not mobile enough for subways or buses, we took cabs everywhere throughout the week. She insisted on paying for that, as well as for all the meals we had out except for the brunch with my friends. I think she ended up spending about the same amount I did. She also planned ahead, though, so this didn't faze her at all.

Space
If you have enough space to comfortably accomodate guests, that's great. If your place is small, it can become unlivable quickly unless everyone helps out. Doing it without being asked is a sign of a marvelous houseguest!

In this visit, I scuttled around picking up dishes and newspapers throughout the week to keep the place manageable. At first, my sibling didn't do any more than putting bedding away in the mornings, but eventually (after I asked for it), there was more help and that made things much easier. My mom didn't help much, but she's 83 and struggles to get around: I didn't expect or want her to lift a finger.

Time
This is always a little sticky for me when I'm staying at someone else's house: How much time should hosts and visitors plan on spending together? I need space to be alone and I tend to assume that other people do as well (although this is by no means the case for extroverted people), so when I'm visiting other people, I'm happy to do my own thing for part of each day. For this visit, that meant a couple of hours nearly each day to go running and go to yoga class. My sibling and mom each disappeared into the other room for some alone time when they needed it, and that seemed to work out well for all of us.

Those are my thoughts. Any other suggestions for being a good host or a gracious houseguest?

Read more...

Friday, April 24, 2009

The bathroom of my discontent

My bathroom is gnarly.

When I bought my apartment in 2001, the whole thing was a showplace. The previous owner was an architect and renovating his apartment was his hobby. This is why I have concrete (as in sidewalk concrete) countertops, kitchen cabinets with touch-sensitive lights, custom built-in shelves and cabinetry work, and an open kitchen with plenty of workspace instead of a closed-in, windowless, claustrophobic nightmare like the other apartments in my line.

As part of the renovations, the architect yanked a very 1980's vanity out of the bathroom and replaced it with a wall-mounted sink and a custom cabinet made of nice-looking but cheaply constructed wood veneer and particleboard. He also covered up mildewed grout with a fresh, nice-looking dose of caulk.

The bathroom looked nice before I moved in. I'm no handywoman myself, but even I realized fairly early on that the previous owner did a pretty half-assed job on it. The veneered wood in the bathroom was never sealed, the importance of which I discovered only after a sizeable patch of mildew had developed. I borrowed a sander in hopes of sanding down the spot, and that's how I discovered that the top was veneer and that there wasn't much of it.

The end result was significantly worse than the original mold. I didn't have many options (spending money on it was out of the question), so I sealed the whole thing, ugly spot and all, and left it.

It's a classy establishment I live in, all right.

Meanwhile, the nice-looking caulk peeled away not long after I moved in, uncovering some unpleasant-looking mildew stains which have since worsened. No amount of Ajax and effort with scrubbing brush have made more than a temporary and very minor difference.

All in all, seven and a half years after moving in, the bathroom is pretty grotty-looking and I'm a bit embarrassed. I've been hesitant to do anything major about it both because of the horrendous cost of renovations in New York and because of the fact that a bathroom is, well, important. . . and I only have one. I can shower at the gym for a week or two, but I am way too type A to be very flexible about the other main reason for having a bathroom.

I finally hit my breaking point earlier this week when I read a New York Times article noting how far home renovation prices have fallen. This being New York, a full bathroom renovation even in this economy would cost about $20,000, but I decided that if that's what it took to bring the bathroom up to the level of niceness that the rest of the apartment is, I'd pay it and do my part to get the US economy moving again.

The next step was to ask for guidance from my building's management agent, and that's what freaked me the hell out. Understandably, for a full-on gut renovation of one or more rooms, the building has some fairly stringent requirements and liability protections. I wasn't really planning on stretching my budget to include an architect, but that's one of the many unexpected cost centers that can and probably would send my costs through the ceiling.

This is where being frugal helps: I made a list of things that I want to change about the bathroom and prioritized them. It was pretty clear up front that although a gut reno would be nice, I probably don't need a full one in order to make the place much more attractive and livable. I'm not wild about the floor tile, for example, but it's an okay neutral and I can live with it. I don't have the space to shift the layout around, and I actually really like the wall-mounted sink and was planning on keeping it anyway. The final renovation list looks like this:

1. Re-grout the wall tile
2. Replace the cabinetry with a custom job - preferably hard wood, but not necessarily if there's a better option given the high level of humidity in there.
3. Replace the toilet

My SO knows how to do numbers 1 and 3 and beamed when I asked him to teach me, so we're going to have a crack at doing the work ourselves over Memorial Day Weekend. Number 2 is a little more complicated, but given how small the space is, I can't imagine that even a custom job would cost more than a thousand dollars. All in all, I think we can make the place much nicer and significantly less gnarly for about ten percent of the original cost estimate I came up with, and that makes my money-saving heart sing with joy.

Renovations: Any horror stories or DIY nightmares you want to share before I take the plunge?

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Homebody

I like being at home.

The whole time I carried my $200,000 mortgage, I rationalized spending at least one evening at home most weekends because I figured that if I was paying that much to own the place, the least I could do was spend some time in it. This little 577 square foot one-bedroom isn't perfect by a long shot, but it's uncluttered and very comfortable. When I'm here, I don't feel like I'm missing out on something better going on elsewhere.

Home is supposed to be a haven, and that's what mine is to me. As long as I can be here, it doesn't even bother me that I'm working on a Saturday night.

What's your home like?

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Small is beautiful

Today, the New York Times published an article about the growing popularity of living small. According to the article, complete homes of a thousand square feet or less are taking off in popularity, presumably in response to the falling values of larger homes and the rapidly increasing cost of living in them.

I'm a big believer in living small. In my early twenties, I spent two years living in about 200 square feet in Japan, and it was great discipline for learning not to accumulate a lot of clutter. My current home is all of 577 square feet, but it works really well for me. I think the key is that it's very well designed: the prior owner was an architect, so he essentially gutted the place and redid it with an open kitchen (the closed-in, windowless kitchens in other apartments in my building line feel claustrophobic to me), added custom kitchen cabinets, lot of built-ins and other clever storage ideas, and even had a bed built in place (which he left for me) that contains six storage drawers below in the base on one side and a large cabinet for linens on the other. According to the New York Times article, clever design in small spaces is hardly unusual these days: as more people are turning towards living in less physical space, they're spending an increasing amount on smart design that's both high quality and makes the best possible use of limited space.

Living small is smart for so many reasons: heating and cooling costs are lower, it's more environmentally friendly, it forces people to be realistic about clutter and limiting their possessions, and it requires a heck of a lot less maintenance in terms of cleaning, fixing, and upgrading than large, sprawling homes. Having said that, although I think I could shrink my living space by a hundred square feet or so if I really had to, I'd have a hard time making a go of the hundred square feet total that some dedicated small-livers have embraced.

Could you live in a hundred square feet? How much living space do you have now, and how well does it work for you?

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Friday, August 8, 2008

When frugal goes horribly wrong

It's a floor!

Made from paper bags.

Either this is a really, really bad picture, or it's a really, really bad idea and your house will hate you forevermore.

Guess which way my bet is swinging.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Getting from there to here

Mapgirl asked for a how-to post about the mortgage payoff process. I'm having a hard time getting my little brain around the idea of writing a how-to post about ending a mortgage without starting allllll the way at the beginning. Choices you make when you first buy a home have an enormous ripple effect in terms of expanding or limiting your pool of choices later down the road. Beginning at the beginning, then, here are a few how-to suggestions about knocking your mortgage on the head while you're young enough to enjoy it.

1. Get your ducks in a row before you buy
High credit score? Check. No consumer debt? Check. Steady income stream(s)? Check. Student loans paid off? Check. None of these are things you have to do before buying a house or apartment, but if you walk into a mortgage with a clean slate, you have the opportunity to minimize both your borrowing costs and the number of competing demands on your resources. That gives you the best possible opportunity for paying your mortgage off early.

2. Buy less than the bank says you can afford
I bought in 2001, during the start of the golden age of Breathe in and out? Mortgage for you! I'm sure things have changed since then, but at that time the bank cheerfully offered me a mortgage that was more than four times my income. If you get an offer like that, think long and hard before you take it. I thought it was too risky to buy that much apartment: even if a co-op board didn't laugh me out of town for a debt-income ratio like that (unlikely), basic repayment according to schedule would take much more of my income than I was comfortable committing on an ongoing basis.

Other points to consider are the cost and complexity of ownership. Large homes cost more to maintain than smaller ones. With energy costs shooting through the roof, a great many people are increasingly experiencing a lot of pain in this area. In addition, larger homes take more time and energy to clean, furnish, and generally keep up than smaller homes do. In other words, living smaller is living simpler.

For what it's worth, I took out a mortgage that was 2.5x my income, and even that made me uncomfortable.

3. Get a fixed rate with the shortest term you can reasonably afford
Adjustible mortgage rates can be a killer, as we've seen in the housing collapse; if you want to get rid of this risk altogether, fixed really is the only way to go. A shorter term means higher monthly payments (which is mitigated by not taking out as much as the bank says you can), but it'll bring your interest rate and your period of indenture down.

I boffed this one initially, by the way. I took out a thirty year mortgage even though I could afford a fifteen year because I was inexperienced and worried about committing that much money to a fixed expense. Never mind that I'd been spending more on rent, of course. I refinanced a year later to a fifteen year mortgage.

4. Put 20% or more down
20% down gets you out of having to pay private mortgage insurance. It also gives you a decent equity base up front.

5. Pay extra on the principal every single month, as long as it doesn't jeopardize tax-advantaged accounts
In other words, don't short your Roth IRA or 401(k) in order to pay extra on your mortgage principal. If you have extra money after fully funding those, prepaying your mortgage is a realistic option.

My initial motivation came when I received my first statement and realized that of all the money I was paying, only five bucks of that first payment was going to go to principal. I was horrified. I dumped a couple of hundred dollars extra onto my first payment, and that made me feel so much better that I kept doing it and increasing the extra payment whenever I could.

6. Be patient
The best phrase I've heard to describe this interval of years is Don't give up what you want most for what you want right now. The more I paid off on my mortgage, the more excited I got. As a result, I kept plugging away at work to score the biggest raises possible and continually looked for ways to trim my lifestyle to free up extra cash, so I could increase the impact of each month's extra payment. That's what worked for me; by no means will it work for everyone.

You'll inevitably have to adjust your approach over time to accomodate new opportunites (like more income) or setbacks (like the new refrigerator I had to buy when mine died). It's all part of life's rich tapestry.

7. When it's finally time
When you're ready to knock the mortgage off for good, contact your mortgate holder and request a payoff statement. The payoff statement will be rounded to the next month's interest and include whatever little fees the bank can come up with to screw you out of a few extra dollars.

When you have the payoff statement in your hot little hand (which I don't just yet), you'll generally have the choice of paying by certified check or wire transfer. Either way, make sure that your account number is on the payment with a clear statement indicating that this is a final mortgage payoff. Once the bank processes your payment, it'll send you your deed and whatever interest it owes you back if you paid off before the end of the month.

Mapgirl - is that more or less what you were looking for?

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

The final countdown begins

June's mortgage payment was just credited to my account, and I've decided that it's time to pull the plug. By the time July 31 rolls around, I will own my home free and clear.

This wasn't an easy decision to make. I'm making one more regular accelerated payment in July and then one great big payment after that, so my cash reserves are going to take a hit in the short term. I'll still have five months of expenses in reserve after the big final payment, though. I'm also in a good place with my job right now: layoffs are always possible, but based on my annual review and how things seem to be otherwise playing out, I have reason to believe that I wouldn't be picked up in the early waves. My expenses are generally pretty steady since I don't drive, and my mom's in good health so I don't expect to have to leave unexpectedly to help her through a medical crisis. My dad is gone, so his severe illnesses are a thing of the past. As long as I don't make any radical changes in my lifestyle, my cash reserves will be built back up in three months or less after the final payoff.

So, there you have it: The years I've been hacking away at the biggest debt I could ever imagine gradually turned into months, and months are now just a matter of weeks. It's finally almost over.

I can't wait.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

House porn

Once every couple of months, the New York Times publishes a magazine-format supplement called Homes. There are a few fluffy articles that I never read, but the vast majority of the magazine is ads from various real estate agencies with photos and descriptions of properties for sale. Some of the items that caught my eye in this issue were:

CPW Luxury Home
Exclusive. Triple mint duplex with 2 terrances. Grand LR/Park view, FDR, huge EIK, library, study, playroom, 5 BR 4 bath, 2 powder rooms, 2 w/d's. F/S DM Condo. $18.5M.

Beautiful House 1st Offer
Exceptional 18', story fam TH w/priv South garden, Hi ceil, orig arch details, bay window, 4 fps, 4-5 BR's, 4.5 bths. Excellent cond. Asks $5.2M.

Great Bones
This spectacular 10 rm duplex on Park Avenue in the 70's has unique architecture, 3-4 BR's & 2 bths upstairs. Double-sized 60 foot LR w/4 sets of French doors/Juliet balconies & fplc _ elegant DR, EIK w/laundry rm & 2 staff rms w/bath. It looks & feels like a house. $6.25M.


The pictures of these places are unbelievable. They are so far out of my price range that I can't imagine them ever being affordable, but I drool and fantasize over the magazine anyway. It makes me want something I don't have.

That's what makes it house porn.

In reality, I have nothing to complain about. I live in a one-bedroom apartment in a 1916 building in a gorgeous neighborhood, and my apartment was gut-renovated with a great deal of style and innovation by the previous owner (an architect) before I got my grubby paws on it. I have a dishwasher and a washer and dryer, and in the middle income New York real estate market, that's instant street cred. My place is small (577 square feet), but I don't have a lot of stuff so it doesn't feel small to me.

That is, until I read house porn.

It's taking a little longer than usual for the effects of house porn to wear off this time, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to remind myself of all the great reasons why living small is fairly awesome:

1. Lower property tax
Less space = lower property tax and that means more money in my pocket. That one's a no-brainer.

2. Lower maintenance
In the co-op world, that means that my monthly maintenance fee is affordable. I've seen what maintenance is for two-bedroom apartments in my building, and on my salary it would be tough to swing that and a bigger mortgage.

3. It's greener
By that, I mean that it uses fewer lightbulbs, less heat, less air conditioning in the summer, and less energy overall. That's good both for Ma Nature and for my utility bills.

4. It's good discipline for not accumulating excess crap
It's either me in my space or lots of stuff in my space. Open space is way better than lots of stuff.

5. It's easy to clean
One hour on a normal day, two tops if I do things like empty and clean the refrigerator or scrub the kitchen floor.

6. It fosters creativity
Not having a lot of stuff means coming up with creative workarounds for things I don't have. It also means coming up with inventive storage solutions.

7. It's consistent with my value system
I like the concept of enough. There's a great saying that goes enough is as good as a feast, which basically means that there's great benefit in having sufficent _________ (fill in the blank), but once that point is reached, there's less to no additional benefit gained from having more. The economic term for this is diminishing marginal utility. Having a big apartment would be fun for a while, but between the costs of maintenance and taxes and the effort of keeping it presentable, it would get tiresome pretty quickly. Having a small apartment may not be perfect, but it's enough and I never get tired of what I do have.

Although housing trends in recent years have resulted in bigger and bigger McMansions stuffed onto tiny lots, the fallout from the end of the housing bubble means that a great many people are upside down, owing more money on a monstrosity than it would sell for today. I have a feeling that between the fallout from the housing bubble and the soaring costs of utilities for these big houses, the era of the McMansion is over, at least for now. Instead, my hunch is that smaller houses and apartments are going to be in huge demand once people scared out of the water start venturing back into real estate.

Don't know about you, but if you look at it in ecological and environmental terms alone, I think that's a generally good thing for all of us.

Small is beautiful.

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