“When your kids get older, you’ll outgrow this house.” Has anyone ever said this to you? We’ve been told this many times now. Most recently, by the man who installed our air conditioning.
Every time I hear it, I begin to doubt about our decision to buy a small home, but these thoughts always pass because, to be honest, I think our kids are doing fine.
What is it about the size of your house and yard that elicits so much public comment? In Australia, there seems to be an assumption that all families should aspire to owning a spacious detached house with a big yard for the children to play in. The idea of the quarter-acre block is something people reminisce about from their childhoods in the suburbs. Even though a quarter-acre house block is a rarity these days (developers now build two or three houses on a plot that size), it’s still a touchstone for many.
Having space around you, spending time outdoors and playing the property-improvement game is an important part of the Australian culture and sense of freedom. When you choose to live in a small home, people often assume that you’re doing it tough, you’re on your starter home, or you’ve got plans to move on and up the property ladder.
Home size is just like any other lifestyle choice that families make. Think of any other decision, like going vegetarian, giving up television or banning violent video games, and you probably wouldn’t feel the need to justify your choice publicly. But with raising children in a small space, it’s different somehow. Friends, family, even the air conditioning man may weigh in to the debate.
Sometimes we visit friends who have bought into the Great Australian Dream of a large suburban family home. My first impression is always a little bit of envy: “wow! Imagine having all this space!” But the feeling fades as I do a mental calculation of how much time it would take to clean the extra bathrooms and second (or third!) living area. And how much time and energy we’d have to spend on the weekends maintaining the yard. Doing any sort of renovations on such a large house would be expensive too. By the time I make a guess at the size of mortgage we’d need to have to buy a house like that, I’m always glad to return to our small, low-maintenance house.
As for raising kids, well, it works for us because we are close to some great parks, playgrounds and other children’s activities. The local school is really good, and there are other schools to choose from too. Our children have their own rooms which are spacious and the same size. I have to have regular de-cluttering sessions to keep the toys from overrunning the house, but I think this is good in some ways. The community is great, and there are lots of kind neighbours on our street who take an interest in our children’s lives. We are fortunate to have a yard, but it’s nowhere near a quarter of an acre.
When they’re older, I don’t think our children will want to run around outside. Like most teenagers, they’ll probably want to go to the shopping malls and skate parks to hang out and be cool. Because our area has good public transport, I’m hoping I won’t have to be a taxi service for them down the track!
Maybe one day we will move to a bigger house— we’ll always have that option. If we do, I think we’ll be in a better financial position because we started out small. But for now, we’re extremely happy: we’re enjoying living in a great inner-city area in a house that is cheap to run and maintain with a manageable mortgage.
My strategy for dealing with the critical comments is to remember what my mother told me recently (who incidentally, did raise me on a quarter of an acre). People will make all sorts of comments: some are trying to justify their own real estate decisions, others don’t understand our lifestyle because it is different to their own, and the majority just can’t think of anything more interesting to say about our new home. She told me, “don’t waste energy worrying about what other people think. If you’re happy in your house, just enjoy it! Live in the moment and be proud of what you have achieved.”