Growing square footage of our houses in the United States and around the world has me thinking more about the psychological, environmental, and fiscal impacts of our choices. CNN reports that the average home size in the US is 2,598 sq ft, as of 2013. Pew Research Center shows that the average family size in the US is 2.6, which leaves us with nearly 1,000 sq ft per person.
Garrett and I share a 536 sq ft house, which I’m calling one of the many types of “Alternative Living Arrangements” we’re exploring in this series of guest posts from those who have also moved away from the 2,500 sq ft way of life.
Guy on FIRE is the author of the last guest post in this series. Enjoy!
Guy shares the journey of an average millennial (hate that term) guy on his quest to leave Corporate America at an age many deem impossible. Through frugal budgeting, thoughtful planning and pragmatic investing, anything is possible. Guy on FIRE plans to retire in his late 20s or early 30s to pursue his passions in life; biking, fishing, hiking, traveling, cooking and enjoying the simple things in life. Guy blogs at GuyonFIRE.us.
Housing is typically the largest monthly expense in any budget. But what if it wasn’t? What if we could eliminate the cost of housing? Or better yet, What if we flipped this concept upside down and actually GOT PAID TO LIVE?!? This is exactly what I did.
Following conventional wisdom or traditional ways of thinking does not resonate with me; maybe I am crazy. Rather, I have always challenged ‘the norm’ or the ‘its always been done this way’ mentality. The same holds true when I heard housing is generally the largest monthly expense in a budget. Being fairly frugal most of my life, I wanted to keep my housing options as affordable as possible. A general rule of thumb is to keep rent/mortgage payments less than or equal to 1/3rd of your income. However, many individuals are paying 50% or more of their income for housing. This is common for younger adults, who are early in their careers, and live in expensive cities.
I currently live in a 52 square foot (9′ 6″ x 5′ 6″) room in a home that I renovated last year (more on the tiny room in a bit). Prior to the renovation, I had no idea which room I would be living in. The goal was to live in one room and rent the other rooms for a profit (Yes, I said PROFIT!). And that is exactly what I did. Realistically, I could live any of the rooms and still earn a profit. However, around the time of moving into my home, I stumbled upon several blog posts about the minimalist lifestyle (I also wanted to maximize my cashflow from the property).
The minimalist lifestyle intrigued me and resonated with some of my life experiences. I spent a summer during college working with Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador. The locals we were building homes for had few material possessions. Most of the people owned maybe two or three pairs of clothes and many lacked shoes. I was perplexed at how happy these people were with ‘so little’. I came to realize, these people who I thought to be ‘poor’ were actually very ‘rich’. They were rich in the sense of their friendships, appreciation of nature and the joy from a simplistic lifestyle. They were not burdened with debt or worrying about keeping up with the Joneses (whoever the heck they are). From these wonderful people, I learned that happiness in life does not come from designer clothes, fancy cars or other material (and trivial) objects. Rather, meaningful relationships, basic necessities such as food and shelter, enjoying a scenic view from the top of a mountain (or volcano in El Salvador) and the other simple things in life bring happiness.
NOW! The thing you are all wondering about, the 52 square foot room. Yes, I opted to live in the smallest room and maximize my cash flow. While moving in, I spent a lot of time sifting through my possessions in an effort to downsize my life into such a small space; the results were astonishing. I donated four (4) large bags of clothes to a local non-profit. The clothes were in great shape but either did not fit or were never worn anymore. Over the previous several years, I accumulated a bunch of junk that served no purpose other than taking up space. I began to randomly give away nicknacks to friends and throw away the other junk.
Living in such a small space, I knew organization would be paramount. As a result, I bought a loft bed off of Craigslist. The bed has a desk with several shelves and drawers. This instantly allowed me to double the amount of space I could utilize in the room. I also bought additional storage to stack on top of my dresser. Lastly, I modified my closet to double the amount of hanger space and bought a shoe rack that hangs from the inside of my closet door. Suddenly, 52sf of room seemed a whole lot bigger (see pictures below).
Now, living in such a small space and with 4 other people is not always the most enjoyable situation. I share a bathroom with two other people, which is not the end of the world. Generally, I opt to shower at work to avoid the morning traffic jam in the bathroom. Things get untidy in common areas relatively quickly with so many people. Everyone keeps different hours and sometimes I am woken up by my roommates stumbling in from the bar. Meshing interest, political views, lifestyles and needs of 5 people under one roof can also present challenges. Thankfully, I have a girlfriend who does not mind if I crash at her house on occasion.
The minimalist lifestyle and renting out extra rooms in a house provides many benefits. Downsizing to a small space forced me to declutter my life. In fact, a minimalist lifestyle has made my life simply more enjoyable. Eliminating the cost of housing has done wonders to my ability to save, pay down debt and invest. I am on my second home and intend to add a few more over the upcoming years. At some point, I believe that I will take a more reasonable sized room. All the headaches of living with so many people and in a small room seem worth the short term pain. The long term gain is almost priceless as I will be retiring in my early 30s (or at age 30 if things go really well).
Life in 52 sq ft = loft!
Plenty of space at this desk!
A place for everything…