With the exception of tiny houses, most American homes built after the 1950s don’t seem to be built with an eye for efficient use of space. Layouts are choppy and weird, there are walls everywhere, nothing seems to flow. If you want a little bit of storage space, you end up with way more than you bargained for. Jumping from 3 bedrooms to 4 seems to get you all kinds of “bonus features”—a formal living room, dining room, and basement. To get a bathroom with a decent amount of counter space, you have to practically jump up to the next price-point and those houses, again, come with all those additional features and heftier price tags (and still heftier property taxes).
Dan and I are attempting to toe the line between being cautious about how we invest this huge amount of money and being too picky about features that don’t matter so much. What we’ve found to be really helpful in finding a perfect-for-us house—without expecting “true” perfection—is to define our non-negotiables and be flexible on literally everything else.
This philosophy didn’t fail us when we planned our wedding — in fact, it helped us to not be so stressed about all the tiny details and decisions. It enabled us to stick a vision of a simple wedding that would be a celebration of our new life together. So with this next life decision, we’re all about trying to a find a home that will meet our needs, that we can build our lives in, and that will serve us well in the coming years — instead of us serving it.
The main idea we are wrestling with is whether we should try to purchase our “forever” home. On one hand, we want to spend as a little money as possible, and that’s a whole lot easier when you’re willing to do with less space and no room to expand (i.e. a basement). On the other hand, the housing market can be unpredictable, and if someday the time comes that we just can’t fit into our house anymore, we don’t want to be stuck without options to move or expand. But, as a growing minimalist, I believe that we don’t need to have a ton of space to have multiple kids. In so many other countries, families live in small houses or in tiny city apartments; surely we can make anything work in a “small” 3-bedroom house.
With that rambling out of the way, here’s our vision for a perfect-for-us home.
Our Wish List
None of these items are deal-breakers. It’s more about the combination of these features (or lack thereof) compared to the price. Sounds simple enough, right?
- 3 bedrooms: This will give us at least some room to grow, but will also meet our current needs. We’d like to add a child to our family in the next couple of years, so 3 bedrooms would mean a master bedroom for us, a nursery, and an office for Dan (he works from home quite a bit). We don’t know how many children we’ll have, but it’s very possible that 3 bedrooms would be enough, especially if we could eventually move Dan’s office to another part of the house. Even if we end up with 3 or 4 kids, though, I think this would be fine. I want my kids to have to share rooms. Is that weird?
- 1.5 or 2 bathrooms: This goes along with that desire to not feel the need to move. I like the idea of kids and guests having a bathroom separate from mine so that I have to keep only one of them clean at a given time.
- 2-car garage: Because we live in the suburbs of Chicago, and it would be really nice if neither of us had to scrape our cars for the 8 months it snows each year.
- Adequate storage: We don’t necessarily want a basement (I don’t count the lower level of a tri-level or raised ranch to be a basement, since it’s a living space), but the reality is there is some stuff we need to store: landscaping tools, camping gear, Christmas decorations, bikes. Some of this stuff actually helps us to live a simpler, more adventurous life. But that stuff doesn’t belong in the living room. A crawl space, decent attic, or extended garage would be perfect. An unfinished basement would certainly be important, though, if we bought closer to the top of our budget with the intent of not moving again.
- Fireplace: This is a nice-to-have, for sure, but something we’re really longing for. It’s tough to find a home with a fireplace at our price point, but we’re hopeful. There’s something about a comfy couch, a roaring fire, and a steaming mug of coffee/tea/hot cocoa that makes life seem simpler, slower, and a bit more magical.
- Updated mechanicals and exterior features: You know, all the really expensive stuff. An outdated kitchen or bathroom really doesn’t bother me. But newer windows, roof, siding, A/C, furnace, etc. are huge priorities because these updates will keep us from spending a boatload of money a lot sooner than we expected.
- Decent backyard: In the way that some people are baby-crazy, we are totally, completely, over-the-moon crazy about dogs. The main reason we want to buy a house is so we can have a dog. That’s probably not healthy. But, we really want a big dog, so a backyard that’s large enough to let the fella play a solid game of fetch is critical. It would be nice if it were already fenced in, but we’d put one up ourselves if we needed to.
That’s it. That’s the list. Everything else is icing on the cake.
And to tell you the truth, I want a smallish house. The utility bills are lower, there’s less space to fill up with stuff, and everyone is closer together. I don’t want to feel like my family members are spread out all over the house. I don’t want my kids to have tons of room and privacy. I don’t want multiple living spaces. Real talk: Who decided that a living room AND a family room AND a finished basement were necessary?
Keeping these things in mind will allow us to live according to our vision: simply, within our means, devoting more of our time and energy to travel and less to stuff (including our home).
But, as someone who has never owned a home before and is probably being somewhat of a naive 20something, what advice do you have for me? Are there important features I’ve overlooked that will drive me mad within a year? What’s the feature of your house that you unexpectedly love and wouldn’t want to be without now? Please share your advice in the comments section — I’d love to learn from you!
PS—You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @NestedNomad.