Written by Shira Boss

Struggling with the high cost of housing? Want to be a homeowner but wondering how you can afford it? There’s a solution: think smaller.

A smaller home not only costs less in monthly payments, but costs less to maintain, to furnish, to decorate, to clean, and especially to heat and cool. With less space to look after, you can free up not only money but time.

“The reality is housing represents a huge debt that has become unsustainable for the average family,” said Susan Milewski, who worked as a realtor for 23 years and is now a proponent of affordable housing. “The rule of thumb for housing used to be between 25-29 percent of one’s paycheck to be applied toward housing. Now it's more like 75 percent and this leaves less disposable income for food, clothing and other essentials. Never mind a savings plan.”

Milewski advocates smaller homes with fewer amenities and for using solar, wind and geothermal energy.

The average size of a new home in 2012 topped 2,500 square feet, according to the US Census Bureau—that’s compared to 1,660 square feet in 1973. At that time, 23 percent of new homes had four or more bedrooms. Today, 41 percent have four or more bedrooms – and nearly a third have three or more baths. Cleaning a bathroom is onerous—why clean three (or more)?

In areas of the country, e.g. Florida, where a McMansion might seem affordable, do buyers consider how much it will cost to heat and cool?

The average single family home racks up $2,200 in energy bills each year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (46 percent of that for heating and cooling). Fewer rooms and smaller rooms = lower bills.

Have you ever shopped for window coverings, only to be shocked at how expensive they can be? It makes a big difference to need to dress up only a few windows vs. many. The same goes for furniture, decorations, repairs, and the time or cost to clean.

Another bonus of smaller-space living: less room for storage means thinking twice before shopping. That leaves both money and time for other pursuits.

“The more stuff we own, the more mental energy is held hostage by them,” wrote Joshua Becker, author of the book Simplify, in a blog post, “ 12 Reasons Why You’ll Be Happier in a Smaller Home.” “The same is absolutely true with our largest, most valuable asset. Buy small and free your mind.”

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