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Minimalism: When less can mean more

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This used to be a bit of a dirty word to me.  A reason for people riding around on their high horses to judge my consumer habits and my apparent inability to understand the “true meaning of life”.  Well, it’s become a bit of  a movement

Then I watched a little documentary on Netflix.  It’s called “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” and it follows Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (the duo behind The Minimalists) on their book tour across the United States.  The question they ask is:  How might your life be better with less?  I am not here to do a film review – if you’re interested, please watch the movie and if you’re impacted (and you’re so inclined) shoot me an email and we’ll go for coffee to discuss.

What I AM here to talk about is why this documentary made me think about real estate in Guelph.  Hang on, I’m getting there.  If you asked me about my dream home, I would give you a list of things like this:  4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms (master bath OF COURSE), office, living room, dining room, family room, huge gourmet kitchen, big back yard, two car garage…..and the list goes on.  Maybe yours is similar.  Can I afford that at today’s market prices?  I wish!  Which brings me to the big question that I was left with at the end of the movie.  Why?  Why do I think I need all of that space?  It’s just me, my husband and a dog.  Why do I think I need all of the things?  Do I really need to stretch my budget to furnish a living room AND family room?  A dining room AND a kitchen dinette?  Is it what I want or is it what society tells me I should want?  The old story of the Jones family and trying to keep up with them.

See?  This movie made me think.  Some interesting tidbits from the movie that gave me pause for thought. 

  • The average family is only using a fraction of their living space

I am paraphrasing here big time, but basically a study was done to examine just how much of a home’s living space is actually used.  And here is a graphic to illustrate that point:

Floorplan Map

image credit: Ryann Ford for The New York Times

This image shows “the location of each parent and child on the first floor of the house of ‘Family 11’ every 10 minutes over two weekday afternoons and evenings.”  This is a US study, but I would wager that Canadian families aren’t straying too far from those red dots.  (For the complete study please check out Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors)

  • We have more living space per person than ever before and yet there is a billion dollar self-storage industry

The average size of a newly built home in 1950 was 984 square feet and on average had one additional person living in that house compared with the average single family home today.  If our average house size has (more than) doubled and the number of people living inside of that house has decreased, what are we doing with all of that space?

Again, this brings me back to the question of why?  If we ask ourselves that question and really think about the answer, we might be surprised by what we say.  Because paying attention to what really makes us feel valued and improves our quality of life instead of mindlessly purchasing because our lives are so saturated by advertising and those pesky Joneses can mean something pretty amazing.  Try this word on:  freedom.  More money for more of what really adds to your life.

And NOW I get to the part about real estate (finally!). 

If you are a buyer in this market feeling blue because you can’t seem to get your hands on your dream home (see my laundry list above), maybe it’s time to shift your thinking.  If you did manage to get your hands on the holy grail of houses, would you be like the typical family in the image above?  Is it possible that you might be paying for rooms that you don’t even use?  Amortize those dollars for the next 25 years and you could be looking at a sweet little nest egg, or your dream vacation, or seed money to one day start your own business.  Could you be happy in something smaller?  Maybe a small reno project to maximize the space and efficiency before you move in?  That is less rooms to clean, after all.

Home owners, now I look to you.  Are you living in way more house than you need and waiting for “someday” to start living your dream?  Maybe you’ve always wanted to travel or escape the winters or spend all summer at the cottage.  This could be your time!  Could you sell your large family home and get into one of Guelph’s fabulous new condos?  Depending on your situation, you could free up that equity in your home, get yourself a new pied de terre within walking distance of all of Guelph’s amenities and Bon Voyage!  Or maybe you have small kids at home, but you find that your entire family is almost always in the same room together when you’re home.  Could you downsize your city dwelling and get your family a recreational property?  OR just have more disposable income….remember disposable income?

The point is this:  Don’t forget that you have options.  Don’t forget that YOUR dreams and quality of life are what’s important here.  Not what you see on TV or the internet. The next time you go to make a purchase ask yourself why you want it and take a second to think about if that purchase is helping to get you where you really want be. Don’t be afraid to talk to your Realtor about what you want.  A good realtor will be there to respect and support your goals and do their best to help you make them happen.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to wave to the Joneses on your way to the bank!