Rethinking the “American Dream”: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Like many here, I grew up in a time when bigger was deemed better. Cars were behemoths, stretching for city blocks, or so they looked to my young eyes.

City buildings were so tall it was hard to see their tops! Other buildings took up entire city blocks; it seemed like hours to get from one side to the other.

OK, so I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you know what I mean. Big things — no matter what they were — were desirable; they seemed to say that the owners “had made it.”

“Big” Memories

In my family, there were a couple of uncles who actually “made it,” and they lived the part. I clearly remember being 7 or 8 years old and visiting a cousin in a nearby town. The house he lived in had TWO staircases, one for the grand entrance, and the other off the kitchen for either servants or the kids. I remember running up and down both staircases and being amazed and impressed that there were TWO! No one else I knew had two. And there were a lot of huge rooms. It seemed like a very desirable way to live (TWO staircases?), especially to an impressionable young kid. Those houses and the memory of the staircases are seared into my memory; they influenced my younger years of wanting and wanting and wanting . . .




I never did acquire such a grand house; as an adult, I became sadly aware of mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, maintenance – all those costs associated with homes that grew as the house size did. I scaled back my wants and needs, but the yearning didn’t quite stop. I was happy, but maybe not as content as I might have been.

The Epiphany

Several years ago, I came home from a business trip to my 2,200 s.f. house (cathedral ceilings, skylights, three levels on an acre) that I lived in by myself, looked around at the gardens I had lovingly created (which were my pride and joy), and realized something.

I was done with big.


So, I sold my house and moved to a slightly smaller condo in the same town. Now I had “only” 1,500 s.f. to work with, and no yard to maintain.

In short order, I realized that even 1,500 s.f. was way too much for one person; I had two rooms that I used because I could, but I didn’t need them. I began to see that I would have to move again. But to what? Where?

Luckily, in the past few years the “Tiny House Movement” had started gaining a lot of attention (TV shows / magazine articles / stories); the information was everywhere! Those living in really small spaces gave me the courage to realize MY American dream, which is to live in a really small space that gives me everything I need and most of what I want.

The Change

The weekend of May 1, 2015, I moved (with my two small dogs and one cat) to my seaside cottage in a nearby town in Massachusetts – and I will live happily in 525 s.f. I have a bay view, and it’s a 30-second walk to put my feet in the sand. I walk around with my dogs, smell the ocean air, and marvel at the luck that brought me there and gave me the courage to make such a drastic change.

The best part is that I am totally content when I’m there. It’s peaceful (except in mid-summer, when many rent out their homes for a few weeks), it’s different, and it speaks a language I finally understand: Bigger is not necessarily better.

Lessons Learned

1.  Know the difference between “wants” and “needs” for yourself. Only you can  determine that. In your life, what really matters? Those are needs. What would you have if you could, after your needs were met? Those are wants.

2.  Understand why those ideas are important to you. What’s driving you? What’s in your background that still influences you today — for better or worse? What memories make you smile or frown?

3.  Remember that your past is not your future. I cannot rewrite my history, but it no longer sways my judgment, at least not in terms of wants and needs. I am grateful to be allowed to make decisions for myself, and I work hard to make sure those decisions are right for me now — without letting those memories rule me.