Try This at Home

Nicholas Clements

OUR HOUSE IS 65 years old. I have lived in it for almost half that time. Originally, I bought the house with my twin brother. Now my husband and I live in it. I feel like I was a pioneer of the tiny house movement. The house is 750 square feet. The bedrooms all measure 10 feet by 10 feet. The living room is all of 150 square feet. There are one-and-a-half bathrooms. The previous owner had a family of six. Two people slept in each of the three bedrooms.

When my brother and I first started to look for a house, we were told to buy as much house as we could afford. And we did. Back in 1985, $90,400 was all we could afford. We had enough money for the down payment and to have a new roof installed. There wasn’t much left over to buy new furniture. The rooms were sparse. But we both had good jobs: We felt confident that, with hard work, we could increase our income.

It wasn’t long before my brother moved out and I was alone in the house. A few years later, my partner—and future husband—moved in. We were now a two-income family. Over the years, I would look through real estate magazines and Zillow to browse new offerings in my area. I would be enticed by the homes with the open-plan concept, the spacious rooms, and the kitchens with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. I understood that, with the more expensive house, I would have a larger mortgage and thus more to deduct from my taxes.

But why buy more house than we really needed? Perhaps it’s my frugal nature. The mortgage was affordable. I had refinanced it when rates dropped and eventually paid it off after 20 years. My utility bills are reasonable. Maintenance costs are almost nonexistent. The house is so small that most maintenance can be done by my husband and me. Even painting the exterior can be done by us. Installing a new roof can be expensive. But on a 750-square-foot abode, there isn’t much sticker shock.

Without the cost of a larger home, we have been able to stash away the maximum in our workplace retirement accounts, allowing us to retire with a comfortable nest egg. As we get older, the house hasn’t become a burden to maintain by ourselves. Even the garden is manageable. Financial savings aside, there’s a social aspect to a smaller home. You cannot hide from a family member. You learn to interact and get along. And so, when someone seeks my advice about buying a larger home, I ask them to consider just how much house they really need. For me, a tiny home will do just fine.

Nicholas Clements—one of Jonathan’s older brothers—retired at age 55. He’s passionate about bicycling and, in 2016, rode 11,311 miles. His previous article was Spending Time.

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