Choosing The Right Home, Part I: How Big A House Do You Need?

I grew up in a family of 10 in a four-bedroom home the size of a Hummer. I was embarrassed to have to bunk with two or three siblings and was amazed and in awe of Tommy Harrington, a friend whose house contained not only one full bedroom just for him but also two huge staircases and a billiard room.

As I made my way up the success ladder, I traded in one house after another for a larger one — each time hoping my happiness would increase accordingly and always anticipating the day that I’d have a house with two staircases and a billiard room. I ended up with many houses like that … but I don’t live in one now. The house I finally found happiness in is very modest by my old standards. We have regular-sized rooms and nine-foot ceilings and no room for a billiard table (although I do have one in my office).
When I look back at the many houses I’ve occupied over my lifetime, I can find no correspondence between the size of the house — or its cost — and my enjoyment of it. In fact, aside from the house I’m in now, my next-most-favorite abode was a 900-square-foot mud hut without hot water in the middle of Africa. The garage I’m building right now is larger (and about 10 times more expensive) than that little dream house. So if size doesn’t matter, what does?
I’d say there are four things: 1. Location. Where your house sits is half the game. Consider the following when selecting a location:
* How far is it from work?
* How far is it from shopping?
* How far is it from your nearest neighbors?
* How much of an active community is there in that area?
* What kind of schooling is available (if you need it)?
2. Condition. An old house requires a lot of maintenance.
3. The outside. If you like to spend time outdoors, it will probably be important to you to have a house with a lawn and garden. But beware: Maintaining a lawn and garden can be costly and time-consuming.
4. The inside.
This includes decisions you make about:
* Lighting. There is nothing that affects the feeling you get from your house more than lighting. You need the ability to control natural light from bright to subdued. You need windows, of course, but you also need a combination of shutters, shades, and so on that can create the mood you need. And when the sun is down, you must be able to create a variety of moods too. To do this effectively, you need to spend some money on a variety of artificial-light sources. Some lighting in every room should be indirect — where the light source is not visible.
* Color. Pay some attention to the positive effect that certain colors have on your moods and then incorporate them into your home. Be concerned about not only your own feelings but also those of your family and friends.
* Décor. Here is how you tell your guests who you are. Don’t buy knick-knacks from decorator stores. Put your family’s actual relics on the shelves. If you collect comic books, display them. If you like African art, put it on the walls. Don’t worry too much about being consistent. You yourself are not consistent. If your house is a genuine reflection of your family, both your family and your guests will feel comfortable in it. Add all of these elements together and you end up with this: The enjoyment you get from your house depends on the care you put into selecting it, decorating it, and maintaining it. No amount of money spent will substitute for that. Now … let’s talk about size.
Here are some “rules”:
* Have only as many rooms as you will actually use.
* Unless you want a ballroom, forget 12-foot-plus ceilings and rooms bigger than, say, 15 feet by 20 feet. Your rooms need to be large enough to accommodate your needs and to allow for an easy flow of traffic but small enough to provide a sense of intimacy.
* Your kitchen should be big enough to cook in and (if you so desire) to eat in too. Don’t turn your kitchen into an industrial facility.
* Your living room should be a place where you live, not a place to show guests how neat and tidy (or how wealthy) you are. In fact, you should have no rooms in your house that are there simply for show.
* Your dining room should be large enough for your family and to accommodate a dinner party of six or eight. Use your dining room at least once a week. Even better, every day. Furnish it accordingly.
* There’s nothing wrong with two kids sleeping in one room. Bedrooms don’t need to be large, but they do need to be able to hold all their contents without everything spilling onto the floor.
* A separate toilet for guests is a nice thing. How much of your net worth should be invested in your home? We’ll talk about that tomorrow.
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