Update to “How to live comfortably in a tiny little apartment”

Now I remember where I read all those statistics on house size and family size from my previous post: it was in Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organized Simplicity.[1] Here are the numbers:

In 1950 the average square footage of a new single-family home was 983.

In 2004 it was 2349 square feet.[2]

In 1950 the average family size was 3.67 persons.

In 2002 the average family size was 2.62 persons.[3]

This means that in 1950,  average-sized single-family home had 268 square feet per person.

By 2002 / 2004, the average single-family home had ballooned to 896 square feet per person—the amount of square footage that 50 years ago housed an entire family of 3 to 4 people.


[1] Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living2010 Betterway Home Books / F + W Media

[2] “Housing Facts, Figures and Trends for March 2006” National Association of Home Builders

[3] Here Oxenreider cites U.S. Census Bureau figures found in an article by Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland “Small is Beautiful: U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment.” July 12, 2005. Currently available at GreenBiz.com

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Two Ways of Being Happy

There are two ways of being happy: we may either diminish our wants or augment our means — either will do — the result is the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest. If you are idle or sick or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means. If you are active and prosperous or young or in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants. But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

–Benjamin Franklin

Principle 1: Needs vs. Wants

Principle 1: Needs vs. Wants

Make a sharp distinction between true needs and mere wants, because there are consequences for excessive indulgence of wants.

If you’re just getting started with simplicity, this is the easiest principle to understand.

Simplicity implies distancing yourself from the consumerism and materialism of the modern industrialized and technological world, a world where making money and accumulating possessions is equated with “the good life.”

All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of…blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place, a crass materialism, and at the same time, a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns…that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.[1]

A wise friend succinctly paraphrased the quote above: “Consumerism leaves the consumer empty.”

The principle of Needs vs. Wants applies not only to the choices we make as consumers (how to spend our money) but to the choices we make regarding the use of our other personal resources:

  • how to spend our time
  • how to spend (and expend) our energy
  • what to pay attention to
  • how to arrange our living space
  • how to use our gifts

Questions for reflection:

Am I considering a purchase right now? Is the item I’m thinking of buying a need or a want?

One of the consequences of consumerism is a paradoxical sense of emptiness. What are other consequences of excessively indulging our wants?

List the things in which you currently invest your resources of time, money, energy, and living space. Which are needs? Which are wants? Which are extravagances or selfish indulgences?

Take action:

Can you bring yourself to eliminate—right now—anything on the list that is an extravagance or selfish indulgence? Can you eliminate any wants?


[1] Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis), December 30, 1987, no. 28