Tiny Tuesday: 1000 Square Feet and the Meaning of “Normal”

Forbes Online recently published an article listing eight benefits of living in a 1000-square-foot home. The article has a clickbait-y feel to it, but it’s fodder for some good points about downsizing and how much is enough.

Why 1000? The article never reveals why it chose this size, so I’ll offer a few guesses. 1000 square feet is a nice round number with a history of working well. Forbes might have drawn from this source which states the average US house size was 983 square feet in 1950 – right when post-war prosperity created a middle class eager to keep up with the Joneses.

According to US census data, the average size of an extant single-family house built before 1960 is 1500 square feet, compared with 2200 square feet for a house built between 2005 and 2009. Lots of houses built before 1960 have been demolished by now. So it’s not that big of a stretch to say that a 1000-square-foot house was perfectly normal in the not-too-distant past.

Back to the original article. Seven of the eight bullet points favor 1000 square feet because it’s a small number. Lower utility bills, less cleaning, less stuff to break… you know the drill. Only one point favors 1000 square feet because it’s a large number: “you can still host large parties.” Which isn’t really true – depending on your home’s layout and your outdoor resources and the climate you live in and how many friends you have and how much personal space they need, square footage doesn’t necessarily dictate your party-hosting ability – but it’s an appeal to what most readers (remember, this is Forbes) consider “normal”.

And normal is the goal struck in the opening paragraph. “It’s smaller than an average home… but not so small that you need to subscribe to a movement to live there.” The bluntness is insulting to anyone who knows someone who lives in a tiny house… but yes, a house under 500 square feet is too far out for most people to ever consider it. The Forbes article argues that double this number is quite within reach, while still offering the many benefits of downsizing.

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