An introduction to the Not So Big House



When my mom realized I wasn’t going to outgrow this small, old house fetish, she introduced me to architect Sarah Susanka and her “Not So Big House” philosophy. It was trendy and maybe even popular a decade ago, but I haven’t heard, well, ANYONE my age talk about her ideas. I mean, minimalism is cool, and Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been a big deal the last couple years, but Susanka’s message is different than those schools of thought and ought to be explored by individuals hoping to live large in a smaller space.

The gist of Susanka’s message is this: By living in a smaller home than you thought you needed, you can afford to have a nicer home. That’s really it. Quality over quantity. With less square footage, you can make every inch sing. Side benefits include coziness, togetherness, nicer finishes, better windows, better function, and sustainability. Not So Big Houses complement the way you live or want to live.

I live in a part of the country where housing is relatively cheap. That’s why so many opt to build large houses—they can afford it. Whether they need space for 15 kids is beside the point; since they can have the space, why not? Susanka would say square footage isn’t a prerequisite to living well and can in fact hinder the kind of lifestyle we instinctively long to have.


This is a Susanka house plan; take a look at it here.

Some of my favorite Susanka tips include varying your ceiling heights or floor depths to define spaces and designing houses with long, uninterrupted sight lines so spaces feel more expansive and adjacent rooms draw you in.

If everyone builds a quality home, our houses and communities will look better longer and stick around for decades. Compare that with cheaply built, character-devoid houses, and I think you’ll see the difference.

Susanka has written nine books about Not So Big living, and many of these will be available at your local library. Also, check out this video for more information on the Not So Big philosophy. •

3 thoughts

  1. Oh you know I’m a huge fan of this way of thinking. I’m not sure I could ever justify an enormaous house. My house is plenty and perfect.

    It’s funny of all my mom’s side of the family she has the smallest house. It’s very cozy. But it’s the gathering house for sure! You feel so loved and warm there. Even if we are all crammed in. Everyone on of my cousins agree. It’s the spirit of the home, not the size of the home that matters most!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your house feels so good too, just like your mom’s must. And I do think the aura or atmosphere of a house really is important. When we decided to buy an old house, I keyed into the “feeling” of properties we looked at. We never would have bought a house that felt “dark,” and to be honest, we did live a few places in the past that had bad/scary energy. Those were not the type of places we could have settled down.


  3. We’ve lived in 3200 sq ft to 4800 sq ft. There’s things I love about each home. Right now I’m loving the coziness of my home and it’s so fast to clean! That couldn’t have anything to do with only having one child Left at home instead of six could it?!


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