Nearly fifteen years after its publication, Sarah Susanka’s The Not So Big House has turned into a movement. Visit the website here. I first encountered this volume when it was brand new, sitting in the gift shop of The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. I was attending The George Washington University’s Museum Studies program, and had yet to begin my life of living in smaller and smaller urban apartments. But Susanka’s basic concept: create more meaningful space on less square footage, resonates with me every day. Today, Mr. V and I share 450 square feet. Sometimes stuff gets in the way. But for a Manhattan lifestyle, our idea is to live big, but occupy less space.
The concept rang true with me as a high school friend’s family moved in the mid-1990s from their 1950s home to a huge, vinyl-sided house. The house always seemed empty, with their furniture from their last lives dwarfed by the expanse of the house’s walls. A queen sized bed shrank into dollhouse furniture in the center of a blank wall. It was then that I realized that these engorged houses of the 1990s were disproportionate to humans, and budgets that had purchased the house could hardly keep up with paying for them, let alone furnishing them. Huge houses outstrip our time accounts too: more square footage means more dusting, more bathrooms means more scrubbing, more lawn means more mowing and edging. Is this the American Dream? Is this where the energy of our country is going, the maintenance of undistinguished mass-produced vinyl-sided neighborhoods?
The Not So Big House has turned into a mini-empire. Susanka, an architect, peppered the 2000s with various editions of NSB books on design for interior and exterior spaces, culminating with the philosophical The Not So Big Life in 2007. If you are a joiner, you can join the Not So Big Community. This is where the architecture ends and the meditation and yoga etc. begins. I fully appreciate the design ideas and the concept of living a more in-tune life. I certainly observe striver-ist lifestyles creating unhappy people around me (I do live in Manhattan). But my bookshelves are noticeably bare of volumes from the self-help category.
Susanka’s biography on her website describes her as a “thought leader.” I find this title a bit hilarious, and am going to search for some thoughts of my own to lead. But let’s live small, and live better. You can follow up your Not So Big reading with some beautiful small designs over at The Small House Society. Also, enjoy the vintage plans on offer over at Small House Living.