When Less is More
When a family's price range enables them to live in
a mixed-use town if they downsize, which criteria -- place or space --
drives the decision? High density and mixed-used town design can mean
less space than conventional housing developments. From the Washington
Post's August 9, 2004, article on the Huntfield community of Charlestown,
in Sprawl: The Price Commuters Pay," by Peter Whoriskey, comes a familiar
story: "The Renehans have one child and moved because they wanted space
"I'd like to live in Loudoun County," Loudon schoolteacher Sharon Renehan
states in the article. "If things were more affordable, we'd still be
That space holds top sway in the family housing market is an unsurprising
observation. In The Progress Paradox (2003), Gregg Easterbrook
says that builders report the "leading complaint of home buyers is that
there is not enough space for their possessions."
Easterbrook says that less space can promote freedom from having too much
because it requires a family to differentiate between necessity and desire.
"The more you want, the more likely you are to feel disgruntled; the more
you acquire, the more likely you are to feel controlled by your own possessions,"
wrote Easterbrook. So that in spite of the fantastic material gains of
the past few generations, the "trend line for happiness has been flat
for 50 years."
A storage-challenged townhouse can be a natural restrainer -- and liberator.
After returning from England, the MacKeith family bought a 2,800-square-foot
home in Maryland with a country view. Marge MacKeith soon realized their
spacious retreat could never make up for what she and her son needed most:
parks and people.
"I barely lasted a year in our 'rural experiment,'" laughs MacKeith, now
living in Old Town Alexandria, Va., in a 1,200-square-foot townhouse.
MacKeith says that getting rid of stuff was no problem because of the
numerous positive trade-offs. "I'd be willing to part with so much more,"
A thoughtful attitude to what we have promotes good stewardship and the
enjoyment of what one does possess. Family psychologist John Rosemond
noted in an article published in the Columbia Daily Tribune on
February 20, 2004 that it is unreasonable to expect kids to pick up after
themselves when today's kids have so many toys. "The obvious solution
is to buy young children few toys," said Rosemond. "I've been preaching
this 'less is more' toy philosophy for most of my professional life, and
those parents who have adopted it have never failed to praise the results."
Lack of inside space can prompt life outside of the home, thus connecting
people and place. George Gounares, founder of Tannin, a traditional neighborhood
development in Orange Beach, Ala., says, "When you live in a typical
subdivision the only thing you may have in common with your neighbors
is that you could afford to live there." Gounares, whose kids are grown,
exchanged his 2-acre beach home -- where the people milling around in
the area were tourists -- to live in Tannin where "the old-fashioned idea
of community really happens with all income brackets getting along." He
says that in Tannin the private home and public space are interdependent.
Jonathon McLelland, a new land owner in Tannin, agrees. "Good design fosters
relationships," he says. McLelland says that typical suburban developments
don't allow for what used to be second nature -- the enjoyment of sidewalks,
streets, retail, restaurants, parks and the natural mixing of kids and
adults. "We've forgotten how to live this way," reflects McLelland, father
Empty-nesters Viki and Bob LaChapelle of Indiana are renting in the Village
of WestClay, a new town in Carmel, Ind., before they move to North Carolina
to be near their children. WestClay's walkability made it a natural choice
because of their dog Max's need for frequent walks. But the LaChapelles,
who recently sold their 8.5-acre home of 34 years, now recognize the overall
advantages the village holds and are considering a similar new type of
living in North Carolina.
"Everyone is so friendly and it's easy to get to know people because we
constantly see each other around the village," Viki LaChapelle reflects.
She also finds that having neighbors who represent every age-bracket greatly
enhances life. Interaction with young families gives LaChapelle a sense
of connection with children while so far from her grandkids.
In a time of making significant decisions, the LaChapelles are aware of
the advantages of their small quarters on the village square of WestClay.
LaChapelle remarks, "Living with a lot less and having less overall to
be responsible for is good."