One of the simplest ways to shrink your eco footprint (and reduce your financial overhead) in a hurry is to add people to your household. Even before the pandemic hit, a lot of households were going in this direction anyway. Student-loan-burdened young people making a U turn, aged parents moving in with their adult kids, and so on.
And of course, people who don’t live with their families often choose to live with housemates rather than alone. Not only young people, but seniors as well, are forming group households. Personally, I choose to have housemates not only to reduce my eco-footprint and save 60 to 80 percent on housing costs, but also because I enjoy the company.
Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve written tips on how to get along with housemates/roommates. (I’ll dig up the link and post it here for you later.) This post today is focused on the “hardware” aspects, so to speak. How to functionally expand your space to accommodate more people.
The other day I was reading an article about how family members who’ve been living apart are coping with being thrown together under one roof. Some are loving it; others are stressed. The article mentioned something about a family of four being stressed about suddenly being “crammed” into a 2,200-square-foot house. My first reaction was along the lines of “Jeez! We Americans are so disgustingly spoiled!” But then it occurred to me that a lot of houses, particularly newer ones with those “open plan” layouts, make it awkward for more than 1-2 people to share living quarters. A lot of times, when people think they don’t have enough space, what they actually have is a poorly designed space. Fortunately a lot of design issues can be addressed easily and inexpensively, with DIY improv solutions as opposed to expensive, high-footprint home renovations.
My house is one-story, 988 square feet. Because of its old-school, non-open floor plan, and how I’ve tweaked it, the house feels spacious and can comfortably accommodate 2-3 fulltime residents (plus a guest or two in a pinch). Actually I’ve had up to 11 friends staying here during special-event weeks. Before buying this house, I lived in a 1-bedroom apartment that I turned into a 2-bedroom in order to be able to have a roommate. Here are some of my tips:
• Eliminate special-purpose rooms, other than the kitchen and bathroom, and turn all other rooms into sleeping quarters. (Well, I still have a living room, but it doubles as a guest sleeping area.) By deploying a folding table, I can also use the living room as a dining room on those rare occasions when people eat together indoors here. What had been the laundry room is now my bedroom/office/studio. The room dimensions are 6 by 7 feet! By evicting the washer/dryer to create my micro headquarters (it’s like my own tiny house within my house!), I freed up the two big “official” bedrooms for fulltime housemates. (Where do we do laundry, you ask? I wash mine by hand in a small tub; housemates generally wash theirs at the laundromat. Everyone line-dries their stuff on the house clothesline.) And I created a third, tiny, “emergency guest bedroom” by evicting the table and chairs from what had been a very tiny dining room.
• Turn your garage into a cabana. A garage is way too good to be taken up by a car! Right now I have the luxury of getting to use my garage as my craft haven and “she shed,” but for a different household, the garage could just as easily serve as an in-law apartment, or as a sweet cabana for teenage or tween household members, or returning college students. Heck, when I’m a little old lady, I (and my husband, if I have one) will probably move into the garage ourselves and rent the main house out to another family.
• The more doors the better. My house has three exterior doors, making it easy for multiple occupants to have their own entrances. If I had not been so blessed, additional doors are one actual official reno project I might have considered.
• Creative room division. Not only folding screens, but tall bookcases or other tall furniture, can serve as privacy walls. In my old one-bedroom apartment, roommates always occupied the real bedroom, while my “bedroom” was a 4-by-6-foot “roomette” carved out of the living room. Bookcases served as its walls. Super cozy, and all my stuff was at my fingertips.
• Avoid storing huge amounts of food. Food for multiple people’s dietary preferences takes up huge amounts of space in the kitchen cabinets. Either do communal meals, or everyone get their own takeout meals, or each person has a tiny microwave or toaster oven in their room, and keeps their nonperishable food in their own room. Sharing a fridge is perfectly do-able as long as no one tries to store large amounts of refrigerated goods. One thing I’ve sometimes done is give each occupant a cooler to use. They can decide whether or not to use it, and they have to buy their own ice.
• Just say no to large clunky furniture unless it is multi-functional (i.e. can serve as a wall).
• Go vertical!! Shelves, closets, hangers make all the difference between a place seeming totally cluttered, “not enough space” — and being plenty of space.
• Screen a porch or balcony to add a funky rustic sleeping area to your place.
• Knock out part of a ceiling, and use the resulting upper “shelf” as additional sleeping nooks. Or if you have high ceilings, build lofts or bunks.
• Common courtesy: Use headphones when listening to electronic entertainment, unless you are listening to something together. Keep common areas free of personal stuff (each occupant takes their stuff back to their bedroom when leaving the common area).
• Minimize number of cars. OK here I go harping on cars again. But really, the thing that sticks out like a sore thumb when multiple people share a house or apartment is All. The. Damn. CARS. Cluttering the yard, squeezed into the driveway, or vying for parking space on the street. For some households, juggling cars around like puzzle pieces so this or that person can get in or out is practically a fulltime occupation. As well as being car-free myself, I actually seek out car-free housemates; it makes life so much easier. True fact: When houses with multiple occupants get labeled “undesirable” by neighbors, what usually sets them off is the number of cars (assuming the occupants are otherwise unobtrusive — don’t have loud parties, etc.).
Well, in this post I set out to offer you 7 ways to comfortably fit more people into your home, thus radically reducing your eco-footprint and your living costs. Looks like I came up with 11 ways. And I might think of more, in which case I’ll add them later. (My blog is sneaky timed-release like that.)
Can you think of any other tips to add? Drop me a line, and let’s help folks save money and boost their green quotient!
Average House Size By Country: Inspiring & informative article from ShrinkThatFootprint.com