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Small Is Better: Big Houses Are Out and Downsizing Is In

With economic and environmental factors colliding, tiny houses are suddenly becoming the biggest rage.

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For some, living small means not living in a typical home at all. Sara and Matt Janssen spent nine months traveling more than 15,000 miles to 42 states in a 250-square-foot RV with their three-year-old daughter, Bella, as part of the Live Lightly Tour. They furnished the home-on-wheels with thrift-store finds and things from their previous house. "It's still a consumer culture, you watch TV and you want to buy things and you walk through Target and you feel inadequate," Sara says. "For us, we are constantly trying to give away and recycle.

That is something 38-year-old Laurel Reitman of San Francisco can understand. Last year when she was pregnant, family, friends and coworkers at the high school where she teaches physics wanted to give her things for the new baby. Reitman and husband Mark Frey, 31, already had hand-me-downs and, thanks to their small house, a built-in excuse not to take more stuff. "Having a small house became an acceptable reason we could give so that they wouldn't buy us things," says Frey, "but we didn't have to reject their kindness."   Reitman adds: "We had lots of conversations that went like this, 'You have to have a swing.'  'Thank you so much, but we really don't have the room.' Our small house bolstered our ability to resist the very strong current of consumption that goes with having a kid."

Reitman and Frey, a plant ecologist, say they don't mind living in a one-bedroom apartment, which is about 600 square feet. "It's something I've given a lot of thought to in this last year," she says. "We could afford to buy something tiny, but I would rather hang out with the baby and live small right now."

Reitman says their home is just the right amount of space and she feels good about reducing their impact on the environment, saving money and living more simply -- with only one small concern. "[The baby] sleeps in the pantry and except for my paranoia about the hot water heater exploding, it's working out pretty well,'' she says. 

Kristen Bender is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She owns a home that is roughly 900 square feet.

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