Over the last 40 years, newly constructed homes have gotten steadily bigger and bigger.
In 1973, the first year the Census Bureau released data about Americans’ home sizes, the average home came in at 1,660 square feet. In 2015, 42 years later, that had increased by more than 1,000 square feet — the average size of a new home built that year was 2,687 square feet.
The steady increase in the size of newly constructed homes made us wonder — is it really consumer demand that’s driving the construction of all these huge new houses? Do Americans feel like they need 2,600 square feet of living space, and if so, why?
So we asked them. Here are some of the key things we learned:
- 1 in 4 Americans outgrow their home within two years.
- Almost 1 in 3 urban dwellers outgrow their home within two years.
- Across the board, more than 25% of respondents said they needed more space or wanted a home with more square footage.
- No matter the size of their home, most people think it’s just enough space when they move in.
- More than half of people say they accumulated new possessions during their first year in their new home.
What does all this mean for trends in home sizes — and how many possessions we fill our homes with? Read on to learn more.
One in Four Americans Outgrow Their Homes Within Two Years
According to our survey, more than a fourth of people — 27.1 percent in total — say they need more living space within two years of moving into their home.
Nearly half say they need more space within four years of moving in.
And Americans who live in urban dwellings outgrow their homes even faster, according to our survey.
Of those who live in urban areas (rather than suburban or rural homes), nearly one in three say they’ve outgrown their home in less than two years.
Regardless of the Size of their Home, Most People Think They Have Enough Space When They Move-in
Across all home sizes, there’s one consistent trend: Regardless of how they feel about it now, when they first moved into their home, people thought it had plenty of space for their needs.
Overall, 69.8 percent of respondents said they thought their homes were just the right size when they moved in. 14.1 percent said they actually thought their homes had more space than they needed. And 16.1 percent reported feeling like their homes were too small at move-in time.
Across every home size, most people said they thought their homes were just the right size when they moved in. Even in the smallest home size — less than 500 square feet — more than half said they initially thought that was the right size.
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But Later On, Around Half of People Want Bigger Homes
The amount of time survey respondents have lived in their homes varies, but almost three-quarters of them reported that they’ve lived in their homes for at least two years. And in that time, despite the majority thinking they had enough space when they moved in, nearly half have come to realize they wish they had more space.
The majority — 53.5 percent — still say they have just the right amount of space, but 40.3 percent report that they now feel they don’t have enough. 6.2 percent report that they now think they have too much space.
One surprising trend here is that, no matter how big their current home is, all survey respondents were much more likely to wish they had more space than less. And what was even more surprising was how quickly people tend to outgrow their homes.
Parkinson’s Law: Is Our Space Ever Big Enough?
Parkinson’s Law is the old adage that says, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Similarly, our survey results seem to point to people (and their belongings) expanding to fill the amount of space available to them, however big that space may be.
We found that, regardless of the size of their current home, respondents said they needed a larger space. With 40 percent of all respondents saying their current space was too small, at least 1 in 5 said they need more space, even amongst those who currently have 2,000+ square feet of living space.
This may help explain why so many people wish they had more space after spending time in a home they thought was just the right size when they moved in: Their stuff. More specifically, how many new belongings they’ve accumulated since they moved into their home.
Of all our survey respondents, 64.1 percent said they’ve accumulated more possessions since moving in. 28.4 percent said they have the same amount of possessions, and 7.5 percent said they have fewer belongings now than they did when they moved in.
But the people who wish they had more space now? They’re far more likely to be the people who have accumulated more belongings. Here’s how that breaks down.
People Who Want More Space Have Almost All Accumulated More Belongings
Of survey respondents who said they wish they had a bigger home,
- A whopping 78.9 percent said they have more belongings now than when they moved in.
- 16.6 percent said they have about the same number of possessions.
- Only 4.5 percent said they own less stuff now than they did when they moved in.
People Who Are Still Happy with their Space Are Less Likely to Have More Things
Of survey respondents who said their home is still just the right size,
- Only about half — 53.3 percent — said they’ve accumulated more belongings since moving in.
- 38.9 percent said they have about the same number of possessions now as they did when they moved in.
- 7.8 percent have downsized, and said they have fewer belongings now than when they moved in.
People Who Need Less Space Are More Likely To Have Gotten Rid of Belongings
Of survey respondents who said they need less space now than they did when they moved into their home,
- 61.3 percent said they’ve accumulated more possessions in that time.
- 14.5 percent said they have about the same amount of stuff.
- Nearly a quarter of them — 24.2 percent — say they’ve gotten rid of things and have fewer belongings now than they did when they moved in.
More than Half of People Start Accumulating More Possessions Right Away
More than half of survey respondents who had lived in their homes less than a year — 51.2 percent, to be exact — said they’d already accumulated more possessions than they had when they moved in. In fact, within two years, 54.2 percent said they had accumulated more belongings.
So How Much Space Do Americans Actually Want?
At the end of our survey, we asked respondents this: “Approximately how much space do you feel would be ideal for you?”
Here’s how they answered:
- 3.0 percent said less than 500 square feet would be ideal.
- 14.8 percent said 500-800 square feet would be ideal.
- 24.5 percent said 800-1,200 square feet would be ideal.
- 32.0 percent (the largest group of respondents) said 1,200-2,000 square feet would be ideal.
- 25.7 percent (the second largest group of respondents) said more than 2,000 square feet would be ideal.
But despite the majority of survey respondents saying they think 1,200 to 2,000 square feet is the ideal home size, 39.1 percent of people who already live in homes that size wish they had more space (despite 76 percent of them thinking it was just the right size when they moved in).
And as for people who live in homes closer to the national average size of a new build? One in five of them want even more space than the 2,000+ square feet they currently have.
That seems to answer the question we posed all the way back at the beginning of this article: More than half of Americans think a home with at least 1,200 square feet of living space is the ideal size, and more than 80 percent say they need at least 800 square feet for their ideal living situation. The steadily growing size of the average American home seems to be delivering what consumers want.
Will new home size continue on this trend and keep growing in size? Only time will tell.
Using Pollfish.com, we surveyed 1,000 Americans about the types of homes they live in, their current home sizes, how long they’ve lived in their homes, whether they wish they had more or less space, and other questions.
Of our 1,000 respondents, 55.3 percent identified as female, while 44.7 percent identified as male. Their ages were:
- 0.4 percent 16-17
- 10.1 percent 18-24
- 27.4 percent 25-34
- 24.9 percent 35-44
- 13.5 percent 45-54
- 23.7 percent 55 and over