Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The New American Dream Home

Yesterday’s NY Times profiled the Kawabatas–a family of four who share a 1300 sq ft home in Garrison, NY. The article, entitled “The Anti-McMansion,” tells the tale of one family that’s bucking the American way of living in bigger homes, with more stuff.

To our readers, 1300 sq ft, while far from the 2500 sq ft American average, is not particularly small. The house also sits on a 2 1/2 acres plot, and they are planning a 1500 sq ft addition. The interesting aspect of the Kawabata’s story is how they use the space. The house is one big open space, filled with very little stuff.

The home is modeled on traditional Japanese architecture, which revolves around a large, multi-functional communal space. The only real division, besides a sleeping loft, are dividers made from metal frames and nylon string (the modern equivalent of the shōji screen).

Takaaki and Christina Kawabata have “brainwashed” their children into thinking this way of life normal. For example, their children, Tozai, 6 and Akari, 3, have been trained to clean up after themselves at the end of each day. They are also only allowed to use one toy at a time. According to Takaaki, the children:

Are allowed to make a mess in their specified area–their bedroom–and every time they use their toys, they have to put them back in the bin before going on to the next one.

Tozai, who just entered first grade, is realizing not everyone lives in such austere conditions (which might be particularly true in tony Garrison). When Tonzai asks Takaaki why he can’t have a ton of toys splayed about like his friends do, the father appeals to his son’s sense of logic, asking “how many toys can you play with at one time?”

But it’s not just the kids who abide by a code of conduct. Takaaki and Christina, an architect and designer respectively, got rid of half of their possessions when they moved to their current home in 2008 from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She says of their pared down home, “We love the things that we have and try not to be wasteful. The rest, we edit.”

The Kawabata family shows that the barriers to living an edited life are often not deep-seated, immutable truths about how people live. Kids don’t need a million toys. Adults don’t need tons of stuff. The barriers are cultural. When culture changes, habits follow.

All photos © Takatina and Janson Goldstein, LLP

  • jottman

    LOVE this article. So consistent with inspired thinking behind the Life Edited apartment. I never ceased to be amazed at how much we can learn from other cultures, esp Japanese about how to live better with less. Anyone who enjoyed this post and this kind of inspiration may be similarly inspired by a post up at our site about the “mottainai” principle of Japanese culture that underlies a lot of this thinking:

  • Chris

    I agree that there’s a lot of cultural influences in how and why we buy stuff. As long as people equate success with stuff (big house, car, etc) then we’re going to be going round and round this circle for a very long time.

  • dennis

    I am curious, if we don’t need tons of toys and stuff why do need a 1500 square foot addition?

  • DianaBGKY

    I had a similar situation regarding toys.

    From about 5 to 11, we lived in a two-bedroom house. There were five of us. My mom always let us play in our bedroom, which we all shared, but all toys had to be put away after playing. Sometimes, as a treat, we got to spread out in the living room, which seemed large, but I realize now couldn’t have been. I suspect the house was around 1,000 square feet, give or take a hundred. I remember small bedrooms but a nice size kitchen and living room–and large windows in those, that was probably where I got that love of large windows. When we were allowed to play in the living room, we were told if anyone came in, we’d have to move our things out. Whenever someone did come in, we’d either look at Momma for the sign or automatically pack up our things. Sometimes Momma told us it was okay, but other times she’d indicate we were to move to our bedroom.

    We didn’t have a lot of toys, and we took care of what we did have knowing more were not easily attainable. But I don’t remember feeling deprived or wanting more, except maybe the newest Barbie at Christmas. We learned to take care of things and to respect space. I commend this couple on teaching their children these things.

  • jonce

    Gorgeous space. However, 2,800 sq. ft. will just be more space to heat and cool and keep clean. I am wondering why they want to build the addition if they are content with minimalism. Perhaps this is more of a story of having less stuff not living in less space.

    • Rochelle

      I agree! Doesn’t make sense that they are adding more square footage. Plus it looks as though they have a downstairs from the outside photo. Is that part of the original 1300 footage calculated or additional? This article seems to be more about teaching children to keep home free of toys and having less stuff.

  • clarkbennett

    The outside of the house is much more interesting than the interior. I’m not a fan of the kitchen sink, though it is an interesting idea. I hope we get to see the addition when it’s finished.

  • John

    I would not like to be one of their kids.

  • Andy

    This house, while elegant and spare, looks like it cost millions. This isn’t an option for 99% of Americans.

    • David Friedlander

      $50k for renovation according to ny times. he’s an architect and she’s a designer, so imagine it’d be twice that for normal person. simple, spare and high quality has an entry point at any budget.

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  • alice

    I think allowing only one toy at a time limits creativity…you don’t have to have a toy store in your living room, but building a garage with blocks and then parking your trucks in it is valid play. What about creating a construction site?

  • Chela Garcia

    Room to dance, play, or entertain.

  • Gilbo

    If this is the new American Dream Home then Americans haven’t learnt a thing.

  • Saying out

    Extolling the virtues of the pared down , the building the extension? Is this an admission that this space is not enough for them?
    What will be in the new space? More stuff, private space for bedrooms, especially as the children mature would seem to be ideal for them and parents.