Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


I live in a neighborhood where the houses are all about 50 years old and are between 1500 and 2000 square feet. Most have 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a 2 car garage or carport. Almost all are one-story houses. The house just around the corner was a bit smaller than most and had been poorly maintained. When the original owner decided to move last year, it wasn’t long before the new owners knocked the house down to the ground and scraped away the foundation.  A few months passed and contruction began on the new home. The architect left the house plans in the permit box, and being a curious person, of course I checked them out: 3700 square feet of heated/cooled space, plus 2000 more square feet of un-heated/cooled space including a three car garage plus a pool. Three stories; 5700 square feet of house.

As you can imagine, there was immediate chatter in amongst the neighbors. Those who thought is was a bad idea were concerned about its looming massiveness and its lack of appropriate style and balance with the rest of the neighborhood. Others thought it was a waste of resources – to build, to maintain, to fill. Other people though said, “If they can afford it, good for them.”

That last response gave me pause.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Do four people (two adults, two children) need a 5,700 square foot home? What about the costs to build, maintain, heat, cool, and fill this home? The resources that will be used for all the lumber, furniture, appliance, etc. Can you imagine the dusting and vacuuming? The clutter?

When it comes to clutter, we all know how easy it is to do and how difficult it can be to un-do. While my future neighbors are providing a rather extreme example, we’ve all done things we should not: purchased more than is necessary, purchased a new thing when the old thing was perfectly functional still, bought new things to make ourselves feel good / be fashionable / because they were such a great bargain / because we felt we needed to keep up.  And, on the other hand, we’ve all failed to get rid of things when we should: things that were broken that we could not or would not repair, tools or craft supplies that might be useful someday, items that we received as gifts and stuck in a drawer, forgotten, clothing that will never again fit no matter how much we exercise, pieces of paper that became obsolete as time passed.

Before you buy or when you don’t feel like decluttering, remind yourself: Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something made from paper.

Today’s Declutter Item

I didn’t have any paper items to declutter today but here are some mechanical pencils and a fountain pen that Liam doesn’t want. They are all off to the thrift store.

3 Mechanical Pencils and a Fountain Pen

Eco Tip for the Day

When buying bars of soap, by ones without wrappers or multipacks that come in a simple cardboard box. Every little bit of plastic saved from landfill counts.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. This reminds me of the time Extreme Makeover Home Edition came to my city. The house they chose to make over was small and in poor condition. The family had at least three teenagers and some younger children. They leveled the house and built a monstrosity in the modest neighborhood. Every room of the house was overly decorated and personalized for each child. I remember thinking how wasteful it was and how the newly built home did not fit the neighborhood. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep the large home maintained when they obviously did not have the resources to maintain their previous home!

    • Alice – I have wondered that myself, how do these people afford the upkeep on such a house afterwards?

      • I have heard that many of those who receive all the houses on Extreme Makeover Home Edition end up losing it because they can’t keep up the payments on and for things like increased utilities, property taxes, etc.

    • I seem to recall a while back the Extreme Makeover was not going to build these huge homes. The upkeep was too much and the taxes, in some cases, was well above what the family could afford. I only know of a couple of cases where the homeowners lost their house so hopefully most have been able to continue living in their homes.

  2. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” — that is one of my FAVORITE sayings! My late husband had that on a bumper sticker when I first saw it. It works for the Christian life or the secular life as well. Unrelated, but a close second for my favorite bumper sticker saying is another he had, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup!” A good reminder to keep our noses out of where they do not belong 🙂

  3. Cindy, Great post. What really struck me was when you said how easy it is to clutter and how hard it is to undo. That is so true. I’ve been decluttering for the last 15 years. I probably spent the previous 15 years cluttering. Now, since I hate clutter I have to spend the second 15 years undoing everything I’ve done before. It’s exhausting. I mean seriously exhausting. I’m so tired of trying to unload everything in a responsible way. Selling, recycling, giving away to appropriate people and places. Well, at least I have honestly learned from my mistakes and now there’s no going back! My goal is to have nothing of value to sell when I’m done with it. I just want to use everything I have. The less stuff I have the less I have to recycle or donate or sell. That just seems like a much easier way to live than the above mentioned way!

  4. 5700 sf, I can not imagine! We are, unfortunately, looking for a new home again. Currently we have three possible choices, two are around 900-970 sf and one is much larger, 1700 sf . The large one is a hundred year old log house in a very good location. Of course, it’s too much space for us. And we don’t even have any furniture. But right now it’s pretty much “the one without mold wins!”.
    I so much agree that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

  5. Good grief, 5,700 square feet of living space for one family?! That means that my flat would fit into their house 23.75 times :p Astonishing. I love the phrase that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I gave away craft papers because I don’t want to spend time handmaking cards. They went via Freecycle to people who seemed delighted to ahve them and the competition was fierce. It made me realise how selfish I’d been, hoarding these resources in a cupboard. Yes, I went to art college and no, that doesn’t mean I have to handmake every single gift and card for every single relative and friend. Such a liberating idea.

  6. Great post Cindy! I had to convert it to square meters to have my “Oh God!” moment, but I had it. Whatever will they do with all that space? Still your thoughts on the subject were great. “Just because I can doesn’t mean I should” is not new to me, but I never related it to clutter, or wanting a bigger house.

  7. Good post as always Cindy. Being as I am searching for that smaller house and where once I used to covet other peoples bigger home I can’t imagine anymore why someone would want to maintain something so large. I assume they can also afford a housekeeper or two. I don’t even want to think about the energy it will take to heat and cool that thing. Yikes!!!

    One does accumulates stuff without any effort, in fact we enjoy it mostly but getting rid of it seems like such a chore. Unfortunately this is why people get lazy and through perfectly good stuff in the bin. Shame on them! I personally think we all ought to do our penance for our past indulgences.

    • Colleen, I know what you mean about coveting. Only with me, I now covet people who get to live in very small homes, like 1000 square feet or so. I could totally do it now, too. Ten or twenty years ago-no way. But, now absolutely.

  8. It does seem odd with all the talk about energy, there is never any talk by the media about the wastefulness of these big houses. The ones I have seen all have very high ceilings, huge hall ways, and a lot of purely decorative space (just for oohing and aahing over, I suppose). And yes, a lot of clutter, and not exactly clutter but stuff not put where it belongs. Can’t blame them, can we–who wants to walk a mile to put up a sweater or a pair of shoes. They pay a pretty big price for a little bare space.

  9. Ah Cindy, you had me at ‘the vacuuming’ – I have a 66sqm (710sqf) place and I’ve over vacuuming it!

    but it’s true, of late I’ve given myself a weekly cash budget, and at the end of the week thought ‘oh, I have money left, I could buy a necklace/earrings to ‘pick myself up’ or ’cause I never treat myself’. They’d only be ‘cheapies’, which would only mean that over time they’d be turfed as they discoloured most likely. So far, I’ve resisted!

    PS Colleen – I know your ‘off’ Unclutterer forums, but they had one on paper clutter (to follow up another one), and whilst there were suggestions of what to buy to help store said paper, it was otherwise interesting to see what they suggested you do to manage greeting cards, receipts etc Seems we all, always, have some paper clutter!

  10. Good post Cindy – that’s a whopper of a house. AND yes imagine all that vacuuming!

  11. Good post Cindy. I have seen those big houses and I know that there is much unused space and furnishing it is a pain. Building it in a neighborhood with smaller homes is not a good idea. Resale will be hard both due to size and being newer than the rest of the area. I remember a house we had one time. It wasn’t huge but we had a living room we never used except as a hallway. I said then that we needed to think through things before buying homes. What happened? My parents bought another home 10 years later that again had a huge livingroom they never used. What did 2 people need with 3600 square feet???? I will tell you right now that we have way more house than we need even now in my book. Still, we are here and will be as long as Mom wants to be. Give me a medium sized one-room studio apartment and I will be fine.

    • Deb J – I wondered the same thing but couldn’t think of a way to word it so nicely, why are they building such a monstrosity amongst houses of a more modest stature? Why don’t they build that house in an area where it will blend in? I wonder if they can’t afford the land elsewhere.

      I noticed a beautiful 3 storied house being built down by the sand dunes. Its rather large but very tastefully done, so I decided that the view of the sea could probably justify the 3 stories. I know the builder and I commented on it to him and he told me that its an elderly retired couple living in this huge house – 5 bedrooms, study, two lounges, 4 bathrooms. Go figure.

      • I don’t get having that big of a place for 2 people unless they are planning that their big family will come visit often. In the case of being on the dunes they might be thinking resale but who knows. Seems a big waste to me.

        • Deb J – I did some rough calculations on the weekend and factoring the recession, house prices dropping and all the other factors such as land tax, insurance etc, we could have just rented a four bedroom home 6 years ago to get us thru the teenage years and rented out our original house and not be any worse off. Of course, if there hadn’t been a recession it would have been a different story, but it was an interesting exercise.

          • Just want to throw in here that land in our neighborhood is some of the most expensive in the entire city. I live in what is one of the closest residential neighborhoods to downtown, and my lot is valued at MORE than my house. In fact, these folks paid almost 1/2 million for the lot and now destroyed house alone.

            As for guests, the house has surprisingly few bedrooms. Almost the entire second floor is dedicated to adults: huge master bedroom, bathroom, closets, and exercise room.

          • Moni, I know this is what many here have found. It’s an interesting exercise.

            Cindy, we had a house in California like that. We only had a 1/7 of an acre yet people were paying millions for it and then building these huge houses.

  12. I remember when we had our last garage sale looking at all of the stuff on the tables thinking to myself ‘who brings this stuff into my house????’ and realising, oh yeah that would be me! Not any more! I am so much more aware of what I’m buying these days, and yes I do still buy things, but just not clutter and such any more.

  13. I hope they have some money left to pay for housekeeping…
    They probably can see in everybody’s backyard within a mile radius! That would bother me.

    A few miles away from where I live, nested in the hills, they’ve started building these huge square houses three years ago: 4-5000 sq foot, almost no backyard, so packed your neighbors’ house is only a few feet away. There are probably 100 houses so far, but every time we walked on the nearby hill trails there, it felt like a ghost town. If it weren’t for the cars in the driveways, you could not guess that people actually live there. Nobody is outside, no children playing, no sound at all… I guess when you have such a big house, you spend all your time in it. I feel sad for the people who live there.

    • I remember this happening in Tenn when we lived there. They built these mansions on regular size lots and it felt claustrophobic. I wondered how people could stand it.

  14. I own a home building business. As a builder I would never build a large home like you described among smaller existing homes. And the reason being I would be concerned the comps (existing homes) would lower the value of my investment, making it impossible to sell or make a profit. All the other aesthetic reasons aside. What is this builder thinking?

    • I am thinking that the builder doesn’t care. After all, it’s a custom house being built for a specific family. Any devaluation because the rest of the houses are more modest is not his/her concern.

  15. Today’s mini mission – paper. I found two boxes of generic greeting cards. The boxes are quite nice and have these indices in them “for him” “for her” “kids” “special occaisions” etc but I don’t ever send cards so what’s the point? I have on freecycle but if they don’t get taken by tomorrow I will donate to a charity sale.

    • Hi Moni, that sounds like a good plan. My brother-in-law was visiting us last night and he remarked “I am amazed that you are still finding things to declutter.” No more surprised than I am I assured him. Like your house, things just keep coming out of the woodwork.

      • Colleen – I am amazed too that you still have stuff to declutter! What happens when a house gets back to canvas? ie nothing left to declutter?

        • I think this is the most important question. Lately, the state of our home is getting more and more comfortable for me and less and less work to maintain. There is less distraction provided from clutter. Also, less clutter is really decluttered from the home – more and more is repurposed or re-used. I even started weaving rag rugs, as those clothes I declutter these days are really decluttered because they are rags. It turns out I love it, I love getting further use out of these well-used clothes and sheets. And I get doing some crafts, which I always like.
          Likewise I have more space and time to plan our food and started canning/freezing more things (not to stock up in ways I can’t manage anymore, but only as to make daily cooking easier by cooking in batches). I can’t put it in words very well, but I find more time to really care for my home, to really improve it. I’m no longer overwhelmed by just maintaining it, but I manage e.g. painting the furniture so I love it even more, making rugs or new pillow cases, making food, cleaning etc. Also, I have found more time to ponder about “the big questions in life” and to pursue a few other hobbies/interests. Not needing to care so much about sorting and maintaining stuff every day gives me more freedom to think out of the box, to ask questions I never asked or try things I never tried. Still, I’m not quite there yet, if you saw my home now, you’d probably think, it’s a huge mess. But it’s a mess which is easy to clean, a mess without big black holes in the cupboards or bodies in the basement. I hope, someday it will be even less messy and there will be even more time to try new things – small or big.

          • Dear Sanna, your comments have really struck a chord with me. “There is less distraction from clutter” made me sit up and shout “yes”. I love reading and have an excessive amount of books. After much reading of minimalist and de-cluttering blogs I’ve finally learned how to let go of the books to friends and charity shops ( thrift shops in other parts of the world I think). I noticed that one shelf has become clear and I suddenly panicked. When I read all the books remaining and get rid of them, what will I do next? Well of course I can read all the newly published books, but was delighted to realise that I can also choose to use my time to do something else. I’m now spending time thinking about what next? Who knows maybe some of those “I’ll do that when I’ve got time ideas will turn into experiences”.

          • sanna, this is a beautiful comment. you hit the nail(s) on the head(s) and I want to shout YES YES YES too!

            I just had exactly this impression a couple of weeks back, when I was talking to a really close friend who is constantly busy with something. and as long as you dont shout out, he is kind of forgetting about the rest of the world. I tried to explain to him that I believed that there is a big relation of clutter in your home and clutter in your mind. and his place is a mess. everytime I am there I want to go crazy (its a declutterers paradise). I find that since I started decluttering and making everything so easy to maintain, I have more space in my mind for other things, mostly people. I dont forget stuff anymore. I also have troubles putting that into words, but I feel much more “tidy” also in my mind.

  16. Great post Cindy. I don’t think I have ever had the aspiration to have a large home. I love cosy, well used spaces. I’ve not had to share my space with children though so I appreciate the desire that might bring for added space
    In the uk, it has not been usual to market property by sq footage (this might have changed since I bought 10 yrs ago). So I have never know what sq footage I live in.
    How does one work it out? I had a go today doing the following:
    Today I measured the width of our house (15ft) by depth and because we are on 2 floors doubled the answer, which totals 720 sq ft.
    Is that the correct way to do it: obviously some of that is lost space for the stairs.
    We also let out 132 sq feet of the total to a lodger.(So 588 left for us, sharing kitchen and bathroom out of that).
    We do have the use of an attic though 🙂 That technically adds another 300sq ft. So thats 888sq ft for 2 of us, though I would count my husband’s books collection as the third person in the marriage :))

    We’re are actively, if somewhat slowly working on potentially letting out another 90sq ft of our home so that would bring us down to 800sq ft. but that hasn’t happened yet.
    Only one bathroom and toilet. I go pale at the though of having to clean a 2nd one!
    We don’t have a garage.

  17. Another thing I’ve seen is an older home with a “medium” sized lot get razed, and then two or three McMansions get shoved on the same space. It’s very jarring to the look of the neighborhood.

    We’ve got a 1800sq ft place, which is about 300sq ft larger than we wanted. Coincidentally, that’s about the size of the (poorly) converted carport. Right now it is making an excellent attic to unpack out of, since we have very little closets. And the rest of the house has stayed mostly uncluttered, so while it’s a bit more to clean than I like, it’s still faster to clean than the 800 sq ft place we had for a while, that was packed to the gills.

  18. Cindy, I agree with your points about building such a large home. However, I do wonder when some people think they can dictate to others how big or small a house should be built. As with most things in life, it’s a personal choice. And though I choose to live in a home that’s less than 900 sq ft, I don’t think that gives me the right to make judgements on choices others make. For some people 900 sq ft is tantamount to owning a 5,700 sq ft home. It’s all relative. 🙂

    (And I’m guessing the owners of this new home probably can afford to pay someone to perform housekeeping and maintenance tasks.)

    • no offense, Monique, but even if this is a choice of others, I can still judge. I for example think it is bad for our society if we waste ressources. and if you think about it, space is always related to ressources, of nature/environment. I consider for example urban sprawl as something negative, because it not just destroys nature by pure use of space, but it requires a massive amount of technical infrastructure to get built in the first place, and then it increases individual motorized transportation, and ultimately creates and requires a lifestyle that is wasteful. we would need 3 planets, if we wanted to secure this lifestyle for every human being on this ONE planet – just for the space. I judge people who live a wasteful life. even when I know it is their choice to make. and I support everyone who decides to downsize and live modest and sustainable.
      please dont take this as an offence, but my critical me took over for a couple of minutes.

  19. Cindy – I wasn’t diss-ing on your area, it sounds perfect to me, what happens here is that a suburb is opened with a demographic in mind and that is what is built to suit. A couple of years back the next suburb down was developed and it was designed to have McMansions – our land is worth the same as theirs although their sections are a bit bigger (because we’re an established neighbourhood apparently) but their houses are worth more because they’re bigger and more glamorous etc. Recently a street bordering our suburb sold a section that wasn’t under convenant and this McMassive house was built – as well as being three stories and about as wide as two regular houses, plus enough outdoor lighting that it looks permanently daylight during the middle of the night there. It looks so out of place amongst one storied brick and tile houses. A friend lives near to it and he met the owners while out for a walk and got chatting, he asked them just out of curiosity why didn’t they build in the next suburb down and the guy said he didn’t want to live somewhere so pretentious!

    We have an older area on the other side of the city where the land is twice the price but because the houses are old and starting to fall into that ‘requiring maintenance’ stage the total price of one of those houses isn’t much more than my house. but the parks are established with beautiful big trees (we have 5 year old trees) and the gardens on the houses are all established, plus I’ve noticed they tend to be quieter because I’m guessing the demographic of the area have had their families grow up and leave home, whereas my area the average family on our block has teenagers who have started to drive, so suddenly there are old cheap noisy cars parked in most driveways!