Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward us a small commission – at no extra cost for you.
Not too long ago I saw this influencer online share that her minimum square footage requirement for her family of 4 was 4,500 sq ft. As in, anything smaller than that felt cramped to her. Of course, it’s easy to judge because the average house size for a family of 4 is around 2,400 square feet, and yet, I know many people are making it work with much, much less. (In fact, we lived with 1,400 sq ft for about a year.) But it did get me thinking about how we all prioritize different things when it comes to homes – whether that’s size, location, features, or aesthetics.
Mentally I started rounding up all of my must-haves, and since I’ve lived in 6 houses from ages 19 – 28, well, I know what I like! Sharing my list is not the definitive guide to what everyone must have in a home, of course, nor is it meant to shame anyone that has something I don’t think is “necessary”. This is simply my own personal experience.
This may be helpful for those that are renovating, thinking about building, or house hunting – as sometimes someone else’s experience can help you think of what is (or isn’t) important to you. Or this post is for those that just want to feel grateful they’re not us because we’ve moved so much. That’s cool too!
And even simply having a home is a luxury, so, of course, you can be happy and live a content life without these things. Don’t think that “must-haves” or “essentials” means they’re essential to live. Okay, did I get enough disclaimers out of the way? Hmm, probably not. But let’s get into it.
1. A Quiet, Wooded Location
Picture this: You’re giving me a dream European mansion to live in that’s worth millions – for FREE. (Wow, really? So nice of you.) But just one catch – it’s in a busy and loud neighborhood. Do I take it? Nope. Sorry. No can do. I appreciate the gesture, fully, but I can’t do it. (Okay, so maybe I take it just to sell it.)
I’ve lived in a busy apartment complex, next to a college, downtown next to trains and church bells, and by contrast, I’ve lived with few neighbors on an acreage. I’m sure you can guess what I would choose every time.
Everyone is different, but for me, nothing quite compares to the beauty, stillness, and peace that nature brings. Your home is the refuge from the craziness of life’s daily demands. It fuels and helps restore you so you can go back out into the world. Constant noise and traffic (if you’re sensitive to sounds like me) are only going to drain you and affect you in a negative way.
I would take a small, homely house in a quiet, wooded neighborhood than a 3 million dollar mansion surrounded by noise any day.
2. Flex Space
Who wants to feel stuck in their home or like they’ve outgrown their house? Having a bonus/flex space that’s not shared with anything else and has no other purpose besides conforming to your purpose is ideal.
A bonus room represents freedom and growth! Whether your family shrinks or expands or gains hobbies or jobs, an extra room can be an office, a study room, a den, a music room, or a homeschool room.
After carving out space for kids’ toys in the main living areas and then having a dedicated playroom, it didn’t take long to know the playroom was a priority.
I love that kids and adults aren’t competing for the same space. It can be fully the kid’s area, complete with cute decor and everything. And if it gets too messy, you can just shut the door! I mean, clean it. Obviously.
4. 3000-3500 Square Feet
Can you live with less than 3,000 square feet? Of course you can! We’ve done it. But it’s also difficult, especially when you factor in kids and work-from-home jobs.
I want a room to go to (that’s not the bedroom) where I can shut the door and be alone. I want the kids to have their own play space as well as a man cave for the husband, because I think people are more rested and recovered when you have a place to go to that’s all yours. And of course, I want other things, but a house that’s under 2,000 square feet has all the essentials and not much else.
On the flip side, I’ve lived in a 6,000 sq ft home and though it’s spacious and grand, it’s personally too big. More to clean and maintain for starters. And if you don’t do the cleaning and maintaining yourself and you hire out, then it’s more outside people to manage.
Of course, some people have these home sizes and love them. There are a lot of pros to more space; I just prefer a more manageable house and a simplistic lifestyle and I find those qualities in a “smaller” home.
5. A Proper Mudroom
From walking into the living room to having a mudroom to dropping everything in the garage – I’ve had it all. And I’ve got to say, a proper mudroom makes all the difference. Especially with kids!
Without a proper spot, things get strewn across the house, backpacks get lost, or bugs get in shoes (it happens with a garage mudroom). The ideal space is a room of its own coming right off the garage. This way you can keep the mess contained without losing the convenience.
6. A Room Where You Can Shut the Door
Now, I love an open floor plan. (In fact, it’s kind of what we’re building.) But in every house I’ve been in, I craved a place where I could go and shut the door. Which is why we did the conversion of a covered deck on our plans to a sunroom with french doors. Something like a library, den, study, sunroom, or 3 seasons porch is ideal.
Sometimes the noise the kids make is just too much! But even if you don’t have kids and you like to entertain, I can only imagine how nice it would be to transition into a cozy room to continue the conversation after gathering around the dinner table.
7. Attached 2 Car Garage
A garage is a luxury, yes, but after not using one for a year, I realized how much it can make all the difference. These are all first-world problems, but getting into a freezing car in the winter, unloading groceries in the rain, shoveling snow off the car, and trying to corral kids from the house to the car without running into the street are all first-world problems I’d like to not have again.
Of course, I mostly just described family living in the Midwest. I’ve watched a lot of Property Brothers where they renovate garages in California to be bonus spaces because they go unused. But 4 seasons people, you know what I’m talking about.
8. Another Level (Basement)
Living in the Midwest, basements are very, very common here. In fact, it’d almost be odd not to have a basement. But not all basements are created equally. An unfinished basement is still technically another level, but if it’s not a place you actually want to be in, then it doesn’t really count.
It didn’t take the pandemic to make me realize I need my space. Nope, that was my kids. I think a little space to spread out and have breathing room is good for all – and I mean that in the most loving way possible!
9. Laundry Near the Bedrooms
A dedicated laundry zone doesn’t have to be big. Personally, I think it can be as small as a reach-in closet. But after having a nice-sized laundry room in the basement (where it was always a pain to carry the laundry up and down) to having a small yet functional room near the bedrooms, I’d pick near the same level as the bedrooms every time!
10. Dedicated Office Space
Sometimes a desk in the corner of a bedroom is all you can do. And after all, who could have predicted the boom in working from home and remote jobs? But for long-term working from home or small business owners, a dedicated office isn’t just nice to have, it’s a must-have.
11. Primary Suite Bathroom
After experiencing a range of bathrooms, from private suite to down the hall to in the dining room, I know I *need* my attached, private bathroom. I want to know that I’m the only one that soaks in my tub. (Okay, hubby can too.) And on that note, double vanities are a must.
12. A Home That Is Close Enough to My Aesthetic
I know that I’m young, so feel the irony in this when I say, “I’m getting too old for this.” And by this, I mean renovations.
Unless you’re a home designer, DIY aficionado, or a full-time home content creator, I’m going to venture out and say that for most of us, renovations just aren’t that fun. We’ve done two and though the experience was invaluable and there’s a lot of reward, it was two too many.
If we were to ever move again (yes, even after building, you don’t know what life brings), I don’t want to take on a house that needs a complete overhaul if I can help it.
And I can hear you now, “Just accept it.” Sure, it’s easy to tell people just to live with something even if they don’t like it. But that’s not how it works for picky people. Obvs.
Okay, so those were my main essentials! There are more honorable mentions, like a kitchen island and tall ceilings, but now by contrast, here’s a list of the things that social media may make you think you need that I personally don’t find to be essentials after all our renting, living, and buying.
- A 5000+ Sq Ft Home: Social media makes you think “making it” is living in a mansion but that alone won’t bring happiness and a feeling of satisfaction. Sometimes it can actually bring more stress.
- Large Walk-in/Butler’s Pantry: A kitchen needs adequate storage, yes, but as long as you’ve got that, a walk-in pantry or butler’s pantry is just a really nice luxury – not essential.
- “Costco” Door: This small door that opens from the garage to the pantry may be a fun, viral feature that people are trying to say you “must have”, but you really don’t!
- Pot Filler: I’m pro-pot filler, but it’s a shiny useful feature – not essential.
- Snazzy features like a charging station in your kitchen drawers, built-in speakers, intercom system, etc. Once again, snazzy and fun to have, but a slippery slope telling people they “need” it.
- Double Kitchen Islands (also double washing machines, double dishwashers, double ovens): Sorry, I’m not a fan of this new “double everything” trend. For the right family (like kosher families), it may actually be essential, but I’m afraid this trend puts the focus on materialism. Of course, everyone has different must-haves, which I totally get.
Did I offend you or are we still friends? If you’re new here (or need a refresher) on why we’ve moved a lot, you can catch up here: A Look at the 4 Houses We’ve Lived at in 13 Months