Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show in the nine months to March, the average floor size for a new freestanding house was 243.6 sq m, down from a high of 248 sq m., two years ago. Builders are reporting a shift away from the luxuries of the dedicated media room, games room and home gym setup to one that is more open plan and multipurpose.
The reasons are obvious- it costs too much. Far from being energy efficient, the financial burden that comes with a bigger pad can weigh too heavily on a household already struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. There are bigger gas and power bills and mortgage repayments not to mention the hassle of having to spend time and money maintaining and keeping the whole thing clean … no wonder we are thinking again.
Another problem of the larger, have-it-all home is that we have less need to leave it to meet our daily needs. Social interaction is being replaced by home-based activity for our convenience. It is easier to get on the treadmill, 'chat' to someone on Facebook, play tennis on the wii and shop online instead of getting out into our communities.
There is no substitute for real communication and the lack of it can affect our sense of well-being. Mental health issues such as depression and the feeling of isolation that many people experience is the reason some programs are being developed, specifically aiming to get people out of the house, talking to others and active in their communities. 'The Shed' for men and 'R U OK' Day are a couple of examples.
I must admit I liked growing up in a five bedroom-four bathroom residence but there was a downside that I became aware of later in life (and it didn't include housework or paying the bills). The downside was that it made it more difficult to connect with the other six members of my family. It was too easy to co-exist without really getting to know one another from spending time in close proximity.
We all need our own space and it was certainly a blessing to be able to escape from my siblings for a while but it did shape my views on how I want my own family home to function.
I am conscious of creating an environment where communication is encouraged and valued so we know what's going on in each other's lives. There are no computers, TVs or other electronic entertainment in the bedrooms. Our living space is used for meals, games, entertainment, homework and handstands. It's a bit cluttered but it's homely and there's always someone to talk to.
Donna MacFarlane is married with three children and is a former Olympic athlete, now living in Western Australia.