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The big benefit of downsizing: There’s more family time

21downsize credit Sol Linero

Pick up any parenting magazine and chances are you’ll find an article about the importance of play.

Or consult a play therapist and psychologist like Lawrence J. Cohen, author of “Playful Parenting,” and he’ll vouch for its key role in child-rearing. “Play allows parents to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection.”

Too bad we’re doing so little of it today.

Most of us spend just 36 minutes of “quality time” a day during the week with our kids, according to 2013 British survey of 2,000 parents.

And things aren’t any better on this side of the pond. One-third of us say we don’t have enough time with Noah and Sophia and Liam and Emma, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll.

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Of course, most moms and dads with means can change this. Simply unfold the Monopoly board and advance to go.

If you’d rather go directly to jail than play board games, consider the following suggestion, which has the added benefit of saving you a vault-full of cash.

Downsize your expectations.

Data the US Census Bureau released in June show that newly built homes are ballooning. The average single-family home built in 2013 was 2,598 square feet. Let’s compare that with the 1960s, when the median new-home size was 1,500. (The average household size in 1960? 3.29 people, according to Statista, a statistics portal. In 2013? It was 2.54.)

Susan Orlean of The New Yorker is certainly right: “Oversized houses, like oversized cars, seem to be a particularly American fixation.”

I’m as guilty as the next. All my life I’ve dreamed of owning a Victorian with a turret, fancy scrollwork, and lots of spindles.

Didn’t happen.

My family ended up in a plain vanilla, 1,300-square-foot split-level (white, no less). Why? Because there was an in-ground pool in the back and my wife always wanted one. Instantly, she imagined hours of splashing with our 2-year-old daughter, Laura.

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My architectural preferences were overruled in 60 seconds.

It was the best decision “we” ever made. At first it galled that our house looked the same as the one next door, and the one next to that, and so on.

But then a funny thing happened as our young daughter grew. It began with a play kitchen we bought one Christmas. Partly from lethargy — but mostly because there was no other place to put it — I left the oversized toy in the living room after the tree came down. And after the Valentine’s Day candies were eaten. And after the Easter egg hunt was over. In fact, it stayed in the corner for practically two years, as Laura and her friends cooked up hundreds of entrées and served them to my wife and me as we read or watched TV.

Then came a Victorian dollhouse — my dream in miniature. By the time my daughter and I finished building the Queen Anne kit, it ended up — you guessed it — in the corner where the kitchen she lost interest in had been.

But dollhouses, like kitchens, eventually lose their appeal . . . and are replaced by 300-thread-count-cotton tents.

Claiming squatter’s rights, Laura and her pals would drag king-sized sheets from the closet and fashion elaborate canopies in the living room. More than once, her Big, Bad Wolf grandpa was taunted to blow them down.

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Then, when tents fell out of favor, dramatic plays took center stage, performed in dress up and videotaped by Aunt Pootsie, Uncle Joe, or whoever happened to be in the room.

Even the TV my wife and I watched was commandeered for “DanceDance Revolution” and Xbox karaoke. I can’t dance, but my wife sure can sing.

Funny, but if our house were bigger, I’m sure our family time would have been a fraction of what it was. My daughter is 20 now, but I know from visiting friends with cavernous Colonials that kids usually scatter to third-floor playrooms or basements with recessed lights and a big-screen TV. And any kitchens, dollhouses, or tents fit easily in their suite-sized bedrooms.

Sure, I fondly recall school plays, piano recitals, and softball games, but our living room is where it really rocked. It was a sumptuous feast of spontaneous activities in which everyone played a starring or supporting role.

Expectant parents, when you’re out house hunting and bewitched by that limestone-brick palace, motor past to those modest neighborhoods. There’s a terrific upside to downsizing.


Jerry Cianciolo is a writer and also chief editor at Emerson & Church, Publishers. Send comments to jerryjcianciolo@gmail.com.