Book Review: The Not So Big Life

“Making room for what really matters”

In my early twenties, I had grand dreams of traveling the world in search of unique and sustainable housing options. I wanted to bring new visions of environmentally-friendly and interesting living spaces to consumer-driven American culture, and I wanted to do it well. At some point, I realized I didn’t want to be an eco-awesome architect, but my love of creating inviting and personalized homes stuck. I started scouring my local library for dream-fodder and discovered the work of Sarah Susanka.

Trained as an architect and inspired by human experience, Susanka codified the “not so big” concept: Size isn’t what matters, but how you effectively use the spaces and tools at your disposal does. For years, she has been designing and remodeling homes to use this concept to create meaningful spaces and transform lives. Then one day, Susanka realized there was a huge discrepancy between the life she dreamed of living and the life she was living. This was the beginning of The Not So Big Life.

Taking the principles she has polished as an architect, Susanka created a tool for identifying what isn’t working in our lives, where the bigness of “McMansions” has crept in to our “McLives,” and how we can return to the dreams and aspirations that hold true to the core of our being. The result is this book, one of the few I have carried across states and through dozens of homes and relationships, turning back to it again and again.

It’s not just that Susanka talks about how to create more space by letting things go, or the way she brings basic design principles into plain language, making them accessible to non-designers.

It’s about being the architects of our own happiness.

I would guess I’ve read the book, all or in parts, a half-dozen times since it was published in 2007. Some days, when I am feeling especially disconnected from my heart or self, I will just pull it off my desk (it has a permanent home there) and open it, to any page, and start reading. It is that kind of book. Be it a story of someone shifting in their lives, or an exercise that turns out to be perfect for my moment, I am constantly growing and reaching inward through the wisdom I find.

It’s not often I go “woo-woo” about a book, but I know I was meant to read this since I saw it in a shop window four years ago. I didn’t hesitate to buy it, though at the time I was unemployed, broke, and living on a $10/week food budget. I splurged, and within a week found a new job. I realize now it wasn’t that the book brought a divine providence. It was that, through reading this book, I shifted my own perception of self, began seeing my work as valuable in the world, and made the changes I needed to open my heart to possibility.

There are a lot of “self-help” books out there. This is not one of them. It’s not a course in miracles, or a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s quiet. It’s a cup of tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s catching fireflies on a summer night. It’s laughter with your very best friends.

It is the moment when you decide to make a shift, a change that will alter everything you know, and you take that first step.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Not So Big Life

  1. Sara, you have truly nailed this book. It is a gem, and was transformative for me too. My favorite line in the book is “”You don’t have to change anything in your outer world. You just have to be in it differently.”

  2. Sara – this book completely changed my life. I had the opportunity to spend a long weekend with Sarah Susanka at Kripalu delving deeper, and that helped me understand even more. She’s an amazing visionary.

  3. I think i have every Sarah Susanka book – except this one. :-) I am going out today to buy it. It sounds like exactly what i need at this time in my life… Thank you. xox

  4. Sara, what a beautiful review. I’m delighted and honored that the book has had such an effect upon your life experience. There are authors whose work I use similarly to the way you describe–opening to any page, and reading whatever is there, which is always perfect for the particular state I’m in at the time. It’s good to know that this book can serve a similar purpose. We are all feeding each other with our collective wisdom, like bees making and sharing our honey. Many blessings to you.

    1. What a gift and delight to read your words! This book certainly has that ability and impact on me and everyone I have shared it with. I have long hoped to study with you in person, and as such am grateful for your work and published writings to share the wisdom. Many, many blessings to you as well.

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