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The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  853 ratings  ·  158 reviews
Have you ever found yourself asking, “Is this all there is to life?” Or wondering if this bigger life you have created is actually a better life? And do you wonder how it all got so out of control?

In her groundbreaking bestseller The Not So Big House, architect Sarah Susanka showed us a new way to inhabit our houses by creating homes that were better–not bigger. Now, in Th
Hardcover, 281 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Random House (NY) (first published 2007)
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I really wanted to like this book. I'm a big fan of the Susanka architectural books and I hoped to find something accessible in the same way about life remodelling. Unfortunately, while there is some good stuff in the book, it's couched in language and a sense of privilege that left me uncomfortable and annoyed.

If you're a well-off upper-middle-class or wealthy reader, the book may help, but if you've ever rolled your eyes at the concept that you make your own reality (especially if you equate t
Oct 24, 2011 rated it liked it
What mixed bag! I thought I'd never get through it. Finally I just gave in & let the words wash by, whether I registered them or not. There a lot of good stuff in it, most excellent Rumi quotes - - & also just a lot of stuff. ...more
Apr 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
Now I know why this book has been on the bookshelf for so long. I started it a couple times, got bored, and re-shelved the book. When I picked it up last week, I was determined to get through it. I really wanted to like the book. But I didn't. I forced myself to read the whole book looking for at least some part of it that I loved...or even liked...but that part never came.

I really like the concept/title "the not so big life." I strive to live my life this way...but I guess the definition of "no
Jan 20, 2010 rated it liked it
It's fine, but really there isn't much information here that you can't find in better self-help books. Her architecture metaphors are cute, but don't necessarily add to the message. I don't think the worksheets she has you do are all that helpful just because they don't:
- cause you take action
- provide any discussion when you're finished (other than your own)
Really, what is the point of spending 20 minutes filling out a worksheet on your preferences if there aren't follow up questions or an acti
I was expecting this book to be a more cut and dried self help book about creating a more meaningful and mindful day to day existence, with each chapter's different lesson framed by an architectural concept. It was that, but also a surprisingly dense dive into a lot of spiritual concepts, which I guess I wasn't expecting but was pleased to discover. TBH, I have owned this book for awhile and had started it a couple times before and kind of lost interest, so I think you need to be in the right fr ...more
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
In “The Not So Big Life,” Sarah Susanka tosses out hooks, but before the fish can bite she drowns them in more worms than there is water.

She seems like an interesting soul, but her best ideas are buried in a kind of rambling that feels as if I picked up her journals and not a concise final draft of a self-help book. She needs an evaporator to make a few precious drops of syrup out of her sugar water ideas.

Valuable reminders conceal themselves among the pages: to give self-reflection, meditatio
Oct 05, 2007 rated it did not like it
I think I've only read a very small handful of self help books in my life, and I have a bit of an aversion to their format. They start out telling you about the problem, then move on to an overview telling you how they will teach you how to overcome it (but not actually telling you anything yet, just that they WILL tell you). The next step always seems so flimsy, where they actually tell you the secret of life, the universe, and everything. Or whatever it was they promised you. Only it's usually ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really enjoy her books like The Not-So-Big House about designing for living, but this is a pass. There's some good stuff about slowing down and doing what matters in life instead of just being busy. But that's buried in too much other content. Mostly, it's overly wordy and overly woo-woo on the life inventory stuff. ...more
Jul 29, 2008 added it
Shelves: couldntfinish
reads more like a journal of how she "got" the meaning of life. It's been done before and by more experienced writers. Couldn't finish. ...more
Prab Doowa
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was oddly the perfect book to read first in 2021! I didn't expect it to be as thought-provoking or inspiring as it was. The Not So Big Life is about learning to listen to what your heart longs to do and to integrate these passions into your everyday life. The book often mentions that when you engage with what you are truly passionate about, you are automatically present in what you are doing - you are showing up completely in each moment.

I like the way the book discusses architecture and d
I picked this up from a little free library because the title looked familiar (I think I’d seen it recommended somewhere). I initially quite liked it – I agreed with the central idea of reducing overwhelm of all kinds to allow a clearer focus on what's truly meaningful, and I liked the broad definition of ‘clutter’ to include things like unhelpful underlying beliefs and habitual response patterns. As I got further into it I found it less compelling though, and I never quite got around to finishi ...more
Salina Christaria
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the audio book version shortly after resigning from an eleven year career due to severe job stress. It provided exactly what I needed at exactly the right time - a blueprint for remodeling my life from being a worker bee to into living a life that reflects my passions and my dreams. As I embark on the exciting adventure of aligning myself to my own unfolding, I can see that the author is right. All that is required is our presence. It is only when we choose to slow down and learn h ...more
I agree with goodreads reviewer Katie:

"Start with the end of the book, and read the six page owner’s manual. If it speaks to you, read the book. If you get distracted and look away before you finish each page, the rest of the book will be 250 pages of the same experience. She espouses a not so big house and a not so big life. If only she’d written a not so big book."

It's what I call a very dense book. Lots of good ideas...just hard to keep reading after a while.
Sep 24, 2021 rated it it was ok
I'm newly interested in the idea of slow living, while valuing more of what is actually important, so this book seemed like a great idea book for me to read: I normally get engaged in books and become immersed in them - so normally I finish my books quickly. Unfortunately, this was not the case with this book. Maybe it was all the architectural references, perhaps it was all the sideline stories of the authors own revelations, but this book was just hard for me to finish.
Wendi Lau
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a book about organizing your life. Who and what do you want and need in your life. Who and what do you not want. How you can make those decisions, see in new ways, and accept the flow of energies around you. More spiritual than I wanted but did most of the exercises in each chapter anyway. I guess I read the title too literally and was looking for home organization ideas.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. Really good message of 'do you really need a big house?' poses a question what really matters in your life. I typed up a year end ritual and spend several hours every year to reflect on the past, present, and future at the end of each year. The unique part is that the author is an architect, so no technical jargon in this book. ...more
Lindsay InAustin
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: growth
A good wake up call to what matters. One star off for saying that everything that happens to us is exactly what we need. She has obviously never worked in a hospital or child protective services if she really believes that. But otherwise, good ideas and exercises to help focus on what matters most.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This beautiful and deeply thoughtful book was exactly what I wanted to start my year. Susanka has a very zen approach to life's problems, such as: there are no problems, a kind of thinking that resonates more and more as I age. Highly recommend! ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was very powerful, insightful, inspiring and surprising. I finally tore myself from it and returned it to the library. I kept returning to the chapters to find more in there to help me reframe this next stage of life. I highly recommend this book!
Susan Sanders
Jun 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommended to Susan by: Cathy Cochran

This book really baffles me. I thought it would be 100% my jam, but I never clicked with it. I am glad I have my own copy because I would like to refer back to it someday or reread. Perhaps it will resonate then.
Dec 27, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a not-so-great book for those like myself who were expecting a Marie Kondo-type book about how to declutter. This book is about remodeling a home to fit your needs. The one consolation is that I bought it at Goodwill so at least the money went toward programs for the less fortunate.
Dan Gainsboro
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gift

Practical, immediately useful and user friendly. I am so grateful to Sarah for sharing this manual for discovering a more meaningful life. By applying a metaphor of a house renovation to creating the life we are all searching for truly resonated with me.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I loved her books on architecture. I only read this one for a book club. I wouldn't have read it otherwise. ...more
Kate Gwyn
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
It was okay. I couldn't get through the whole thing before I wanted a different book to read though. ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
I just don't have time - or interest - to figure out the architecture analogies. ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A little gem. I'm going to turn around and read it again. ...more
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Super interesting way to challenge yourself to change your mindset.
Sharon Pisacreta
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Architect Sarah Susanka has spent her professional life designing beautiful residential spaces. During a time when McMansions were springing up in every subdivision, Susanka’s recommendation to “build better, not bigger” resonated with those looking for a more sustainable and harmonious home space. Her 1998 book 'The Not So Big House' introduced her architectural philosophy and quickly became a bestseller.

It seemed a natural progression for Susanka to next explore how we live our lives in those
Nov 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ryu
This is by far one of the best books i've read in quite some time - i liked it so much, I just had to savior every moment and was a bit sad when it ended! Sarah is well-known architect and her expertise chanelling the wisdom of architecture into creating a life by design is absolutely phenomenal. Not only did I develop an appreciation for architecture in ways I had not imagined, she is a "cultural translator" helping you take on a "renovation" of your own life. I loved the stories and anecdotes ...more
Mar 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I’ve thought a lot about writing a spiritual memoir: telling about my spiritual path and sharing insights. Now I don’t need to! This book is categorized as a how-to book, but the memoir aspect of it is what makes it so accessible. The principles she writes about are identical to the ones we work with in our yoga practice, so if you’re looking for a way to ‘make room for what really matters’ in your busy life, this book is wonderful.

I could write reams about my experience reading this book, and t
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Sarah Susanka is a bestselling author, architect, and cultural visionary. Her "build better, not bigger" approach to residential architecture has been embraced across the country, and her "Not So Big" philosophy has sparked an international dialogue, evolving beyond our houses and into how we inhabit our lives. In addition to sharing her insights with Oprah Winfrey and Charlie Rose, Susanka has be ...more

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