I'm thinking small these days. With my youngest ready to fly the nest and head for college in a few months, my big four-bedroom house feels like more of a burden than a blessing. I'm sick of cleaning it, heating it, paying taxes on it. Instead of maintaining whole rooms that rarely get used, I aspire to a charming, compact home that my husband and I could inhabit fully.

Apparently I'm not alone. Homebuilders also are thinking smaller, which means a lot of their customers are too. The average size of new homes has been shrinking for the past couple of years, according to the National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org). That's a dramatic reversal from the past two decades when home sizes increased steadily.

Average new home size peaked in 2007 at more than 2,500 square feet, according to NAHB data. By last year, it had fallen to 2,377 square feet. That's still way more house than most people were building in the '70s, but builders expect new home size to continue to shrink over the next few years. "Our experts expect the average home size in 2015 to be around 2,150 square feet," said NAHB researcher Rose Quint, quoted recently in the Dallas Morning News.

The faltering economy is a big factor, of course. But many experts think consumer tastes are shifting away from the "bigger is better" mantra.

John Archer, chairman of the University of Minnesota's Cultural Studies Department and author of "Architecture and Suburbia" (www.upress.umn.edu/Books/A/archer_architecture.html), thinks the green movement and Sarah Susanka's "Not So Big House" philosophy have contributed to a long-term paradigm shift that will keep house size down even after the economy picks up.

Susanka's books "piggybacked on the distaste people developed for McMansions," he told the Star Tribune in an article published October 20, 2010. "People started to latch on to a different aesthetic, that bigger was not better, that quality of life does not mean large volumes of space."

Amen to that! I feel my own quality of life would be much better if I had less space -- and more time and money for other things.

How about you? Are you saddled with more space than you want or need? Will your next home be smaller than your current home? And do you think homeowners will continue to think smaller -- or shift back to wanting Monster Homes once the economy improves?