Monday, November 26, 2012

Small House

Some days it feels a bit like this

We live in a beautiful house.  It is a 1,700 square foot ranch, and we use every inch of it.  It has four bedrooms, a living room and family room, two bathrooms, a laundry room, garage and a good sized (albeit dodgy to access) attic.  We have a backyard with a shed and several garden beds. We live across the street from a playground (aka the yard we don't have to mow).  We LOVE our house.  

I can't help notice, though, how many, MANY comments we get about how we can't possibly stay in our house now that we have three kids/the kids are growing up/the kids' stuff is getting bigger/we are homeschooling.  There are days where we feel rather squeezed.  We have toyed with the idea of adding on and may well do so at some point.  I have friends who live in even smaller places and I admire their mad organization skills and know they get asked the same questions I do.  Compared to homes around the world, 1700 square feet is huge.  And yet, our house is considered small for our sized family in our part of the country.  This got me thinking- haven't people been living in much smaller homes with many more children for years?  The answer, of course, is YES.
Graph found here
The average new home size has more than doubled in the past 50 years, while we are having fewer children.  With the recent recession, new home sizes have decreased slightly, but for the most part, people still desire more, more, more space.  I understand this, really I do. There are things we dislike about our current space.  But for the moment, we are staying put in our "little" house and making it work for us.  Here are a few things we like about our place and some ways we make it work.

What we like about our "small" home:

1) We are together.  There are spaces for us to have some alone time, but for the most part we are together. Life is never boring when you're together.  Plus, we can supervise our kids easily.  No baby monitors needed.  Not to say that they don't occasionally sneak away to color on the walls or splash in the toilet...but at least they have to work a little harder at it.

2) I can pick up the house in a few minutes and deep clean it in a few hours.  Since children seem to mess up every available inch, fewer inches= less mess.

3) It is affordable. Heating, cooling, all costs less, and if we're lucky (and disciplined), we might just pay off that mortgage sooner than later.

4) It is cozy.  We know every nook and cranny of this monsters hiding anywhere!

5) It makes us want to be outside more...especially in the summer, our sliding door opens and the yard becomes part of our house.  I can see the kids playing outside from my kitchen window, and feel safe with them out there.

6) It makes us pare down our stuff.  We can't have everything, so we make decisions about what stays and what needs to find a new home.  Everything that stays has a place and value. Goodwill loves us.

Tips for making it work:

1) Use every inch. Our front hall closet holds toys and games.  Our girl's closet holds the changing table. We don't have a guest room, we just have our kids bunk in together when we need an extra room.  Our daughter naps in our bedroom so her sister can still play in their room during the day. Every room is used every single day.

2) Every item must earn its keep.  We recently realized that neither of the two lovely desks in our office had been sat at in months.  We sent them to new homes, purged old textbooks, consolidated two bookshelves and moved the sewing table.We added a loveseat and a new table Matias got for his birthday and voila...a comfy office/craft room/homeschooling room. Even something nice is just in the way if it is not being used.  Don't hold onto things thinking you'll use them in the future.  If they haven't been used in a while and you won't need them in the immediate future, take them to the attic or pass them on.

3) Rearrange to meet your needs.  Our kids have shared rooms in all possible combinations. Matias' room was a playroom for a while.  Our office has morphed several times.  Our living room is rearranged frequently.  Our computers and printer have lived all over the house. The master bedroom held the changing table and nursery furniture when new babies came home.  Nothing is set in stone...move it!  (Pro tip...marry a man who enjoys moving furniture as much as my dear husband.)

4) Be creative.  It started out as a tv stand.  Then it held a dollhouse. Then it was a bench in the laundry room that held hats and mittens.  Now it holds dress-ups and Duplos and is our puzzle table.  A cabinet, with the doors removed, becomes a shelf.  A shelf with a cash register and some toy food becomes a play kitchen.  The "linen"drawer under the crib holds the dolls and toy animals.

5) Don't fear the "lived in" look.  We have a time line running around our living room, maps on the walls, a solar system hanging in the kitchen, instruments on the floor by the piano, and guests hoping to hang their coat are greeted with a closet full of games.  No denying it...we have children.  "Lived in" doesn't have to look messy- we keep things neat- but this is where we live and learn, and it shows!


  1. Houses have become enormous in recent years, and my husband and remark on this all the time: what family of four needs 4000 sq ft? That's 1000 sq ft per person - only slightly less than the size of our childhood homes. It's ridiculous.

  2. Love this, Helen. We live in NYC and I've seen many, many families making it work in modest spaces. Good for you and good tips.


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