By contributing writer, Erin Long
Have you ever walked through the IKEA showroom and wandered around the displays that boast “Our Family in an Impossibly Tiny Space” and wondered how, as cute and efficient as it might be, people could ever actually live in small spaces like that? Small space living may be lauded, but is it worth it?
When we signed a lease for an 800-square-foot duplex in October I seriously questioned that my husband, three kids (4, 3, 8 months) and I could fit.
We’re not newbies to living in tight quarters and we’re quasi-minimalists: we’ve moved internationally on airplanes in two fifty pound suitcases per person six times in eight years and have never lived in more than 1,000 square-feet. We know how to pack light and we like being cozy.
But this was the first time we were a family of five, we owned furniture, and we didn’t have a move out date before we moved in. And now we live in America, the land of huge homes and three car garages, it’s not like the rest of the world, where families in small spaces are the norm.
While I was excited by the challenge and even looked forward to bucking the social norm and raising our family in less space than the average American family, I was nervous.
Would we walk all over each other all the time? Could we keep the kids’ toys contained? How would it work with three kids and only two bedrooms?
As it’s turned out, not only do we fit in our small duplex, we actually like it.
We have to live intentionally
Everything we moved into our home had to have a purpose and everything we bring into our home has to contribute to the function of our family. This quote by William Morris is our standard: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.
If it doesn’t fit this criteria, it doesn’t make it over the threshold.
This allows us to thoughtfully consider what we buy and what we choose to keep. We would be overrun by stuff the moment I started buying all the cute things that catch my eye or if we let the kids have more toys than they actually play with.
It’s liberating to have only the things around us that contribute to our happiness and the smooth functioning of our home. It allows us to focus on what really matters.
We cannot let our home get messy
I have to start by saying I am a naturally tidy person. I wrote a two-part series about it here and here. So, keeping a clean home does come relatively easy to me but it’s a challenge to maintain tidiness when there are five people in a small space.
I don’t have counter space for lots of dirty dishes and if I have a pile of laundry in the living room it quickly gets spread all over by my rambunctious kids because they don’t have many other places to play. Toys must be picked up throughout the day or there is no way to get from one side of the living room to the other.
Our home is usually a bit messier than I would like but that’s life with young kids, especially in limited space. But then I don’t have a choice other than to clean, because our 800-square-feet would turn into 100-square-feet in about two hours.
It also doesn’t take long to get our home clean for guests. Because there isn’t much floor to vacuum, shelves to dust or counters to wipe, we can typically be ready to welcome people into our home in half an hour or less. It takes some stress out of hosting!
We save a lot of money
This is why we chose our home: it’s in our price range and the utilities are inexpensive. We considered a slightly larger home with a few more extras but settled on this one because it would give us more leeway in our budget.
Because we keep our housing cost low it allows us to use more of our money in ways that are important to us. We are more intentional in our spending because we can’t just buy things that would be nice to have but aren’t necessary, which for us includes a dish washer and dryer (we do have a microwave because this mama needs her tea hot). So not only is our housing cost less, our monthly spending is less, too.
It’s easy to supervise my kids
I never wonder where my kids are or what they’re up to. Our duplex isn’t open concept (Joanna Gaines would definitely knock down a wall and put in an island) but the kids are always within earshot. I can be in the kitchen, getting ready in the bathroom, or cleaning the bedroom and know where the kids are and what they’re doing.
A day will come when we’ll all need a little more room to roam but while I have little ones underfoot, close proximity is a necessity.
It creates closeness in our family
When my older two get mad at each other they have to work it out because they don’t have their own rooms to retreat to. When I feel overwhelmed I have to address the causes rather than escape into a secluded place (maybe that would be nice sometimes…). My husband and I always spend the evening together because the only rooms not occupied by a sleeping child are the kitchen and living room.
Large homes are known to create distance in families as each person has one or more places where they can remove themselves from everyone else. While there is a time and a place for that, it’s not all the time.
Because we’re always in the same space our family has more opportunities to interact and connect. It helps us to foster closeness and establish bonds that will tie us together as our children grow older.
We know it’s not forever
Our lease is for one year and while we don’t know what our life will look like next October, chances are we won’t be in the same home. By then our oldest will be in school and our youngest won’t be a baby anymore – I don’t know if such a small space will serve our family well at that point. We’ll see.
But if we do move to a larger space it won’t be much larger. A few hundred more square feet could work for our family for the long term without sacrificing the benefits that 800-square-feet give us right now.
Living in a small space isn’t for everyone and there are times I do find it limiting. We can host only small gatherings and I don’t want to always store Christmas decorations at my in-law’s.
But far and away it’s a blessing to our family and it challenges us to really think though how we live and to be wise in our choices.
And that’s ultimately what we want: to live our life intentionally and in the way that’s best for our family and our circumstances, even if mainstream society says something different.
So whether you live in a yurt, a downtown high rise or a large home in the suburbs, live in the way that is best for you and your people. We’re all better off for it.