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Yesterday I overhead a conversation between one of my kids and her friend:
“Wow, you have 4 kids in your family? Your house must be huuuuuuuge.”
Well, my dear one, you might be surprised to learn that it isn’t.
Well, I guess that isn’t 100% true. In one way it’s quite spacious– 1,100 square feet is average or above average compared to how most of the world lives. But according to the ever-expanding square footage of homes in America, we’re living small.
We all know the perks of living large: lots of space to run around, space to be unbothered, the ability to entertain large amounts of people at the same time, a home that always has an open bedroom.
But what are the perks of living small?
Some days small living feels cramped. When it’s below freezing AGAIN for the 30th day in a row and our kids are crawling up the walls, I want 2500 square feet to separate myself from the crazy. Lots of space to burn off energy sounds like, well, a lifeline from heaven.
BUT, most of the time I love that we can always hear one another no matter where we’re at in the house. A story coming from the big kids’ room, a cry of help from the bathroom, and giggles (or shouts of frustration, depended on the day) from the living room. Even when people are in different bedrooms or on different floors doing our own thing, I still feel like we’re together. Just through observation alone, I can stay pretty informed about what’s going on in my kids’ lives.
Speaking of [not] doing our own things, the kids have this m.o. where they follow us (and each other) around. No one likes to be in their room by themselves, but instead everyone wants to hang out together. Most of the time it’s quite charming. The kids read on each others’ beds, leaning on one another and often times reading over someone else’s shoulder. When I try and sneak away to my bedroom when the kids are drawing or building with legos, it’s not 10 minutes before every kid has brought their toy or book or drawing pad into my bedroom to be with me. And while sometimes we drive each other batty, I think we all kinda like the togetherness that 1100 square feet brings.
The recent warm weather reminds me of the fact we don’t have a yard. On a beautiful sunny day, I want my kids to run free outside while I enjoy a little peace and quiet inside the house. I envy parents who can send their kids into a fenced back yard to play for the morning without thinking twice. A fenced back yard is like a huge playpen — and I long for this in my life.
On the flip side, not having our own outdoor space forces us out into the community on a regular basis. Today, we rode our bikes to the school park where we crashed an outdoor birthday party game of kickball and started an impromptu game of tag with a few other kids from the neighborhood. Because we don’t have our own personal slice of outdoors, small living helps us to meet people in our community (even when our introverted selves would rather stay home).
Like many other apartments, we have an open plan, which is a fancy way of saying our living area, kitchen, and dining area are all just one big room. Truth be told, when we invite a few people over, our spacious-enough house suddenly shrinks and I feel sardined.
But we try not to let it stop us. One of our favorite memories is eating around our kitchen table with 16 friends for a Thanksgiving meal. While most of our American friends wouldn’t go for such a cramped way of eating, we find that many of our friends from other parts of the world don’t mind at all. Small living means we squish together, and in the process build a lot of memories. I don’t remember all my Thanksgiving meals, but I certainly remember that one.
Not only do we not have a ton of room for people, we also don’t have a ton of room for stuff. I can’t keep too much around that I’m not actually using, and there are times when I wish I hadn’t given a certain kitchen gadget to Goodwill. We’ve given up our habit of perusing used bookstores for fun, because our already-big home library has hit its space limitations.
Living small means our hearts can’t get too attached to our stuff. We know that what we bring into our home is only ours for a time. Eventually it’ll find its way back out into another kid’s closet or a neighbor’s kitchen. Small spaces teach us to think carefully about our purchases and to regularly consider what we need to give away. In a world where I’m constantly being told that stuff will make me happy, this is certainly a perk.
The desire for more and for bigger will most likely continue to be a draw for most of us. No matter how much square footage we have, we tend to wish we just had a little more. And for our family, the secret to contentment lies not in pretending those perks of big living don’t exist, but instead to notice and appreciate the upsides of our limitations.