How downsizing our home helped our family grow
By Beth Mackey
Then we started off on an adventure.
Our daughter was about 10 months old when we moved into a 900-square-foot home with an open floor plan and one closet in Keene. No way could we even think about fitting her stuff, our stuff, and ourselves into this place!
Then, thanks to a friend’s post on Facebook, I stumbled across the tiny house movement. I found cute story-book houses and blog posts telling the chronicles of brave souls giving away their possessions and living with less, all to live in infinitesimally small spaces.
But the one thing I didn’t find much about were families living in tiny and small houses. Individuals, absolutely. Couples, sure. But with kids? Not so much. I just figured that we’d have to figure it out on our own.
Since then, I’ve found a number of other families that have shared their experiences with living small. Maybe it would be possible for us.
There are definite joys: less to clean, less to buy, less to pay for, smaller mortgages and utility bills. But with a 2-year-old and another on the way, parenting in a small space comes with some challenges, too.
Just about everything gets shared, all the time. Living space? Shared. Play space? Shared. Sleeping space? Shared. Headaches? Sometimes, they’re shared, too!
Probably the hardest part of living in a small space is handling a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum. She needs a break, and I need a break, but we can’t get away from each other!
We now understand the power of going outside. The fresh air, the change of scenery, the temperature change, all provide a good opportunity to take a breath. During an outburst, it calms us down. But we live in the mountains, so this is not always a viable solution. When it’s 10 below or raining (both of which happen frequently!), we make a point to look out the window and find something outside to focus on: a bird, the weather, the wind, a leaf.
Since we’re constantly sharing space, I find it sometimes difficult to impart healthy separation to my daughter. She is always in my sight and I’m always in hers.
On the other hand, my daughter plays where I can see her, and we always get to be a part of each other’s lives. When she squeals over a re-discovered book she hasn’t read in months, I’m right there to share in her joy. When I’m working on a project, she gets involved. When she’s about to draw on the wall with a marker, I know. In reality, her independence is stronger because I’m not worried about her getting into trouble in another room. She can explore with freedom.
Yes, we sleep in the same space: we have a sleeping loft, where one side is hers and the other is ours. Until we bought this house, I never considered that there might be any way of living other than each kid having their own bedroom, with a door, and toys and books, and a closet full of clothes, and space. When my daughter was an infant, I remember feeling so very relieved when we finally moved her to her own bedroom in our last house. Freedom! And it was great, at the time.
Now, I treasure the fact that I can hear her breathing when I wake up in the night. In the morning, I see her sleepy eyes and her amazing little smile first thing. I’m literally right there if she needs anything.
Believe it or not, she still has enough space to practice her dance moves on the carpet before she hops into bed for the night.
This seems to keep coming up in my conversations with friends and family: Where do you go to be alone? The truth is, nowhere. I can try the bathroom, but any parent knows no toddler is going to let that happen!
Where do you have private conversations? We wait until bedtime, or go outside. Or, we spell things. It makes a two-minute conversation last ten, but right now it works. I’ve heard pig latin works well too, and we might have until middle school before she figures that out!
Where will your kids get private space? Honestly, I’m not sure. My daughter has a reading nook with her books and a miniature rocking chair of her very own. She loves to hang out there, and it seems to make her happy. And there’s no way on earth that I can fit in that rocking chair, so that space is all hers!
If one of us really needs to escape the shared environment, our sleeping loft provides some private space during the daytime Sleeping lofts: for more than just naps!
For now, living in a small space works for us. As far as our human experience tells us, we only have a finite time to live and enjoy this life. I’ve always had a strong push to make the most of my time, and living smaller is helping me do that.
We know that, as our kids grow up and start playing in the school band, they’ll probably need more space. And so will we!
We’ll cross that bridge — and buy that house — when we come to it.
When Beth Mackey isn’t plotting how to get rid of her stuff, she works as a consultant in data management and runs Tamarack Mountain Guiding, a climbing guide service in the Adirondack Park. Read her blog at livingsmartlivingsmall.blogspot.com.