The Joys (and Frustrations) of a Small House

It’s been two years since Jason and I fell in love with our yellow brick century home. We are very happy with this house, but it’s definitely small. At just over 1200 square feet, it has two attic bedrooms with a single closet between them, narrow dormers, and slanted ceilings. The boys share a room and we’ve managed to squeeze in the necessary dressers and lamps to make our room comfy. And there’s no bathtub, except the old claw-foot outside that we use in the warm weather. Our kids have to make do with standing in the  shower, which is fine, except for the pang of pity I feel when I see A. sitting on the drain, trying to block the flow in order to float his boats in a half-inch of water.

One of the many joys of summer time: baths!
One of the many joys of summertime: baths!

Sometimes we talk about our dream home – a beautiful timber frame that my dad would build with a soaring cathedral ceiling, a large kitchen perfect for hosting dinner parties, a couple of extra bedrooms, an office/writing room, a playroom for the kids. Our list goes on; oh, how perfect it would be, we say, but then our dream quickly dissolves at the thought of the accompanying price tag.

The truth, however, is that I don’t know if it will ever happen because I’ve come to believe that space is overrated. Sure, it’s lovely and convenient to have endless square footage to use however one likes, but I think that we North Americans have become programmed to think that a spacious house is a basic right, a sign of success, and that we need vast square footage in order to raise happy, well-adjusted kids. That’s just not true. My dad put it into perspective for me: “Your son thinks your house is a mansion!” His comment surprised me, but it’s true. I thought the same of the two-room cabin where I was raised until age six.

Something that bothers me about our dream home aspirations is that, ironically, by the time we could afford something like that, we’d no longer need the space. I won’t want multiple empty rooms to clean once our kids have left home. That’s when I’ll crave a house the size of the one we’re in right now – small, compact, beautiful. I appreciate TreeHugger writer Lloyd Alter’s response to this article on renovating homes:

Here is where we have to learn from Europeans, who recognize that kids are underfoot for a very short period of our lives, perhaps 20 years out of the 50 you might stay in a house. We got through raising two without a master ensuite, just a bathroom and a powder room, and now that they have moved out we have them all to ourselves. We only had bathroom wars for a few years when my daughter would never get out of the shower and I wished she had her own. Think long term and these needs really begin to look more like wants.

As for having space to host our returning children, there’s nothing wrong with ‘making do.’ That’s what we’ve always done, sleeping on sofas and futons and the floor. It’s one great big humble-jumble of happy family chaos.

My last thought is that, while we probably could manage to buy a slightly larger home, I’d rather not feel stretched to the limit by mortgage payments because there are other things I want to do, like travel. By compacting our lifestyle, we’re able to go places that we might not be able to afford if we were working to pay for a mansion. Believe me, it was totally worth living without a bathtub to be able to spend last September in Croatia and Italy. I’m not saying we’ll be here forever, and it will certainly get tight if we choose to have a third baby, but, in the meantime, this is as close to perfect as we’re going to get. It’s all in the way you look at it.

Home Sweet Home -- in the midst of a giant snowstorm last January
Home Sweet Home — in the midst of a giant snowstorm last January

10 thoughts on “The Joys (and Frustrations) of a Small House

  1. It is absolutely true that once the kids leave home you have tons of space to rattle around in. Rather than sell our home of 29 years to downsize, we are duplexing the house and giving the top two floors to our daughter Emma and her roommates while we retain the first floor and create an apartment in the basement. It’s a perfect solution for us. We can afford to do the structural work that is necessary, and get help with the mortgage, and Emma gets a very reasonably priced two storey house at standard that she could never hope to afford on the open market.

    1. Awesome!! I’m glad to hear others can relate 🙂 By the way, A. is still asking about your boys and when you’ll be back. He really enjoyed playing together.

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