Monday, November 18, 2013

lessons from a tiny house.

The owners of the house we live in lovingly restored this 100+ year old place, and I try to imagine the families that have come before us. Before it was restored, there was no central heat. Even with the windows shut, the wind fluttered the curtains. The bathroom and kitchen were added to the back in later years, and the attic converted to another bedroom. But before that, it was oh so tiny. And I like to wonder, who lived here? How did they make do?

Did the families of this old house have enough to eat? Did they get to put up a Christmas tree and drink hot cocoa during the holidays and carve into a juicy turkey, or were they working twelve hour days, helping others enjoy the luxuries of leisure time while they came home to a cold, drafty house?

Or were they a small, tight-knit family who chose to live on this beautiful street close to the river, sacrificing square footage for proximity and location? Was it like when my mom was growing up - five girls sharing two bedrooms and one bathroom, and a brother making do in there however he could? Living just right on top of each other, stacked like sardines and not many places to escape? I remember my aunt saying she used to go sit in the car and read, just to get away from it all.

I remember drawing open-faced houses as a kid, filling each room with furniture and awkwardly-drawn people and the houses reaching heights of five and six stories; then later in life looking at Better Homes and Gardens floor plans and dreaming about a 5,000 square foot compound with landscaped pools and three car garages. The American Dream on steroids.

The humorous reality is that as an adult, the homes we've inhabited during our six+ years of marriage have been the size of one of my fantasy garages.

We've lived in a basement apartment with only four walls and ants marching through the window sills and neighbors the floor above who were really into Guitar Hero, in an airy loft above a garage that holds our best memories as a couple, in an old house with an oil furnace that belched out black smoke from the basement, and a downtown apartment where our garage was our closet and our skiis lived with our bedsheets. And in between traveling and transitions, we lived in bedrooms offered by generous and movingly hospitable friends and family as we figured out our next steps or played the waiting game. It's been nothing short of chaos, stress, and adventure.

Now, as we've finally settled down in this old house on a tree-lined street just up from the river, I realize how my dreams have been filed down and stripped away, little by little. One "real" bedroom and one bathroom is an inconvenience sometimes...but in my eyes it means that my girls (and us) will learn how to give up their personal space for the needs of others, and come pile in with us when we host guests. No playroom means that the girls dump their blocks by Andy's feet while he watches football and I make piles doing whatever I do (it's always new and changing but there are always piles).

And then when I think, we could go smaller if needed, I remember my dreams of those houses and the space and there's a sense of contentment and that maybe all these teeny houses have enabled us to dodge the American Dream bullet, because for us, maybe that dream won't ever be a reality and comparison is the thief of joy. And how awesome would it be to live in an Airstream and travel the country? And also, how fun is it to go visit friends and family who do have those big houses?

It means that I can't keep as much, can't want as much, don't have to clean as much, and learn how to make space out of no space and learn to love living shoulder to shoulder with my family. And I Just Plain Love It.

- - -

What are your thoughts on space? What are your favorite memories of a "house"? 


  1. I love this. We've lived in an old house for a little over four years now and keep talking about finding something bigger. I'm not sure if I'm ready to give up that character.

  2. Thanks Amber! There are definitely Pros and Cons to old vs. newer. We've lived in both...namely, the utility bills :)

  3. Great post, specially now that I'm moving into a new place :)

    Cathy Vargas
    Vintage Girls

  4. I would love to see pictures or sketches of your layout. We want to move to a very small house but are worried about how to make it work with kids. We don't have any now, but we hope to soon.

  5. i so so so love this. it really speaks to me. i love what you said about your girls learning to share/give up personal space for others since -- something i didn't really learn until i got married and had a husband walk me through that sort of selflessness. also, the piles! i'm like you and have or leave piles wherever i am or go.

    enjoy the closeness. love to you and yours.

  6. I started my minimalist journey 2 years ago. This year that journey included a move from our 3 story apartment in the city to our new tiny house for our family of five. My husband and I opted out of having a bedroom which shocks people that we gave up having our "own space" and we sleep on a shikibuton from an amazing, affordable American company we found. We bring that out in our living room at night and put it away during the day.

    To be honest with our three kids in our old huge apartment, we still only congregated together in like 3 rooms during the day and the other parts of it went wasted and used only sometimes. The transition has really been easy for us but space is relative depending on your lifestyle, right? I mean, as I live in a way that I am constantly purging belongings and rarely require new ones, it would be easier for me to get along in a small space than someone who's life requires more.

    It's also been fun for my husband and I. Solving storage problems becomes like a puzzle or a game of Tetris. It feels like we move our furniture around every other month. It will probably be years before we are done organizing and have everything fitting like a glove.

    I could totally keep going on this. I don't usually comment but when I find something that I would love to have a conversation on I can't help myself!

  7. Thanks emily. I've been inspired by your place many times - pretty sure it's smaller than ours :)

  8. i love this topic too - thanks for commenting! I love hearing from bigger familiies and how they're making it work as we plan to keep growing our family, too. We are totally checking out a shikibuton! You are so right about space being relative to your lifestyle, and it's a constant challenge to keep myself purging. I can really tell if I let it go for a while, everything just gets cluttered and then I can't take it any more.

  9. Hey Brittany, ok! I'll do that soon and post it. I love seeing others' layouts, too! I'm not very good at visualizing - have to see it IN PERSON. :)


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