Monday, October 10, 2011

big picture

When we tried to move to a bigger house a few years ago, I discovered I couldn’t disentangle myself from this little house.  Like a plant in a small pot, our roots had grown through the bottom, binding us in a tangle I was loathe to rip up. 

So, we renovated.

A little. 

We added almost 200 square feet to the living room, added insulation, replaced our drafty windows and rearranged a few walls to make better use of space.   

Still, it’s true that sometimes we have to wait to use the bathroom.  And if anything untoward happens in there, you can bet that the rest of the fam will find out about it.  No matter where we’re going, we have to step over the dog, and my friends who used to bring their teeny children to dinner, now bring their teen children.  These monsters actually expect to sit on furniture, and in a sprawling and selfish sort of way that seriously challenges our seating capacity. 

With no storage space on the ground level (no garage, no basement, little closets), there’s only one place to put our extra stuff:  out the door and up the ladder to the attic over the carport.  Need a low-usage item like a sleeping bag, an extra lunch box or the fondue pot? Out the door and up the ladder.

BUT, I love that we can find each other without raising our voices. When we lose our cell phones, we can hear the ring from any room.  If I stand in the middle of my kitchen, I can touch my sink, stove, refrigerator, and trash can without taking a step (and at the same time if I had four arms).  From this lucky spot, I can cook dinner without chasing myself silly around an obtrusive kitchen island. 

I hadn’t realized how the house had shaped us, like a meatball, or a cup of brown sugar, packed tight. 

Steve and I sleep in a double bed because anything bigger would turn bedroom to padded playpen.  I know what you’re thinking, but what to do in said playpen after a real knock-down-drag-out? Even after the worst of arguments, it takes a lot of work to stay in one corner of a small bed all night, untouching and untouchable for a ridiculous marital standoff.  Eventually, a toe or a knee goes astray, burrowing into enemy territory without intent. It’s not long before everything else follows.  Then you wake to find yourself thoroughly snuggled and probably drooling on the shoulder of last night’s mortal enemy.  The only way out of that is a quick apology and a new day—or sex.  Neither makes for a bad end to a fight.

Until 3 years ago, the kids shared a room just 5 steps from our main living area.  During those sweet innocent years, they fell asleep to the rustle of each others bed clothes, and to the comforting sounds of their parent’s voices outside the door.  If they feared that an ugly green witch had a leg up on their window sill, we could practically douse her from the couch.  We cook, eat, do homework, watch TV, practice musical instruments, and egad, play soccer, in a large central living area that includes kitchen/dining/living room.  The noise, the clutter, the frenzy is enough to drive a mother mad.  The only thing that could be worse: the quiet of children sequestered in a basement, or an upstairs bedroom. 

The kids do have a small TV room in which to retreat or entertain friends. I don’t spy, but if I need to, I can hear every word they utter in there.  Mostly, however, I don’t listen—I think the house taught us this—to give each other privacy.  Otherwise, we’d never have it.  Don’t listen to other people’s conversations – even when you can hear them; don’t stand outside the bathroom door snickering (we haven’t mastered this one yet—apparently there’s a learning curve); don’t walk into rooms without knocking (none of our bedroom doors lock – is this a characteristic of a small house, or just a broken down one?).  

The house has also taught us about simplicity and moderation: about need.  We quickly learned if there’s no room for it, don’t buy it! Kitchen-Aid? No way.  George Foreman Grill? Uh-uh. Electric can opener? Good-God!  And the bonus: all of these space-eating appliances also eat electricity.  Surely we can open our own cans without plugging in? 

I’ve heard women complain that they need a cleaning person to help them keep up with their big houses. I know they truly feel overwhelmed, because I feel overwhelmed too.   But with less surface area to scrub, I don’t need a cleaning person any more than I need a fat-handled toilet brush.  I also find myself asking: Why do we need a foosball table when we can play soccer in the yard? Why do I need a different glass for every type of cocktail? Who needs last year’s magazines? that sweater I haven’t worn in three years?  That old laptop with the blatzo hard drive…? 

I like battling clutter, buying less, conserving energy, reducing expenses, staying close, and staying close, and … staying close.

Even though we didn't plan this, I'm glad we landed here, and sprouted, and grew.  I confess that there are big things that we need, but they're the kinds of things that come in small houses.


  1. Just read this and love it. We lived in a similiar situation 4 years ago. But, we gave in and moved further out to where we have more house, yard, and safer schools. But, still pretty small for a family of six, and now we can bike to practice because, aside from the trips into "town" for major groceries, everything in very close. So we have just one vehicle. So that counts for something?! Husband does have a car for work, but he only uses it for work, absolutely nothing else. So when the blessed soccer season rolls around (like now) and we must go in separate directions, there are bikes or carpools involved. Also, we go to some games all together rather than have a few of us go and the leave the rest of us "stuck" at home. If we had 2 cars, I suppose we would not go to as many things all together, as Husband or I would decide that we could drive in the opposite direction for something we really *need.* Need in the way Americans need more stuff.

    1. hey franny, thanks for digging up an old post! i think this (and it's partner, "small house") are two of my favorites. anyway, love the idea of one car. yes - i think that counts for a lot! i couldn't even begin to plan for how we'd manage that!