Little House, Big Family


We live in a small house. We’re okay with that, but two adults and four children—who continue, inexplicably, to get older and grow in size—in two bedrooms and a converted garage can be a challenge. We spent the three-day weekend doing what we traditionally do, which is to rearrange the entire house. Thanks to this year’s tax refund, we rented a dumpster and got rid of as much of our dilapidated furniture and any items not fit to donate as we could. One Ikea trip and three full days of work later, this house is a little more habitable.

Our previous house was a bit larger, and the one before that was bigger still. What I found was that the more space we had, the more stuff appeared to fill it up. We didn’t even have to buy it; furniture arrived from friends and family to take up residence there, often for “safekeeping.” Toys seemed to breed overnight. Each successive move lead to more stuff filling less space. Thus the dumpster. I prefer small, thank you.

What makes a small house work for a family? A place for everything, and everything in its place. We make extensive use of baskets (I don’t even know where they come from): baskets for shoes, baskets for wooden blocks, baskets for sweaters and coats. These hanging closet organizers are surprisingly effective. Shelves and bins for the various things girls collect. And because we’re a family of readers, the bookshelves are finally cleared for books! Plus lamps, because of the reading, and tables to hold them. Our kids need floor space to build and play—blocks, Legos, puzzles, board games, sketchpads—so we try to make as much room as possible.

Most of the time, a two-bedroom house is cozy. But things come up. There are already lines for the bathroom, and none of the girls are teenagers yet. The nine-year old must have read somewhere about privacy, and is lobbying to move into the garage. Further rearrangement is in order. And a single couch can lead to territorial disputes if someone (for example, a toddler) is not in the mood to share her personal space. I try to stay on my feet as much as I can, and save my couch time for when they’re sleeping. I’m sitting right now! It’s nice.

I think that mostly a small house works because of the yard. It was sunny and warm today, and lunch was served on blankets on the lawn, surrounded by stuffed animals. While the parents shifted furniture and bagged clothes, the kids ran, played, gardened (planted sticks in the lawn) and found endless uses for sand, stones and mud.

Whatever space you share with your family, I hope that it works for you. Stay cozy.