Some of the emails we get from new readers include a question along the line of,
“We are moving into a small home, but we have kids and I don’t know how we can make it work. How does your family seem to manage so well?”
First off, we’re nothing special. I mean, of course I love my family and think they’re the best, but when it comes to living unconventionally, we are far from alone. In fact, there are many out there who I would consider path-makers, more so than our own family. Like this family a reader just shared with me, who live with their 12 children in an RV. I’ve got nothing on them!
Which brings me to this point -
If your family is considering a move into small, unconventional housing, and you’re not sure if you can, or where to start, you can do it.
Let’s just cut to the chase shall we? If my family can do it, your family can do it. How can I possibly know this? Because I never envisioned myself being cut out for it either.
And yet here we are, six people living in just under 200 square feet. From one previously cute-cape-on-a-quarter-acre mama to another (and to you Papas out there!), here is how you can make the leap without crashing ~
1. Change your mindset
I don’t want to sound cold, but the harsh reality is that attitude makes or breaks a happy home. I am thankful I had a few months warning to process our change of events before the move. I was fortunate. But I knew then that if I was going to live well I had to decide to be proactive and to be happy no matter the circumstances.
How can you do this? Start out slow by imagining yourself in a small home. Instead of thinking, “How can I possibly do this?” Think, “This is going to work, so let’s figure out the best way to make it happen.” No one is promising it will be easy, but there is a huge difference between the home atmospheres of a family who is happy and moving forward, and one who is stuck thinking about wishes and what-if’s.
Once you have begun imagining yourself in a smaller home, simply testing the waters of this idea in your mind, the world of small-home living will open up before you. You can choose to see the big homes next door, or you can choose to see the growing grassroots culture of people satisfied and empowered by their small homes.
Note – If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m coming at this post from the perspective of one who has no choice but to move into small housing. This was our position when we moved here during a period of unemployment in 2011, but we made this choice based partly on our dream to build a homestead, therefore it was not an unhappy decision. But the real reason I write from this perspective is because those who are making the choice simply because they want to probably know how they’re going to make it easy anyway. Most (but not all!) of the emails we receive asking about how we make it work are concerned about their lack of housing options and researching how to make the move as easy as possible. That I can relate to, and these tips are what helped our family to adjust.
2. Reduce the amount of space you currently use
Before you move, start reducing the number of rooms you use. Keep in mind the amount of room you will have in your new home. My goal was to “cut my house in half” well before we moved so I would have time to adapt to a smaller space before I had to. There was a certain freedom in tricking my brain into thinking I had control over this! I laugh now, but in reality I think this was my sanity saver, as I was really concerned about living with three lively kids in a camper, and now I have four! I’m positive that, as it did for me, thinking this way will help you to get those creative, small home ideas churning in your brain.
So did we cut our living space in half before the move? We had about 1,500 square feet to start with, and we reduced the space we were using down to about 700 square feet. Instead of a kitchen, dining room, living room, “den”, master bedroom, kids room, music room, and bathroom, we rearranged to end up with a kitchen, dining room/living room, master bedroom, kids room, and bathroom. It was still far more space than we have now, but we learned to get comfortable with that space, and it absolutely helped me to mentally prepare for living in a tiny home.
3. Stop looking at Better Homes and Gardens
… at least until you are confident about your home. Such magazines feature large homes with financially unreachable furniture arrangements for most of us. I enjoy skimming through them as much as anybody. You can find some wonderful ideas for making your space useful and beautiful (and it is possibly to adapt those ideas to meet a small budget), but if you are dreaming about a certain type of home, and finding yourself living in another, it could be harmful to your spirit.
But don’t stop there! Redirect your attention to researching small home organization and decor. There are lots of blogs and Pinterest photos featuring some really beautiful and creative ideas. Check out this article, with quite a few references to other sources of small home ideas. Once you are confident in your space, ready to consider what you can do to make it yours, then you are ready for BHG and other common sources of home decor ideas.
Surrounding yourself with other families living in small homes, even virtually, will also uplift you. And when you start seeing what can be done, you are bound to imagine some cool ideas of your own for your family’s unique space. The longer we live in our tiny home, the more creative ideas we come up with for creating the feel of more space, such as Papa’s recent “renovation” of our bedroom. Here is a recap of some organization we have done in our home.
Part of this confidence issue (which I have struggled with a lot!) is learning to not be satisfied with boring. What do I mean by that? If you are given a small space to work with, think outside the box to make it your space. For example, when we bought our camper, one of the biggest things that bothered me was how plastic it looked. Vinyl wallpaper is not cool. Seriously now. Who wants plastic walls? So I researched how to paint on vinyl, and being able to pick and choose the color scheme of our tiny home has gone a long way to making it feel less like a camper and more like a tiny home. Have fun with your space!
4. Protect each family member’s personal space
Nothing is more annoying than being stuck in a small space surrounded by a bunch of people talking (or as in the case of parents) listening to children yell and scream, when all you want is a quiet spot to hide and think or spend time on a chore or hobby. Even in a large home, young children enjoy playing around their parents’ feet, so the idea of dealing with this in a small home seems insane. I understand. Believe me. I understand.
That’s why we place priority on everyone having personal space to be alone and keep special belongings safe. It doesn’t have to be big, or even completely separate from the rest of the living space. It could be one’s bed (we have a rule about not playing in anyone else’s bed unless the owner of said bed gives permission). We also regularly have quiet times when each person gets a different spot (their bed, couch, my bed, the table, the floor, etc.) to work on their own projects quietly. It isn’t always easy to get everyone busy on a quiet activity at the same time, but encouraging it gives each person the permission and encouragement to pursue their own interests without intrusion, and think without lots of noise!
The other thing is though, that living in a small space
encourages forces us to face our problems. We can’t run away from each other – we have to confront disagreements head on. While this isn’t usually what we feel like doing, it is better for our family dynamic in the long run. We’re a tight family and we stand by each other. Living in a small space is obviously not necessary for that to happen, but it sure makes it easier!
Here is a post I wrote about finding personal space in our camper, five months after we moved in.
5. Take advantage of the outdoors
Everyone knows we all need more fresh air and exercise. What better excuse to get it than avoiding cabin fever in a small home? We don’t spend tons of time outside every day (some days less time than others, especially on the very hot and very cold days), but if the kids get cranky and start bouncing off the walls – they go out!
What this looks like for you may be different than what it looks like for me. The Kellogg Show family (as linked to above) spends most of their days outside, which is how they say they manage living in a small space with a dozen kids. This might mean encouraging use of resources in your backyard (we have trees, a swing set, and chickens, for starters), going on small adventures in your neighborhood, or traveling longer distances to experience more outdoor adventures.
Even though we place emphasis on protecting personal space inside, and we have adapted to living in a tiny home, we absolutely appreciate getting outside to avoid or fix cabin fever.
6. Remember it will get easier
With enough time, we all adapt to the space we live in. If it’s a 3,000 square foot house or a 100 square foot cabin, you naturally become content with your space… if you let it happen. There will be moments when wish you had a bigger home, but if you have changed your mindset and grown to enjoy your space, before you know it you will feel that it fits your family just right. This can take a while, but it is a natural progression.
Here are a few other families who live in small spaces.
- Loving this post by The Prairie Homestead, all about why they love their 1,100 square foot home.
- This post by Nourishing Days about what makes a house a home really touched me.
- The Little House Living family has been living in an RV for about a year, and is preparing to move into their farm house.
Do you live in a small space? Have you considered it? Tell us your story? Or, do you have questions I haven’t answered? Ask away!