On Living In A Small House

I live in a 960 square foot house with my husband, my two kids, and a cat and a dog.

And most of the time, it’s not that bad.

Actually, let me clarify that.  I really love my house.  And I don’t mind that it’s so small.  Most of the time, I kind of like it.  I think it’s actually sort of cool that we’re making do with such a small space, but there are certainly trade offs and considerations.

First of all, this was an intentional decision.  We could have lived in a much larger house in a subdivision farther out.  However, we wanted to live in an old house.  We wanted to live in a neighborhood, not a subdivision. And this is the size of house that we could afford where we wanted to live.

We got LOTS of advice when we bought this house, but the advice I am most glad I listened to was that of my step father, who just intoned “location, location, location” every time I talked to him.  And I LOVE the location of my house.  Which is lucky, because obviously it’s the one thing I can never change.  I can add on to the attic or put in a new kitchen or hell, I can park a trailer out front, but I can’t move the house.  And if we can never ever sell it, I will be fine with that.  Really, I will.  We have the best neighbors in the world and we are two blocks from a park, a cafe, Target, a gas station, the doctor’s office, the library, a pool, preschool, a grocery store, sushi, and a barbecue stand.  I really love it here.

I  do think that making a small house work is really dependent on layout.  We have a real dining room, and a real living room.  If we didn’t have a dining room I don’t think we could make it work in this house.  We eat dinner in the dining room every night.  We have very small bedrooms, but we have a kitchen that two people can easily fit in.  (Not much more than two people, but it’s not a struggle for two people to cook at the same time.)  The kitchen has enough counter space so that I can have my Kitchenaid out all the time, and so that we don’t have to pull lots of things out of high cabinets or out of drawers all the time.  I can’t be dealing with dragging a mixer in and out of a cabinet every time I want to use it.  That thing is heavy.

We also have a garage and an attic.  The attic is a bitch to get to, but it’s full of baby clothes and baby things that we don’t need very often.  We don’t park our car in the garage, just in the driveway on the side of the house, so we use the garage for strollers and tools and bike trailers and boats and the treadmill.  I keep a lot of craft stuff in there as well.

We also have a fenced backyard, and we live in California, so we’re out there A LOT.  I think elsewhere you’d need a basement, because our backyard is pretty much the key to making our lives manageable.  I have a pack and play and a sandbox out there and we all hang out in the backyard as much as we can as soon as it gets warm.  This year I think the pool in our neighborhood is closed thanks to budget cuts and so we might put a big trashy above ground pool back there as well.

We also don’t have a lot of stuff.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  We have a lot of stuff, but not more than we can fit in this house.  We have one tv.  We have one computer.  We have lots of books, and probably too many clothes, but it all fits in our closets so I am not complaining about that.

The toys mostly live in a little alcove in the living room, although we also have a toy kitchen and an easel in the dining room.  We have a big 4 x 4 Expedit, and what doesn’t fit in that thing, I get rid of.  Speaking of which, I get rid of a lot of stuff.  We have garage sales and I drop stuff off at Goodwill about every two weeks.  Or else I just throw it out.  I throw out so much stuff, you guys. I really do.  I have no idea where it even all comes from, but regardless of how well intentioned some of this stuff is, I just don’t have room for it in this tiny house, so if we don’t use and don’t have room for it, out it goes.

It also helps that I am kind of crazy about keeping the toys isolated to the corner of the living room.  (It’s a biggish corner).  That means that my living room doesn’t feel like a play room and it’s easier to keep clean.  We did have a train table, but it was too big for the room and it didn’t really hold that many train tracks, so I sold it a garage sale.  Eventually I will get rid of the crib in the kids room, and then I will move the toys in there, and the corner where they are now will become my reading area.

The other key to living in a tiny house is furniture.   I have to be very thoughtful in my furniture buying decisions.  Everything has to hold something or store something.  Our bed is elevated and I store craft supplies and suitcases under it.  Eventually I think I also might buy the trundle that goes under it.  We also have a trundle bed in the kids room, which means when Katie outgrows the crib I won’t have to fit another bed in there.  I bought a giant low dresser that covers almost one whole wall in their room and we also use it as a changing table, and above it we have three shelves full of bins for stuff like blankets and socks and hats.  In our bedroom we have a storage chest instead of a bench and it holds extra blankets and clothes.  I have bins of train tracks shoved under the couch and under chairs.  My extra dining room chairs are stackable, so they sit together in the corner.  I have a pot rack in the kitchen and another one hanging flush against the back hallway wall.  Hooks and shelves are my best friend.  All our shoes fit on the three shelves we put up in the closet, although only Mr. E can reach the top row of shoes, so he keeps his way up high.

Eventually I’d like to get a sleeper sofa, and if we also get a trundle bed for our room?  I’ll be able to sleep seven people in this tiny ass house.

It also bears mentioning, since we’re talking about sleeping, that when we were looking at houses we had to purge “is this house big enough for house guests” from our minds.  We simply did not have the budget to buy a house for other people to stay in.  True, we could have a bought a “not us” bigger house, but I just didn’t think it was worth it to live somewhere I didn’t like in a house I didn’t like so that no one would ever have to stay in a hotel or sleep on the couch when they came to visit.   For an extra 100K I could have gotten a house with a sweet mother in law unit, but no one showed with a check for a hundred grand, so there you go.

This house is really easy to clean, which is nice.  I can clean the bathroom in thirty seconds with four wet wipes.  (Gross, but true.)  I can vacuum the entire house from the same outlet.  However, I think it also gets dirty faster.  And honestly if I knew that we’d be living in such a small house, I don’t think I would have gotten two pets.  We’d have a smaller dog (more like the 40 pound range) and we wouldn’t have a cat.  Two pets is too many for such a small house.   But I am also not a pet person, so maybe it’s just me. I don’t know, they produce a lot of pet hair, and I’m over it.

My kids do share a room, and it’s gone remarkably well.  Maureen is my “two kids in a room” mentor and she talked me through how to do it, and now?  It’s insane, but they can’t sleep if they aren’t both in there together.  And someday? I  might just cram another kid in that room.  Look out world!

I would say the one major downside to this house is that Mr. E is not as quite as much on board as I am.  Sometimes it feels like I forced him into this, and that if I had said “we need three bedrooms, let’s go live in a subdivision in Agrestic” that he would have said “Ok!”.  And so when he complains about the size of the house, I feel guilty/responsible/stressed out and it makes me really defensive.  So that’s not my favorite thing in the world, as you can imagine.  I am sure I am internalizing a lot of this, and it’s not his intention, but I can’t help it, I take it personally.  Then I start doing things like ripping up all the laminate and sending him emails with the subject line “fine if you want to move so bad we have to sell this house get ready to install a new floor this weekend it won’t be that much work why don’t you get off your ass if you hate living in a tiny house so much” and as you can imagine he really loves those emails.

Feel free to commiserate in the comments if you are also cramming six creatures into a space smaller than Donald Trump’s bathroom.


19 Responses

  1. This house is smaller than our rent house. The living room ESPECIALLY which is problematic when we own a ginormously huge sectional sofa. We don’t have a separate dining room but we have eat in space in the kitchen AND an area adjacent to the living room that holds a fairly large (when expanded) table.

    We have three patio spaces outside. Sprog has his own room. We have a huge master bedroom and closet.

    That said. I FREAKING HATE my master bathroom not having a damn door. I FREAKING HATE that we are ridiculously crowded into our office because of a 4 ft iguana cage (did you know they live like 20 years or some shit? I didn’t) I totally feel you on the pets. When we moved in we had three dogs and the three of us, plus the iguana and then we added a snake.

    My kitchen pantry is A JOKE but I bought a huge ugly and industrial shelving system and put it at the back wall of my kitchen nook area so at least I have a place to store all of my excess kitchen crap and food. Someday it will go live in the garage.

    We have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF. I have never felt this so much as when we had to figure out where to cram it all during the floor reno. HATE. I have been steadily boxing up stuff and sticking it in the attic or just throwing it out (if I can’t donate) it ever since. I have no patience for garage sales (people are INSANE around here with the attempts at getting shit for a nickel and I have had stuff stolen)


  2. I relate to a lot of this. Our house is only 1100 square feet, which by hip, yuppie, 30 something standards is small, I think. Thank god I am neither hip nor a yuppie.

    But it feels fine spacious to me and I think it will be an awesome house to have a family in, but the main reason for that is because I don’t have a lot of crap. And I don’t WANT a lot of crap. I like manageable amounts of crap. I want everything to have a place, and if I had a 3000 sq ft house I am sure I would probably start collecting mouse figurines or scary dolls or something and then I would obvs die from the effort of dusting. So – IMHO – small houses rule!

    Also — HELLO — California real estate is totally overpriced and if you are going to buy some of it, I think a back yard is a must! You might as well get what you pay for and we are paying for this “good” weather (although today? it’s on notice.) All of these new subdivisions have a postage stamp for a backyard and I’ll tell you I would rather have a small old house and a big yard. Mostly again because I do like space, but the backyard doesn’t need to be dusted.

    Apparently I don’t like chores. 😉

  3. Our apartment is pretty spacious, as apartments go, but I have three kids jammed in one bedroom and the third bedroom is a playroom. We are moving into a smaller house but it has more rooms, so Princess gets her own room, and it has a backyard, which we don’t currently have. I would move into a house half this size if it had a backyard. Will kill for a backyard. Also, the new location is awesome. One of the things I hate the most about where we live (as if hating where we live isn’t patently obvious from my blog name) is the location. We are steps to NYC but far from everything else. I’m looking forward to moving to a place where there are restaurants, shops, grocery stores, a community center, etc. Apparently where we are now doesn’t have these things because you can just hop a jitney into NYC. Which is a lot of fun with three kids under 5.

  4. Oh, GIRL. You are singing my tune! We live in a just-barely-1000 square foot, 2BR apartment with two adults, a toddler, a dog and a cat. And if/when we have a second kid, the toddler and a newborn will be sharing a bedroom so I will be ALL UP IN YOUR BUSINESS about that. Be forewarned.

    Anyway, I will also note that we don’t have an attic, garage or yard (or dining room!), but we do rent a storage space, so anything off-season or baby-related that is not currently in use is in there. It’s not cheap, but I hate completely throwing expensive stuff out that we might one day use again. That said, we also throw out/donate A LOT of crap several times a year — clothes, books, etc. We just don’t have room for huge amounts of STUFF.

    We are also creative about multitasking furniture, like a bench in the living room that opens up so it’s also a toy box. And storage ottomans — they hold crap AND we use them as seating for guests. Our TV stand thing also has big drawers for DVDs, etc.

    We also cannot host guests, and sometimes I get very bound up about that, as I’d love to be able to have the family come for Christmas or not have my parents have to stay in a hotel when they’re here. But…well, choices, choices.

    One of my friends put it this way: your family comes to visit maybe a handful of times a year, but you live in your home EVERY DAY. So while we’ve fretted over whether we should move to the burbs for that (and the yard/storage/space issue), we really do prefer living in the city and having everything close by and not having to commute far to work.

    Small-space living — represent!

  5. Amen. We have 5 people in 1200sq feet and i do a lot of the same things you do. I really think regular purging is the biggest thing!

  6. I live small, too, in favor of location, location, location! And, you know, it’s worth it. My friend Jenny says, “love grows in small spaces.”

  7. We have 4 people and 2 cats in a 900 square foot condo with no storage and no yard, but we’re in the city and LOVE it. Having little extra space forces us to really think about what we need and don’t need. And we are like you with multi-function products and hidden storage- it’s a must!

    And we have built-in family closeness, since there’s really nowhere to go to escape each other. 🙂 Yes, it has its downsides, and I wish we had a bit more space to store my husband’s random athletic gear. But we’re planning to stick it out for as long as we can!

  8. I think the whole bit about “where will the guests stay?” is a TERRIBLE use of space in a house.

    In our old house, Chris wanted to keep a bed in the office “for guests!” after Claire was born, even though WE NEVER HAD ANY GUESTS. And I was like, I am not devoting that much space to less than 4 evenings per year for people who can certainly stay elsewhere, happily.

  9. bigger than my house. We are a family of 5 in a 1950’s starter home in the chicago suburbs. ours is 920 sq. ft. Three bedrooms, one bath, and the kitchen closet turned into a powder room by the original owner who had 5 kids. We still have the ugly yellow metal cabinets in the kitchen.

    We make do with what space we have….a place for everything and everything in it’s place is the usual manner around here.

    The walls of the garage are stacked with Rubbermaid (TM) bins of stuff we want to keep….and resort everyother summer…..in fact….time to to that soon,

    and the best part….small house, smaller mortgage than most people we know…..this is how i got to be a stay at home when the kids were little. now, two in college…..

    we survived, in fact the kids flourished!! Won’t give up my little house for anything…..

  10. I just got jealous when you said you have a Target 2 blocks away. Mine is a 15 minute drive that magically turns into 40 minutes anytime after 3 pm.

    We’re in a 1400 sq ft house with 1.5 children, two adults, a small dog and an extra large cat. It does seem tight at times but we have really learned to love our house and it’s close quarters. We have the space we need and I purge, purge, purge all the time.

    With the baby on the way, we’re losing our “guest” room and at first I panicked a bit but then my wise husband reminded me the only people who have stayed over are my parents who live 30 miles away and can go HOME. Smart man, that one.

  11. I love this post. My house is 1200 sq feet and I love it. (I could use more than one bathroom, though) I can clean it top to bottom in an hour, vacuum from one outlet, like you said, and it forces us to get rid of crap. We definitely could have afforded a bigger house but we wanted to live on a lake and have a boat, so we sacrificed size. It’s been totally worth it.

    I have a cousin who lives in a house that is upwards of 3500 sq ft and the first thing my husband said when we first saw it was “If you wanted to, you wouldn’t have to talk to any of your family members for days in that house.” I don’t think I would like that feeling. We are forced to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company.

  12. That’s the same size as the living area of our house, though a key difference (and one of the huge selling points of the house) was that it had an unfinished basement, too. One that could be converted. So when we moved in, we had one toddler and I was 32 weeks pregnant, and then for four years we were basically in your situation except (1) a basement to store things in and (2) no garage or attic.

    Then when I was expecting the twins, my dad offered to do the work (we’d pay for materials) to put two more bedrooms in the basement. I mean, IMAGINE. It made a HUGE difference. And then about a year ago he put a bathroom down there. Again: HUGE difference.

    I like what you said about not being able to afford enough house so that guests wouldn’t have to sleep on the couch or in a hotel. We did the same.

    And I LOVE room-sharing. We had all four kids (this was before Henry) in one room before the downstairs bedrooms were done (which took a couple of years with just one guy working on it). And if my dad hadn’t offered to do our basement, we’d be doing that same thing even now, so.

  13. I want to throw out about 90% of what I own. And I am making progress, actually (see my recent post on The Attic Of Stuff), so I say kudos to making it work in a small space. I think people expand to fill their space like goldfish, and I think most of it is unnecessary. I’m still struggling, because there are things that I think “I will throw/sell/give that away!” and then I can’t, somehow, because then I won’t have it anymore. But I’m working on it. (Mysteriously acquired collection of vases: You are on notice.)

    I am curious, though, as to what your long-term plan is for your son and daughter sharing a bedroom. Is the “propriety” of that situation a concern for you at all? I’m obviously right there with you for the time being, as my son and daughter share a room just fine, but we do plan to expand to more rooms in the future.

  14. so what do you do with the pot rack that hangs flush in your hallway? I’m dying to know because I need to find ways to make better use of our space.

  15. Oh, yeah, preaching to the choir. We are currently in a 2 bedroom, 900 sq ft apartment with our third kid on the way. And plan on being here for at least 3 more years. It takes some doing, and some creative work in the girls room…not to mention very little walking space around our very necessary king size bed… but we are more than comfortable. Even the bullmastiff.

  16. Oh, and I also wanted to say that I sometimes feel like I am standing, armed, at the door of my house, facing a wave of STUFF. WHERE DOES IT ALL COME FROM?

    I have started giving away unwanted gifts immediately, though, instead of storing them for ten years and THEN giving them away. It’s very nice.

  17. 968 sq feet right here. One man-child, one toddler-child, one newborn coming in August, 2 boxer canines that drive me up a wall. 3 bedrooms (though, one of them is small enough to be a closet… it’s doing double duty as a nursery slash library slash office crap in the closet), no formal dining room, but space off the side of the kitchen with a three light chandelier so I suppose it counts, and my front door opens right smack into my living room. What I would not give for a fourier of some type to combat the dirt.

    That said, my kiddo has his own room, and thanks to laptops, so does this second one coming along. Our bedroom is comfortable, we’re 10 minutes from everything, live in a couldesack where I know all my neighbors (and all their drama), and hello huge back yard.

    There’s plans in the works for an unattached garage this fall once we have the cash saved up. My hubs dragged me kicking and screaming into this little, old, bought at the height of the market house, but after we had the kitchen, floors, what not laundry list of things done, I’ve come to love it. There’s a TON more that still needs doing, but it’s home, and we can afford for me to stay home and tend after it, and raise our kids, and I’m endlessly grateful for that.

  18. The three of us share a 720 sf house (one of us is a toddler). Most of the time I love it, and I really loved it when it was just my husband and me, but lately I am wishing more and more for a larger house. We do have a huge yard, but we live in Seattle, so it’s usefulness is limited to 5 months of the year (it is currently raining as I type this). We don’t have a dining room (oh, I want a dining room so badly), but I do have a small dining room table in the living room where we eat most our meals. We make use of storage bins, baskets, shelving- all kinds of creative storage solutions. I do often feel like I live in a playroom, but the toys stored out of sight (for the most part) in said baskets, shelves and storage bins, so it’s not too bad. I also am constantly going through our stuff and giving things away. I take a trip to Goodwill at least once a month (usually twice a month). We will definitely need to find a bigger house (or make this house bigger) before our next child. But for now, it works and it is actually quite cozy and charming.

  19. We have lived in a 900 sf house for nearly six years and felt as if that was more than enough space. All but the last year and a half or so were with just my husband and me and 2-3 cats. We had to get a little more creative with play space when my daughter was born but, again, very doable. Now that our landlord is selling the house and we have another baby coming, we have the opportunity to buy our own house and to have just a little more space without actually paying very much more. I’m so thankful. We are looking for three bedrooms so that we won’t have to move again unless we want to (a girl and a boy on the way–they can share a room for a while but not forever. With three bedrooms, our family is covered no matter what it ends up looking like.). A decent sized yard was also on our list because, even though I live in Seattle too, I MUST be able to spend time in the garden on days when it isn’t pouring. Digging up blackberry vines in January is actually very stimulating at a time when that is much needed around here. Not to mention being able to send the kids outside to play.
    I am also having a fantastic time purging pre-move!

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