Wednesday, June 29, 2011

no room of one's own

"Well you'll have to move, of course" a close friend said to me the other day when I brought up our next adoption. She said it so confidently that I hated to disagree. This is easily the number one thing that people who know us bring up when the conversation turns to kids. I'm not surprised because when we were in the middle of our first adoption process people said the same thing, or something similar. The assumption was that we would move soon after baby came because, of course, you can't have a baby in a one bedroom. (much less two kids!!)

I recently googled "super small family living" looking for some inspiration, and ended up finding a post at Apartment Therapy featuring a 431 square foot apartment in Paris that creatively and beautifully houses a family of four and their dog. Scrolling down into the comments I noticed that there were commenters who felt that while the apartment was gorgeous it was unfair to the children of the family to live there. A rather spirited debate then ensues in the comments about how much space is ethically required in order for children to thrive at home. I thought it was interesting, especially considering how I have come to feel about home-space and whether or not adding a child to our family automatically means moving to somewhere bigger. Spoiler alert - it doesn't. In fact that is something that we are very clear about, one kid or two we are staying in our condo for at least the next five years. Let me explain.

First, it does not make financial sense to sell our home right now. I'm actually pretty happy about this, because it nixes the cultural pressures to find somewhere bigger to live. We bought our home literally moments before the real estate bubble burst. Luckily for us we are at the low end of the market, which always rebounds quicker and maintains value better than the higher end. But still, it would be foolish to attempt to sell now and would certainly result in a financial loss for us.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have come to feel that living in a small space fits the values Andrew and I are trying to build into our family life. In fact our space holds us accountable to those values in a way that a larger home might not. A short list of examples:
  • Having minimal unused "stuff." It's a lot easier to say no to cultural pressures to accumulate and consume when you literally have no place to put stuff. This has allowed us to really question the things we feel we need or want and choose a few things that work for us. We have our excesses, mostly in the area of electronics and now J's toys, but they can only go so far, and be so big. Our home-space helps us remember this.

  • It is good for family to share. While our home is technically a "one bedroom" in practice it's a no-bedroom. That is, we don't have any rooms that are only used for sleeping, or that belong only to one person. If another child joins us, he or she will share sleeping space with J, a space that is also a family living space albeit one focused more on kids and kid-play. Andrew and I also share a sleeping space, a space that is also a family living space, albeit one focused more on adults and the functionality that adults need. There are parts of both rooms that "belong" to J and that "belong" to us, but we all live everywhere.
  • Immediate family aren't the only people we live with: Even if we had the money and desire to up-size I don't think we would. Because we would be hard pressed to find a house big enough for us and our neighbors to live in! If Andrew and I want to go out to dinner at the spur of the moment we just drop our baby monitor upstairs, and if J&K, our neighbors, want to do the same on a different night they bring theirs down here. If someone needs help, is lonely, or has a kid who needs a change of scenery we're all just a couple feet away from each other. And our kids are growing up in this lovely community with other kiddos to play with and several sets of parents watching out for everyone.
  • Where we live matters: We chose to be here because we wanted this neighborhood, this close to the city, the ferry, parks, etc. Living small means that we can reduce our footprint in multiple ways - not only the footprint of our home but we can bus or walk instead of driving. This matters - I want J to know this, and new baby too.
Do I feel some trepidation about four people in 730 square feet? Sometimes I do. Especially when I remember that Andrew will be working night shift for the next couple of years. But it's doable. In fact, for us, it's ideal.


  1. I'm so excited about your upcoming adoption!

    We also got the "when are you moving" question with our first and our second. And we're still happily in our 900 sq. foot, no storage home. Yes, we have to constantly be vigilant about what we have around, but I actually love living in a small space. I can clean my whole home in 10 minutes or less! :) And our family is close by default- we have to do things together and try to get along, there's just no other option.

    I love city life and we're going to stick it out in our small space as well for as long as we can. Good luck to you!

  2. I love this! We get the questions too. We live in a 1100 sq. foot 3 bed, 1.5 bath house. We have 3 boys and are adopting again. I do worry a little that if the next is a girl, the 3 boys will eventually have to share a room, but by that time, the older 2 boys will be close to college age. We are a very close family. We are pretty hardcore minimalists too. There is no room for anything extra with 5 people and 6 dogs (4 chihuahuas, 2 small mixes) in a very small house.

  3. I thought of your living situation enviously several times when Paul got sick last time - it hit me pretty hard how little of a support system we have built in when stuff like that happens. I don't know, though, even if we lived in a building with others I'm not sure we'd have it any better; we've had plenty of terrible apartment living fiascoes with neighbors. My point, and I do have one, is hang on to it as long as you can!! You're living the dream! (Or at least my dream.) And who knows, maybe if you run into some cash and after you have adopted #3 and #4 down the road you could trade up to a 2-bedroom in your building :)

  4. Carrie - yes city life is so great!! And in many ways less expensive. With five parks within walking distance no need to pay for yard upkeep and your own swingset for a backyard. The city is the backyard. :)
    Coco - I'm excited to hear you're adopting again!!
    Sarah - our building is a incredibly happy accident, I think. I know people who have set out to intentionally build what we've stumbled into here and it hasn't ever worked out this well. I have thoughts about why and how that is, but they have yet to coalesce into a post here.

  5. I would love to have a neighborhood like you have!

    I commend you for living true to your own standards. A McMansion and a super-sized mortgage isn't what's best for every family.

  6. Just found your blog from JennyJ's blog (I'm also a friend of Dayspring). I love this post! We just moved to Portland from Arizona, and downsized from a modest 3 bedroom house with a large yard to an 800 sf house with no yard. We have two preschool-aged girls. For the most part, we love it! Not having the space makes it a lot easier to not accept/buy/accumulate/save whatever. I like being creative with our small quarters. The only downside is that it's harder to host gatherings/have people over. But there are so many upsides! We love being able to walk to so much, the neighborhood is great, we know so many of our neighbors...