Do you ever read home improvement magazines/blogs etc., and think to yourself “I could live a pristine, organized life, too, if I had a million dollars and a custom-designed house?” Those articles always irritate me a little. Like, it’s not that hard to make things work when you have unlimited space and funds and maybe servants’ quarters for your household staff. I (weep for me), on the other hand, am living in a small AND strangely-designed house with two little beasts who like to dump bowls of cottage cheese on the floor (well, one does it accidentally. The other, not so accidentally).
That’s why I love seeing people who manage to live well in small, not-customed-designed spaces. And, because I live in an ancient-for-Calgary neighbourhood, I have that opportunity quite often. I don’t know if people were just smaller 100 years ago, or if bigger houses were too expensive to build and maintain, or if people just preferred to live in windowless, coal-infused misery, but the houses in this ‘hood aren’t exactly spacious.
Enter case study number 1: The house next door. It is inhabited by Erin, who is almost as cute’n’tiny as her house.
Chez Erin clocks in at a whopping 630 square feet. Which might be a reasonable size if she lived alone. But she shares the space with her full-sized husband, Khris, their super-active toddler, and a creature that is basically a black bear with a dog face.
One evening last week, I sat down with Erin and a bottle of the cheap’n’cheerful stuff to discuss the joys and traumas of small-house life.
Ruth: What’s the best part of living in a small house?
Erin: I don’t have a lot of space to clean. I don’t have room for a lot of stuff either, so ideally it keeps our possessions at a minimum (unless you go into my basement!). It keeps things pared down. You don’t have a lot of rooms to fill with furniture and wall decor. It helps me realize what we actually need to have.
Ruth: How about the worst?
Erin: Not having that extra space when you need it – that toy room or playroom or family room. Everything happens in one room, rather than having a little more space for family to spread out in. Like when we have friends with kids over, the kids are playing in the same space that the adults are trying to have a conversation in. It’s not necessarily the everyday life – it’s the occasions and the other times, like when you want to have a birthday party or host a group of people.
Ruth: What is your favourite storage solution/house adaptation?
Erin: We added a hall closet. [When we moved in, there were] no closets in either bedroom. No entry closet. We needed a closet! We put one in at the end of the hall for towels and sheets and extra toys. I keep my salad bowls and crockpots and toys there, too.
Erin: I’m proud of the fact that there are spots for all the toys. After our son goes to bed, we can have friends over and not feel like we’re sitting in a toy room.
Ruth: How about the most irritating thing about your house?
Erin: My bathroom is my least favourite part of my home. It’s just not functional. It’s very cramped. There’s not a lot of storage. There’s one small sink. It’s not the fact that we have only one bathroom – it’s the size of our specific bathroom.
Ruth: What are the special challenges of living small with a child?
Erin: I wish that H had more space to play in. I wish he could have more space to run than just back and forth. Overall, I actually don’t find it that bad stuff-wise. It was a little more challenging when he was an infant because you have a swing and a vibrating chair and that kind of stuff takes up space. But having a toddler I don’t find that bad. I think it would be harder to have a middle schooler. It would be hard for them not to have a space without their siblings. I think that’s probably more challenging for a child.
Ruth: Has living in a small space influenced the way you see life?
Erin: I definitely think it has. It keeps us in check with what we need, and how we spend our money. That you don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. That small is good and it’s actually something to be proud of. We choose to live this way. I think that makes it easier.
Khris (entering from stage left with a cold taco in his hand): It was a choice to begin with. But now, I’m so used to it that it doesn’t feel like a choice anymore. It just feels like this is the way life is. And I like it.
Ruth: Do you see yourselves in this home forever?
Erin: No. We’ll stay here as long as we can. We see ourselves having multiple children in this home. [But] there is no space for an older child to have a hangout with a friend and watch a movie. What the actual timeline is who knows… it depends on how long we can make it work.
Ruth: Would you recommend living small to other people?
Erin: Yes, but it’s definitely not right for everybody. It wouldn’t be a blanket recommendation.
Khris (between bites of taco): Yes. I would definitely recommend it, but not for everybody. There are probably very few people that I know who I would wholeheartedly recommend it to.
Thanks for sharing your house with us, Erin and Khris! You can rest easy knowing that once we wall in the space between our houses, you actually can stay forever!
Are you living in a small house, or do you know someone who is? I’d love to hear about it!