I went through a period of disenchantment with our house a few years ago. I took a look around and could see only how impossibly small it was; I was frustrated trying to find space for kitchen towels or sets of sheets. Our place had no hope of holding the six of us then when there were only four, but with some diligence and discipline, I’m progressing toward my goal of making our 1200+ square-feet ideal for our family.
“By American standards, we need a bigger house,” – a recent line from Jennifer Fulwiler that rang too true with me; but America’s bigger-is-better inclination sends a lot of people down an insatiable road of discontent. So with no plans to move in the near future, we’re here to stay and we might as well love it. What stirs contentment and defeats Grass-is-Greener Syndrome are the big perks of small living, the bright spots that reveal the freedom of simplicity.
1) Less house, less cash
It’s a fact that our mortgage is less than it would be if we had a bigger house in the area. It’s also true that with less space, there’s less to fix and finance. When we eventually replace the carpet in our bedroom and install a new countertop in the kitchen (that’s right – one single countertop), it’ll be on the cheap simply because there isn’t that much to replace.
And buying extras is cheaper, too. I can’t tell you how many times my jaw has dropped in instant infatuation with wall decor at World Market. But again, we have only so much wall space, and to buy more decor means replacing something that’s already up; but I like what we have, so boom – infatuation over and my cash stays in-pocket. We’re more intentional about what we bring home because of the space something new will have to occupy. And consequently, the stuff we have is more appreciated and maintained.
2) Less house, less time
Spend less time deep cleaning; less time picking up; less time fixing the fewer things that break. Fill the voids with reading, training to climb Everest, taking walks, calling your mom, and dancing to your “Hound Dog” Pandora station. The would-be free time is already full of family busyness for us and in our whirlwind, I thank God that our house isn’t overwhelming me, too.
3) Small house, close family
Our kitchen is a short corridor between the hall and back deck containing not only major kitchen appliances, but a washer and dryer too. It’s tiny and in the mornings, when the Catholic Kids are crowding and chirping for Cheerios and Andrew’s tripping over them trying to make breakfast and get to work, it can be the most frustrating corner of the house. Sort of. Our little kitchen in need of serious renovating is also the place I bump into Andrew the most, which usually means an extra hug and kiss. It’s also where our babies crowd me, which turns into them helping prep snacks and meals when I’m a little more charitable.
Speaking of kids, three out of four share a bedroom and it’s a priceless experience. Our first landlady was encouraging and inspiring when she told us, “Kids stack really well,” so we shouldn’t fuss over having a couple or several in one space. The three fellas bunk together and create some fantastic memories giggling to sleep. Their shared space cultivates a fundamental sense of community in their young minds, and they know that they go together.
4) Our favorite Father likes it
Our dearest priest friend comments on our house each time he visits. It’s just like the one his family had growing up, he recalls. About the same size, similar layout, and he has hilarious anecdotes of their family of six (like ours!) experiencing the joys and sorrows of life in tight quarters. He remembers his house with such nostalgic fondness that it affirms my contentment and hope that this place is just what our family needs.
So small house it is! And most of the time it doesn’t feel small because it’s our norm. Simple living will vary across families and individuals – others might focus on minimalism in business, time management, or style. For us, our house is our biggest expression of life on the simple side. Regardless of which avenue anyone takes, the point of minimalism is to detach from distraction to refocus on the true riches of life: faith, vocation, family, experiences.
St. Josemaria Escriva put it so well: “Detach yourself from the goods of this world…be content with what is sufficient for leading a simple and temperate life. Otherwise, you’ll never be an apostle.” And what else is there to be but an apostle of Christ?