Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our Tiny Townhouse: A Love Story (mostly)

Bear with me, its worth it... and I'll share pics at the end (no cheating!) I'm a firm believer in pictures! I think a minimalist that's excited enough to write about how their life has been impacted and confident enough to feel that he or she has something worthwhile to share with others wanting to learn should be open enough to share pictures of their own spaces. Besides, I just generally love looking at pictures of other people's houses!

8 years ago, My husband Matt and I were looking forward to our wedding and went house hunting with the kind of budget 20 somethings have while paying for a wedding at the same time -- which means of course next-to-nothing. We still laugh about the houses we went to see. All of them had at least one fatal flaw. For example, our favorite was a cute brick house with the great italian kitchen in the basement and retro overload from its orange counters to its gold shag carpets, but had a lovely view of twin smokestacks from the factory across the street. Then, there was the grey rowhouse with the reclaimed attic space with its nifty nooks and cranies painted canary yellow, complete with chair lifts on all the staircases. Last but not least, there was the sweet little white house that had three bedrooms, a fenced in yard waiting for kids to fill it up, and everything we needed...except the asbestos siding and lead paint walls. Needless to say, renting a well-kept townhouse on a quiet cul-de-sac seemed like a better bet at the time. We love the neighborhood full of young families and lined with towering pin oak trees but the one problem was that our family was growing and the house felt like it was shrinking! We had one stint while I was pregnant with my third child when we geared up for a move; we painted the walls, replaced the doors and installed a new laminate floor in the kitchen only to have the bottom fall out of the market. We called it quits so I wouldn't have a baby in a pile of boxes and resigned ourselves to a too-small space! Little did we know that it set us on a path that would slowly but with absolute certainty change the way we viewed our world!

With the birth of our third child in 2009, we enjoyed all the new space we had cleared when we put the house on the market. We had a house picked out that we wanted to make an offer on, so we completed all our rennovations and cleaning in just 2 short weeks. The quick process turned out to be an amazing blessing: I had no time to think! I picked something up and asked myself if I needed it enough to find a place for it or to be worth packing and repacking to a new home. I was in such a hurry, the answer was often "No." Suddenly, I felt like I was packing for a vacation, with just the essentials. I cleared my walls of pictures and my furniture of knicknacks, and after we decided to stay I went through some of the items that I had chosen to keep and decided I had enjoyed the clear crisp lines of the furniture and the uninterrupted space on the walls. I couldn't see putting a do-nothing knicknack back in the space. I also enjoyed all the extra counter space I'd created in the kitchen. Things just looked cleaner and they were easier to clean, too.

In 2011 I became pregnant with our fourth child while busy homeschooling our then-6 year old as well as chasing after a very active 1 1/2 year old. I was busier than ever and I had no time to spend on constantly cleaning and moving things from one place to another. Putting the house up was simply out of the question until after the baby was born. The surge of second trimester hormones was all I needed to get to work. I often say that I "de-nested" with baby number 4 -- rather than go on a buying binge for baby, I made ROOM for baby! I went room by room, tackling every aspect of our home. I read books on simple living and minimalism (which I will share with you shortly!) and discovered Flylady who helped encourage and educate me (much more about her later too!) Decluttering became less a chore than a hobby as I enjoyed the new spaces I was creating for the family. I started in the kitchen, purging all of the gadgets and gizmos that I had taken off my counters previously and stashed in cramped cupboards. Then, I purged dishes and mugs and various other items down to just what I used weekly. The living room was the easiest - I simply refused to put anything in there but a few toys for the kids and the living room furniture. The biggest change was in the bedrooms. The kids had seen the change in the rest of the house and had learned over the past months that donating was the "thing to do" in our house! They went through their toys with me and cleared space for their most loved toys and sorted everything. I purged their clothes down to about 10 days of outfits each. By far, the most dramatic change was our master bedroom. Hubby saw the work I had done to the rest of the house and treated me to a new bed which we desperately needed. I chose an IKEA model with drawers underneath and two miniature nightstands, and that became all that the room held except for a small personal bookshelf. Previously, I had several large furniture items as well as a perpetual mountain of clothes to sort or items waiting to be placed back into other areas of the house. I wanted this room to be a sanctuary even if the rest of the house was a shambles and to do that I needed to be able to clean it in a flash. The new arrangement made it easy for me to wake up, make the bed, and clear the water glass off the night table and shut the door from the kids. Aside from vacumming and emptying the hamper and trash once a week, this was a space I didn't have to worry about at all and best of all, if we're having a bad day and the rest of the house feels like its a shambles, I always have some place to run to to regain my sanity!

So now we've got 4 kids, 2 adults, and 1 grey tabby cat in:
  • 2 bedrooms
  • 1 bathroom
  • 1 living room
  • 1 eat-in-kitchen
  • 1 gameroom/playroom/office/laundry combo (luckily, its a fairly big room!)

I have said many many times that if it wasn't for my big basement room, I'd lose my mind! It gives us: a second living area, a place for my husband to have a desk and work if not in peace or quiet, atleast relative seclusion when necessary, a place for me to send the kids to do their school work and/or to play, also works great if some kids need to play and others need to do school work as we can make use of two seperate living spaces upstairs and down. The space is about 875 sq ft. and it isn't what I would call ideal -- I love to entertain, and my closest extended family feels like quite a crowd, we do need to seperate our boys and girls soon, and we are already at the point that we really need a second toilet (You will ocassionally run across a kiddo doing a dance in the hallway waiting for another to finish), and I choose to co-sleep with the baby to avoid having to purchase a minicrib for our room or the back bedroom. But, we are manageing fine with all of these things. And more than that, we are HAPPY! When I tell people about our home in casual conversation, I'm often met with "oh you poor dear!" type of an attitude. But, I'm quick to discourage that. We are here by choice. We could have moved, but quite honestly making it work here was more important to me than jumping ship. Living here taught me the value of space. It taught me the true difference between a "need" and a "want." It also forced me into creative organization in a way I would NEVER have been able to learn otherwise. Most of all, it taught me that people are to be valued more than things and helped our home reflect that. These are lessons that will walk with me the rest of our lives, in whatever space we call home.

As promised, here you are! These three pics were taken right before my son was born. Since then, we've replaced our living room furniture and in the process lost even more of the furniture in there, but I'll share more current pics later on. For now, here are those two rooms as they were at that time:


  1. I love your blog and am excited to read more in the future! The rooms on the pics already look great, good job!

  2. Loving the pics mama! Getting me motivated for sure!

  3. Thank you both so much for taking the time to read my posts and to encourage me. I look forward to getting to know everyone better on this journey. Please be sure to ask any questions or let me know if there is anything in particular you would like to read about. I think the interaction between writer and readers is the most exciting thing about blogging!