Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lessons From Living in a Small Space

Small space living for a family of seven is no small feat.  Sometimes Steve and I feel like Gandalf the Grey hanging out in a mini dwelling of the Shire (minus the plush foliage) with 5 little Frodos running around.  The Frodos totally dig the Shire, it's cozy for them, but mama Gandalf thinks perhaps just a few more square feet might be nice....
When we first moved into our temporary home, I wasn't just the Queen of My Double Wide Trailer (that's an old country tune - for real!) but, I was the queen of optimism.  No garage? No problem!! No basement?? No biggie!!  Anyone can make a tight space work provided they can fill their imagination with mental portraits of their future palace, right???
Well, as time has ticked on, my little portrait of optimism has shriveled up, right along with the grass and flowers in my yard. Oh, if only you could hear my inner tantrums - especially when the muddy boots and Wranglers are spilling out into the hallway from the laundry room (which is slightly bigger than a shoebox), or I have to reinvent the inner workings of a closet just to make room for toilet paper and school supplies. 
This is no joke - the proof is in the pic! Behold, my ultra-talented husband, unleashing his power tools on the living room coat closet. Poof! It is now a second pantry!
Here are his apprentices, our Frodos - finding new use for the excavated coat closet rods.

After my tantrums subside, guilt and reason kick in, turning up the volume on the little voice in my head that chants, "Quit whining, you little mortal!" GRATITUDE. GRATITUDE FOR EVERYTHING. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.
A couple of summers ago, we went to visit the true “Little House on the Prairie,” the Ingalls' family Kansas homestead just west of Independence. I like to visit this snapshot occasionally, because it screams, "Small space? You, Susan, live in a small space?" Umm, uhhh, errr....
But, the REAL gut check here is this:  Every situation and circumstance in our life is allowed by the Father to teach us something.  The questions is, do we want to learn, to be stretched, to grow??  Our "small space" dwelling has indeed taught me a great deal....

Lessons Learned From the Shire:

When it comes to planning and designing our home, I have begun to understand the distinct difference between need and want.  Some spaces/rooms in the home truly need to be spacious i.e. the laundry room/mudroom and the kitchen (a.k.a mom's office. No joke.). Do I want a sleeping porch and a library and a music room and a craft room? Yes!  Are they necessary? Nope.

Small dwelling spaces have a way of excelling the development certain virtues in adults and children alike, namely patience, humility, self control and consideration for others. When you are elbow to elbow and cheek to cheek at varying degrees throughout the day, you have to put your best-self forward, like it or not. And, when the best-self doesn't shine, there's no room to hide.  It's "I'm sorry" or else, as Henry likes to say, "Shame on you!" 

Because there is little room to hide in the home, not only can I always hear the boys, but they are often in my field of vision as well.  While this can at times be overwhelming to my central nervous system (aye, yi, yi!), there are SO MANY precious moments that I get to see....them being themselves - funny, tender, helpful, strong, decisive, industrious, problem solving.  I would miss a great deal of endearing interactions among them if we were all in different places at different times throughout the day.

The trailer house is a fearless DIY decorating experiment. Every domestic dollar has to count, because I've got my eye on the "prize" and we are saving up for our dream home. With this mindset, I've found (hoisted) endless ideas online -  everything from how to create storage with old wine crates to embellishing a room with forgotten scraps of fabric.  This trend of creative repurposing is what I LOVE about the blogging culture!  So many incredibly talented individuals have responded to the economic crisis with creativity, generosity and enguinuity. 
Here's an example of my first fearless DIY. I love the custom mural trends, particularly in kids rooms, that are so popular right now.  Not wanting to give up on the idea due to budget constraints, and knowing that paint can always be painted over, I took a deep, bold, brave breathe and painted my own tree mural with left-over paint and clearance samples from Home Depot.  
The picture frames hold photos of Steve and each of the boys holding Charles in the hospital shortly after his birth.  Charles loves to look at these, they make him smile with great joy, which helps me overlook all of the imperfections!
Needless to say, Charles' nursery isn't the only room that has undergone my indecisive paint wand! The living room is on it’s second shade of green, and the classroom walls will soon be delivered from a deep red to bearing the shade Seattle Seamist (what else do you paint your living room when you're in the middle of a drought?).  Shhh, don’t tell Steve (uh, because it's a surprise?)! 
A small home has brought about the help and support of family.  My mom is has a very keen sense of domestic order and beauty.  She helped me fashion a changing table for Charles' nursery (a small alcove off of the master bedroom) out of a desk my sister loaned to me, and showed me how to salvage two shrunken curtain panels with fabric scraps and ribbon.  Steve's parents have also helped us with lawn and garden projects and heard my plea for a garage, which is also now in place!
While I live by the law of catch 'em doin' good and bein' good, so as to praise and encourage as often as possible, we all know that parents also have to face the the not-so-good events and actions that take place in the home with the intent to teach and correct.  Well, let me tell you, there's nuthin' like standin' at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes, watching one kid out the window digging for worms in my flower bed and hearing another kid exit a silent bathroom (forgetting to flush and wash hands) .  I can crack down on all that business, both at the same time, without pausing the peeler! No one escapes mom's radar from her kitchen office!
When the walls close in, the inhabitants head out for work, for play and even for school. Bring on the blustery, sandy, blow-you-over-across-the-prairie-with-the-tumbleweeds wind or on an exceptionally rare day of rain or snow, and we will brave the elements just to be outdoors.  
A small home has stretched my definition of friendship.  Before moving to the farm, we had a large home in Olathe, and we never thought twice about having guests over for any and every reason under the sun. With a change of environment, welcoming others into our home isn’t always easy - we don’t have a basement for the kids to go play in, or a roomy kitchen or deck with a view to entertain guests in while the food is being prepared.  I simply have to hope and trust that guests are coming to see us, to get to know us, to spend time with us. Our home is important, but it isn’t everything.

We live in a world that anticipates the next best thing, the next upgrade, the next big idea, an irresistible "gotta have it."  And, yet, there is something to be learned and appreciated in the here and now. Likewise, we would be amiss to forget what is to be gained from examining the past....before the life of bells and whistles and Pinteret and HGTV....  

I hope that you find what it is you are looking for, hoping for and dreaming for in life, and somewhere along the way discover the faith to acknowledge the purpose of the present, because there is something valuable for each and every one of us there, too.


  1. Hi Susan,
    I have been following your blog for the past few months and I have to tell you that your post today was a COMPLETE answer to prayer for me. It was exactly what I needed to hear as I have been struggling with being OK with the present. My heart has been continually seeking the next best thing and I have been struggling with seeing the beauty in the here and now. Thank you for writing.

  2. Great post! Going from an 800 sq ft condo to a 5 bedroom home, I see the pros and cons of small and large spaces! A lot of what you said resonates with me! You did a beautiful job on that tree. Way to be fearless! :)