Living Gracefully in Small Spaces

With the arrival of 2011, one thing on my priority list is to work at living more gracefully in our small home. When we moved to the farm with three children, we were grateful for the older mobile home purchased (actually, bartered for) from a neighbor and had sights on building a home in a few years. Well, eight years, two more children and lots of stuff later we are still in that mobile home. Although I continue to work at being grateful there are days when everyone and everything seems to pile on top of each other and I start dreaming of mansions.

The first step I am taking is to heavily purge excess “stuff” as I sort through closets and crowded corners. There are big boxes of paper going to recycling, tubs of books ready for storage and bags of other extras headed for the thrift store. Several generous families pass down clothes to our children and I am trying to keep only a realistic wardrobe for everyone and passing the rest on to others. Clothes for seven people can gobble up a huge amount of space!

One thing on my husband’s winter job list is to add more shelves for better organization of things like our office supplies and my card-making materials. Wise storage spaces make a huge difference in keeping clutter under control or at least neatly hidden. I am adding homemade curtains to other shelf areas to bring a homey touch while disguising the fullness, and scattered craft items are getting organized in large plastic tubs. Being a homesteading family, we have various bulk foods like grains, honey and rice to store along with our home canned and dried goods. Using white plastic storage buckets that neatly stack and store under bookcases and beds helps free up precious kitchen space.

I am inspired by the homes of my Amish friends which tend to be sparse in their contents but full of peaceful atmosphere. Looking at a cluttered house makes my brain feels scattered and these few cleaning tasks have already created more open space and a calmer mom. Seeing the piano top with carefully arranged decorations rather than several piles of stray books is as relaxing as the music that flows from it. Waking up to a reasonably clean and organized kitchen is the best motivation for me to start cooking. Maintaining order in a small house does takes extra discipline, since just one afternoon of playing, baking or crafting can leave behind chaos. So I plan for more times when the kids do a whirlwind pick-up and I want to be more careful about what items even enter our home. Making high quality purchases (think Lehmans!) really cuts down on the clutter of half broken items. After pulling a handful of advertising frisbees from a closet, I will even be cautious about what “freebies” we accept at various events.

Our small space has taught me many things like being thankful for a mortgage-less house and less space to clean during busy summer months filled with outdoor farm work. I am also so grateful for the sense of togetherness a tight space offers; one of our favorite family times is reading books aloud at bedtime when all the children are lying in their beds (something not feasible in a sprawling house with single bedrooms!) I am also humbled when I read about families in other countries living in spaces much smaller than ours or when folks visit us and feel at ease because they also live in a space that doesn’t fit “the American dream.”

This process is also helping me gather ideas for key home features if the day comes, Lord willing, when we can build. Our kitchen table is probably the heaviest used piece of furniture in the house and is used for everything from transplanting tomatoes and butchering to homemade papermaking and serving soup. Someday I want a well designed kitchen to be the center of our home that is our family gathering, eating and creating place. A wood burning cookstove, a huge pantry and a much longed for mud room are other dream features.

So whatever your living situation may be in 2011, take time to be grateful, reflect on what you are learning and find ways to make it a calm and happy home in this coming year.

3 thoughts on “Living Gracefully in Small Spaces

  1. I think this is a much needed perspective. I sure could use any advice I can get , any innovations to use my own 400 sq ft better to accomodate things I have more usefully and more aesthetically over time.

  2. I am doing the same in my home. Although my son and I have 1200 sq ft to share, it is crowded if there is too much ‘stuff’! Extra paper is wadded up for fire starters or shredded for chicken coop bedding (great in the nesting box!). Excess clothing is going back to the free pike at the apartment building I manage… where most of it was found anyways! My goal is to bring a Jeep-load back to work every day… clothes, book shelves, shows, dishes… …