The realities of living in a small home with a big family…
Everyone comes to living in a small family home for a different reason, but the need to simplify when living in a small space is common to all people. Often you will see people make the switch to small home living after they have already begun to simplify their lives. For our family, living in a small home wasn’t a deliberate choice, it was out of pure necessity. I grew up in a family of 5 living in several different large homes. The smallest was about 2000 square feet and the biggest was about 3200. I grew up thinking that my family house would fall somewhere in between one of those sizes.
Little did I know what life had in store for me. I moved to Scotland to do an postgraduate course for a year back in 2008 and ended up settling here permanently after meeting and marrying my husband.
While the idyllic life of Scotland with its dreamy green landscapes, old world architecture and cities, and rainy days captured my heart during my year as a student. Real life here was not as idyllic. The rain grew tedious and the quaint living arrangements became cramped as our little family grew.
As the growth of our family and financial constraint became apparent, rent was far too expensive and the cheapest option was to buy a house. As we went house shopping I really became aware of how tiny houses here were compared to my experience growing up in the US. We ended up buying a roughly 800 square foot 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom end terraced house in a small village that needed some serious renovation work. Surprisingly (at least it was to me), this size house is the average house size in the UK. The only difference is that the average UK family has about 2 children and we have 4 going on 5 children.
A lot of times we can look at blogs with pictures of tiny, charming and minimally decorated homes and yearn for that kind of lifestyle. I know I do, but the reality of living in a small family home with a large family is not quite that idyllic (at least not for us). I’m hoping to share a different reality to what living in a small family home is like–something I’ve often scoured the internet for and not been able to find.
Its always hard to write about the ‘truth’ of something because everyone’s experiences are so completely different. But I hope as I share some not so pretty truths and some wonderful truths about living in a small home with a big family, that they will resonate with some of you.
Packing a large family into a tiny space is not always ideal, it brings with it some specific challenges that people in larger homes do not face. Here are some of the more difficult ‘truths’ we face living with 6 people in a tiny space:
Your older kids might not love living in a small family home as much as you do…My husband grew up in a small home just slightly bigger than ours with a very large family. There were 6 kids and 2 adults living in a 4 bed house with 1 bathroom. As a teenager he shared a room with a young child, which he didn’t enjoy too much. Now as soon as we can, he wants to move to a bigger house. He is not as fond as I am of keeping to a small home lifestyle if we ever move to the States where a larger home is more affordable. Also, our teenager always talks wistfully about living in a large US home like my parents do. With such an age gap, its hard for her to get space away from the loud chaotic antics of 3 little boys.
Everyone always seems to need to use the bathroom at the same time…This is especially true when you have a house full of littles who can’t hold it. Accidents are common while they are waiting for their sibling to finish using the bathroom. There is no such thing as locking the door to take a nice relaxing shower or bath because you are interrupted with a cry and knock at the door that someone needs to ‘go potty right now’.
Little messes are magnified in small homes…Unlike a bigger home where a little mess can be diluted by the big open clean spaces, when there are a few toys out or a few dishes on the counter the space automatically looks messy. For a small house to look clean and organised, it must be completely clean and clutter free.
Laundry takes over every corner…In a small house there is often no dedicated laundry room. The washing machine is usually in the kitchen with no space for a dryer. If you are lucky like us, you have a tiny closet just big enough for a small washer and dryer stacked on top of each other. The problem comes when most of your clothes need to be hung to dry and you live in a rainy climate. As such, we have a drying rack always out on our narrow stair landing and most of our radiators are covered with drying laundry. I keep trying to find an out of the way location for this drying rack but I’ve yet to find it.
Storage is nonexistent…Most houses over here in the UK have no garage or basement for extra storage. Also, you are usually lucky to get one downstairs closet. Generally rooms don’t come with any kind of closet, we only have 1 bedroom with a closet. Finding ways to store vacuums, cleaning supplies, strollers, paperwork, coats/shoes, gardening supples, tools, etc can be difficult.
Despite all of these challenging realities of raising a big family in a tiny home, there are so many wonderful ‘truths’ that our family experiences because we live in a tiny home together. I’ve skipped over the financial ones because those are quite obvious, but I’ve compiled a list of a few of the other benefits we enjoy:
It encourages a less materialistic lifestyle…With such a small house, we have had to pare down to the necessities. It has forced us to be very intentional and minimal when it comes to things we have in our home from clothing, toys, furniture, kitchen appliances, etc. Before purchasing anything we take time to think whether or not we really need it and whether we actually have space for it. I’ve come to realise that so many things that we want aren’t actually necessary. Not only does this save me money, but also the hassle of trying to find a place for it and keep it organised. Gift giving becomes much simpler and my kids are used to less and in turn are so grateful for the gifts they do get.
Cleaning doesn’t take very long…There is a caveat here, it doesn’t take long if your house is uncluttered. When you have less stuff, the smaller space cleans so quickly. While I feel there is so much still that we need to get rid of, cleaning does not take very long. Our bathroom can be fully cleaned in less than 10 minutes and vacuuming and mopping take no time at all. Because my kids have so few toys, even if they are all dumped out all over the floor clean up is quick. Less time spent cleaning means more time engaging with my kids and creating great family memories and best of all a much happier and less stressed mom (which is good for everyone).
It nurtures sibling relationships and promotes family time…All my boys share a room and as such share most everything. They have all chosen to sleep together rather than in their individual beds. Because they are in such small quarters they learn to share, spend more time together playing and learn much quicker how to compromise and resolve their conflicts.
There are not very many places to be alone in a small home. There is one common living room where the TV and sofa are, which encourages less media time and more quality time spent together. While this may be a bit challenging when trying to escape the noise of little ones, with teens who often like to isolate themselves it can make it much easier to engage them in family time.
Bedtimes are much smoother…I often here parents bemoan the hassle of getting all their various kids to sleep and the orchestrated schedule that it requires. When all kids share a bedroom, it requires a lot less from us parents. Little ones who are anxious to be left alone have the comfort of other siblings and don’t require as much time from their parents coaxing them to sleep. Little ones who are just learning what it means to go to sleep and stay in bed have the benefit of modelling from their older siblings. It usually means transition from crib or cosleeping with parents to their own bed is much quicker and less stressful. Our 1 year old cozies up next to his brothers to get the comfort he needs and we get some space back in our own bed just in time for another baby coming along.
It inspires adaptability and creativity…The challenges of living in a small home with a large family can help foster character. Adaptability is such an essential skill in our ever-changing world. Growing up in a large family with little space encourages kids to become adaptable to their situation. Our kids can fall asleep anywhere and have always been able to do that. They don’t require a complicated routine or silence and have adapted to one another’s sleeping schedule. Also, because we are so used to living in challenging situations, we are very adaptable. Family vacations in cramped quarters aren’t stressful to us. We can easily all share a room at a family member’s house without straining relationships. Camping isn’t a problem because we are used to sleeping in close quarters.
With less toys, our boys rely on their imagination more and has helped developed their creativity. This has helped them play independently and I don’t have to spend a lot of time setting up creative play scenarios or teaching them how to use their toys.
It motivates us to spend more time outdoors…When you spend time in a cramped space, you have a greater enjoyment and appreciation for the open spaces that the outdoors supply. I find that we seek out time outdoors much more readily than we would in a larger space. Technology has such a pull to keep us indoors stuck on couches in front of a screen. Time in nature has been shown to benefit our physical and mental health and our children are getting less and less of it, which can put them at a greater risk for significant health problems. We need all the encouragement we can to get ourselves and our kids away from the screens and out into nature and a smaller house can provide that incentive.
Keeping tabs on little ones is much easier…When you have a large family of little ones, it can be a battle to keep tabs on what each of them are up to. How many memes or videos do we see highlighting some mess that a toddler has created in a few mere seconds of being out of their parents eyesight? Living in a small home, doesn’t erase that problem but it makes it so much easier to keep an eye on them. There isn’t a place in the house that the kids can go that I can’t hear what is going on to some extent. With all my 3 babies, I’ve never owned a baby monitor because there was just no need.
These are only a few of the ‘truths’ we experience living in a small home with our large family. It was really hard to decide which ones to share and which to leave out. I hope to delve deeper into some of these in later posts.
If you are living in a small home, what are some of your experiences good and bad you have found living in a small home?
This post was written for inclusion in the June collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on the truth about living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!
Minimalist Meg– “The Truth About Living SMALL” : What does living in a small space look like for a family of 4? Probably not a whole lot different from you.
Little Bungalow– “Less Space, More Happiness” : In a small home, less space doesn’t equal more happiness. Except, of course, when it does.
600 Square Feet and a Baby– “The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home” : Living small as a family of four is sometimes uncomfortable, a bit awkward and never boring. Sharing the awkward and imperfect of living small with 4 humans that you always wanted to know (or maybe you didn’t.)
Shelley Vanderbyl– “Five Things You Don’t Need in a Small Home” : Gatekeeping is about recognizing what things you don’t need or want, and trying to keep those objects from coming into your home.
The Streamlined Life– “The Truth About Living Small: Less Possessions, Greater Value“: Just because you’re a minimalist family doesn’t mean you aren’t sentimental.
The Justice Pirate– “What Small Home Living is Like” : No matter if I lived in a cardboard box or a small home, I just like being with my family, who are my home.
Our Nest in the City– “The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home” : My post gives three challenges to living in a small home with our family of five, and counters them with three ways we “cope” and thrive despite it all 🙂
Fourth and West– “You Can’t Have it All” : Small space living requires compromise and sacrifice.
RISING*SHINING– “The Truth About Living in a Small(ish) Family Home” : A smaller home is why we’re able to live such a full life.
Real Food Simple Life– “The Realities of Living in a Small Home with a Big Family” : A look into the benefits and challenges that a family of 6 (going on 7) experiences living together in an 800 square foot home in Scotland.Tiny Ass Camper– “I Didn’t Know Tiny Living Was For Me” : My thoughts on the give and take of living tiny.
Family Pedals– “Location Trumps Size” : The truth is, it has been our home’s location–not size–that has determined our happiness in a given space.
Birch and Pine– “It’s Not Always Easy” : Living tiny often means defending your own life and choices: daily.