Our family made a big move this month, though not a distant one. We band of six moved fifteen miles east to a neighboring California town, into a tiny bungalow nestled in a grove of trees on a strawberry farm. The house, at around 1000 sq feet, is less than half the size of the large, new suburban house we’ve rented for the past four years. Where we had 4 bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths previously, we now have 3 bedrooms and 1 bath.
It was the farmland and the outdoor space that drew us in, us outdoor-type folks with a rural spirit… The space to roam; the dirt road; the garden plot and chicks and neighboring goats. Real nature at the ready. My naturalist husband has been hungry for this life for years, and the rest of us follow suit. And too – I admit it – the prospect of radically simplifying and trying our hand at small-space-life was alluring. As soon as I saw the house – a sweet, 1950′s cottage-style home – I began wondering if we could pull it off. It appealed so much to me, and yet it felt a little scary too. Because I, like so many Americans, love the idea of simplicity. Even the words – Real Simple – are so inviting, so peaceful. But what a gulf lies between the notion of “real simple” and day-to-day American life. Could we cross it?
“…be quietly about (y)our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” (1 Tim 2:3, The Message)
We decided to go for it. Before our rental application was even in, I began the purge. In six weeks we reduced our household goods – furniture, toys, books, clothes, kitchen supplies, random miscellaneous – by half. Some items went into storage in a couple sheds on the property, but the majority we sold or donated. The amount of clothes, toys, and books we got rid of was borderline shocking. (And the craziest part is that no one even misses any of those things. Not one thing.)
Living in a small home isn’t unusual. Neither’s downsizing. Both are incredibly commonplace. So our move wasn’t groundbreaking in itself. But it was new to us, and it felt somewhat radical – partly because it didn’t fit our cultures’ norms. We’ve doubled the number of kids we have in the past three years, but we’re halving our house size. Seems weird. And there were questions. “Won’t you feel cramped and on top of each other?”; “Can you handle having just one bathroom?”; “Four little kids and no dishwasher – how’s that going to work?” Fair questions, and ones we asked ourselves too. But we plowed ahead, me reminding myself of the value of the Do Hard Things motto in moments of doubt.
We’ve been in the house a week now, and so far it’s been fantastic. The outdoor life this space provides is a gift from God, and the small space has likewise felt like a huge gift. I lack the innate trait of homeward diligence (acceptable, I’ve realized, because it’s a facet of my true, God-given self), and though I appreciate an orderly home, I’m not naturally wired to keep one. Neither my husband and I are neat-nicks, and we can both tolerate clutter even as we amass and dislike it.
Moving into this small house is forcing my husband’s and my hands in the home-keeping realm. We have to think about what comes in and what stays out, where everything goes, and putting things away. We’re forced into disciplined daily living, and it takes little time or effort because the space is so small and easy to oversee. And I’m finding having a limited amount of stuff to be exhilarating. Serene. Life-giving. There’s so much leftover time and focus to give to other more important things (like enjoying the moment and doing things with your kids).
Sometimes people say a house they’re living in is “too big” for them. I don’t know if that was true for us, but I do think that our temperaments and inclinations (especially in this season of life) weren’t well suited to the house we were in. It reminds me of the lessons I learned in pulling back privileges for my daughter… Choice doesn’t always turn out to be best for folks, illogical though that seems. A small house is enforcing limits that we lacked the attention and discipline to enforce for ourselves in a larger home, and we’re all the happier for it. So often the freedom Jesus brings us isn’t in the package we quite expect, but it’s so good when it comes.
This house is our family’s Simplicity Experiment, and at least at the outset, it’s been beyond worthwhile.
Originally published June 2012