Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Families and Small Houses

My last post about small houses prompted a comment from a reader who speculated that she could live alone in a tiny home, but she wondered if families could live comfortably in very little square footage. Below are links to several relevant and thought-provoking posts on that topic. The concept of "small" is variable, but everyone can agree that it means less space than is the norm in our too-often "McMansionized" society.

First, the rather amazing story of a very large family in a small home:

Life in a Shoe: Methods and Madness of One Family of Twelve

How can a big family live in a small house?
The short answer is the same answer we give to many other questions: life style choices.
•We don't think every child (or even every 2 children) needs her own bedroom.

•We don't think we need a huge master bedroom with a walk-in closet and a master bathroom.

•Although we would very much enjoy having a 2nd or 3rd bathroom, we don't believe that we need it. In all fairness, some of the children don't quite agree, especially in the morning.

•We don't need space for an extensive seasonal wardrobe for each member of the family, particularly in South Texas. There are only 2 seasons here anyway, and one lasts for 10 months of the year. A summer wardrobe plus a few warmer items is perfectly sufficient.
This family home-schools, too! Check out their posts about storage, entertaining, and finding personal space. I particularly like the concept of a "treasure box" for the kids in which they keep their personal items. The name alone signifies that whatever is in the box is not junk or clutter, but something important (we know that valuable doesn't always mean expensive).

Here's an SFGate article about making room for adolescents in a small house and how to accommodate their psychological development needs.

"I think parents tend to err in giving adolescents too much space," says James Windell, psychologist with the family division of the Oakland County (Michigan) Circuit Court and author of Six Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenager. "You need to be looking over their shoulders," says Windell. "You need to know what they're listening to on CDs, what they're watching on television and what they are doing on the Internet. There has to be a balance between the kids' need for independence and the parents playing out their role of being there for the kids." . . .

What all this means in square footage terms is that, ideally, each teenager will have a room of his or her own, however small, and that the family will find a space in the home for teens and their friends to let loose a little while remaining within parental radar range.
The article writer, Deborah K. Rich, concludes:
. . . small homes force families to cooperate and solve problems as their spatial needs change; you may unexpectedly develop a functioning family.
Michael Janzen at Tiny House Design recently said that he is going to devote a series of posts to small houses for families. The first post, Small Family Birdhouse, reports on a shed conversion for a mother and young son. Too rustic for a city girl like me, but an interesting read.

Here's a book review by Jared Volpe at Sustainable Cities Collective of Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon. I haven't read it yet, but I'm now eager to do so. Vople states:
The book didn’t just focus on little houses, either. Some of the homes were quite large, but had been redesigned to fit two families or several independent adults who were willing to share common space.
I'm convinced that economic circumstances will continue to force many people to reconsider sharing living space with family or friends, but I'm hopeful that there will be benefits from that experience that will help us redefine community. (Sustainable Cities Collective is "an online community of urban sustainability professionals" and is an interesting resource for those of us who are committed city-dwellers.)

Apartment Therapy ("saving the world, one room at a time" -- one of my favorite tag lines) has a link to a series of posts about downsizing that includes several about families moving into small homes. Many photographs, as always.

Practically speaking, it takes an intrepid soul to consider tiny housing for a growing family. Most of us will choose larger spaces, but how large? It's a personal decision that has an impact beyond our own lives. It can be tricky to sort out responsible choices without feeling pressured -- or rebellious. The only sensible answer is to live in as much space as you need. And you are the only one who can figure that out.

An addendum: The Thoughtful Consumer is pleased to celebrate the fourth anniversary of this blog! Thank you to all my readers and special thanks to those who e-mail and comment on my posts. You keep me going.

© Cynthia Friedlob 2010
Image: Brindy Daniels at stock.xchng


2horseygirls said...

Another lovely blog about living in a smaller home:

The Jewel Box Home

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for the referral! I enjoyed looking at The Jewel Box Home.

Jeri Dansky said...

Happy blog anniversary, Cynthia! I always enjoy reading your posts.

My 1100-square-foot house (3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom) now houses me and my cats - and provides a home office - but it used to house a family with four kids, I've been told.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thank you, Jeri! I'm so glad that you enjoy the posts.

I recently had a Facebook comments exchange with a couple of old friends in which we recalled the homes we grew up in. They were similar in size to yours, yet none of us felt crowded or "deprived" in any way. Different times, different expectations.