Families in Small Homes: Britt Reints

 As part of my Families in Small Home Series I asked Britt Reints, freelance writer and blogger, to tell us about simplifying and downsizing as a family of four. They have pared down, moved and reimagined their lifestyle, city and living situation several times over several years and currently call Pittsburgh home. Enjoy and be sure to check out Britt’s blog, In Pursuit of Happiness.

Just a few years ago you lived in a house and now you’ve moved from an RV to an apartment. How have your children adjusted to all of this change and downsizing?

My son, who has never been one to have an attachment to stuff, has adjusted seamlessly. My daughter, who loves stuff of all kinds, has adjusted kicking and screaming. She fills every inch of personal space she’s given, whether that’s a canvas box or a small room. She recently planted pumpkins in a pot in our kitchen. We’re told they will need about 25 feet of space and should produce fruit sometime in January. We still have no idea how we’re going to cope with this new space issue she’s created.

One thing you are currently living without: a microwave. Do you have any rules around what or how many things can be brought into your living space?

I know that some people have rules about “one in, one out”, but we haven’t really finished figuring out what we need yet. The only “rule” is that we stop and consider each item before we bring it into the house. We ask if we already have something that can fulfill the intended purpose. We also look for the most environmentally solution possible, meaning we try to find items that are both used and that can be reused in the future.

One of your goals for your year of seeing America by RV was finding a city you wanted to live in. Tell us why Pittsburgh came out on top.

I’ve always wanted to experience true urban living, and Pittsburgh offered us an affordable place to do just that. We have only one car and I walk or take the bus almost everywhere. I love having restaurants and shopping right in my own neighborhood, as well as museums, sports, theater and SO MUCH TO DO just a few minutes away. I just love this city. I love that it reinvented itself after the steel mills close. I love that it’s a mix of blue-collar, hipster, crunchy, academia – you name it, we have it – and all in an affordable package.

Your blog is titled In Pursuit of Happiness – what are three things that make you and your family happy?

Quality time together – we are four funny people and it’s just really, really fun to hang out with one another.
Being outside – we all enjoy hiking, biking, going to the beach and doing just about anything outside.
Good food – we spend an embarrassing percentage of our income on food, either in grocery stores or restaurants.

All photos courtesy of Britt Reints on Flickr.

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  • I would be curious to see how they deal with their Daughter’s need to fill up all of her space and to what extent she fills it up is it hoarding or a lot compared to minimalist sstandards I would be concerned that she is developing an unhealthy need to fill up her space in the future due to her exerting herself now in defiance.

    • I had the opposite reaction. Trying to force others to meet minimalist standards is inconsiderate of their natural inclinations. There are people who really enjoy collecting things – not hoarding – just collecting. To force them into our minimalist ideals is as wrong as those who would try to force us to keep stuff that they feel is important to them. That said, I also have a daughter that likes to collect things. The way I deal with it is to encourage her to treat her collections with the love she says she has for them. Keeping all her special stones in a box in a drawer that she forgets about and never looks at, is not loving them. I try to get her to pick out her absolute favorites and display them, then let the others go.

      • My concern isn’t with the idea of collecting; I collect DVF dresses that I take good care of. However, forcing her to give up posessions or downsize may trigger a fear of letting go of things in the future and then turning into a problem when she is an adult and her having a fear of losing everything and then having to hold onto things that aren’t necessary to hold on to.

        It was this line that popped up a “red flag” for me, “She fills every inch of personal space she’s given, whether that’s a canvas box or a small room”.

        • Agreed. I suspect some true hoarding behavior is a subconscious reaction to parents or caregivers in the past not understanding or caring about the person’s feelings. I hope these parents are being respectful of who she is while also helping her to understand another way to live.

          • We definitely are trying to be respectful of who she is. Even when we moved into the RV, they each had a space and an organizing cube for keeping things that were most important to them. It’s important to us that they know they get to make decisions about their own lives. For example, that same daughter has been dressing herself since she was about 2. :-)

            I really like the idea of encouraging her to show love for her collections though!!

  • I’m always amazed when I read about Britt’s exploits. Someone so young being so fearless makes me resolve to try to change some of my “old guy” habits.

    But you’ll pry my microwave from my cold, dead fingers.

  • One of the reasons I have chosen not to have children is so that I do not force someone to live a life in the way I have chosen to live. I cannot force my children to be a certain religion, education, caste, or creed. I certainly cannot force them to live minimalist if they have the inclination to be shoppers. I sympathize with the daughter and I hope that she learns to live with less until she is able to move out on her own. Thank you for the story.

    • Interesting point.
      Until my son makes his own money, I am mostly in control of how much and what is bought for him (exception being gifts). We’re moderate in our approach so I don’t feel that my son is deprived. He has toys and books that entertain and engage him. Enough clothing to be warmly, and fairly fashionably, dressed.
      I think when you decide to have children they can, will and must live in the same way as their parents until they are of an age to buy/consume/believe independently.
      T think Britt’s children are lucky to have parents that are giving them such a rich experience in their childhood.

    • Looking at this from another angle, I don’t consider our lifestyle “force” towards our son. This is simple “normal.” This is what he knows. So for him, this is just his life.

      He is not sheltered. His school, for example, takes an ‘opulent’ approach (by our standards) toward decoration, and he has been to the homes of friends where people have more stuff (and space). This is simply “how they live” and not an inditement of them or of us.

      We talk about how other families choose to live differently and why we live the way that we do — how we make the decisions that we make and why. Part of our discussion is how to meet our particular family’s needs. We have financial needs and goals (and DS loves to talk economics, even for a 4 yr old), as well as our personal needs and goals. I have a strong need for minimalism, and DH has a strong need for lack of clutter/tidiness. DH is more stuff-focused than I am — and we talk about these differences and how we try to balance our needs.

      As DS is also part of our family/community, we also talk about his needs and how to balance those across our familial needs. And, we had an active opportunity for it recently. DS asked for his own room. Our 480 sq ft cottage has a bedroom opened to the lounge. That’s been our family bedroom. There is a small, second room that is 7.5 ft by 10 ft. This has been our family closet for the last two years that we have lived here. DS wants it as his space.

      After some discussion, we talked about how to make this possible — de-cluttering and reorganizing what we keep, creating a budget to have space/organization for those things that we keep in that space, etc. It isn’t a lot of ‘stuff’ but it does need a new home if it’s no longer going to be kept in that room! And, we have already ‘set to work’ on the project, which makes DS very excited.

      So, the real situation here is not about “force” — it is simply that we have this lifestyle, and he is part of our family. When he is older, he can choose his own lifestyle — just as his father and I live differently than our parents do. But while we all live together, we need to balance each other’s needs — and that includes his — but only insofar as we can afford/etc.

  • Oooo, I think I’m going to live this series. My family of seven lives in a 1,300 sq ft apartment, and I’m always looking for inspiration to make it as comfy, cozy, and efficient as possible!

  • “We still have no idea how we’re going to cope with this new space issue she’s created”
    I am reacting to this sentence, hope there is more to the story and the parents are sensible about how they talk about their children.

    • Well, sadly, the pumpkins died before we even got a chance to transplant them outside – mostly because she lost interest in them. lol

      None of us have ever grown anything successfully before, so it hadn’t occurred to me to research space needs before she planted the seeds. We’re hoping to do a garden this year, so I’m sure we’ll all be learning a lot!

  • Britt, I think you’re going to need more space soon…your son is almost as tall as you now…heheheh

  • Love this!!! Especially the pictures. It makes the idea(l) of having less stuff more real. Wonderful to see families. Without stuff, life is so much less frustrating. Can’t wait to see more posts (with mor pics please!) from this series.

  • This looks like it is going to be such an interesting series!
    We’re a family of four living in the UK that fours days ago just moved into 540 sq ft victorian period property we bought, we’ve downsized from approx 1000 sq ft.

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