Families in Small Homes: 880 square feet for Kathryn’s Family of 5

This is the fourth in a series on families living a bit smaller in home size and/or possessions. You can read about Britt and her RV quest for the a new hometown for her family of four here and about Jules’s choice to have only have items with a purpose or memory in her home here. Last week Australian Brooke shared her beautiful home and story here
Want to share your story of downsizing or right-sizing with us? Email me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.
Today: Kathryn tells us about living in 880 square feet with her husband and three daughters on their urban homestead. Kathryn blogs about self-sufficiency and living a bit smaller at Farming My Backyard. P.S. Yes, these photos make me want to raise chickens too!

Tell us about your home and the family that lives there.

My husband and I live in Portland, Oregon with our three daughters, Libby (5), Julianna (3), and Éowyn (15 months).  We have an 880 square foot home with three bedrooms, and one bath on a 5,000 square foot lot.  We are also graced by the presence of two cats, a dog, eight chickens, and two goats.  Our oldest daughter loves to dance and bounce on her yoga ball and draw.  Julianna loves the animals and playing with her friends, and Éowyn loves playing with her sisters, especially if they are playing ball.  I try to keep our home spacious to accommodate their interests and physical needs, yet also make sure it’s vibrant and full of life and learning.  One of the ways I do this is downsizing my own personal possessions and choosing only to keep the most important things.

When we purchased our home it needed a lot of work and little by little we’ve been able to fix it up and plant the yard with edible landscaping and gardens.  It’s not a large home and it’s not fancy but everytime I see the things we’ve fixed or planted it makes me smile because it’s our handmade home where we’ve been learning to fix things ourselves.

You’re home is small but you are developing an urban homestead and rearing animals for self sufficiency. How does urban homesteading make your life simpler and how does it make it more challenging?

We are attempting to build a self sufficient (or at least as close as possible) urban homestead on our property.   We have chickens and goats and are working to increase our garden production using intensive methods, and are planning to add rabbits this year.   Some of the great things about this is we have a lot of our needs taken care of right on our own property.   Sometimes it’s like grocery shopping in the backyard.  We’ve been able to reduce our financial needs and our dependence on the car, which frees up more time to enjoy together.

The downside is it can be a lot of work and sometimes it takes some balancing on my part to make sure the animals and the kids all get their needs filled.  Sometimes it feels like everyone wants to eat at the same time.  Other days I feel like all I do is clean up poop.  I do really love it though, so for me getting out to the animals and the garden is worth adding extra things to feed and clean.

Three children at home full-time and your husband and yourself both work from home. Your house has so many functions and needs – how do you manage all of them without accumulating lots of things? Do you have a process for deciding what comes into your home?

I am ruthless about getting rid of things.  About once a month I go through the entire house and evaluate if we’ve used things enough to make storing them worth it, check for broken things or things we have duplicates of.  I try to only keep things that are beautiful or useful, but I prefer to make my useful things beautiful and cut down the only beautiful clutter.  I always have a box or bag in our shoe closet for give away stuff so it’s easy to drop things into it throughout the day.  Even the furniture and appliances get a critical eye if we don’t use them frequently!

If I have to replace something I try to make it as multipurpose as possible.  I also try not to go shopping in stores if at all possible.  When we go to the grocery store and thrift store we stick to the list, but I try to buy as much as I can online.  It’s harder for me to impulse buy when I jump online quickly to order something specific than if I am wandering through a physical store.

Right now my middle daughter is not okay with giving up any toys, but I feel very strongly that too many toys is upsetting for them and it takes my time away from them so we’ve compromised.  Four times a year I box up any toys they haven’t used over the past few months and put them in the garage attic.  The kids like to go shopping for “new” toys in the boxes that I pull down and it keeps the picking up and the putting away manageable.  I hope eventually she will be okay with my giving away some of the unused toys but until then I think a trusting relationship is more important than my personal ideals.

Name three things that make you happy.

My family, (including the furry and feathered members)

Reading fantasy books

Ice cream!

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  • We are a family of 6, 3 kids, 3 adults, in 900 sq. ft with a large backyard. I love your idea for dealing with toys. I would love to grow more in our yard, but we just rent. :)

  • I live in Portland as well and as charming as this sounds, living next to an urban barnyard is gross. The smell cannot be managed in our wet climate and the waste leaches into the water table, no matter how conscientiously you try to pick it up. I appreciate the effort it takes to live sustainably, but in Portland (where the older houses are crammed together so tightly) having chickens, goats, plus other animals in a backyard environment where your neighborhood gets to experience your menagerie is just selfish.

  • Wow, this is really inspiring. We are a family of four living in a 1100 square foot condo, but only two bedrooms. I’m hoping for one more addition to our family, but I don’t know how we could do it with only one tiny bedroom and three kids. I’d love to stay where we are, since the location is the best in our city, as opposed to moving out of town into a house with more space. I’d love to hear from others with a similar dilemma.

    • We’re in a similar situation but we have a yard and a basement. I’d seriously consider moving the thee kids into the master bedroom but unless my husband jumps on the minimalist bandwagon it probably won’t happen and we’ll have to up size.

  • I love this! I grew up on a farm and loved the gardens and animals. This has me thinking spring and making plans for our little lot in the city. I have a lot of shade, but I could maybe add some animals!

  • We are a family of 4 currently living in a 1200 sq ft house, but only truly occupying about 800 sq feet of it on a regular basis. We currently have a bedroom full of junk that we need to sort and purge (mostly purge) as well as our “basement”; we live in a house on piers, so we have some under-home storage…almost all of that can be purged. The only things we have retrieved from under the house in the last 4 years have been Christmas decorations. We know it needs to be done, we just haven’t taken the time to do it. I have been purging my stuff over the last few years, and now the vast majority of the remaining stuff belongs to my husband, so I can’t do it without him.

  • CUTE kids & CUTE goats! I live in Portland too. There are four of us (me, my husband & two young sons) and a dog in a 1200 sq foot house, with two bedrooms. We love it and feel like it’s plenty of room, but people keep telling us we’ll eventually have to move, because it’s so small! We’re going to prove them wrong! I get rid of stuff every month too – just dropped off a load at goodwill this morning :)

  • My husband and I are buying our first home, its under 800 sq feet but sits on a beautiful 2 1/2 acre lot. Its the right sq footage for us and at the right price in a location with a great school system. For the move me and my husband are concentrating on downsizing. I’ve already down sized my wardrobe by half of things that I don’t even wear and that were given to me. This transition is something I really want and feel motivated about. The idea on living on our own terms in a space that we can recreate to our purposes is just awesome.

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