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!

Families in Small Homes: Brooke from Slow Your Home

This is the third 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. Want to share your story of downsizing or right-sizing with us? Email me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.
Today: Brooke from Slow Your Home. In Brooke’s words she’s an: Aspiring Minimalist. Blissful Gardener. Frequent Swearer. Passionate Writer. Inappropriate Laugher. Shit-Hot Dancer. Sometimes Exaggerator. Gin Drinker. On a Mission: To slow the hell down.

Tell us about your home and the people that live there.

I live in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney, Australia. Home is a renovated cottage in the suburbs shared with my husband, Ben, and our two kids – Isla, 3 and Toby, 2. We also have a dog and three chickens.
The house itself is a 4-bedder, with en-suite and main bath, family room and a combined living/dining/kitchen space. It’s by no means small but it allows us to entertain (which we do a lot of) and means the kids have options when the weather is either excessively hot or cold and wet.  Plus, I can still vacuum the majority of the house while using just one power outlet – so it’s definitely not enormous!

I read that you decided to renovate and expand your home when you got pregnant with your second child. Now that you’ve pared down your possessions do you look at that decision differently?

You know, I was terrified of this question when I first read it. I was scared of what my answer may reveal – that we over-capitalised, that we fell for the myth of ‘bigger is better’, that we have more space than we need.
But the truth was the original house was too small for a family of four. It had two tiny bedrooms, no space for the kids to play, was poorly insulated and uncomfortable in both summer and winter. But we bought it because it was in a suburb we loved, close to family, close to good schools and close enough to the railway station that we could avoid buying a second car. So extending was the only option if we wanted to stay in the same place.
If it was up to me now, we would still make the same changes. The only difference is – since paring back and embracing a simpler life – we now have much more white space. Things feel calm, everything has its place and it feels like the haven we had hoped for.
What’s next for your family? I know you have ambitions to do some long term slow travel. 

Ben and I traveled a lot before we were married and we’re in the midst of plotting out our long-term travel plans right now. We definitely would like to live abroad in a few different places – taking time to live like locals and soak up the culture. We’re thinking a six-month stint in a few different places will be the way to go – namely Canada (the Rockies specifically), Thailand and Spain.
But it’s a delicate balance to strike between going while the kids are young and avoiding the complications of school transfers etc, but them being old enough to benefit from it. Plus there’s the issue of, you know, earning a living.
Most likely we will take a few shorter trips over the next year or two and then head off into the world come 2015/16.
Name three things that make you happy.
Just three?! I’ll give it a shot…
Gardening. Having my hands in the soil, coaxing seeds into plants, soaking up the sunshine and showing our kids where their food actually comes from brings me so much pleasure. It’s the ultimate exercise in mindfulness and a wonderful escape.
Snow. Growing up in Australia I didn’t see snow until I was 22 and working in Canada. Even after six months I marveled at it every day.
Curling up at the end of a long day, having a red wine with Ben or reading a good book.

Families in Small Homes: Jules from Pancakes & French Fries

As part of the Families in Small Home Series I asked Jules from Pancakes & French Fries to tell us about her reasons for simplifying and her William Morris Project. While Jules and her family don’t technically live in a small home, she’s done a lot of simplifying and pairing down. Lots to learn from her journey. Enjoy and thanks again Jules.

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose.

Tell us a bit about the William Morris Project. I know you started it after helping a friend go through her parents possessions.

I did. My friend’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom heard the news and took to her bed. She stopped eating and drinking, and about 10 days later she passed away. Two weeks after that, my friend’s father died. June of 2011 was a nightmare. Going through her parents’ belongings was unbelievably disturbing. I remember standing in front of her mother’s vanity table and looking at the makeup, perfume, daily vitamin. It was all so normal! I felt like that character in a movie that stumbles into a city where everyone has suddenly left. I looked at her makeup and thought that if someone were to go through my makeup drawer, they would wonder why a girl who never wears makeup has two different green eyeshadows and 12 lip glosses in various shades of plum.

I decided right then that if anyone were to go through my possessions, they would touch each one without wondering what the heck I was thinking. “Oh, look! She loved these shoes.” “Do you remember how long it took her to find this perfume tray?” “She bought the fox lamp because her oldest son’s favorite movie was Fantastic Mr. Fox. It reminded her of him.”

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose. (Sometimes a lemon reamer is just a lemon reamer.) I have no desire to be a minimalist, but it goes part and parcel with creating an intentional home. It’s hard to consider yourself thoughtful when you have a drawer full of old t-shirts! 


Has this ongoing project to ‘have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful’ changed how you shop/consume/buy things?

Absolutely. Limitations can be freeing, and so is knowing where everything goes in your home. I can see a pretty candle on a store shelf and want to buy it, but I know the cabinet where I store candles can only hold two, at most. Back goes the candle on the shelf.

You are a fan of Simplicity Parenting (me too!) and purge toys without input from your sons. Have you had any regrets over toys you donated? Do you see this style of decluttering for your children changing as they get older?

I have zero regrets. If I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t purge more and that I didn’t donate the toys immediately. I saved them for a mythical garage sale we were “going to have.” I finally admitted to myself a couple of weeks ago that we will never have a garage sale.

I imagine (hope) that as they get older, the boys will have fewer unreasonable attachments to broken toys and stuffed animals they ignored until they hit the donate pile. I once made the mistake of going to Goodwill for a drop off after I picked them up from school. They saw, through a white trash bag, mind you, a red and black buffalo check shirt with fleece lining. It was a great shirt that they both wore until they couldn’t wear it any longer. It was two sizes too small and they hadn’t worn it in over a year, but they cried as if I was giving away the family dog. 

They’ll also have fewer, but more expensive toys as they get older. iPods, iPads, Kindles–those are all items that contain data, and I’m not so crazy that’d I’d toss out an entire book and music library for the sake of more shelf space.

Finally, I would love to know more about your choice to leave your law career. What was the biggest factor for changing jobs? Yes, I consider home manager/blogger/everything else you do a job choice :)

I wrote about that at length here, but the short of it is that I was a research attorney for a family and criminal law practice. I was in the office on a Saturday preparing an argument for a man to have more visitation with his children–he only wanted it to reduce his support payments–when it hit me that I was taking time away from my son to win more time for a man who treated his children like pawns in a game of chess. I guess that means the biggest factor for changing jobs was cognitive dissonance. Or, to put it in internet speak, “What is seen…cannot be unseen.”

Name three things that make you happy.

A good book.

My family.

Chocolate ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mixed in.

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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