Family Nature

Downsizing. How much space does a family of six really need anyway?

We are a family of six.  Mum and Dad plus four kids.  Late last year we sold our 3 storey, 2000 square foot Toronto townhouse.  I loved that house.  We bought it on paper and it is where I thought we’d live for a long time; where I thought we’d raise our family.  It was big, bright and new.  It had three bedrooms plus an office, a living room, a family room, a TV room, a spacious kitchen with a centre island and cupboards stretching to the nine foot ceilings, three bathrooms including a master ensuite and gleaming hardwood floors throughout.  Sounds great doesn’t it?  I really did love that house, but it just wasn’t right for us. 

When we told friends and family we’d bought a new house I think they were surprised.  One said, “It better not be smaller than this one.”  Yes it is.  Here’s the thing: we downsized.  Our new house is an 1100 square foot bungalow.  Yup, a bungalow; three bedrooms, one bathroom, a modest kitchen and a good sized living/dining room.  It’s perfect for us.

Our old house was too big and we were way too spread out.   My computer was in the third floor office, the TV was on the second floor, the kitchen was on the ground floor and for some reason, the kids loved to spend time in the unfinished basement.  Everyone was always on a different floor.  Despite the fact that bedrooms were on two separate floors, most nights all six of us would end up in one room.  On top of all that we absolutely could not keep up with the housework.

Our front and back yards were pitifully small.  Our back yard was only slightly bigger than a postage stamp.  We’d watch the kids run around in circles in the back yard and it would remind us of hamsters in a cage.

With all the space of a 2000 square foot home came a whole lot of stuff; stuff we didn’t really need.  We had linens; so many that we might have been able to open a small hotel.  The same goes for kitchen wares; we had every small appliance, a wok we never used, and enough glassware to host a big party (which we only do once a year).  When we took a step back and looked at what we had, it was embarrassing.  We didn’t need the house for our family; we needed it for the stuff we’d accumulated over the years.  Going through everything was an overwhelming task but in the end, we are so much happier with less.

We’ve been in our new house for several months now and it couldn’t be better.  We have a big playroom in the basement and the kids can escape there when they need to blow off some steam.  No matter where in the house I am it’s always close enough to know when things aren’t going well.   The bedrooms are all next to each other so when the kids need us in the night, we’re close by.  Everything is easier here; making dinner, bedtime, getting out the door in the morning, keeping the house tidy…everything.  Somehow everything just seems simpler.  Our backyard, probably the best feature of the house, is big.  It is lined with perennial gardens and backs on to a huge park.  We couldn’t ask for anything more.

This experience has really been an interesting lesson.  It’s been said a million times but it’s true, less really is more.  Fewer linens means less laundry, less laundry means more time to spend with the kids, baking or relaxing.  A simpler house is less work and less stress.  Fewer square feet mean we’re together more.  

So, how much space does a family of six really need?  As little as possible.

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15 thoughts on “Downsizing. How much space does a family of six really need anyway?

  1. BarbaraH

    It’s such a hard lesson to learn… Not to just strive for more but more of what’s right for you. It’s definitely the lesson I’m learning this year.

  2. Alexandra

    I remember when a friend of mine from India came to my house (about 1000 square feet, family of four) and said, “This is a big house.” And I said, “oh, that’s because you are used to much smaller houses in India; in Canada, this is a small house.” He replied, “this has nothing to do with what I am ‘used to,’ this is just a big house!”

    It does seem slightly crazy to me, but I get twinges of embarrassment sometimes when I go into houses that are much larger than mine and will have the thought, “this is the size of house I am *supposed* to have!” But the reality is that our “small” (or big – depending on your point of view!) house is exactly right for us. We have a lovely, sheltered back yard and space for everyone and everything.

    I read this blog: http://apronthriftgirl.typepad.com/ – she writes a lot about these kinds of issues.

  3. Melanie

    Great post!

    We moved from a 1000 sq. ft condo to a 2500 (?) sq. ft house. And while I love the *idea* of what we can do with some of this extra space, I also see how it limits us in ways you describe. Certainly we have a whole lot of room that rarely gets used – or cleaned!

    It sounds like your place is perfection! I’m thrilled for you. :)

  4. familynature

    @BarbaraH: It is, isn’t it? I am still learning; I expect I will always be learing.

    @Alexandra: Perspective is everything! I also think of my Mother who was one of ten children raised in a three bedroom house; same goes for dh’s mother. This was the norm for many families. I’m not sure why it’s NOT the norm now.

    @Melanie: Everyone’s needs are different and needs change too! I can totally see our family in a 2000 squre foot house like our old one when the kids are teens…but I’ll have to wait until then and reasses. For now, we’re great here!

    @Bevlyn: Thanks Bev! This house is small but still big enough to host our favourite family! xo

  5. phdinparenting

    It was nice to read this. We have a 3 bedroom house, but the bedrooms are really small and one of them is a guestroom because my mom stays with us frequently to help out with the kids. As a result, we have my son in a tiny bedroom, my daughter is with us in the master bedroom and we are trying to find a way to fit furniture (bunk beds probably) so that our son and daughter can share a room until they are at the age where that is no longer a great option. We don’t have a den or playroom or anything, so their toys and games take over the rest of the house. It can be frustrating at times, but overall I like the smaller house and I prefer to spend our money on other things (like extended vacations) rather than on building and maintaining a large house. I also think that having a small house gives you more excuse to go outside and we could all use more fresh air.

  6. incalculable

    Great post! I’ve lived in lots of small spaces with my two kids — when they were babies, we lived in a half-sized school bus and then we moved up to a 1-bedroom apartment until I got into subsidized housing, a 2-level, 3-bedroom townhouse. It felt huge to me – I can remember the feeling that I was just rattling around in all that space, and true to the comments above the “stuff” I collected in that place astounded me when I eventually moved out (yep, to a smaller apartment!). Now I live in a fairly big place – a 3-level, 3 bathroom, 4-bedroom townhouse… but I also share it with a lot of people: the kids my partner & I have the two bedrooms on the upper floor, and we have two more roommates (1 in each of the other bedrooms). It works out beautifully – we are actually using all of the space in the house, and plus we have a great community with lots of helping hands for sharing cooking, cleaning, etc. I know extended family/communal living is relatively uncommon here but like one commenter pointed out above, the whole idea of one little nuclear family in one big huge house is quite a crazy (and wasteful!) western concept.

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  11. Meredith

    Sometimes it’s difficult not to get caught up in the bigger is better ideal. I live in 1600 sq ft with dh, two kids and a third on the way. We are not planning on moving (yet) and quite frankly, i love purging. our “dining” room is our toy room, and we are all always on the same floor. We can cook and listen to the kids play or fight in the next room, and the tv is in the room beside that.

    Would I love a big laundry room? For sure. But I am not too convinced about a bigger house. I just don’t have the time to clean and quite frankly, I don’t want to make the time.

    The only thing that is regrettable about our townhome is that we do not have a yard. at all. But, we live in a very walkable area and there are parks aplenty.

    I loved this post. :)

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