I've mentioned before that our house, by American standards, is unapologetically small. I remind myself often that the family that built this house raised five children here, and that was without indoor plumbing or the rooms that now serve as our kitchen, mudroom, and largest bedroom.
Still, I rarely show photos of it because it's cramped and messy and in a state of being perpetually lived in. There is no pause button on the real life that happens here.
But living large in a small space means getting creative.
When we put in our wood stove a couple of years ago we decided to place it (somewhat unconventionally) in the kitchen, since that's the room with the best view and the one where we spend most of our time. Soon the kitchen corner beside the wood stove was also home to a couple of cozy chairs, and our living room sat unused 99% of the time – serving only as the dumping ground for laundry awaiting folding.
But when you live in 1200 square feet, it's pretty silly to ignore the largest room in the house.
So I got a wild hair just before our trip to Ireland to ditch the living room altogether. To get rid of our couch and extra chairs, and set a huge craft table in the middle of the room for sewing and making of every sort. My mom was underwhelmed with my idea, but we still had the comfy chairs by the fire, so I was steadfast.
Why have a space you don't use, I reasoned, when there's a space we desperately want and don't have room for?
I'm not much for rules.
We ran out of time before our trip, and by the time we returned home my vision had shifted. What if we simply flip-flopped the living room and dining area instead? Then we could keep our couch (albeit in the kitchen), have cozy seating for everyone around the wood stove, and our dining table could continue to serve for both crafting and family meals.
It might be crazy to have a couch in the kitchen, but then again, maybe not.
And when your furniture all comes from the thrift store, you can be a little less fretful about the potential of it being spattered by, say, flying maple syrup (hypothetically speaking, of course).
Pete and the kids were game, so on a whim we flipped the rooms. And in moments our former kitchen/dining room (real-life picture, because 1. you seem to like that, and 2. it's all I've got!) went from this:
To this, and became the cosiest living space we've had in years.
It hasn't been this empty or clean since. I'll take that as a good sign.
And all without spending a nickel or driving across state lines for a run to Ikea (something I may have considered on more than one occasion).
I mention this furniture flip today because of the happiest side-effect that this simple rearrange brought: we're together far more often than we were before.
By sticking with our small square footage, yet making room for people to spend time comfortably together, we created more space for family.
We gather together to quietly (or not so quietly!) read or cook or knit or sew. We're drawn into the shared space more and more, something I'm hungering for as I watch my children grow up before my eyes. We're talking more. Laughing more. Connecting.
There are just four of us. We certainly don't need a bigger house – we just need one that lives like we do so we can enjoy being together now more than ever.
Oh, and the biggest room in the house, the giant laundry basket that has sat empty for nearly all of the five years we have lived here, the one we now call the dining-making-sewing room?
Today it's buzzing with constant energy as the kids (and adults) create, sew, play, learn, and linger here, together.
And if anyone tells you your dining room can't have a craft cabinet and a sewing machine as a part of the decor, send them my way for a tour.
What else can I suggest except this: think outside the box, my friends. (In everything!)
And bigger isn't always better.
Indeed, the benefits of simple, small-house living are many. And by throwing out the rule book you can end up with a space that fits how your family lives, with room to enjoy one another and the things that you love.
I wouldn't trade this for a house twice the size.