Tiny Town: Ideas for Living in Small Spaces

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There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

— Mother Goose

Living in cramped quarters can clearly make people grumpy, especially people with kids. But a small space can also be a gift that actually improves your quality of life. I don’t know if it was the downturn in the economy or what, but there has been a decided uptick in the trend toward tiny abodes. Many of us learned in college — and some of us into our 20s and beyond — how to maximize minimal space. Small spaces meant increased creativity. Every room (or maybe just one room) was a puzzle to solve that seemed to have endless solutions. But when every inch counts, saving another inch was worth moving the desk one more time.

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Then came kids. All of a sudden my space was not my space anymore. This is also thanks to our modern sensibility about living that does not involve relegating kids to their rooms to play. These days kids do indeed rule: the living room, dining room, even the master bedroom (we turned ours into a play/art room while we sleep in a closet-sized cubby). It’s enough to make you look longingly at a giant box house on a suburban lawn and drool — for a second, anyway. Until reality hits and you really try to imagine yourself living that existence. With cavernous rooms, “great” though they may be, comes an increase in clutter, dust and general melee.

Then consider this: Young kids don’t care how big their house is. And you can call it an investment in the kiddo college fund to downsize, at least for a while, when they won’t care. You can save money in more ways than one. If you build a house, you obviously spend way less on a tiny home. Check out Tumble Weed Houses to get a sense of what a tiny abode that meets your needs might cost.

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And then of course, whether you build your own place or rent, there is a huge reduction in energy usage—yay environment, but also yay pocket book! Then figure in a reduced need for furnishings, décor and a forced limitation on kid stuff, and you may have just paid for freshman year.

I realize that minimalism is a hard sell to your material girls- and boys-in-training but, in the end, your kids will actually appreciate a few steps you can take to make life simpler. Beyond the obvious “buy less stuff” mantra, you could try to live by these rules: 1). Save less stuff and 2). Display less stuff. Kids do best with fewer choices so #2 is easy.

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A toy rotation system is a great way to stretch out toys longer. For older kids, you can involve them in deciding what starts out in the first round but for younger ones, out of sight is truly out of mind. When it is rotation time, it is like Christmas (if Christmas involved the Grinch taking all of your old toys away first). It is amazing how much space you save when toys are in storage as opposed to out on shelves.

To follow #1, no need to throw all sentiment to the wind. Sure, it will help to be a little more cavalier about the 50 super cute baby outfits with all of those “special” stains on them. But no need to toss it all. A memory box can still be a part of life, but notice the singular usage of “box.” Once the box is full and you have more to add, it is decision time.

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For those who just can’t bear to part with enough items to keep the box in check, remember that a picture is worth 1000 square feet. Sure, you know you can photograph artwork and toss the originals, but you can also photograph the designer 0-3 months onesie that Auntie Jane spent way too much for or a favorite toy that saw more of baby’s saliva than a spitoon. Take nice photos and put them in a memory book, as long as it fits in the aforementioned box.

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But how do you go from the survival mode to actually enjoying your space? Let your creativity run wild! Small spaces can take it, and they really really need it. Something that might seem kitschy in a large house will appear charming when viewed on a smaller scale. Whatever your family’s passion is, let it shine through, whether it is creating the ultimate Hobbit house, a space pod, a live-in teapot, fairy house or a victorian gingerbread house.

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Remember the kids still need to run around, especially in the great outdoors. If feasible, go for more land and less house. A benefit of small house living is that you can give yourself the option of splurging a bit on location. You may choose an acre of wooded land with a petite cabin to house the essentials. Trees, despite what media may tell you these days, really do still provide a lot of entertainment for kids.

If you have your heart set on waterfront, a micro tiny floating home, a house boat, or even just a boat could make your dream come true and not break the bank. And if you are going the condo or apartment route, try to locate yourself near a nice public park and check to see where the nearest community pea patch is.

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Whatever you choose, think outside of the big box, even consider a total lifestyle change — like taking the family on the road in an airstream trailer. And if living in a shoe is for you, you will know what to do.

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