less space, more happiness (the truth about living in a small family home)

maybe my search engine skills need improving (they most definitely do), but i have found it really difficult to find other blogs like mine — where people write about living in and/or renovating a small home. (small, in my opinion, is about 600–1000 square feet of finished space.) it’s really easy to find blogs about people living in vans, or tiny houses, or airstreams or on boats, because that sort of lifestyle just begs to be documented on the internet. it’s really easy to find blogs about people renovating bungalows, ranchers, farmhouses, greek revivals because hgtv exists and everyone wants to show off their bathrooms. but living in a small home — not quite small enough to be crazy, not quite big enough to be comfortable — i guess that’s just kind of an unremarkable thing to do? or at least not remarkable enough that the people doing it feel the need to document it online. (or maybe they’re just too busy cramming four seasons of coats into their one, tiny closet to find the time to write a blog?)

i’ve scoured the internet looking for other houses like mine, for other people managing to squeeze bottles and tins of cat food into their four kitchen cupboards alongside their wedding china and chickpeas. because, man, sometimes i am stuck! and what’s the internet for, if not to provide you with a community of people who will enable your offbeat life choices?  well, i found one person, one blog (or maybe she found me? i can’t remember) and that person is kate saffle of the streamlined life; she lives in a 675 square foot house with her husband and three kids. turns out kate has a podcast, cohesive home, which is not about small homes, but her podcast co-host also just jumped into small home-ownership (864 square feet) with her family and she has a blog, so now i have two. two people. two blogs. (if you’re reading this and you, too, are a small home owner/renter with a blog, feel free to let me know! i will read your blog and enable your offbeat life choices.)

disclaimer: as of two weeks ago, i no longer live in a super small home! our new house is 1177 square feet with an unfinished basement of equal size. it feels palatial compared to our tiny toronto bungalow, where we lived for seven years. despite our newfound square footage, we plan to live as minimally as possible still.

about a month ago, kate put out a call over instagram to anyone interested in joining a small family homes blogger network and, knowing how much i’ve struggled to find comparable sites, i was all in. each month everyone in the network is going to write a post on a common topic and provide links to all the other participating blogs at the bottom of their post (a good ol’ fashioned link party!). this is our first post and the topic is: the truth about living in a small family home. i’m super excited to read everyone else’s posts, hoping to discover some new blogs to add to my reader. if this topic is of interest to you (if you’re still reading then i’m guessing it is!), please check out a few of the links at the bottom of this post for some different perspectives. here goes!


when i started writing this blog in 2011, the tagline was less space, more happiness in toronto. not less space = more happiness in toronto… that comma is important. less space does not equal more happiness, except when it does. for us, it does (or did). but it’s not the sheer act of living in 795 square feet with my husband and toddler and cat, negotiating who has to sleep on the side of the bed that requires you to crawl over the bed to get into the bed, that brings about happiness. in fact, that part can bring about some pretty serious unhappiness at times. but, for us, the less space part is what makes the more happiness part possible. which makes the less space part worth it, stubbed toes, quiet voices, seven pairs of underwear and all.

the truth about living in a small family home is we have a small mortgage, lower utility bills, less space to furnish and, overall, very little temptation to purchase clothes, toys, books and the like. (there’s nowhere to put it so it’s kind pointless to do so.) living in a small family home means we have one bathroom to clean, just a patch of sidewalk to shovel, a small garden to weed. we don’t have oodles of money and time — we’re still two people living in an expensive city with jobs and cell phone bills and a young child — but we have way, way more of both of these things than we would if we lived in a larger house. right now, in fact, might be the most expensive (diapers, vet bills, a recent cross-country move) and busiest (curious toddler, new city, an old house that needs work) time in our lives together so far, but instead of feeling overwhelmed or overextended, we’re mostly just excited.


the truth about living in a small family home is that it’s challenging, but not in the way you might expect. paring down your possessions and downsizing (or just opting out of ever “moving up”) is super, super simple. it’s about as hard as finding some sturdy cardboard boxes and filling them up with stuff you never use and then restraining yourself from replacing that stuff with more junk that you don’t need. no, the real challenge is actually in figuring out what makes you happy — if you don’t need to work as hard or as much to pay your bills or maintain your possessions, how is it that you choose to spend your money and time? too many people are misled by the myth that en suites, separate bedrooms for each child and front hall closets are necessities, rather than just nice-to-haves if you can afford them and value having them above other things, and so don’t have the luxury of this challenge. and that’s a shame — it’s a pretty nice challenge to face.

the truth about living in a small home is that you learn to get intentional about your possessions really, really quickly. there is just no surviving living in less than 1000 square feet if you intend to hold onto old birthday cards, duplicate carrot peelers or clothing you never wear. but getting intentional with your money and time takes a lot more practice. we’re not done figuring it out, at all — but we reached a point with our savings recently where we thought we’d like to give living on vancouver island and working less than six months out of the year a try. we sold our toronto bungalow in march and then asked our victoria realtor to find us a detached house between 600 and 1200 square feet — anything larger just wouldn’t align with our family values (and anything smaller just wouldn’t work). we’ve been on the west coast just two weeks, in our new, 1177 square foot house and, so far, it’s paradise. we’re still living out of suitcases mostly — it’s really hard to unpack with a toddler trying to climb into the fireplace — and we won’t start working again until later this summer. until then, we’re tackling a number of home  projects, exploring the beaches and spending time together — just trying to figure out what makes us happy. the truth is, this adventure wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t been willing to live in an uncomfortably small family home for all the years leading up to this one.

want more thoughts on the truth about living in a small family home? hop on over to: minimalist meg, 600 square feet and a baby, shelley vanderbyl, the streamlined life, justice pirate, our nest in the city, fourth and westRISING*SHINING, family at sea, real food simple life, tiny ass camper, family pedals, birch and pine.


20 thoughts on “less space, more happiness (the truth about living in a small family home)

  1. Yey! Now you know a third. I have a 747 sq. foot home.
    I don’t think 1200 is too big, since that is the size of a lot of small houses that I see for sale as it is. I am sure no matter where you live, your values will have a lot of mindfulness involved in it!

    1. i’m so happy we lived in 800 sq ft for so long before moving into this slightly bigger place. i hope we can hang onto all of our good habits (really thinking before buying something, one in/three out) despite having a little bit of extra room to store things. so far, so good — but we’re just three weeks in!

  2. I love the sentiment about finding others to connect with. Although our home is larger it’s not going to be appearing on a design blog and it’s a cookie cutter suburban. We aren’t super handy so it won’t make a DIY Pinterest post. And yes to being intentional about things! Honestly, I feel that doing a whole-house minimizing/simplifying changed our life is a significant way and set us on a path of living a happier life.

  3. I am in a similar boat where we used to live in a smaller home, but the house that worked for us this time in terms of location is larger than we wanted/needed (1500 sqft) but we’ve found that we can apply the values we learned when we did live with less still apply. And on your place feeling palatial: yes! We feel like we’re swimming in space. Perspective is everything.

  4. I love this! I agree living in that size home just isn’t talked about (we’re a fam of 4 in 1200sqft) but life IS different. I’m happy I found your space on the internet! This work-for-half-the-year sounds dreamy and I hope it ends up working well for you guys! Xo

  5. I love what you say about living small not automatically equaling happiness but allowing more room for it. It’s so awesome that you are making working half the year a reality! We hope to reach our goal of my husband working less.

    And can totally relate to climbing over one another to go to bed! Sigh.

    1. thank you! i am feeling a little guilty pleasure with regards to the double sink in the kitchen, ample room on both sides of the bed and a small broom cupboard… little luxuries not possible in our old 800 sq ft home. i hope these things never become “old news” to me; that surge of gratitude for having somewhere to store the vacuum is a nice feeling! good luck with your time/work goals for your husband!

  6. Hey! Don’t know how I missed this the first time around. You sound just like me! Love how you write about living small and intentionally. Glad I found you through this wonderful group Kate put together.

what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s