We brought Winifred Louise home from the farm on February 1 and are slowly adjusting to life as a family of four living in 1177 square feet. I’ve had a few people ask me if — now that we have added a second child — we are planning on adding more finished space to our bungalow.
With two kids, our house finally feels small again (more on that below), but NO we are not planning on finishing our basement/attic or adding on to the house in any way. I thought I’d give a little glimpse into life as a foursome in a small space as well as expound on why we aren’t planning on creating any more living space.
First, our first house (a 795 square foot bungalow) was undeniably, objectively small. But, the thing is, when we first bought it and moved in in 2010, that 795 square feet was shared by just two adults, one of whom was only there for six months of the year. A small footprint, sure — but I actually had nearly 800 square feet (plus a small porch and backyard) all to myself a lot of the time. We added Archie (our cat) in late 2014 and Frankie Rose in early 2016, effectively reducing the people : square footage ratio to 1 : 266 (we’ll not count Archie, majestic as he is, in the calculations).
When we moved to Victoria and bought Oak House in 2017, we upped our ratio to 1 : 392. No wonder this house felt palatial to us! While we’ve continued to live minimally (I actually think we have less stuff in our second, larger house than we did in our first, much smaller house), I’ve felt guilty about what I considered to be excess space. Like, triple closets in the master bedroom? What is this luxury?
Now that we’ve added baby Winnie to our family our ratio is back down to a cozy 1 : 294 — just slightly more than our first house, which feels just right. I no longer feel like Oak House is a big house, which means I’m back in my happy place — where I can say, without caveats, that we live small. We’re once again in a place where we have to be ruthless about what comes into our home (oi, the baby gifts!) and, with two kids at very different developmental stages, where we have to bring creativity and flexibility to how we use our space.
Having lived for a while in a roomier space (that is, this space shared by less people), I have no desire to increase our ratio again, though that could certainly be achieved by finishing our basement or attic space. I’m sure that a lot of people — having gone from small ratio to medium and then back again — would feel differently!
But, for me, it just comes down to value. Being so used to (and comfortable in) smaller spaces, the cost to add more finished space to our house is way out of line with the value that extra space would add for our family.
When we bought Oak House in 2017, we knew it needed work (a lot of work). We also planned/hoped that it would be a 20-year house for us — the place where Frankie (and now Winnie) would grow up and think of as “home.” But we’ve never had plans to live in this house forever. In fact, after the girls have flown the nest, we’d like to sell and move to Europe for a year or two (Italy? Germany?) or buy some property up-island and build our own (small) house from scratch. As such, we budgeted to renovate the whole house once. The new roof, eavestroughs, tankless water heater and kitchen, bathroom updates, etc. should all last us 20 years. But, by the time we sell, it will be time to do all those things over again (a roof that’s brand new in 2018 is an old roof in 2038) and we’ll pass the buck to the new owners. It will be their turn to make this (by then 125+ year old house!) their own. Amazingly enough, this house, which we’ve poured a lot of time and money into over the past while, will be someone’s fixer upper again.
In conversation with our home inspector and bearing in mind our own experience with renovations and associated costs, we budgeted $100,000 to renovate the house. We hoped this amount of money would get us all the bells and whistles (er, a new roof) to make us happy and comfortable here for 20 years. This number helped us set our maximum purchase price and, lucky for us, that was enough to win us the house.
Amazingly (this house is over 100 years old, after all), we’ve been fairly spot-on with our projected renovation costs. We’ve completed about 85% of the work here — a back deck, shed, landscaping and some work in our hallway are the remaining big ticket projects — and spent 100% of our budget. Nowhere in our renovation plans did we earmark money to finish the basement or attic space. With no budget remaining, we certainly wouldn’t have enough to do either, even if we scrapped the rest of the things that we did plan for, not without going ridiculously over budget, which sort of defeats the purpose of setting one.
Finishing the basement would involve plumbing, electrical, framing and drywall, pouring a floor, new doors and windows — easily a $40,000 job. Finishing the attic is all this plus reconfiguring our kitchen to make room for a staircase plus structural work to our basement to support the added load of a finished second (half) storey. All for what? Another place to watch TV? Yes, every person in our family would have a lot of room to stretch out (our ratio might even get up to something like 1 : 500), but I think of that as negative thing. I think it will be good for our girls to learn how to be creative and flexible with the space we all share, how to purchase things with purpose and intention and to know that bigger isn’t better, especially when the trade-off is working harder/longer to pay for more space or missing out on other opportunities.
So that’s where we’re at with two kids in 1177 square feet — not drowning in kids’ stuff as some might expect, but finally comfortable in our space again!