Living simply – even when people don’t understand

Envelope. Encapsulate. Nurture.

These words were the guide as I drew a pencil line across the paper, eight feet long, in quarter-inch scale.

The vision of this wall and its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves flashed onto the screen of my mind like a slide in a projector. Yes, this would work: three-feet-six for the width of the hall, plus two feet for the ship-ladder staircase, yes, that would leave the perfect length for the bookcase wall, which would also be just right for the bathroom on the other side.

Each wall, in turn, slid across the screen, and I drew them down in that shallow winter light: a windowed projection for the sofa; another on the facing wall for a banquette at the dining table. Opposite the bookshelves, stretching across the gable-end wall, would be the kitchen. A simple kitchen, just over thirteen feet long, all of it.

I tapped the end of the pencil at my lips.

Then sketched some more.

Under a shower of ideas, necessities, graphite dust, and eraser crumbs, a little house was forming. A cabin, if you will. A cabin that measured out at only 665 square feet, and would become a full-time residence for our family of five.

Say that again?

Six hundred sixty-five square feet for our family of five.

I understand if you don’t quite know what to think about that. It’s unusual, yes. You might even say that it’s far-fetched and a little off-your-rocker, this idea of a family living small – especially in light of the prevalent bigger-is-better American Dream.

I understand.

But simplicity called. A lifestyle called where we would be less burdened with meaningless things, and more alive in the moment. There was a measure of freedom waiting that we could not experience unless we were willing to take a divergent path. This drawing toward a deeper life was so strong, so compelling, that we were willing to risk the label of insanity for it (thankfully, we discovered that crazy is what we were leaving behind).

But in the process, there was awkward, and there were questions, and many wonderings, because it’s quite possible to be hesitant and jittery, yet be solidly intentioned at the very same time. And when people wondered, too, and asked askance about this cross-grain life we were planning, we couldn’t blame them, really. This was unusual, indeed. Even to us.

So how could we continue toward what we felt held so much potential for us, yet at the same time handle the sometimes less-than-supportive opinions that people felt free to send our way?

First of all, we remembered that this was our life. At the end of the day, we were the ones who would either suffer the consequences or reap the benefits of our choices, and we remembered that, no matter the tradition of our society or the popular opinion of the day, we were indeed free to select a different path.

But we didn’t want to leave it at that. We wanted to invite people into our world, via this different path, in this little house. We wanted them to see this truest revelation of our life and our choice. We found that other peoples’ unsupportive opinions often came from a lack of understanding, and not necessarily from an offensive spirit (though it could sometimes feel that way). The unknown makes people hesitant, and therefore they often conclude based on assumptions, rather than on reality.

Interestingly, as our little house came to completion and we went about unapologetically living this life of simplicity in our small home and friends and family were able to see it in the flesh, those who’d been hesitant were able to come to a different viewpoint and see that this wasn’t deprivation that we were pursuing, but rather, a form of abundance.

And yet, grace still held the highest place. For there is a peculiar circumstance that takes place in which people can somehow feel that, just because you have chosen this life, they are now somehow required to consider, and maybe even pursue a similar life of simplicity in a little house. This can be either inspiring to them, or disheartening. We’re learning to support the inspired, and relieve the disheartened. Because, really? If your freedom is found in greater square footage, there you should be. Simplicity can find you there.

So we live our lives in these 665 square feet, freely, openly, and fully. We embrace the freedom that has come to us because of this decision. We invite people to share in it and experience it with us, to pack our little house with laughter and energy, and we extend grace for others to live in the situation that’s right for them.

If you feel like the chaos outweighs the calm in your home,

first, take care of the basics.

You already know what to do—you just need to do it.
Focus on just ONE thing at a time, and you'll conquer the overwhelm.

 

33 Comments

  1. Breanne

    Thanks for sharing this. In a few weeks, my family and I are moving to an apartment which makes zero sense to most of our peers who are buying their big houses in this season. It’s humbling (its’ in ‘that’ part of town) and yet it’s also so freeing. Our biggest dreams aren’t of having a forever house but of traveling and experiencing different cultures and opening our home to those we know and love.
    This apartment fits all of those criteria and it is daily a reminder to live with grace. Thanks for sharing so that I can be a little more brave in sharing about our place. =)

    • Carmella

      All the best to you, Breanne, in your new, unusual venture! May you find full life there. I applaude you for following your heart

  2. Ronda

    This is so fascinating to me. I always loved the idea of having a studio apartment, everything in one space, but life happens and that didn’t. 🙂 And in our lifestyle now, it won’t. We live pretty simply, but it still requires a good bit of space because of friends! I’m curious how you plan to share such a small space with others…how many chairs do you have? How can you serve a meal to friends when there is surely no space for a big table? Do you just sit on the floor, balance plates on your knees? Do you live somewhere that you can spend a lot of time outdoors?

    I also wonder about storage…I have always shopped sales and kept a fairly large stockpile of food on hand. Is that even possible with a tiny house? You surely have no extra space for storage. And is privacy an issue? I’m so curious! Would love to see how you do it! 🙂

    • Carmella

      Hi Ronda! Yes, we do love to have friends over, and with pre-teen and teenaged boys, we tend to collect more boys on the weekends 🙂 I keep a stock-pile of food, and we each get our personal privacy. I’ve written extensively on my blog about how we go about all this – the friends, the overnight guests, the food, the privacy, etc. You may find it at assortmentblog.com. At the top of the main page, click the button that says 665 sq ft, and you’ll find many posts listed there that describe this simple, smaller life.

    • Steph

      I’m curious about this too. We live quite simply and in a relatively small two bedroom apartment for the four of us. But I do find it hard to host people (not because I’m worried about they think or anything but because it can quickly get uncomfortable and absolutely insane if we add in too many kids). Wondering how you handle guests for dinner and/or overnight…

      • carmella

        Yes, one does wonder about that! I’ve written extensively on the blog about how we go about this full life in less space. You can find many posts linked if you click the ‘665 sq ft’ button at the top of the blog’s main page. assortmentblog(dot)com

    • Rosie

      I lived in a smaller-than-average home in the US and now a modest apartment in Europe, and grappled with the question of hospitality a few years ago when we began to really simplify. It was the biggest obstacle in my thinking – how to keep that value going in our lives and even develop it further.

      But you just have to think out of the box. For example we own a couple of folding tables and some folding chairs and a couple of table cloths, and we extend out our small, lightweight dining table with these, or move the whole operation, tables and all, to the living area. We’ve also put more intention into having one family over a time and spending quality time with them rather than hosting huge gatherings (which we might rent a room in a church or community center for anyway). My aunt in the UK has also been a big inspiration for hospitality. She has a tiny living space but always has people stopping by – it’s the vibe she has, not the size of her home, that draw people to her space. We’ve had extended family there for meals and she does similar things with her table, only in even less space! Sometimes the kids have to crawl under the table to get to their spots, but it’s not unlike a large booth in a restaurant! Gatherings at her home are some of my best memories, partly because of the fun of cramming us all together.

      • Carmella

        I love this, Rosie! Yes, for larger dinner groups, we’ve turned our table perpendicular to the window seat, and add a folding card table to the end. Last spring we had a group of 20+ over for a grilled dinner and set the food out on folding tables covered in long white cloths. We asked everyone to bring their own lawn chairs, and everyone had such a great time. People seem to like being included, no matter how cozy it is

  3. Guest

    I’ve been following the tiny home movement for several years now. I’m not sure a tiny home is for us but definitely a smaller home would be wonderful to me. 🙂 Do you have a blog?

    • Carmella

      We knew a tiny home wasn’t for us, either. We knew that if we lived too small for our needs, we would not achieve what we were hoping for. The design of our house was key, and was built to fit us and our lifestyle. Yes! I do have a blog where I’ve written extensively about our life with less. Find it at assortmentblog(dot)com

  4. Monica

    I love this! Well, you live more simply than we do, but we have a family of 7 in a 1900 square-foot house. In our neighborhood, this is the smallest house and when we moved in 17 years ago, we had a 7 month old baby. Five kids later, the house has gotten quite tight with storage busting at the seems. We often get the, “I don’t know how you do it” exclamations, but we just do. Our kids are close to us, not hiding in some remote part of a big box house tuned out to the family. Studying and quiet for the teens is hard and a constant challenge, but we all make it work. 3 boys (teen boy with 2 young brothers) and 2 girls (teen and elementary school daughter) share two bedrooms. In today’s society, it’s unusual for kids to share bedrooms. Again, it’s out of necessity and it works. The kids like each other and our family is tight. For that, it’s worth it!

    • Carmella

      That’s so awesome, Monica! Your positive attitude about your home is beautiful.

  5. Bethany V.

    I’ve begun to realize that it isn’t the size of your space but how it’s set up that makes it functional. I always complain about my tiny house but I know it’s always more space that I need but space arranged more usefully. That’s amazing that you were able to design a functional but small space for your family. I think having outside space matters too. I think I would definitely own less if my kids could spend most of the daylight hours outside exploring. We make due with perhaps an hour a day in our tiny city backyard, but I know we would all be happier if they could run free more. I don’t have any aspirations to live in space as small as yours, but I admire your goal.

  6. Janelle

    My husband and I are childless, so have a lot of flexibility. Right now we live in a two bedroom, two bath apartment and I would love to downsize to a one bedroom in a part of town walking distance to shopping, the library, the farmer’s market, the transit center. It can be frustrating that my husband doesn’t agree with something that has become central to my life. He’s a simple guy, but his biggest hang up: He wants his own bathroom! Though I suppose we are only talking about the difference of a couple hundred feet so I am grateful he isn’t interested in the McAmerican dream anymore than I am.

    • carmella

      Laura, the photo at the top of this post is of our house, and you can find many more in the photo tours on the blog assortmentblog.com

  7. Laura

    Photos please! I’d love to see photos of this wonderful space!

  8. Terri-Ann Gawthrouoe

    We have about 1100 for our family of six. I love living intentionally together, not everyone spreading out to their separate corners. My heart sung the other day when my eight year old commented: Mom, my friend’s house looks big on the outside, but small on the inside (it’s at least 2000), but our house looks small on the outside and is big on the inside.” I love that they feel the openness and beauty of simplicity.

    • carmella

      This is PRECIOUS!

  9. carmella

    It’s so great reading your comments! I’ve tried to reply to each one, but my replies are being held up somewhere! You have some great questions, most of which I’ve written about on my blog at one time or other. Pictures, yes! There are photo tours of the whole house! House guests and friends? Yes! We have those! A stockpile of food? Yes, that, too. Cheers for each of us as we find simplicity in our lives, with more square footage, or less. You may read more on the blog: assortmentblog(dot)com. The tab at the top of the main page titled ‘665 sq. ft.’ will take you to posts related to our small living.

  10. Lyndall

    So as an Australian I had to ask myself exactly how big a 665ft space was. Thanks google. Then I did the math on our house. 883ft2… I suppose it’s an extra bedroom (we have 3). But the reality is it’s a pretty standard Australian home built in the 70s.
    My grandfather points out, it need only fit 4 for a relatively short time. When the adult kids get too big, they will move out. This is the problem with big houses, big adult kids don’t move out. I had to laugh at his logic, but in time I think I’ll find this to be true.

    • Teresa

      I asked my husband how big was the home he grew up in and his reply was 500 sq ft as his guess. There were 8 people living there full time with sleepover kids often as well. The basement had 2 small bedrooms for the 5 boys with Mom & Dad & only girl sleeping upstairs. Plenty of time was spent playing sports outside and mealtime was as long as there was food on the table. This was during 1960’s – most of the 70’s. And I agree with your Grandfather’s point that the kids grew up and left home usually the late teens.

      And I absolutely love your home Carmella! Thanks for letting us see it!

      • Carmella

        Thanks for the house love! Although we didn’t aspire to live in a tiny home, we did aspire to live in one that would hold us and only the things that truely mattered, and one that we could pay cash for. Six hundred sixty-five feet was the magic number. Yes, time outdoors is so important and we truly appreciate the space we have to roam.

  11. Cindy

    Beautiful! I love the thinking here. My heart resonated with:

    “But in the process, there was awkward, and there were questions, and many wonderings, because it’s quite possible to be hesitant and jittery, yet be solidly intentioned at the very same time.”
    This spoke to me regarding a decision our family has recently made. 🙂

    Now I am inspired to simplify my home some more! Thank you!

  12. Jen

    I love your space! My husband and I are ready to live in a small(er) house that’s a custom-fit for us. Everyone thinks we’re nuts, but we just feel drawn to small homes.

  13. Anjeanette

    Thank you for inspiring me to once again, press on towards living more simply. Sometimes it gets muddled in the everydayness of life for me and I lose sight of my goal!!

    • Carmella

      I know what you mean! It’s helpful to have that reminder

  14. katarina

    Hello, I am from Slovakia and have been following your blog for some time now :). Just wanted to encourage you, as over here in Europe (especially Eastern part) many ppl live in small apartments, inclupding our family of 4. I calculated that your place is 62 m2, and we live in a 64m2 apartment :)). So very similar. And yes, we had dreams about a spacious modern house, then strawbale house…but then we realized that we can have a good quality life without mortgage and live intentionally in the small space. At least it allows us not to cumulate THINGS, as there is no space for storage :). So we have to keep it simple, own things we really use -every day- and avoid clutter. As for hospitality – we have guests all the time, even for sleepover. The sofa in the living room-that is guest room :). And we even had my sister’s family over-they have 7 kids !! 🙂 And yes, we had to leave our apartment to sleep at in-laws’ house as there wa no place for us anymore :))). Last winter a family with 3 toddlers stayed for a week with us. So no worries-where there is open heart-the space somehow appers :)). Keep up the good work and may you and your family be blessed.

    • Carmella

      Thanks for sharing how you make your small space work so beautifully! Inspiring for sure

  15. Lisa Luken

    Carmella, you have been an inspiration to me from the minute I first read your story two years ago. My family of 5 is working on plans to build our tinyish house so we can do more living. And “grace” has been at the forefront of my mind lately as we intentionally choose this unconventional path. Thank you for sharing your words so thoughtfully-they are ones many need to hear!

    • Carmella

      How exciting that is for your family! Best wishes on your new venture!

  16. Jlynn

    I have recently been giving a lot of consideration to downsizing from a one-bedroom apartment back to a studio. When I first moved to this city I lived in a studio and said I would never go back. However, with rent going up to close to $800 or more for a one-bedroom, and not wanting to purchase a home, I am thinking that a studio is the way to go.

    Since I have done a lot of purging and letting go, I have far less material things to store. Do I really need a seperate room for a bed and a dresser? I don’t think so. I also don’t entertain a lot so I wouldn’t need a space for many visitors. I will have to start looking and see what I can find that will fit me and my stuff and provide a cozy refuge for me to go home to and recharge.

  17. Natalie Rans

    Oooo I just loved the way you described this life. My husband and I are in a 400 sq. ft. studio, which is plenty of space. I would love to stay small throughout the years, possibly go smaller. The only part that stumps me is the thought of expanding our family (hopefully sooner than later). Adding a little one to the mix makes it seem like we would have to go – people say that we would have to go. I’m glad to hear that you have accepted the challenge of a dream and are embracing it in all its obstacles, obscurities, and wonders. I’m excited for you. And I’m extra excited for your children’s lives. Good mom move (literally).

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