On “Simple Living”

Crystal at Money Saving Mom is on kind of a small house kick. Recently, there was a guest post about a family of 9 living in about 1200 square feet. The author gave a tour of her house and detailed how they utilize their space and it’s great and you should totally go check it out.

At the end of the post she adds that their family was recently gifted several acres of land and they are planning on building a home the same size as ours – a two-story house with a main floor of approximately 1200 square feet.

One of her last comments is: “To be honest, we are all kind of looking forward to having more space! We go through seasons and we kind of want this small house living to be a season the Lord is bringing us out of.” I absolutely loved that sentiment, but it struck me as apologetic. I read it as “I know that we seem to be doing great and I am celebrating it because this is our home for now, but in reality, it’s kind of a tight squeeze and sometimes uncomfortable.”

Of course, I might totally be projecting my own feelings onto the author.

When Noah and I first moved into the bus, I was excited. I had been reading so much about “simple living” and minimalism and about people who were purging the majority of their possessions and downsizing into tiny houses and living fuller, happier, SIMPLER lives as a result. I was ready to run into this adventure full-throttle and was half convinced that this could possibly become a permanent lifestyle change for us. I literally asked Noah during our first weekend out here “what if we like living in the bus so much that we don’t even WANT to build a house?”

Living in a small space with minimal possessions had been totally glorified in my brain. It was a great example of reverse-snobbery – the thought that a lifestyle of less was inherently superior and that we would all be better to embrace it.

Over a year later, I have to admit that living in a two-story bus with six people is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. Alas.

Interestingly enough, we have found this lifestyle to be anything but simple. Living in such tight quarters is starting to feel cramped and stressful; the additional work that we have to do to make up for the lack of “stuff” in our life has taken away from time that we could be spending doing things we enjoy.

I still feel defensive about micro-living as an alternative living option. Most of the things I wrote about in my post about stigma and happiness still ring true to me: I believe that lots of people refuse to consider unusual living situations out of a fear of what others will think rather than focusing on what will allow them to live their lives more intentionally.

The purpose behind our move into the bus was to be able to save money while building our house and to that end it has, so far, been successful. But rather than instilling in me a love of ultra-minimalistic living, this experience has helped me develop a thankfulness for the fact that we will be moving into a larger space where I can once again have things that serve no real purpose aside from the fact that I like to look at them and own them (library books are all well and good, but I miss my own dog-eared copies of the Anne of Green Gables series).

Our homes should reflect our priorities, not what someone else is telling us our priorities ought to be.

My parents, after raising five kids in relatively large houses, recently had an opportunity to purchase a home on three acres in a rural area they love. It required them to downsize their living space by several hundred square feet, which was made easier by the fact that three of us kids are no longer living at home, but it was still a point that they balked at initially. However, they prioritized outdoor space and privacy over living in a larger house and they haven’t regretted their decision.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of Noah’s sisters lives close by with her husband and two kids in a house that is close to three-thousand square feet. They make great use of it by hosting often: they throw parties, their kids’ friends are always over, and Noah and I actually had our wedding there! They have a space that allows them to be very social and hospitable, which is something they enjoy.

Ultimately, the idea of simple living is different for each one of us and it’s rather  foolish to idealize one lifestyle over another. Likewise, it’s equally silly to think of the idea of living in a small house, or a large one, as something we need to apologize for.

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12 thoughts on “On “Simple Living”

  1. So profound, Sarah! Thank you for your unique perspective! I’ve followed your story since you posted on MSM! You opened my eyes to “Tiny Living” and it’s so good to hear what it’s really like from a homeschooling, large family mom who lives a lifestyle like mine. You should have your own documentary! Prayers for you and your family as you continue through this “season”!

    1. Thanks Mary! Obviously, this is just my own experience. There are families out there with more kids than us that are living in tiny spaces and loving it, so I hope you don’t take my word as the final say on tiny living 🙂

      1. We have 5 kids (age 8 through 1) and homeschool and live in an average home. I think everyone entertains the idea and hears all these magical stories. Hearing your story puts things in perspective for me. I know we are living right where God is calling us to be. It’s just nice to hear a story that isn’t puppies and rainbows all the day long. If God ever called us to downsize, I feel (because of your story) I would have a clearer picture of how things might go. Your story has such realness and transparency that I appreciate! Thanks for sharing your story!

        1. “Puppies and rainbows all day long”, ha! That’s why I really appreciated the original author adding that at the end of her post. I thought it was very honest and great that she admitted that living in a smaller space isn’t always fantastic.

  2. Thank you for your honesty!
    I think your issue is about space, and most minimalism advises to have less stuff so you can have more space. Obviously you have the bare minimum of stuff already because you live in a bus, so the natural step for you is to upsize your living quarters.
    I read a lot of minimalism blogs because I am trying to get rid of more stuff because, like you, I want more space. I have a three-bedroom house, and this should be MORE than enough space for my husband and me, but the stuff gets in the way 🙁
    The tiny living is something else entirely. I watched a documentary about it. I still don’t get it.

    1. I think the appeal of tiny living, at least for me, is that it seems more economical to build and maintain, and when you see those tiny, efficient spaces it just looks so doable – all you have to do is keep things organized! Of course, the pictures don’t show what it’s like when your children are playing and you’re in the middle of cooking and laundry still needs to be put away 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I really appreciate the honesty of your posts without getting too down in the dumps. As someone who grew up in a slightly-small house, I certainly know it isn’t always romantic (letting everyone use the potty before you can shower, etc.).
    I also started following you after reading on Money Saving Mom and have enjoyed the other posts she’s shared recently. Even though we don’t live in a super small space, we can probably all use encouragement to look for ways to simplify parts of our life and be thoughtful about our possessions, use of time, etc.
    Sorry…too long a comment!

    1. I agree that when you’re in a small space and you wish you had more room it is very encouraging to be reminded of all the benefits of smaller homes! I just don’t think it should be idealized as inherently better than living in a larger space, which is the trap that I fell into 🙂

  4. we are in Australia in approx 1000 sq ft home with 7 children from 1-15 & home school but really want to get a bigger bus to travel in.
    You may want to allow for getting your bus mobile with the things big bro has planned ahead.
    We are also looking to getting a lge yacht as Father releases the necessary to help people. Much shalom, Merv

  5. This is a perfect example of the fact that different people need different things, and also that what works in one season of life doesn’t necessarily work in others. It is all about figuring out what YOUR priorities are, not what others tell you they should be. I raised six children, mostly in relatively small houses (and wished I had more room!), and then lived in an RV with a husband and two small children for 8 years, travelling during that time and loving it. My children are now grown, my husband died 12 years ago, and I am retired. I now live in a studio apartment of about 450 square feet with two cats and a dog. It is just right for me now, but it certainly wouldn’t have worked when all my children were still living at home.

  6. Do you know, I think you’ve put your finger on it! A family home, whatever it is, should be something that the family lives in contentedly. How much space is right? Well, that depends on the family.

    I think there is a point at which space (and the attendant stuff) becomes too much, becomes immoral, almost. But I think we can tell, if we’re paying attention, when we’re reaching that point- because contentment is lost.

    And, on the other hand, too little space can be so constricting that we’re in a constant state of fidget. Will more space fix us? Sometimes, yes, indeed, it does!

  7. Thank goodness for your post. I grew up in a rural area in a very small house. I live in a suburban area now in a much larger house with my husband and three kids. We really do use every space in our house daily – we homeschool and we all appreciate being able to get away from each other from time to time. I resent the illusion that tiny home living people try and foist on the rest of us. You are not a sell out, immoral person because you don’t want to live 5+ people in under 1,000 sq. ft. with only one tiny bathroom. It is doable but that doesn’t mean it is superior.

    You can be frugal and environmentally conscious with a larger home footprint. We all need less STUFF, not necessarily less space.

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