Sunday, June 24, 2012

On Small Space Living

             It's been years since I have lived in a truly small space. However, my daughter has recently bought a home, and will be going from the farm, where we have generous interior space, to a home where less can be stored out of sight, and where careful planning for space will be needed in view of the things she will be bringing from the farm, to her first very own home.
              I remember living in very small space as if it were yesterday, and not almost thirty years ago.  We moved from a newer suburban brick apartment with reasonable rent, to a small summer cottage almost fifty miles from there. This home had been the only one in the Multiple Listing Book that we had been able to afford.  The wooded lot was on a mountain trail and on a slight incline.

It had a magical back garden

 One could walk to a lake but nothing else was in close proximity.   The original size of the home was only about 400 square feet. The house was cedar sided, and had a small living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two small bedrooms.   As a summer cottage, it initially had only one closet.  It was inadequate in terms of space from the moment we moved in. I immediately sold our bedroom suite prior to moving in, and gave away my beloved large stereo system with massive speakers.  Then, we proceeded to get to work.  We decided to paint most of the interior in white. Then we made the living room an interior stucco with brown wooden trim, borrowing the look and feel of a Cotswold cottage. (Our daughter still remembers the stucco when she was very small)  The painted one bedroom the palest hint of peach and the other a hint of yellow.   The bathroom was already nicely wallpapered.
              When you live in a very small space you must consider all purchases carefully whether the items come from retail or garage sales. I quickly found that anything I needed, needed to be removed from bulky packaging. I cut the directions from the box and placed all of it inside a correctly sized freezer bag.  I did this with everything from food to shoelaces, and it made packaging and putting items you need to put away more time consuming than in "normal" housing.  We could not have our normal Queen sized bed, and needed to modify the original in order to fit the space, and still have some underbed storage for our shoes.
               In addition,. having a house the size of a New York apartment means that you will need to build a picnic bench outside and clip coupons, work on your taxes, and do many things out of doors. The setting was beautiful and so we did not mind.

Our kitchen had dark wood which was much more in vogue at the time, but one side of our kitchen played very much like the armoire kitchen you see here.  Although, we had a full sized refrigerator on the other side of the kitchen from this, and a large microwave oven on top of that.  (

                 Nice curtains, paint, and arranged furnishings went very quickly, but we soon found that the true deficiency in the house was storage.  We had a local carpenter build us a closet in the master bedroom, and the following week, he offered to safely affix plywood down on our attic floor so we would have storage, and access to essential items there.  (This particular attic permitted this type of finishing without being a fire hazard)   We kept many things in plastic trash cans in the attic. Ultimately, he built us a pulldown small ironing board, which we used very occasionally, but was absolutely great carpentry and ultimately a selling point.

                While we were there we undertook many projects.  Each day, when I came home from work, I shoveled out a bit more of the dirt cellar.  A basement room existed underneath the bathroom, where the electric hot water heater resided, but it certainly would have been helpful to have a basement underneath the entire house.  I dug out most of it over about a year until our builder told me not to do anymore until he placed supports under the house.   We did landscaping that was absolutely beautiful, and I am told is still there today.  We had insulation blown in from the outside, after temporarily removing a cedar shake. We had the house ducted from below and had an entirely new forced hot air heating system added. Prior to that we had one large furnace underneath the floor in the living room. I used to stand above the large register on cold days.  We also had the septic tank system replaced, or more accurately, installed in the first place.  It turned out that the septic tank we were using in the first year there failed, and when it was excavated to be replaced, turned out to be not a septic tank at all, but a metal trash can lined with newspapers !  We had modifications made to the line from the oil tank to the house, so that the oil would stop congealing before entering the house, as it did when the temperature there in winter occasionally was 30 degrees below zero.     (This first house was in Northwestern New Jersey's rural Ramapo Mountain range.)   We also had the entire house rewired and had the electrical box changed and brought up to date from fuses to a genuine regular sized house breaker box.
                By this time, my daughter had been born and one year later, our eldest son was born.  You have not managed small space until you have had two babies in 400 square feet.  In order to keep moving and organized, everything must stay clean, and you only buy what you will use. A great deal of the equipment people think is essential for babies, simply isn't.

"Cedar Cottage" was decorated in the English Cottage style, as is this room. Books are not only utilitarian, but they decorate small space very well.    ( )

           About that time, the electrician who had replaced and upgraded our electrical box encouraged us to have an addition built.  A very careful architect designed addition added needed rooms, and a large closet.  We also added attractive fencing.
           There are substantial advantages to having a very small home, particularly in the Northeast.  First, our heating costs were modest, in a place where they normally are not. Secondly, our taxes, were modest,. also in a place where they certainly are not.   Our home was commutable to New York City or to Pennsylvania, or New York State, and we frequently went to Montreal.   We were able to start the journey of homeownership with all of its learning, in our twenties, and still have friends come see us from New York, and till have sufficient money for home renovations. We also had two rather wonderful parties which spilled through the yard as well as the house.  Because our home was relatively inexpensive, I was able to cut my work schedule to very part time when our two eldest children, the "year apart twins" came.
We also learned to live frugally and in small space, which is something I think everyone should learn to do, regardless of where you eventually wind up living.
            For four years, the clean and neat lake cottage which had been used as a rental for couples coming out to the lake for a week or two, but had become our own first house, sheltered us. We had refurbished it, and placed an addition of almost 300 additional feet upon it.   Two children had been born while we lived there.  "The Cedar Cottage" for which we had paid  $33,900.  sold in four years, as a beautiful small home for $91,900.   Yes,  we did profit from its sale.  We took all that we learned in caring for it, and in terms of learning to live in small space, and moved to a new home which was much larger, with a much larger yard, in Virginia.
            Many years later, we were on a flight to Moscow, and a woman to the rear of us on the plane told us where she lived, and it was in the same area as our "Cedar Cottage".   She was a realtor, and had sold it again quite recently.  From the description she gave, I am certain it was our house, and I was delighted to hear that it continued to sell for much more money.  Fortunately, families which followed loved it as much as we did.

  We never forgot the memories, and the learning about small space living that were gathered there.  Our daughter will not be adjusting to as small a space living as we did, but she will, no doubt, have her own adjustments.

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