This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ thru…

January 2nd, 2014

 

Question:  Could you share your best tips for being content with your large family in such a small space?  I have to confess I’m not always content in our house.

 

Answer:  Thanks for asking this excellent question!

We moved to our house thirteen years ago when we had four small children.

 

Our house in November of 2012~

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Some years back, as our family kept growing and our house did not, I was motivated to think through some benefits of being content to live in a smaller home.

 

Our children used to fit on one couch, Thanksgiving, 2008~

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It’s great to have some truth ready to pull out when I feel like complaining.  Maybe you can think of more to add to the list!  As usual, it’s in no particular order…

 

1. I want to be honoring to my husband, and it’s very hard for a good man when he feels like he isn’t able to provide what his woman really wants.  I don’t want to be like the petulant and demanding fisherman’s wife in the children’s story, who keeps sending her miserable husband back to the magic fish to wish for more and more and more, instead of being content with enough.

 

On Father’s Day, 2009, we still fit on one full-sized bed~

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2. My children will pick up on my attitudes. I have a choice about my attitudes. I could constantly harp on how inconvenient this place is, or point out the ways it suits us. I want them to remember pulling into the driveway and hearing me say, “Look at this nice property! It looks just right for a family with a bunch of children!”  Even if right now they think that sounds cheeeesy.

 

Headed out for a walk on our quiet country road in September, 2009~

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The spring woods are ready for glorious imaginary adventures in May, 2010~

 

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Country mouse house~

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New for 2013~

 

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3. If I cultivate discontentment by dwelling on how my outward circumstances could be improved, I will never be content, no matter what my outward circumstances. There will always be something “better” if my heart hasn’t learned contentment.  More square footage might just mask a discontented heart, and it’s our hearts that God is after.

 

4. It’s a rebuke to my heavenly Father for me to act like I deserve something “better” than what He’s given me.  He’s given us the home He knows we need right now.  I will miss the blessing of seeing His purposes fulfilled if I reject His choice for us.  He can jolly well give us a different house if He decides we need one in order to do what He calls us to do.

 

June, 2009~

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5. I have a small and growing collection of first-person accounts of life in former times, written by women. Books relating the details of everyday life while living as a miner’s wife a hundred years ago in a shack 11,000 feet above sea level, or while traveling west as a pioneer, or while serving as a slave girl in the old South, or while bearing many children at a time when mothers had to face their own mortality when they became pregnant, people were routinely bled to rid their bodies of “evil humours,” and many babies and children died of what today would be preventable causes.   Most of the people who have lived throughout most of history have not lived as comfortably as many do in this country at this time.  Reading these accounts has a way of bringing perspective, to say the least.

 

Roughing it at the fire pit in our backyard, June, 2009~

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I thought it was challenging that our boys had to sleep downstairs for several months in 2009 when we completely re-did the bedrooms and moved everyone around.  Challenging?  Huh.

My clever husband made the toddler bunkbed out of two toddler beds and some lumber he refinished.  The bottom bed is actually flipped upside down and both side rails were put on the top bunk.

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6. Our house has served to encourage many people that it can be done! Seriously, many people still think you have to be rich and have a huge house in order to show hospitality, to have a big family, or to adopt. Not true.

 

A few members of our church fellowship playing ultimate Frisbee here in September of 2012~

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7. It has been good for my humility, as the wear-and-tear of many active people sharing the same space is often challenging to keep up with.  Of course someone we haven’t seen for years will unexpectedly come to the front door the day before we install the missing glass.  Die to it, Susanna.

 

Wear-and-tear in action, September, 2009~

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8. It has provided us with endless opportunities for ingenuity and creativity, which I consider to be enormously fun and satisfying!

 

The boys’ bunkroom boasts sunshine all day through five windows, two triple bunk beds, a toddler bunk bed…

Two-and-a-half year old twins Peter and James in September, 2009~

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…two large bookcases and a small bookshelf…

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Joe found wallpaper border for fifty cents a roll in a rummage bin at our local hardware store and I found a wool L. L. Bean braided rug for forty-five dollars at Salvation Army.   Joe put the bunkbeds together out of three we already had and I mixed the paint from various Freecycle finds. 

 

 

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New for 2013–Tommy’s bed!

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…but no dressers~

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This was a window looking nowhere before Joe turned it into a cupboard a few years ago~

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Can you spot the unutilized space?  Last winter, under pressure of adding two more children, my eyes were suddenly opened.  The cupboard now has another shelf, as do several other spots in our house.

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Additionally, we tend to see the potential of available space differently than some might…

 

September, 2009~

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…and all the more as our family has grown.

 

August, 2010~

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9. Who knows what God might be preparing our children for? Maybe He’s getting some of them ready to serve others in a corner of the world where there are many people in a small space.  I was recently intrigued to hear one of our older girls explain that she likes to be in a small room with lots of people.  It feels more cozy and comfortable to her than to be in a large room with a few people, she said.

 

Watching Daniel open birthday gifts in September, 2009~

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10.  It provides us with many opportunities for shared experiences, accustoms us to wait for each other…

 

It can be tough to get photos of just our house, because there are always bodies everywhere you look, stepping over or past each other, saying, “Excuse me.”  October 2008~

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…and forces us to learn to work through conflicts and get along with one other.  It’s a lot harder to hold each other at arms’-length or live off in our own little world at our house than it would be if each of us had a bedroom all to him- or herself containing his or her own entertainment devices.

 

My children are not an interruption to my work.  My children are my work.  October, 2009~

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11.  It makes us get the work done promptly.  We have to keep up with the housework in order to live here.  We must put our laundry away in order to sleep in our bed and put away the school books in order to eat at the table.  I don’t give messiness any space at all if I can possibly help it, because we need our space to live in.

 

I probably thought we had a lot of laundry to deal with back in September, 2009~

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12.  A smaller home is also more quickly cleaned and tidied and many hands really do make the load lighter.  It’s the times when everything needs to be done seemingly at once that can feel pressured.  But when everyone pitches in energetically and does what they’re able to do to help, even those pressured times don’t really last as long as you might think.  I’ve learned that if I’m doing a task that someone else could be doing, I’m not doing the tasks that only I can do, so tasks are assigned according to the youngest person who can do them, all the way down to five-year-old Stephen carrying downstairs laundry up to the hampers.

 

Seven-year-old Jane chopping onions in September, 2009~

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Ten-year-old Daniel making cookies~

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Can’t resist adding this one to show that work is more fun when you can do it with a friend, September, 2007~

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13.  A smaller home can’t hold as much stuff as a larger home, even if we wanted more stuff.  A man’s life really does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses. Living within the limitations of a small space spurs us on to teach our children to discern between worthless trash and worthwhile treasure.

 

14.  Don’t most people agree our society is way too materialistic?  Intrinsic to its very design and nature, our lifestyle helps us focus more on people than on stuff.

 

Sleeping in the playroom, July, 2012~

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15.  Our children have grown up comfortable being outside in the world God made, and we see that as a very healthy and desirable thing.  Several of our older kids thought nothing of sleeping in the tent in all weathers throughout the summer and fall months, even when the temperature dipped below freezing.  One morning during the fall they reported that the Mother of all Leaf Piles was a very warm and comfortable place to sleep on a chilly night–no sleeping bags needed.

 

It is hard to choose from our many photos to illustrate this point.  Two-year-old Peter in April, 2009~

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Hunting for acorns, October, 2009~

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16. It provides us all with an opportunity to practice not coveting our neighbor’s house, since nearly everyone we know lives with significantly more square footage per person.

 

17.  We’ve observed that on the whole, people with big houses are not happier or more honoring to God than people with small houses.

 

18.  We don’t have to worry that our house will be a target for thieves!

 

19.  Once I get to eternity, will I wish we’d lived in a bigger, more convenient house or wish I’d been more content with what God provided for us?

 

20. This world is not our true home, life is so fleeting, and we are destined for eternity.  If it’s true that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also, doesn’t it make sense to treasure what’s eternal?  The word of God and the souls of human beings.

 

“Blessed be the Lord, who delivers us from being suffocated by a sense of entitlement.  Indeed, He is merciful.”
~A blog reader

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. 

 

March, 2008~

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24 Responses to “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ thru…”

  1. Linda says:

    This post came at just the right time for me, thank you! We are currently searching for a house we can afford which will be much smaller than the home we had in Texas, with little outdoor space and no outdoor storage. I was in the middle of a little pity party but not now, I’ll have to get more inventive and prioritize our possessions.

  2. mary kathryn says:

    What an excellent post! All your points are good, but I particularly love #15, about the value of the outdoors. I think your house is very beautiful. I love its shape and how it’s tucked into the trees. I adore the expanses of grass and the woods around. Your children have such freedom to explore the outdoors, and this is great wealth when so many modern children are truly poor in this regard! How many square feet do you have, when you include all your “yard”? It’s massive :) You’re teaching your children to live in the outdoors, not just inside 4 walls. What a gift!! We have a small house too.

  3. Rachel says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. We don’t have any children (yet), but live in a small house. We decided to buy our house based on 1 income instead of both. That way if one of us looses a job or stays home with kids, we won’t be in financial trouble with our mortgage. I prefer a small house for so many reasons.
    1. cheaper to heat
    2. cheaper taxes
    3. easier to clean
    4. you purge more often (forces you to collect less clutter)
    5. you get creative with space and organization
    6. you pay less per month for your mortgage which frees up money for other areas
    7. more people feel comfortable in your home as they don’t feel, “I could never invite them to my house after seeing theirs and all they have!” :)
    I hope to be content with a small house for a long time. When I find discontentment creeping in I remind myself of families that live in huts the size of our laundry room. That helps. It’s all about perspective! We who are part of the 6% most wealthiest people in the world tend to compare ourselves to the upper 1% instead of remembering that 94% of people around the world live on much less than we do.

  4. Colleen says:

    I love this post Susanna! Dan seems to think 6 kids would max out our house and that there is some unwritten rule that no more than 2 kids should share a room! I love your land, it is gorgeous! Oh and the picture of the kids on the couch in 2008, the baby looks so much like Ben! 

  5. jill says:

    What a perfect admonishment and word of encouragement to large families.  Whispers of wisdom all over your words.  I know it’s not easy, but if we focus on the right things … all the rewards you mention far outweigh minor inconveniences. Thank you, Susanna! 
     

  6. Nicole says:

    But what about privacy? As kids grow up, they really need it. My boys shared a room until they were 12 & 13, but then I upgraded to a 4500 sq ft house. It’s huge, and a bitch to clean, so I totally agree with you there! Even if you’re not messy, the dust alone is hard to manage. But when I see your boys room, it almost looks like a mena prison ward. Not very comfortable or private.  And what about bathroom time? I cant tell you how nice it is with each kid having their own bathroom. Teenagers are hard enough. I do enjoy your attitude though. You are very honest. And there’s something to be said for not getting into so much debt just to have a larger home. When my kids are off to college, I won’t keep this huge house. Too hard to maintain. I’d love to hear your opinion on privacy though. Older kids do need alone time.  I know since we moved, everyone gets along much better. Thoughts?

  7. Leah says:

    Aww!  I love the last picture!  So cute!

  8. Carol says:

    This is such a timely post after an abundance of presents from generous, loving family and many not so subtle hints from said family about the limitations of our humble abode had me browsing listings looking for a bigger house. God has given us peace about our home for the reasons you listed above and more. It’s so nice to read these thoughts from a kindred spirit too. ((Hugs)) and I’ll miss you, but I’m glad for your sake that God is leading you away from the blogging at this time. I’m honoured to consider you my friend, and I look forward to the day when we and our children can visit together in our true home.

  9. Susanna says:

    Nicole, thanks for your honest remarks! Quick response: I promise our boys’ room doesn’t bear any resemblance to a prison ward, haha! It’s more rumpled than that in real life, and feels more like a camp bunkroom! The boys’ beds (including Tommy’s, which is in the middle of the front bunk protected by side rails–that was an old photo like all the others) are comfortable enough to sleep in and have rest time on. :) One way or another, those in our family who need privacy get it, and it’s really not as tough as outsiders might imagine. Bathroom, shower, changing clothing–they take turns behind closed doors once they get to a certain stage–no big deal. Conversations happen privately when needed. Wrapping gifts happens in our room, haha! What else would they need privacy for? For kids who are best friends with each other and have grown up together, they would not want to be isolated from each other–they love talking together late into the night. Also, it doesn’t take long to wash a body in the shower–anyone can learn to shower in a reasonably short time or perhaps choose an “off” time to shower, and we put a mirror into the girls’ room for doing hair. It works!

  10. Susanna says:

    Rachel, thank you for your comment and list! :)

  11. Susanna says:

    Mary Kathryn, what a neat thought! I’m going to set Daniel onto figuring out our total square footage including the acreage! Great idea; thank you!

  12. Jo says:

    Beautifully written- your children are very lucky to have you both for parents- you’re packing a lot of love into that lil house!

  13. Kelly Sangree says:

    I’d love to know more about that spiffy toddler bunk bed! I know one of your handy guys did that – do you have any measurements on how high they lifted the top bed? And where did they get all the rails for all sides? This might be helpful for a friend who’s expecting #9 in a house with low ceilings!

  14. Jen says:

    Great perspective.  I’ve sent it on to several others  for encouragement and a great reminder for myself. In our culture, pursuit of bigger, nicer, and more comfortable can take over our lives. 

  15. Dakota says:

    We had that same comforter on my parents bed for years!!!!! Haha

  16. Phyllis says:

    Yes! Da i amen!
    Reason #21: You encourage other families who have some housing challenges.

  17. It is so easy to get caught up in what we don’t have. I have a family of 6 in a 3 bedroom house and though it gets a little stuffy at some points it also seems to build a closer bond. Thank you so much for sharing your post with the Salt & Light link up party. It was a pleasure reading your story and looking at pictures of your wonderful home.

  18. Becki says:

    You know, when I read posts about your ‘tiny’ home I’m amazed. To me, you have a massive home on such a beautiful area of land. I always think it looks wonderful! Size is relative. We live in a two bedroomed cottage. We are attached either sides by other homes and they were originally built in 1870’s for factory workers. I love it. It is enough space and its less to clean. You walk straight in off the pavement (sidewalk) and there is a small yard at the back with a coal-shed (no coal anymore!). I will really miss it when we move. Your house would easily be around the £1million mark in this area of the country, no problem. :)

  19. Jennifer says:

    I never comment but this post truly inspired me.  God’s timing is always Amazing.  I needed this post just when I read it.  “Can you spot the under utilized space” has been echoing in my head for days.  Thanks to you I was able to stay motivated and now have a beautifully cleaned and organized kitchen.  Tomorrow I start the dining room.  :)

  20. Susanna says:

    Kelly Sangree, the top of the mattress on the top bunk shouldn’t be higher than the top of the child’s head when they’re standing on the floor next to the bunkbed. Joe first built these when the twins were 18 months, and we laid another crib mattress on the floor next to the bunkbed until they had outgrown the need for it.

  21. Jaelle says:

    In response to questions about the “need” for privacy, I would urge anyone concerned to first take a look at homes around the world.  Most families around the globe do just fine with less space, clothes, privacy, food, etc than we do in the States.  It is when we look around our neighborhoods and our American houses that we start to compare ourselves with others who have more, become discontented with the gifts that the Lord has given us, and demand more of everything.  I have “made the switch” from a very small house to what I would consider a large house, and I can say that the small house gave us all many more opportunities for character growth and spiritual dependency on the Lord.  I am grateful for where we are now, but I rarely look back and question why God had us where we were at the time.  Clearly Susanna and her family have been refined and made very beautiful under the testings that come under close quarters.  =) 

  22. Jessica S. says:

    Hi,
    I’m wondering if you could share the names of some of the books you are reading about women from the past.
    Thanks!

  23. Susanna says:

    Jessica S, I am answering you here for the sake of others and will email you in case you don’t come back here to check. Seeing as I let so much time pass before replying. :)
    Here’s a list of some of the books on the shelf above my desk:

    A Midwife’s Tale, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
    Motherhood in the Old South, by Sally G. McMillen
    Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians, by Fanny Kelly
    Women in the Middle Ages, by Frances and Joseph Gies
    Tomboy Bride, by Harriet Fish Backus
    Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, by Frances Anne Kemble
    A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, by Isabella L. Bird
    Anonymous was a Woman, by Mirra Bank
    Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, by Lillian Schlissel
    Pioneer Women, by Joanna L. Stratton
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, by Harriet A. Jacobs

    Currently borrowing from my dad:
    Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson (autobiographically detailed fiction, first of four of her books I will probably eventually own :) )

    Because of my mom, I cut my reading teeth on missionary biographies and bios of other great Christians of the past. We have shelves full of these ourselves now. Some notable bios of women who have influenced my life:

    Beyond Stateliest Marble: The Passionate Femininity of Anne Bradstreet [my favorite female poet], by Douglas Wilson
    Jonathan and Sarah: An Uncommon Union, by Edna Gerstner
    Marriage to a Difficult Man, by Elisabeth D. Dodds
    Susanna: Mother of the Wesleys, by Rebecca Lamar Harmon
    A Chance to Die, by Elisabeth Elliot

    I’ll throw another title in here I find fascinating and enlightening, valuable for giving perspective on fads in parenting:

    Dream Babies, by Christina Hardyment

    This is just a very abbreviated listing of the treasures our bookshelves hold. I know there are many others I’d find fascinating and would love to have more recommended to me. Birthday gifts that will someday be in my children’s libraries. :)
    Blessings,
    Susanna

  24. Jamila says:

    this is truly inspiring Susanna! Just what I need to hear. We are expecting twins this summer – so we will have 8 children in a house roughly 1300 sq. ft. I love it but at times wish it were bigger but so much of what you say is true. Our children are really close and I think part of it is because we can’t get away from each other here!
    And I love how you told yourself “Die to it” so many people wonder why we don’t enlarge our house and we really are quite happy. So if they look down on us – what does it matter?
    You have blessed me richly!

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