Why having our family living in 730 square feet is our ideal scenario

Guest post by Alissa

Alissa’s a frequent contributor to Offbeat Mama, but WE get her for this post! If you want to see more of their space (just a titch more,) take a look at the family’s photo shoot on Mama.

Alissa's husband Andrew and their daughter the day they installed their Murphy bed.

“Well you’ll have to move, of course,” a close friend said to me the other day when I brought up our next adoption. She said it so confidently that I hated to disagree. This is easily the number one thing that people who know us bring up when the conversation turns to kids. I’m not surprised, because when we were in the middle of our first adoption process people said the same thing, or something similar. The assumption was that we would move soon after baby came because, of course, you can’t have a baby in a one bedroom — much less two kids!

I recently Googled “super small family living” looking for some inspiration, and ended up finding a post at Apartment Therapy featuring a 431-square-foot apartment in Paris that creatively and beautifully houses a family of four and their dog. Scrolling down into the comments I noticed that there were commenters who felt that while the apartment was gorgeous it was unfair to the children of the family to live there. A rather spirited debate then ensues in the comments about how much space is ethically required in order for children to thrive at home. I thought it was interesting, especially considering how I have come to feel about home-space and whether or not adding a child to our family automatically means moving to somewhere bigger.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. In fact, that is something that we are very clear about — one kid or two, we are staying in our condo for at least the next five years. Let me explain.

First, it does not make financial sense to sell our home right now. I’m actually pretty happy about this, because it nixes the cultural pressures to find somewhere bigger to live. We bought our home literally moments before the real estate bubble burst. Luckily for us we are at the low end of the market, which always rebounds quicker and maintains value better than the higher end. But still, it would be foolish to attempt to sell now and would certainly result in a financial loss for us.

It’s a lot easier to say no to cultural pressures to accumulate and consume when you literally have no place to put stuff.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have come to feel that living in a small space fits the values Andrew and I are trying to build into our family life. In fact our space holds us accountable to those values in a way that a larger home might not. One plus to our living space is we have minimal unused “stuff.” It’s a lot easier to say no to cultural pressures to accumulate and consume when you literally have no place to put stuff. This has allowed us to really question the things we feel we need or want and choose a few things that work for us. We have our excesses, mostly in the area of electronics and now J’s toys, but they can only go so far, and be so big. Our home-space helps us remember this.

We’ve also discovered it’s good for a family to share. While our home is technically a “one bedroom,” in practice it’s a no-bedroom. That is, we don’t have any rooms that are only used for sleeping, or that belong only to one person. If another child joins us, he or she will share sleeping space with J, a space that is also a family living space… albeit one focused more on kids and kid-play. Andrew and I also share a sleeping space, a space that is also a family living space, albeit one focused more on adults and the functionality that adults need. There are parts of both rooms that “belong” to J and that “belong” to us, but we all live everywhere.

Immediate family aren’t the only people we live with: even if we had the money and desire to up-size I don’t think we would. Because we would be hard-pressed to find a house big enough for us and our neighbors to live in! If Andrew and I want to go out to dinner at the spur of the moment we just drop our baby monitor upstairs, and if J&K, our neighbors, want to do the same on a different night, they bring theirs down here. If someone needs help, is lonely, or has a kid who needs a change of scenery we’re all just a couple feet away from each other. And our kids are growing up in this lovely community with other kiddos to play with and several sets of parents watching out for everyone.

Photos credit Jenny Jimenez. Used with permission!

Where we live matters; we chose to be here because we wanted this neighborhood close to the city, the ferry, parks, etc. Living small means that we can reduce our footprint in multiple ways — not only the footprint of our home but we can bus or walk instead of driving. This matters, and I want J to know this, and new baby too.

Do I feel some trepidation about four people in 730 square feet? Sometimes I do. Especially when I remember that Andrew will be working night shift for the next couple of years. But it’s doable. In fact, for us, it’s ideal.

Comments on Why having our family living in 730 square feet is our ideal scenario

  1. I have a very personal question, but this is the internet after all so I’ll ask it anyway. How do you maintain intimacy with your husband when you share a room with your children? I am honestly curious as a small space dweller myself. I have always wondered if having children would force us out of our current living situation.

    • That’s a great question! And you’ll notice that Andrew and I actually don’t share a sleeping space with J. We sleep in the “living room” on a murphy bed, and J sleeps in the “bedroom” in her crib.(between you and me and the internet intimacy was one of the reasons we decided to arrange things the way we do.) We shared a room and a bed with her when she was little, and our next baby will be with us for a while before transitioning in to J’s room to sleep, but that’s temporary.

      Right now, J is sacked out by 7:30pm and she sleeps like a log most nights right until 7:30 in the morning. Plenty of time to pull down the murphy (or not) and get busy! 🙂

      • In response to your answer about intimacy with your husband…how do you plan on working that out when your children get older? I have a 7 year old daughter and cannot imagine trying to be free and intimate with my husband when she could walk in at any time. We have a door to lock, and I’m thankful for it because I wouldn’t want her to get too much visual information too soon. What are your thoughts?

        • I think that eventually (as in, five plus years from now) we’ll need to either do something more permanent to section off sleeping space for us or move to somewhere with more dedicated bedroom spaces, especially if our next child is male and the kids can’t share a bedroom indefinitely. I suppose if we really wanted to we could put a lock on our side of the “bedroom” door, though I don’t really see that happening. Also, bathroom doors have locks, so I guess it depends on how attached to the bed one is!
          Mostly I guess I’d respond by saying that it’s all a work in progress – a matter of evaluating our priorities (intimacy with each other, location, our neighborhood/neighbors, space needs, etc.)and making choices from there.

          • Controversial as this comment may be, knowing that your parents are intimate with each other isn’t such a bad thing.

            When I was growing up, my father and his second wife were very openly in love with each other, constantly touching, kissing, and hugging each other. He had an honest policy with my sisters and me, just telling us kids when he and she needed/wanted “alone time.” We respected that need/desire.

            My mom and stepdad really acted like roommates, had a hands-off-each-other policy around me. I never really understood that they were physically intimate… you can imagine my shock when I walked in on it.

            I think when kids aren’t aware of the way that adults show their affection, they get more of an “eeewww!” reaction. In my adult years now, I find myself mirroring my dad’s relationship than my mom’s. I agree with you that it’s a work in progress, but I would also want to add that maybe we’re too overprotective of our kids and our own pride when we think we have to hide and lock them out when we “get busy.” I’ve never met a parent who had a problem getting out of “the mood” when the kids needed them.

          • hey Sam! My parents were exactly the same way and I thought it was great. I remember being ushered out of my parents’ room when they needed their own time and knew to always knock if their door was closed. My kids know the same thing. Actually, my older two boys will entertain the baby for a good 30-40 mins on weekend mornings, so we take advantage of that time.
            We live in a 650 sf-ish space with 3 boys (aged 10, 8, & 6 mo) and a lizard. The boys share one room with the lizard and my husband and I share a room with the baby. The baby will move to the boys room whenever he sleeps better at night, probably around 18 months or so. They are small rooms, but I love the little house. Plus, it’s less to clean.

        • We are a family of 3 in a one-bedroom; DS is 5.

          We live in a rather japanese style — futons and bedding at night, empty space by day. And, we usually share the same room for sleeping (which is the living room). The bedroom of the condo has a large closet which is our family closet, and also were are futons are by day. We use that space as an office, a quiet space/meditation/yoga room during the day.

          Once DS is asleep, we will often pull out our futon and watch movies or TV together, or have whatever time we like. The door locks, though we’ve never had any trouble with our son, really, as he sleeps like a log.

          We suggest that, in the future, we’ll continue this process, but perhaps not all sleep together in the one room — but that we’ll continue in the ‘bedroom’ and DS will be fine on his own in the living room.

          For us, the locked door isn’t a necessity at this point, but we’re finding (as we have been traveling and spending time with friends and family in their homes) there’s a lot of value in a door with a lock. 🙂

  2. We have a 750 sf home for me, my husband and my 13 yo stepson. Fortunately, ours is a two bedroom, albeit, two very small bedrooms. It’s perfect for us. The only thing I don’t like is that we can’t really have people over for dinner in the winter right now. If we want a dinner party it has to happen outside on our patio.

  3. I haven’t seen the Apartment Therapy thread that you are talking about, but I can imagine parts of it. One thing that I always think is so interesting in the whole argument that raising kids in a small space is unethical is looking at the alternatives. Often, unfortunately, in order to get more space that they believe will be best for their kids, they end up 1) buying more house than they can afford, which means added stress on the family, less money put away for college, fewer opportunities to go on family-bonding vacations, or whatever and/or 2) moving to a place that requires an hour+ commute to work, resulting in… less time spent with the kids!

    I’m not saying that these are always the case and everyone ultimately does what they think is best for their family, but I do find it interesting that many just tend to *assume* that kids means the need for tons of space, often at the expense of, perhaps, lowering the general level of time spent with those kids.

    I’m so happy to see people flip this assumption on its head and prove that you can have kids in a small space and I doubt anyone is being traumatized in the process.

  4. I think the small arrangement is just fine for small kids 🙂 I think, though, that as an adolescent/teenager, my need for privacy would’ve torn a situation like that apart. I’m a private person by nature anyway (and no, I didn’t always have my own room growing up, but by the time I got it, I was SO GLAD.) My husband and two dogs live in a small two bedroom house, now, and I finally feel like I have enough space to function, haha.

    That said, I think it’s more about having divided rooms than the size of those rooms. That Paris apartment is gorgeous, but I’d hate to come out for a midnight snack and catch my parents doin’ it on the dining room murphy bed. Eeep!

  5. Alissa, I love your insight! With adding our 3rd child we heard a lot of the same comments. Especially ” youre going to make your 8 yr old share a room with a newborn?”. Yep we are… 2 months down atleast 10 years to go. So far so go!

  6. This is wonderful! We’re in a 50’s built 3-bedroom, which means we have 900 sq. ft. for the 4 of us (plus two cats!). 🙂 It’s cramped, and it’ll be even weirder in < 1 month when the newest addition decides to make their appearance, but honestly? It suits us.

    My only griping about this space for all of us is that it's got the standard 50's layout. Tons of wasted space on a rectangular slab foundation. :/ Still, it works, and we'd even be glad to DOWNsize if we ever had the $ and the right layout for how OUR family works! 😀

  7. amen amen amen! we’ve got about 530 square feet, 1 bedroom (it could be argued 1.5, but eh), and are planning on staying here for several years, which includes plans for at least one kid and possibly a dog. =) like you say, living small fits our values — fewer things, so better make ’em good, and really enjoying our neighbors and the perks of the area we live in. living in the sf bay area, to get affordable space means going to the edges of the sprawl, and that *doesn’t* jive with our values. thanks for reinforcing that it can be done! so…can we see a house tour? =)

    • Hey me too! My husband, 14 mo old daughter and I live in a one bedroom in Pacifica (we’re beach people, and being able to walk to the pier everyday is heaven!) We gave her the bedroom and we put our bed in the living room. Everyone was against us having our bed in the living room, and we were like, “WHY? It’s our living room? Why can’t we sleep in it?” Giving the bedroom to our daughter made the most sense. She goes to sleep super early, so we don’t have to worry about waking her up when watching movies or doing stuff in the kitchen! And yeah, it’s tight living in 650 sq ft, but it’s OUR home, in one of the best places in California. So suck it to all those Nay sayers!

  8. The way you live sounds very much like many young families in Japanese cities. Our apartment was 58 square meters (about 625 square feet) and our neighbors had three children, two girls in elementary school and a baby. People sleep on futons, which are rolled up during the day, and sometimes put in a closet, so the space can be utilized. Also, with tatami flooring, it’s common to sit on cushions on the floor, so not as much big furniture.

    • I’ve always loved the idea of having a small easy to put away coffee table with floor cushions instead of a dining table, but its hard to get the hubs on board with the idea. I’m looking for a tiny breakfast table instead but I still have friends dogging me about it! Maybe I’ll just have to hunt down alternative dining solutions.

  9. This is such an inspiring post for me. My fiance and I are moving soon and are considering a one bedroom for us and our daughter. We currently live in a two bedroom townhouse. Although there is more than enough room it is stretching our budget, which is very small. We don’t even use the second bedroom!

  10. I love this! However, I would like to point out that sometimes small space dwellers can run up against city or county regulations. This happens more often in apartments or condos, but can happen in homes as well. My step-mom is a housing inspector here, and she pointed out that that if we end up with a multiple birth, we will be over limits for our current living space. Most of thee laws are racist or anti-immigrant in nature, but if wouldn’t hurt to check out regulations in your area if you are planning this type of living situation.

    • we were somewhat concerned about this, because we had to pass a lot of scrutiny in order to qualify to become adoptive parents. In Washington State the rule is that there needs to be a separate sleeping area for kids over two, separate from adults, but the kids can share. Our arrangement allows for this. I know that in California in order to qualify for adopting or foster care the kids need their own sleeping area and a bathroom that they don’t have to walk through an adult sleeping space to access. But that’s to qualify to adopt or foster, not something that’s enforced in bio family situations from what I know.

  11. It’s kind of like having a large dog in the apartment…it’s fine as long as you take him/her out to play a lot. Neighbor friends are a great start, parks are a good option, etc. I think the obsession with big houses now is that we can lock ourselves/our kids inside and have our whole life in there. But small spaces are great for encouraging us to get out of the house, away from the TV, and enjoy the great big world!

  12. Ah this is perfect timing! I was just about to start googling “familys living in small houses” or something similar!
    We currently live in a narrowboat with about 270sqft of useable inside space with me my bf and one crazy rescue pooch. We cannot fit another living thing in here but are thinking about starting a family (or rather bringing a little human into our disfunctional family) Currently the dog sleeps on the sofa as we don’t even have floor space for a bed for her. We are going to up grade to a boat with around 400sqft of space. It will still be tight but very doable. Back when the canals were used for work the familys were very large (more kids means more hands for work) but they had to sleep in shifts as the boats moved all night and there just wasn’t enough space for everyone to sleep.

    Anyway, we’re not a working boat! The child will have its own space, even if it is a very small space. I’ve read up alot on bringing children up on boats and it sounds ideal. They grow up aware of the dangers of water and very aware of the seasons and nature. Even though i’m a country lass i’ve noticed i’m even more aware of the seasons now i’m a boat dweller.

    Thanks for telling your story i’m even more convinced we are doing the right thing!

  13. I LOVE THIS! Amen to the smaller space fitting values. My husband and I just moved to a stunning 330 sq ft studio with a loft bed. No kids but we have 3 cats, 2 cockatiels and a chihuahua. And no it’s not like an episode of Hoarders! Haha! It’s amazing how little you really need to live and be happy! Or maybe it’s the 14 ft ceilings haha! But it’s nice to know that we can make ends meet without freaking out if one of us gets laid off or wants to attend the Cordon Bleu. We don’t even need two cars which is unheard of in the LA area.
    I like the above comment on family in Japan. I understand importance of personal space but it also feels a little culturally exclusive. I mean there are families all over the world who share small spaces out of necessity and they turn out just fine. I’ve really been taking a second look at what is “necessary”. I love and appreciate that OBH talks about this subject and it’s not some perfect, over designed Manhattan loft. These feel like real homes and the pictures are so intimate. And I love that people gingerly ask about the sexy time issue! Mega lolz! Props to you for stickin’ to your guns! Beautiful! Makes me think of my motto: “I’m rich according to the number of things I can do without” -Thoreau

  14. Fantastically timed post! My husband and I are buying a trailer this fall to live in. We plan on buying our own land in a year or two once he gets out of school and we can save up a bit. We’re then hoping to build a small, inexpensive two-room cabin on the land to live in while he goes to grad school, and then once he’s a full-fledged pharmacist and making good money, we’re going to build a bigger home on the land.

    However, we’re still not wavering in our decision to start trying for kiddos really soon, which means we’re going to have to potentially have a baby in the trailer and one or two small children in a very tiny cabin. I think it sounds awesome, but I know it’ll take some work. The more small-space living stories on OBH, the better!

    The thought of never having to pay ridiculous rental rates again is worth every bit of squeezing in, in my opinion. It’s a way to own my own home without ending up with a crippling mortgage before I turn 30.

  15. My family of four (plus two large dogs) live in 700 sq ft. Currently my biggest challenge is figuring out where to make a homeschooling spot. Well, that, and not looking at photos of amazing homeschool rooms without getting sad that we don’t have that.

  16. This is so great to read. My fiance and I live in a small 2×1 (it’s 80 square metres, or 260-odd square feet) and while I know he loves his space I love having a smaller place that forces us to really think about the things we keep.

    I will definitely be forcing some of our rooms to multi-task and we will be doing some renovations to open up our living areas and make it a bit more spacious.

    That said, I think that as long as we’re smart and put in some good storage solutions (more than one drawer in the kitchen, for example!) the space we have will be fine for the two of us, and maybe even a third – along with our indoor cat and rabbit and our two outdoor dogs!

  17. I love this! My husband and I don’t have a family yet, but I would love to keep a smaller, efficient place when we do. It’s so funny to me that people think smaller spaces are cruel to children. That’s a very American mindset, apparently. (Someone said on the apartment site that the kids would be taken away in the U.S. I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s a reflection of our mindset that someone would think that.) As long as the kids are encouraged to play creatively and play outdoors, I don’t see the problem. I think this article is an example of fantastic priorities, and I love the fact that the “village” is raising the children. 🙂

    • My kids and I lived in Paris when they were little and we lived in a 1 bedroom apartment, 60 sqm to be exact and we loved it. It was ideal. We lived in a very lively area of the city with a lot of parks and schools, great foods, on a pedestrian street.The children learned to share everything and accomodate. I agree that while small spaces can be a challenge, they can also actually definitely enhance certain family values. I will also comment that the richest man on earth (Carlos Slim) said that he has willingly raised his family in a rather small house and that his kids had to share bedrooms and bathroom. He wanted it that way to stress family values in his kids education!

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