I grew up in an 858-square-foot home, and my mom can recall how fast it got small.
When I had children, we lived in a 900-square-foot apartment in NYC and were always out.
We moved to a house with over 3,000 square feet, and it was impossible for me to keep it clean.
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It got small fast, my mom said when I asked her on the phone about her memories of my childhood home. To my innocent eyes, 858 square feet was fine.The green house also had green walls inside, and the small table in the kitchen was the perfect size to huddle around and make cookies. The window above the sink brought in gentle light, the only bathroom was off the kitchen, and the pattern of the parquet wood flooring was fun to follow through the open floor plan.Upstairs, I shared a bedroom with my sister. It was easy for me to dash from my mother’s apron to my father’s record player in the dining room and then start a game of hide-and-seek with my sister in the living room that connected to the sunny porch. I would glance at the huge pine trees, like two guardians, standing beside the steps, taller than the house. I didn’t wish for the home to be any bigger. Eventually, my parents got divorced, and I lived in other small or midsize homes during my childhood — nothing stretching more than 1,450 square feet. But it was different when I had my own kids.
First, we lived in an apartmentAfter being swaddled up and placed gently in a car seat in a taxi, my children entered a world 26 flights up in a high-rise in Manhattan. I imagined the next 10 years in the city in our classy 900-square-foot apartment where size didn’t matter because we were always out.Pushing a stroller into an elevator was the norm, and zipping to an assortment of destinations within a 20-block radius was plenty of stimulation. The city streets, parks, play spaces, museums, and ice-cream stands were our backyard.During those early years of parenting, I was accustomed to being out all day with my kids and walking home with acorns and leaves in my pocket from Central Park. I’d make dinner with my daughter in a high chair, placed where the kitchen ended and the living room began, and my son’s train tracks were in view, everything an arm’s stretch away.I wondered what life could be like with a big yard, a playroom, a living room that wasn’t also the playroom and the dining room, and a laundry machine of my own, but it wasn’t everything.
Then we moved to what felt like a mansionA couple of years later, my family moved to Texas, and we rented what looked like a mansion. But living in over 3,000 square feet proved to be nothing but grief.My kids scooted around the massive house, creating their very own racetrack. A grand curving staircase went up to the second floor, and the cathedral ceiling made me feel like a queen. My kids’ beds looked so small in their huge rooms, and their closets were almost the size of their previous bedrooms. I had a tingling feeling of glory, but then everything fell apart. Keeping more than 10 large rooms clean was impossible. I was failing to slip into domestic suburban life in the home dreams are made of. Between drop-offs and pickups at preschools and activities, and then back home to vacuum and clean dozens of windows, I soon said to hell with watering the plants. The moments I cherished, like drawing with my kids or connecting over a funny movie, were fewer and further between.While running upstairs and downstairs for a forgotten thing, thousands of steps taken in preparation before the day began, I was losing myself in the displacement.
Maybe it was that my then-husband seemed never to be home. Maybe it was being alone so often in this huge home. Maybe it was the embarrassment I felt at my son’s birthday party when I noticed the spider webs on the ceiling and dust I couldn’t reach.Shame swept in; I couldn’t remember whether it was trash night or recycling night. The oven was never used, cookies were never made, and I stopped caring to keep the grass alive. It was already scorched from the Texas sun.After my divorce, I moved to a smaller placeDivorce shook my life. It came at me without warning. The rug jerked from under me threw my stability off course emotionally and economically, but it returned me to simplicity and a smaller space. I have a gate key, just a handful of rooms, and a balcony with a sweet, little cactus garden. I do tell my kids to be quieter sometimes and to think about the neighbors below. I lug laundry to another building and hope for good weather, and after parking my car, I walk all the way around the building with groceries, backpacks, and sports gear, and then up two flights of stairs.
I feel more at ease. Smaller suits me: There’s more room for creativity, for fun, and I can give my children more of my time. I’m baking with my daughter, I’m hanging artwork on the walls, and the experiences we share are just more important these days than square footage.Even if I could afford more, I would not choose a large home. Because I live smaller, my energy is best used on things that make me feel my happiest, strong, and capable.