Small space living with a family: How one family transformed a collapsing barn into a small space living adventure by paring down, sharing space, and stretching storage. Adopt some of these small space living ideas in your home for a better organized space that your family can love — together.
And be sure to check out this glimpse into another tiny home!
Guest post from Michelle at Simplify, Live, Love
In 2013, my family of six moved out of a 1,500 square foot house and into a barn. The barn was about to be burned to the ground and we felt that we needed to save it. The owners offered to give it to us for free and we never looked back.
We moved the barn in 2009 and spent several years rebuilding it. We never intended to live in it, though.
Our intent was to use it as office space for our home remodeling/construction company. But when the time came to build our passive home (the gold standard of energy efficient homes) near the barn, logistically it made sense to live on the property while we built.
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We discussed many potential living arrangements – building the garage for the house first and living it in, moving a trailer home to the property to live in, or even building a small guest house and living in it. But we kept coming back to this gorgeous barn that was already built! It just didn’t make much sense to build something else when the ultimate goal was to build a house. We didn’t want to be sidetracked by extra work and expense.
How to pare down, share space, and stretch storage
We knew the office space in the mow of the barn would be comfortable living quarters. At about 1,000 square feet, it was a little smaller than what we had been living in, but didn’t seem too small. The bigger issue was the lack of kitchen and bathroom. The barn had two toilets, but no shower. No washer or dryer. No kitchen.
The nice thing about being married to a home builder is that he knows how to add a shower, kitchen, and washer/dryer hook ups. And so he did.
In July of 2013, we moved out of town and into the barn. Although small space living with a family has been a hard transition for us, moving into the barn might be the best decision we’ve ever made. We’ve learned so much about life in the process. Thank you, Kris, for allowing me to share part of our small space living adventure.
Lessons learned from small space living with a family
1. Stuff is the enemy.
Before we moved into the barn, we got rid of a lot of things. We sold furniture and donated clothes, books, and toys to Goodwill. Dan and I have always been pack rats, even though we moved across the world and back with the Air Force and have always been limited in the amount of goods we could move. We just love stuff.
When we had kids, the stuff multiplied. Even though we got rid of so many things before moving into the barn, it’s still a constant struggle to manage the stuff and things. I’m failing pretty miserably at being a minimalist.
But the stuff. It’s just the bane of my existence. Shuffling crap from one corner to the next is beyond frustrating. I am 100% convinced that living with fewer “THINGS” is a huge key to happiness. And so I continue to purge! One day, I might make it as a minimalist.
2. It’s ok for kids to share a bedroom.
Our four kids share two tiny bedrooms in the barn. Two very tiny bedrooms. Even though the new house we’re building is much bigger than the barn, two of the kids will continue to share a bedroom.
When we tell people that we aren’t building enough bedrooms in our new house for each of our children to have their own space, we get some pretty crazy looks. But I have learned that it’s okay for kids to share space.
They do sometimes fight and argue. That “not-me” person makes a lot of messes that everyone argues over cleaning up. But overall, having kids share rooms hasn’t been bad at all. The giggles I sometimes hear at night warm my heart.
And learning how to deal with annoying people is just part of life, isn’t it? Honestly, my kids are rarely in their rooms anyway. Most grown-ups don’t sleep alone. Why should kids?
3. Use the outdoors as living and playing space.
I’ll be the first to admit that when the weather’s nice in that brief spring moment between snow, mosquitos, and humidity, I open up the doors and kick the kids out. Actually, I kick them out in the dead of winter and the brutal heat of summer, too. Who am I kidding? I only join them when the weather’s tolerable.
Our five-acre homestead is their oyster. They create, they explore, they build, they make messes. Outside is all the space they need. There’s plenty of room to grab a moment alone. I am a firm believer that being outside, getting dirty, and exploring is good for my kids.
4. The Swedes understand storage solutions.
If you’ve ever been to Ikea, you know what I’m talking about. And it’s not just the Swedes, but Europeans in general. They understand how to maximize small space with innovative storage solutions – just what you need when you’re living in a small house.
If I had known that we’d still be living in the barn almost two years later, I would have paid more attention at Ikea.
As it is, we have quite a few good ideas for storage, but I know I could have done a lot more. Small space living with a family requires some creativity!
We store totes under beds so the kids can contain their toys. (At least, that’s the theory.)
My husband built a train table years ago with storage underneath that serves as our coffee table. Craft supplies are stored in carts on rollers so they can be tucked under tables or desks and wheeled out when needed. Maximizing every nook and cranny is hugely important in small space living.
5. The family closet can work.
Guys, I’m all about keeping it real.
My life is generally quite messy since I homeschool four kids. I store clothes for all six of my family members in a space smaller than many people’s master closet. I have no chests of drawers.
We make good use of baskets, totes, and small plastic drawer compartments to make the huge shelves in our family closet a little more functional.
My closet is a constant struggle for me and it’s often very messy, but a good clean-out routine, rotating clothes by season, and constantly purging items which no longer fit or aren’t wanted make the family closet functional and a great way to save space.
It’s not pretty, but it works.
Small house living
All in all, living in a small house is pretty darn okay. It’s less work to clean. Less work to maintain. Costs less to build. It saves on energy use and expense. And it limits how much junk you can accumulate. A lot of people probably think small space living isn’t for them, but with good systems and attitudes, it could be.
In all honesty, we never set out to live in a small space, and though our space is small for us, it certainly doesn’t qualify as tiny house living.
Even though we’re excited to move into a bigger space this summer, we still applied many of the lessons we learned from our experience in the barn: Bedrooms are small, we’re keeping a family closet for the kids, and we have no walk-in master closets.
Essentially, we chose to keep the open areas where we will all gather big, and the private areas small. These are life lessons I am happy to incorporate into our new forever home.
Michelle lives in rural Eastern Iowa with her husband, four kids, Great Pyrenees dog, barn cats, and happy go-where-they-want chickens. Her blog, Simplify, Live, Love is an eclectic mix of homesteading and gardening tips; farm to table recipes; green and frugal living tips; and subtle reminders to slow down and enjoy life wherever you may be. Follow along on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.