How I'm Raising a Family in a 1,200-Square-Foot Home

House in a wooded area after snow has fallen

Treehugger / Katherine Martinko

Living in a small house doesn't have to be a battle against lack of space, but rather requires a certain lifestyle adjustment, at which point it becomes wonderful.

The house that I live in with my husband and two children is small. At 1,200 square feet, it is considerably smaller than the average family home in North America, which measures 2,800 square feet in the U.S. and 2,000 in Canada.

When my husband and I were shopping for a home, we weren’t looking for size. What we wanted instead was a well-made, high quality home with beautiful, practical, and efficient use of space. Despite the glut of new family homes on the market, we found what we wanted most in a small, elegant yellow brick home that dates back to 1904.

Living in a small space with children requires a certain lifestyle adjustment, but we still love it after three and a half years. Here’s how we make it work:

It saves us a lot of money.

Neither my husband nor I wanted to put all our money into fickle real estate. We didn’t want to feel chained to a hefty monthly mortgage payment. By choosing a small house, the investment is less risky, and frees up income to use for other, more interesting things, not to mention the all-important savings.

It encourages us to spend time outdoors.

Without a finished basement or designated playroom, my boys quickly run out of space to play their energetic games. The best solution is to head outside, where they spend hours each day, even in winter.

The backyard becomes an extension of the house.

There are some unusual things in our backyard that make it easy to spend long hours outside. A white claw-foot bathtub and shower is nestled in a private corner. Because we have no tub in the house, this is where we indulge in long soaks. It’s a perfect place to rinse off sand after a visit to the nearby beach.

Man bathing a toddler in an outdoor bathtub
 Treehugger / Katherine Martinko

There is a two-burner gas cooktop built into a concrete counter, as well as a permanently mounted barbecue. The cooktop is where I do most of my summer canning, and takes much of the sticky mess out of the small indoor kitchen.

A stone fireplace sits on the edge of the stone patio. Because we don’t have one inside, this is where we like to sit with friends on cool evenings.

Possessions are kept to a minimum.

With only two small closets, there is not much storage space. We keep toys, kitchen tools, books, clothes, shoes, and furniture to a minimum, and the battle against clutter is ongoing, with weekly trips the thrift store to remove items as new ones come in.

Buying small enabled us to afford a better finished home.

Rather than spending our money on quantity, we chose quality. Our century house is beautifully finished and fully renovated, and we could never have afforded it in a larger home. Everyone who enters exclaims over the unusual pressed tin kitchen ceiling, the dark cherry floors, and the original, wide wood trim that frames all the doors and windows.

Our social life adapts to the seasons.

Family having dinner on their backyard patio
 Treehugger / Katherine Martinko

Most of our large-group entertaining occurs in summer, when we can use our backyard and two screened porches. In winter, we tend to have smaller gatherings, or go to restaurants or other people’s homes.

It builds the family bond.

Child doing a project at the family dining room table
Treehugger / Katherine Martinko 

My boys learned to share a bedroom out of necessity, and now they’re inseparably close. Although it can be frustrating at times, the fact is we can’t get away from each other when we’re at home, but it encourages us to get along, cooperate, and interact. Nobody can ‘escape’ family life, unless they wish to leave the house.

We’ve learned to use and appreciate community spaces.

The library, the coffee shop, the park, the beach, and the forest trails around town are places we visit regularly. We’ve gotten to know our neighbours well from all the time spent outdoors. I believe that a small house encourages people to seek out alternative places to fulfill their needs, rather than trying to contain everything within a personal dwelling. The result is a stronger community.

House and car covered in snow after a winter storm
 Treehugger / Katherine Martinko

There are times when the idea of having a huge kitchen, grand dining room, and empty bedrooms for guests is appealing, but I am very content not to be on the hook financially for paying off, maintaining, heating, cleaning, and removing snow from all that extra space.