Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Yes, Families Can be Minimalists Living in Small Houses

When LifeEdited received a bunch of press a couple years ago, our founder, 420 sq ft apartment-dwelling Graham Hill became a whipping boy for the pared-down life. “Sure,” the chorus cried, “It’s easy for a single guy to live this way. All he needs to do is take care of himself. He can live in a small, white box. He can get away with a small amount of stuff. But I’ve got a family. Kids need stuff and space, otherwise they’re unhappy. And when they’re unhappy, it makes my life hard, and then I’m unhappy. Don’t tell me to be unhappy!” [I’m paraphrasing slightly].

To some (small) extent, the charge that families need extra space and stuff is accurate. Whereas one person needs one pair of shoes, four people need four pairs; that’s three more pairs of shoes, and more shoes require more space. But to suggest that having a family necessitates a large amount of stuff and space–one that is preclusive to living a materially simplified life–is more fiction than fact.

I live in a 675 sq ft apartment with my wife and almost-two year old son, and we’re doing just fine. And I would content that families have a greater imperative to live pared down, minimal lives than single people. Graham can afford to have extra stuff in his closets (and he does ;-). He has a whopping 420 sq ft of floorspace all to himself. We have 225 each–with less storage.

When families start accumulating excessive stuff, things can get hairy quickly. There can be mountains of toys and accessories to buy, manage, maintain and, most difficultly, keep contained. We have kept our son’s clothes and toys at modest levels, which, coupled with our easy-to-manage house size, makes clean up a breeze (admittedly, it’s a breeze that passes through the house several times a day).

Incidentally, my family stayed in the LifeEdited Apartment quite a few times. While an extra wall-offed room would have been ideal, the built-in storage was amazingly child-proof and the small size made it easy to keep an eye on our son. A playground a block away helped greatly as well.

If you don’t believe me, here are a few other families who are living edited lives:

  1. The Sragues (video at top) are a Texas family of four who share a 260 sq ft home. The couple have two sons (six and eight years old) and have lived in their home for six years. Granted, their house is part of father Scott Sprague’s mother’s house and I’m sure they hang out there regularly. And there is ample yard space to offset the interior space. But taking a tour of their home makes it clear that the Spragues are the real deal–they have removed all extraneous elements from their home. The most interesting thing Scott says about this type of compacted living is that there is no room for avoiding issues. The space necessitates speedy resolutions to conflicts.
  2. Leo Babauta writes books and is the author of the popular Zen Habits blog. He’s the Brad Pitt of the minimalist world. And like Pitt, he has a large posse of children–six to be exact. He disagrees with the notion that minimalism can’t be done with families. He wrote a great post the other day about how to do minimalism with your family. The first tip is starting with yourself. Truer words couldn’t be spoken.
  3. If you’re new to the parenting game, Treehugger’s Katherine Martinko has 16 great suggestions for not accumulating 2,000 lbs of stuff for a 10 lb baby.

This is by no stretch a comprehensive list (there are oodles of other minimalist family blogs). It’s more to show that how we choose to live–whether minimalist or maximalist, whether in a large space or small, whether alone, in a couple, or a family (of any size)–is our choice, not something prescribed by the laws of physics.

  • Matt

    I agree! I would argue that a smaller space is a necessity for families, especially those with young children. Having to clean/maintain a big house is stressful enough but the responsibility of raising young children on top of that is too much. We are only human. Less is more!

  • Hannah P

    I also agree! I don’t live in NY anymore, but we have a family of 4 in 1100 SF and we are doing GREAT. My mantra is, “The Less We Have, The Less We Have To Take Care Of!”

  • John

    Video is not working

  • I think some people like to criticize things that are new and that they don’t fully understand. As Graham Hill’s says this style of paired down living may not be for everyone. Having had the opportunity to be in his apartment, I have to tell you it was more spacious than I had it in my mind from videos and photographs. I can envision living in a smartly designed smaller space. Graham Hill’s apartment has inspired me to think differently about my needs rather than wants. I do think that there is a balance of space, less than 350 sq. ft. would probably be too small for me, personally. However, I know less than 350 sq. ft. works for some individuals quite well. It’s a personal decision based upon many different factors. I do think that Graham Hill’s vision is the future for large city living and smartly designed homes outside of cities.

  • Amy

    Thanks so much for this inspiring article. We’re a family of six living in a house with 2200 sq. ft of living space and at least 1600 sq. ft. of storage space. It is way too much for us. We’re tired of maintaining, repairing, and cleaning when we would rather be spending that time experiencing the world with our children.

    We’ve been in the process of downsizing for over a year now and have given away a huge amount of stuff to families and charities. It feels great! Our ultimate goal is to sell the house and move to a city in a milder climate with great transit and more work/education opportunities for our family. We want to rent instead of own, we don’t want a yard, and we want to go as small as possible.

    • Sarah Harris

      Could you please elaborate on why you don’t want a yard? My family with 4 kids, and one on the way, is trying to greatly reduce our home size as well, from about 2000 square feet to 600, but our 1.5 acres of woods seems way too small for. I would love to hear a djfferent perspective if you would not mind sharing. The maintainance? I am trying to learn in this process of simplifying. Thank you.

      • Amy

        Should have said yard to maintain 🙂 House is up for sale and we have moved! Living in 1/3 of our previous space and loving it. We do have a shared yard but are not responsible for maintenance, plus a private school is right behind us with a playground, fields, and forest. No regrets.

  • Aleisa Browning

    Bless you and your future!My family is trying to do something similar! Please share!
    Thank you!!