Living Small Often Means Loving Large

Living Small Often Means Loving Large

Yesterday I asked “are you called or are you driven”? Do you feel like your life is out of control, or can you peacefully move forward, knowing God is leading?

Living Tight

Today I want to look at that question in relation to our finances. But before we do that, look at that picture of a house at the top of this post.

Small, isn’t it? And yet the majority of North American families in the 1950s lived in something that looked pretty much like that. After World War II, we radically expanded the idea of home ownership. Instead of renting, people bought these little houses, and they, by and large, thrived in them.

Was it tight? You betcha. Often three bedrooms with four or five kids, so 2-3 kids would have to share a bedroom. Bunk beds became major furniture items. The living room was small, so people sat on the couch and the floor to watch TV. Kids did homework at the dining room table.

My husband grew up in a house like that: four boys, one bathroom, small kitchen. And they survived just fine.

Many of the things we think are absolutely necessary are not. It is simply that we have listened to our society and we have turned many wants into needs. And that is part of what is making our lives so harried!

One of the biggest issues you will face when it comes to quality family time is whether or not both parents work outside the home. It’s just a fact. I’m not going to talk about whether or not you should leave your child in day care; I’ve already done that here. I’m not going to talk about how you can make money if you stay at home; I’ve done that here. I’m also not going to talk about the fact that often it costs so much to work that it’s not worth it, because I’ve done that here (and read the comments!).

What I do want to talk about is how we can get off this merry go round that tells us that we NEED so much stuff. Work, you see, is directly related to expenses. Lower the expenses, and a job is not as much of an issue. Increase the expenses, and you have to work.

So let’s ask this: what was the quality of life like for people growing up in those tiny homes? Of course, so much depended on the family. But the size of the home was not necessarily bad because people adjusted. It was all they knew, and they felt grateful to have a home. Let’s also remember that in most parts of the world, far more people are squeezed into far smaller spaces than even that house represents. We are the strange ones, living with our huge homes. Our grandparents, in these small homes, were not strange. They were more the norm.

What did people do with less space? The kids played in the living room together, or in the basement. They didn’t hang out in their own rooms, away from their siblings. They went outside more since inside was cramped, and thus they got more exercise, even in the winter. They didn’t spend as much time on television, because families usually only had one, and sometimes Mom and Dad would want to watch their programs, and the kids had to scatter. They played board games. They made Lego. They played with dolls. They used their imagination.

And that was okay.

Dreaming Big

When you were 13, did you love bridal magazines? Did you used to read them and stare at the pictures and imagine what your own wedding would be like? Many of us did. But many of us still do–we just replace the bridal magazines with Home & Garden, and we dream of a beautifully decorated, spacious home. It’s what we’re aiming for. We want to have “arrived”. We want the space, and the luxury.

But what if that space and luxury comes at the expense of massive amounts of your time–or your husband’s time? And what if there’s another way to peace?

When we trim our expenses, we’re often able to build wealth and increase our security. Millionaires, for instance, don’t tend to act like millionaires. It’s those with less than a million dollars who consume all the luxury stuff, because they’re acting like they want to be millionaires. Here are just a few stats I picked up from the Growth Matters blog:

•Eighty-six percent of all prestige or luxury makes of motor vehicles are driven by people who are not millionaires.
•Typically, millionaires pay about $16 (including tip) for a haircut.
•Nearly four in 10 millionaires buy wine that costs about $10.
•In the United States, there are nearly three times as many millionaires living in homes with a market value of less than $300,000 than there are living in homes valued at $1 million or more.

We can surely survive on less than we think, and yet at the same time society is lecturing us that we need more–and we’re believing it.

Think “Enough”!

Imagine how we could change the culture if we just said, “Enough!”. Enough credit card debt. Enough working round the clock to afford all the latest gadgets and the big cars. Enough stress from living beyond one’s means. Enough believing that life is all about entertainment and stuff instead of about family.

'Living on Credit Cards' photo (c) 2011, Images Money - license:

Perhaps you need two incomes to get you to the minimum that you can afford a house, even a small one like that. That’s okay, as long as you’ve prayed about and you’re trying to meet your family’s NEEDS, not WANTS. But many of us are on a treadmill trying to meet WANTS, and it doesn’t work.

Now, those who know me are going to say it’s easy for me to suggest all this, because I’m not in that position. I’ve got it made. And I do. My husband is a doctor, and we’re able to live quite comfortably. But it was not always that way. Both Keith and I put ourselves through school. While he was in training and the kids were born, we lived in a small apartment, without a car. I spent my life with the girls taking them to playgroups and museums, because the apartment was too crowded to stay in during the day. Others in training had taken out the massive loans the banks were offering, and they had bought vehicles and homes. We didn’t. We saved for a downpayment.

And then we bought a nice house, 1400 square feet, in a neighbourhood where no doctors ever lived. After ten years, we moved to the house we have now. We have always paid cash for our used cars. We buy our clothes at second hand stores. And we endeavour to take as many missions trips as possible and to give as much away as we can.

Yes, I have it easy, but even when we didn’t we made the decision to live “small” so that we could enjoy life more.

The Benefits of Downsizing

The best thing some people could do is to sell their home and downsize. Yesterday in the comments Kristy shared that’s just what she’s doing–downsizing to get their finances under control. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy right now with the glut of houses on the market. Many people will have to remain in the house they’re in simply because you can’t get a decent price right now. But maybe there are other things you can do. Buy a used car instead of a new one. Eat out less. Learn to save money on the big things, like electricity, insurance, utilities, car payments. And learn to save money on the small things, like groceries, eating, shopping. Many women basically “earn an income” by staying at home and putting a lot of time into saving money!

Is it fun? It can be! Think of it like a challenge to make the money last. Give up some extracurricular activities with the kids, but replace it with fun family time, where you play games or have parties every week. Stop going out for dinner and have people over more. All of these things are “fun”.

Our society cannot go on with so many living beyond their means. We are crushed in debt at every level–personal, state, federal. We have built a beautiful society, but it is built on sand. One day it will come crashing down, as it has already begun to. I want to be ready, by raising kids who don’t need stuff. Who don’t ask for a huge list at Christmas, but instead look forward to all the games we play that day. I want to live with less so I can live more. That’s getting back to what’s really important.

So here’s your exercise for today: examine your 10 biggest expenses on a monthly basis, and ask if they’re necessary. Can you downsize? Are these things you want, or things you genuinely need? Can your family develop a new way of looking at money, as something that works for you to build wealth, rather than something that slips through your fingers and is a source of stress? Can money be the vehicle that you help others with, instead of something you’re always desperately worried about?

For some it’s a hard switch, because you’re already living bare to the bone. For many of us, though, we just need to change our habits. Tell me in the comments what you think. Have you ever downsized? Have you ever chosen to forego something big? What did it feel like? Let us know!

If you liked this, be sure to share it on Facebook below, or Pin it, or Tweet it, or Anything!

Sheila is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.


  1. >Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!!!!! How true this is!!!! We don't have a lot of things. We live in a small house in which the kids play in the living room because their bedroom is too small for much of that. We spend LOTS of time together. And I wouldn't change that for the world! God has blessed us with our needs and occasionally a want. We love the library, thrift stores, yard sales, and dollar tree! Its not always easy…but it is always worth it! :-) I have never been happier!

    • We lived our lives much the same in a 1,250 sq foot home with our five children. WE survived quite well; thank you very much! ;0) Our home was the center of the neighborhood activity. We had 10-15 children in our yard all week. They played marathon games of basketball, baseball, football even in our small yard with a road close to the front of our home.

  2. >Thank you Sheila for this post. My husband and I are in the middle of processing these very questions. We are expecting our first child in February, and I am finishing up school (Masters degree). I was planning on finding work before the baby comes so that I can at least have maternity leave, but so far that had not worked out, and time is running out.

    We want me to stay home with our child, but know that many sacrifices will be required. We think we can do it though, and I am confident that the benefits will be huge. It's just all a little scary at this point. I do feel peace about the situation though, I am trusting that God will provide our NEEDS (how easy it is to get those mixed up with our wants)!

    So again thank you for this encouragement.

  3. >Mary Joy–

    Glad you agree! What led you to do the "small" thing? Anything in particular? Did you always live this way? I'd love to know.

    And Heidi–I know it's scary. We bought all our baby stuff at second hand stores and thrift stores, and really, you couldn't notice a difference. They say a baby costs $12,000 in the first year, but we spent barely $500, I would think. Cloth diapers, used crib, used clothes, and it was all fine!

    I have a Master's, too, but I've never regretted being home. And I figured when the kids were young I could just use my brain power to figure out how to save!

    You seem to have a great attitude, and sometimes it's in the scary things that God most shows up!

  4. >Another home-run on the post here.

    So true, everything you've said.

    Now before anyone blasts me for my latest post and how I mention that we needed 10 chairs for a table my husband & I built, please know, the table didn't cost much and it's meant for ministry, being hospitable. We love having people over and wanted a table where we could all sit around together and fellowship.

    We are not wealthy by societies standards, we've lived on one income for almost our entire married life. God has blessed us abundantly in our frugal life, and life has been rich in other ways that money can never buy.

  5. >Mrs. C:

    You made me laugh! I don't think needing 10 chairs means you're not living small.

    Here's what you're doing: you're not getting caught up in having everything; you're choosing to forego many things so that you can have what is most important to you: a place of ministry. Sometimes people will sacrifice a lot and then need to buy something expensive because it's what God's leading them to. Maybe it's scrimping on some things so that you can take a missions trip as a family, or so you can buy a big van so you can drive people to church, or a house with a bigger living room so you can host small group. There's nothing wrong with a big van or a big living room, as long as you're getting those things deliberately, for a purpose, with your eyes wide open, rather than just because you feel amorphously like you "need" to!

    So I don't think you're being hypocritical at all! I think you're prioritizing, and that's a good thing!

  6. >Wonderful! I'm striving to teach my son this although it is sure tough. I pray he and my darling husband start getting on board. (and Thanks Mary Joy for another awesome suggestion!):)

  7. >Oh, gosh, I'm from the N.E., born in '53, and I remember those little houses. People were so proud of them because they were THEIRS, not rented apartments.

  8. >I enjoyed reading that. Actually I grew up in house like that in Ct. I can say my father is a millionaire maybe a couple times over. In saying that he has never in his life owned a new car. Growing up we didn't enjoy lavish cruises or extravagant vacations. His idea of a family vacation always involved a tent or camper. He took frugal to another level I now know it's called extreme cheap/tight..while growing up I had no clue, because that's all we knew..I have many fond memories because of my Dad…

  9. >Great post! 6 years ago, with an 8 and 9 year old I moved into almost the same house you picture. We had way too much stuff [we were renting] and GASP! my son and daughter had to SHARE a bedroom. They had a blast. They loved the bunkbeds. Then I ruined our lives by buying TOO MUCH HOUSE. All the time we lived in the little house I thought "people were EXCITED to move into this house when it was new." The tiny closets? Well Sunday outfit, house dresses, a nice dress and hat, 2 or 3 pairs of shoes, 2-3 men's suit–doesn't take much space! I learned a HUGE lesson in that house–and the "Too Much House". Today we live in one slightly larger than the one you picture. It's well organized–no dressers for example, just closet organizers. We don't accumulate or KEEP junk anymore! No more magazines! If the kids want it to go it's gone! We have, GASP, one tv that's so old we can only watch dvds/vhs! It doesn't get broadcast. I highly recommend SMALLER as a way to Live LARGER.

  10. Seasons of Life says:

    >Hi Sheila ~

    Well said…we are a family of 9 {that's seven children, one husband and me…wife, mom} living in a modest home {less than 2000 sq ft} on one income. All our children live with us ~ our oldest is in his 3rd year of college ~ and we homeschool. I help my husband in his business administratively, teach the children, manage the home and minister…yes, all on that one income.

    It really is about prioritizing…time together vs. stuff. We don't spend on brand new very often…we take care of what we have to get the most life out of our belongings, trying to be good stewards of all the Lord has provided. Maintenance has been a key in keeping our home in good working order and a place of hospitality for all these years {built 16 years ago}.

    A few ways to live within our means…I buy consignment, used (Craigslist…just purchased a beautiful sofa for us, a dining room set for my mom and swivel Windsor chairs for our kitchen table all almost BRAND new and VERY reasonable} and clearance whenever possible {which is often}. Clothing is saved and passed down from child to child, new being purchased when needed on great clearance sales or like new consignment. Our vehicles have always been purchased used…but still in very good condition with low mileage. We waited one year after our 6th child was born before we found (and could afford) a 12 passenger van…until that point we drove two vehicles when we had to go on family outings {due to seating, that's what we had to}. We just did not want the great debt of a new vehicle ~ so patience, prayer and sacrifice…for a short season with the fruit of still having our NEEDS met and really more abundantly than NEEDED.

    We have never in our 21 years of marriage had cable TV or satellite {could not justify the expense…and really building a good video library was much more advantageous for us}.

    We are very comfortable ~ just rearranging space to accomadate our needs vs buying a new house because we grow in size…much more economical that way AND the benefits that come from living TOGETHER are profound. Our home has comfortably been a place of fellowship gatherings throughout the years with many families at one time being hosted on several ocassions…it can work.

    Sorry to ramble, but I just wanted to encourage anyone that may be wondering how it could be possible…it IS.

    I have done several posts about organizing and time management this past year with more to come in the future for those looking for ways to improve and utilize the spaces they already have.

    Blessings ~

  11. bernicewood says:

    >We have lived in our house for 21 years. We drive used cars. Our kids have not always had the latest and the greatest. They are mostly grown now and have survived!
    I stayed home with my kids or I worked part-time around their schedules most of their grwoing up years. Two years ago I decided to go back to corporate america. This July I had a nervous breakdown caused primarily by the stress from that 80 hour a week job. It was not worth it. I have decided that I cannot handle working a stressful job like that. My health, marriage and family are more important!
    I write more about my story here
    Thanks for this post! More people in America need to think this way!

  12. Not sure if you’re still checking these comments, but we’re actually upsizing in a couple of weeks: from our one-bedroom apartment (with 16-month-old daughter) to a two-bedroom apartment. We considered moving up to a house, but for many of the reasons you talk about (and others), decided against it. We’ve configured our current apartment to give us parents our own space, and we probably could have made it work for longer, but we’re definitely feeling the growing pains (especially our daughter and me). People are always shocked to hear that we’re living in a one-bedroom… but it’s worked for us. And it’s funny, because we aren’t necessarily moving because of the size of the place. We’re moving primarily to be in an apartment above-ground and to be in a place that’s in better repair. My husband has done a lot of work on this place, but there are certain things that it’s impossible to fix as a renter: flooring, kitchen cabinets, plumbing/water damage, etc.

    Anyway, just commenting to say that yes, it absolutely can and does work to live within your means. It means making certain sacrifices, but it’s usually sacrifices for better things. I stay at home and that means that we just can’t buy certain things or we can’t buy them when we want them. But our daughter is absolutely benefiting, and it’s been a fun challenge for me: figuring out how to live within our means while still being able to live well (ie, close family, good friends, good food, etc).

  13. I truly desire to be a SAHM. The Lord has been showing me lately pre-packaged food is great but it is truly more expensive. I am beginning to appreciate and respect the way my grandmother used to cook from scratch. The girls and I have been making a LOT of cookies lately from scratch. It amazes me how many cookies we are able to prepare using everyday household items. It also shows how years ago people truly appreciated the work they put in to earn money and didn’t spend it frivolously.

    Blended4Purpose recently posted…Be Mindful of the Company You Keep!My Profile

    • Isn’t that the truth! I really enjoy cooking. It makes me feel like I’m part of something far larger–like people have figured out how to do this for generations, and I’m participating in it. It makes you feel capable, too.

  14. We’ve lived in military quarters most of our marriage – two times rentals while waiting for quarters, and once was tents for 3 months (1 was a two bedroom apt with a 4yo, a 2 yo and a baby for 10 months, 1 was a 3 bdrm home, 6 person & 2 person tents). None of our houses have been over 1700sq feet until we bought and it is 2000 plus a basement (not livable space) but it feels to big to me many days!
    Even in this house our kiddos still share bedrooms (2 girls, 2 boys) because of the layout … and I assure them it won’t kill them! LOL

    I think we have lost some precious family time as a culture in many ways ….

    Personally I hope our next home is a little smaller and I’ve thought about RV living as well

    • We love RVs! My dream would be to go across the country on a one year sabbatical in an RV. But my oldest daughter is almost moving out, so I think I lost my chance!

  15. When I got pregnant with our 5th child, yes 5th (unplanned by US, but loved to the moon and back), many people asked “When are you moving?” They were shocked that we currently have no plans to move. So 7 of us, living in a 1242 square foot house, with 2 dogs, 2 cats. 3 girls in one room, one baby in our room. The boy is lucky and gets a room to himself. :) This is what I posted on FB, along with a link to this blog post:

    Articles like this comfort me in our CHOICE to live small. Just yesterday Chad and I talked about up sizing, but when I pray about it, I don’t have peace. We certainly live contrary to society and sometimes I’m ashamed. Ashamed because 3 girls share a room and we share a room with a baby. When I listen to other people, it feels wrong, yet I feel that we are where we are supposed to be.

  16. Bethany says:

    I know this is a very old post, but I just love it, and I always think about it when walking round my neighborhood. We live in an area that has a ton of these little houses — I’m pretty sure the whole section of town was built in the ’40’s and ’50’s, and we rent one of them currently (we’re only here for a little while). I love thinking about how to make the most of the space and what one could do over a longer period of time to open the space up and really live in each bit of the house — even in a small place, there seems to be much space that goes unused (though we are a very small family right now – just the two of us). Anyhow, happy article, and I love your thoughts on this.

  17. We downsized 10 years ago and love large. We are as generous as possible and share the same strategies as you have listed in your article.

    My children are now old enough that my being at home with them bears fruit. They know who they are, the know their faith and morals, they know where they belong and what is expected of them.

    We could look at our choices as sacrifice and I guess it was at first. Now it is just how we do things. I have to be responsible to be available for my husband and family and adaptive because of the how unstable prices are. I just tell the kids something like…’no watermellon until it is under $4.’ That does mean we will skip it if it doesn’t meet what we can do. We have to buy other things. The buck or two might have to buy underpants that we missed in the hand-me-downs! :)

    In belonging, we don’t have to care what others think about us not having all the gadgets. Definitely not the latest. In belonging my children can become, and so can my husband and me.

    We focus on loving as deeply as possible. How to be more understanding, being open and ready for teachable moments. Taking the minute to reconcile. Freedom from the stuff helps us recognize these things that are ever lasting.

  18. Very good post! My family lived in a 35 foot travel trailer for about 7 years (Three adults, me, my husband, and my adult son with special needs.) We did just fine. We lived on 10 acres in the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, and we spent a LOT of time outside, even during the winter, doing chores and walking. Our clothing supply was small, but adequate for our needs. A couple of years ago, God moved us back to Texas, and we moved into a small house made from two storage sheds. More room, yet still small, and we felt like we had moved into a HUGE space. This year, a three bedroom mobile home came available, and we moved into it. I’m in a MANSION! I’m good, don’t need more rooms. Furnishings were given to us, and we have just enough of things to make our life comfortable yet not crowded. We have five acres, and we spend time outside doing chores. The funny things is–we spend most of our time in the living room and kitchen area together!

  19. My husband and I downsized our house and possessions. We probably own less than 1/3 of the stuff we did just 10 years ago. Our current home would fit 4 1/2 times into the home where we previously lived. We built it ourselves and the cost was about $20,000. Less than most new cars! I enjoy my smaller home much more than the big house we use to live in. I had way too many clothes and accessories and they were weighing me down. I sold many items on ebay. We also had a few yard sales and gave away boxes of stuff. Now our lifestyle costs a lot less and we’ve become free to pursue activities that are meaningful to us like making art, operating a small farm, and our own well being. Living small is good for people and the environment.

  20. Love love this post, Sheila! Its the desire of our heart for our family…living simply and having our focus on our God and our family. I can’t stand when my house feels full of “stuff”…its a suffocating feeling for me. I love purging and gettig rid of stuff. The struggle I have now is whether to spend money on christian education or send our daughters to public school. Such a huge financial obligation. Any advice on that matter? I have friends who hone school and love it, friends who send their kids to the christian school and encourage us to look into assistance there and others who are pro public school..having our children be a light to the world.
    Anyways thanks for this post!

  21. Really praying about this one. We have recently begun our search to upgrade our home, mainly driven by seeking a better school system and neighborhood for our children. I’ve always believed what you wrote here and we’ve always lived modestly, but as our oldest is getting ready to start school in the fall, we are concerned about her of course. I am aware of the option of homeschooling but it comes down to more then just schools. I realize this is branching off to a whole different topic: how do we apply the salt of the earth theory to our children? at different ages I’m sure the answer is different. Any past blogs you’ve written on this topic you can refer me to?

    • Mallory since this topic wasn’t answered, I wanted to just put an idea out there, because I am seeing it in droves where I live…if you move up to upgrade according to the “best schools” you will get involved in the rat race, whether you want to or not. It will just happen. I see dads who commute an hour a day or more with traffic just to get their kids into a good school zone, and get home just in time to put them to bed. This is not living. It’s a prison sentence. If there are no other options besides this…in my opinion homeschooling is the only way to go to preserve a stable and happy family. Just my two cents!

  22. Really good points! I also moved in a smaller house with my family and I don’t regret it! Only if you’ve lived in a big house you can actually realize how much more time and money you have just because of downsizing! I really don’t mind it to live small! It has many good sides! :)

  23. I am currently remodeling a 125 year old church that is 1300 square feet and trying to sell my 3000 sf house so I completely get you and why living small is better. I am so excited to not be a slave to my home. I will be following you. BTW loved your blog. I found you on pinterest and I love your pins.

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  1. […] your kids really need, though, is stability and an example of responsibility. It isn’t failing to have to downsize. It’s just being responsible. And look at all those little homes that were built right after […]

  2. […] Of course, she may have to severely cut back her lifestyle. That would be my first choice before going to work. Live in a 2-bedroom apartment for a while and pay down debt. Get rid of the car and take the bus. I did it for five years and through three pregnancies. It can be done. You don’t need that townhouse from day one. […]

  3. […] bigger is not better. The more stuff you have, the more you have to pay to buy it, pay to maintain it and take time to […]

  4. […] rooms. They do not need a ton of toys, and they do not need a ton of space. Think of how small the post-war houses were, and many families lived there with four kids. It’s okay to live […]

  5. […] If that’s not possible for you, then what I’d suggest is that we find ways to reduce our costs so that I can work part-time, because I can’t keep doing […]

  6. […] Living Small Often Means Loving Large — I’ve been reading To Love Honor and Vacuum for a long time.  In this somewhat older post, Sheila relates our desire for big houses to our stressed and harried lifestyles. […]

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