The Truth About Living In A Small Family Home

***This post is part of a series on Small Homes. To read the blog posts written by other bloggers who are living small, see the links at the bottom of the page***

Most days you'll find me waxing poetic about the wonders of small home living. I recommend it to everyone, I believe anyone can thrive in a smaller space with less stuff, and I believe our family lives a richer life because of the decision to live small. However...

In the spirit of openness, reality, and facts, especially if you're considering moving into the city or downsizing, I should be clear that there are challenges. I don't post about the negatives to small space living because the positives far outweigh them, and I don't think it's good practice to focus on the hard when there's so much good to celebrate. And for the record, I'm going to counter every negative point here with how we "cope" and how we've made things work happily despite it.

Challenge 1 - Small Spaces Get Dirty FAST. 

Our living space in our condo is basically the living/dining room and the kitchen. They all flow into one another, and there are no separate areas to hide the mess. I do a full house tidy every single day, sometimes more than once. Because there's not much space, the simple act of leaving a game out or tossing my coat and purse on the back of a chair quickly becomes a disaster zone, whereas in a larger home, the space would still seem fairly tidy with those small messes.

Solution 1 - Minimalism + Team Work

The mess isn't half of what it would be if we had more things. We have been really intentional about limiting our belongings - toys, clothes, decor, etc. Because we have so little in our small space, even the messes are quick to tidy. If we had more space, we'd have more things, plain and simple. We also all pitch in to clean up and it's expected of everyone. Again, if our home was larger we could let messes slide for much longer (and then likely hire cleaning help because the house is so huge and daunting to clean!), but since we need to tidy every day,it's a family affair. Every two weeks I vacuum the entire condo and my husband mops all the floors. He tackles the bathrooms while I disinfect all the things. It's no date night, but we do it together, and we always have. The kids also know where to put their things and they do. Having fewer, more intentional toys makes this a lot easier, because they know where that toy goes and usually they're just playing with one thing at a time. We also have a rule - put the old things away before starting the new. Basic, I know, but it helps!

Challenge 2 - When We Need To Move Around!

We are five people living in 900 square feet and yes, it can feel cramped sometimes. Three young kids don't stay still for long, especially since we try to limit screens. So sometimes I've found myself wishing we had an unfinished basement for them to wreak havoc on, or a big hard for me to unleash them in.

Solution 2 - Being Present In Our Neighbourhood

Even as a homebody, I have learned to be very intentional about getting out. In the summer months, we're not even in our condo for more than a couple of waking hours and usually just to refuel and use the bathroom. In the colder months, we still get out. We don't have a yard or the extra space to run, but I'm glad it's forced me to get creative about leaving the house. I wonder if we had more space, if I'd ever see my neighbours? If I had my own back yard, I'd never go to the park, which is where I've met half of my mom friends, and where our kids interact with school friends.

Challenge 3 - We Have No Storage

The lack of storage in small family homes is a serious struggle. In Canada we get all four seasons, on steroids, so even with my minimalist proclivities, all five of us have at least four coats. And then there's snow and rain pants, mittens and hats, footwear galore... you see the problem.

Solution 3 - Capsule Wardrobes + Cut Throat Purging + Again, Minimalism

I hate to sound like a broken record over here, but minimalism has really saved our sanity in our small space. We are creative about using all the limited storage we do have (under every bed, to the roof of every small closet), but the reality is we have almost none. We have no storage locker, basement, garage, nor large walk-in closets. It's caused us to be very particular about the amount of clothing we have (read this post on capsule wardrobes and contentment, and an example of my kid's capsule wardrobes here). We also simply can't allow stuff to accumulate. When our kids bring home five sheets of busy work drawings each day from school, they go in the recycle. Once our art pile acquires ten or more paintings or projects, I ask the kids to each keep one, and on and on it goes. For holidays, we give experiences over material gifts, and we ask relatives to do the same. It used to feel so intense, but like all habits and ways of living, it's become our new norm. Now when we visit homes that are larger with more storage, we find ourselves struck by the sheer amount of possessions. I'm sure we'd be no different if we had a large home, but I'm thankful that our small home has forced me to adapt.

This post was written for inclusion in the June collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on the truth about living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!


Minimalist Meg-- “The Truth About Living SMALL” : What does living in a small space look like for a family of 4? Probably not a whole lot different from you.

Little Bungalow-- "Less Space, More Happiness" : In a small home, less space doesn’t equal more happiness. Except, of course, when it does.

600 Square Feet and a Baby-- "The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home" : Living small as a family of four is sometimes uncomfortable, a bit awkward and never boring. Sharing the awkward and imperfect of living small with 4 humans that you always wanted to know (or maybe you didn't.)

Shelley Vanderbyl-- "Five Things You Don't Need in a Small Home" : Gatekeeping is about recognizing what things you don't need or want, and trying to keep those objects from coming into your home.

The Streamlined Life-- "The Truth About Living Small: Less Possessions, Greater Value": Just because you're a minimalist family doesn't mean you aren't sentimental.

The Justice Pirate-- "What Small Home Living is Like" : No matter if I lived in a cardboard box or a small home, I just like being with my family, who are my home.

Fourth and West-- "You Can't Have it All" : Small space living requires compromise and sacrifice.

RISING*SHINING-- "The Truth About Living in a Small(ish) Family Home" : A smaller home is why we're able to live such a full life.

Family At Sea-- "The Meaning of Space: Thoughts from a Former Tiny Home Mom" : After moving onto a boat, I thought the hard work of decluttering and downsizing was done, but I didn't realize that living in a tiny space was the beginning of the real work of the soul.

Real Food Simple Life-- "The Realities of Living in a Small Home with a Big Family" : A look into the benefits and challenges that a family of 6 (going on 7) experiences living together in an 800 square foot home in Scotland.

Tiny Ass Camper-- "I Didn't Know Tiny Living Was For Me" : My thoughts on the give and take of living tiny.

Family Pedals-- "Location Trumps Size" : The truth is, it has been our home's location--not size--that has determined our happiness in a given space.
Birch and Pine-- "It's Not Always Easy" : Living tiny often means defending your own life and choices: daily.


  1. This is such a great post, Em, and I appreciate your honesty! We struggle with the same things, but I agree that minimalism is the key to making it work. Thanks for writing this post. :)

    1. yes! thanks for creating the community, Kate!

  2. I loved the way you presented the challenges of small house living. Living on Scotland, having space for all the required outer wear is a real struggle, but like you said we really pair down all our other clothing and shoes and that helps a lot.

    1. why does outerwear take up like 90% of our storage?! haha!

  3. I LOVEEEEEEE this. Great job in sharing all of it! I am not used to having any date nights either but it is nice to do things as a whole family.
    I am glad that your sanity has been saved too regardless of any struggles that go on! Yey!

    1. I can't wait to read your post too, Victoria! As soon as I get a minute...

  4. I love this, especially about being present in your neighborhood. If you see your available living space as extending beyond the walls of your house suddenly you have so many more options! And yes to minimalism being a verb! It's crazy how stuff accumulates even when you are trying to be vigilante. It seems that every 6 months we start craving for a ruthless decluttering. Happy to connect with you via the network!

    1. EXACTLY. I just bought two huge bags of stuff from the thrift store, right after purging two huge bags... it's kind of a never ending cycle, even as a "minimalist"

  5. I'm learning not to hold on to things and this past year I have really purged our closets. As my youngest is almost two I am now getting rid of all the baby things which makes me so excited! We live in a small space and I grew up in the same triplex so being creative with storage and being cut throat about stuff is soo key! Christmas and my kids birthdays are 6 months apart so every 6 months we do a toy purge right before we know they will be getting gifts. It's become a habit and they expect it. Ive been really struggling with the art work! I don't know what to do with and there is soo much! I was thinking about photographing the pieces for the kids or maybe at the end of a month go through the stuff and keep the best? Do the kids know you are recycling it or do you do it without their knowledges?

    1. Hey Dalia,
      My kids know about probably 90% of the things of theirs that I throw away. Sometimes I don't bother asking because I know what they are super proud of and what's just a random cross word or scribble that they don't care for. They're used to the idea that we make art, display our favourites, and toss the rest. They don't really question it. They know that we don't have the space for too much so when I ask them to keep one and recycle the rest, they do so fairly painlessly. Toys are even easier to purge because we talk about how we can be generous to another child and give it to them since we don't use it much, which they seem to like :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your struggles! I think that closet pic is so pretty- haha! I hear you about the 4 seasons. It can make it tough! Xo @minimalistmeg

    1. lol, minimalist mamas love a good closet pic!

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