Greatness

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about our plans for our home.  We had decided to stay in our little house, renovating a couple areas to make it more liveable while we save up to start an addition.  You guys encouraged me so much with your comments that day.  Seriously, if you are feeling frustrated with your living space because you feel cramped and crowded, go read the comments on that post.  Actually, I am going to paste some excerpts here.  I hope you don’t mind.

Beth wrote, When I was a child, my grandmother lived near a family who had eleven children. Their house was tiny…think one bedroom, a kitchen, a living area, a bathroom. One evening we stopped by at bedtime, and the children were in their “beds.” I was only five or six years old, but I remember how astonished I was to see that each child in the family slept on a cot, wherever there was floor space to put it, including in the kitchen. What amazed me even more was that they weren’t the slightest bit embarrassed or self-conscious about it. To the contrary, they were smiling, friendly, happy to have company, and completely welcoming to us, even though there was barely room to stand in the kitchen. I’ve thought of that often over the years, and about the expression that ‘love grows best in a small house’

Brigitte wrote, Our culture tells us we need more And bigger everything.

Ruby wrote, I am loving playing the ‘make do’ game more and more, the older I get, the more children we add to our family.

Rhonda wrote, One would think that having all the extra space would be wonderful. But trust me when I tell you that no one EVER spreads out. The littlest ones won’t even go on another floor of the house if someone isn’t with them (“too scary”). My children still find it necessary to sit on the couch with me while I knit (yes, all 5 of them) or pile around me while I’m making dinner. As I type this they are finding reasons to come into the office and sit on the floor under my desk or read over my shoulder! And let’s not even mention how awful the cleaning and upkeep of a large house is. If you can imagine the mess that kids make in one room, just multiply it by the number of rooms in a large house — they will and do find a way to make any and every room look like a tornado hit it. And seriously, does anyone really want to clean FOUR toilets?

You get the idea, right?

We were so tremendously encouraged by your words.  And Jonny, ever searching for a larger house, became far more content to stay put.  And we even decided to stop thinking about an addition.  We are going to really try to just work with what we have and we’re excited about that.  We plan to invest in a bit more land surrounding our house, and to focus on paying off our student loans (we should have done that years ago, but something else always seems to come up.)  I am feeling more confident about our unconventional lifestyle here and more convinced that we can keep doing this.  We all know the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side, and while I know that a larger home would make things more comfortable for us all, many of the things about living in a houseful of children that can be frustrating would continue to be frustrating in a larger space.  Your comments reminded me of that.

The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness. — Pope Benedict XVI

I don’t want to get too comfortable.  Okay, maybe I do.  I do, but I recognize that it would probably be better if I don’t.  Does that make sense?

So here we are.  The house is a big mess.  The little kids are watching far too many junky cartoons while we try to get through these renovations as quickly as possible.  We are realizing (again)that it isn’t possible to do anything quickly when you have children.  We are accepting this, and trying to do so cheerfully.  I am failing a lot at the cheerful part, but not completely.  (I am trying not to worry about all the cartoon watching.)  Jonny is making progress, and I think it’s going to be great when we are finished.

We had a warm day this weekend and while we knew that we should stay home and keep working, we just couldn’t.  We drove to our fossil beach because there was a great low tide that day.  We ended up staying on that beach for all of fifteen minutes (after driving an hour to get there).  Small children got wet, they cried.  It wasn’t worth staying if the soundtrack for the day was going to be crying.  So we went to a nearby playground.  The older kids used their metal detectors to hunt for lost change, and the little ones played.  Everyone was happy, even Jonny and I, despite the fact that we had driven an hour one way to end up at a playground.  On the way home we broke all of our typical eating rules and stopped at a gas station with a little grill in the back where they cook up greasy grilled cheese sandwiches, potato wedges, and even fried shrimp.  When the kids asked for ice cream from the case, we said yes.

Comments

  1. Id like to add that the older ones start growing up and moving out before you know it, or are ready for it. But you know this. My parents have a huge home and of course it’s beautiful and I would love a grand home but then Why would I want to pay to heat and cool a home when it’s going to be just the three of us before we know it. ( our youngest has disabilities and will be living with us until she moves in with a sibling. Anyhow, all that to say I’m proud of you. Society tells us bigger is better but I disagree.

  2. I truly mean this–finding your blog has absolutely made me a better person.mother.wife.childofGod. No question. I feel such peace after reading one of your posts. Thank you so much! xx

    PS–I am 32 and am STILL paying off my student loans from teacher college and the amount wasn’t even that much to begin with… :)

  3. So sweet, thanks for including those lovely comments. Makes me a tiny bit wistfull for more children.

  4. Thank you so much for this encouraging post! I just had my 5th baby and we live in a 2 bedroom townhouse. It is far from ideal! My husband and I started to move our “bedroom” to the basement so that we could have a boys room and a girls room upstairs. I ended up in the hospital and at home on bed rest for the last month of my pregnancy. Of corse it happend in the middle of the room switch. I’m getting very little done with a nursing newborn. Any ways I appreciate your post. After reading it, I feel like it’s ok and we’ll finish it eventually and it will be worth it in the end:). Thanks!

  5. You made the right choice :) We just moved with 4 kids from a 900 sq ft (2 small bedrooms and 1 very tight kitchen) to a 2100 sq ft house (another rental for now). I loved our previous small house, it was tight at times, especially when we cooked everything at home and everyone wanted to help. But we made it work and made use of every corner. Now we have a huge kitchen, bedroom-sized mudroom, 3 decent sized bedrooms upstairs and a small reading/sitting room with a spacious sunny activity room (part for kids activities, part for my sewing) right next to it. I often read or knit in the reading room. Guess where kids want to spend most of their day? Not in their bedrooms (my oldest escapes to hers for some quiet once-in-a-while), and not even in bright activity room where they can see me through the doorway. Yep, they want to be right next to me. We tried to enforce the rule that reading room is only for quiet activities with no toys (those can be played with in activity room). But who were we kidding? It works only for short periods of time. The spacious kitchen is nice and beautiful to look at. But I could be happy with half that size (also less space to heat). Mudroom could also be much smaller, right now it just gathers boxes and leaves more space for throwing jackets and winter gear everywhere. So now that we are looking to buy our first house, we no longer try to stick to 1800-2000 sq ft size. Smaller would be better. Oh, and now that we have place for 2 beds in kids’ bedrooms? Usually 1 or 2 end up in our bed anyway :) We do love more land around the house, that to me is a worthy investment…

  6. And this is encouraging to me! Trying to think how I could make do with the bookshelf space I have……just might need to do some brainstorming! And let us all continue to grow in contentment!

  7. But did you get to knit for the hour drive? I intentionally plan long trips just for that :) I love seeing all the comments. We have four bedrooms and for the most part everyone ends up in the same bed at night and same room during the day. I really should just turn 2 of the bedrooms into storage. Maybe fill them with yarn :)

  8. Yes, it makes sense, Ginny – it does make sense! The shawl is beautiful; I wish your family and preparations well.

  9. Thanks for this post. My husband and I just have 2 children (and 2 dogs and 3 cats and 2 ducks), but we live in a 800 square foot house and it gets crowded. I sometimes wish we could have a bigger house, but then I also feel like we would just accumulate more and there would be more of a mess to deal with. (A second bathroom would be lovely though…. a girl can dream, right?).
    Anyways, thanks for admitting that your house is a mess and your kids are watching cartoons. It’s nice to be reminded that, after all, we are all just human.
    Good luck!

  10. dear Ginny,

    Thank you so much for writing this post. We have moved 11 times in almost 12 years of marriage b.c. of the military and now are “settled” in northern virginia. We live in a 3 bedroom apartment and are renting. We hope to buy a home but prices here are so high. What I am learning from our time in the apartment is that I love open living spaces – we are so comfortable now. We have 4 children, 10 down to 5 years. The boys share a room and the girls share too. We have two bathrooms. We look at our time in this apartment as a respite from “house-upkeep chores”. Most of the world lives in small spaces. I think your plans to fix a few things and then to save for an addition is very wise. Moving is A LOT of upheaval. You are doing life with your beautiful family so WELL!!! I get it with the messes and the cramped spaces. Its always a challenge b.c. the kids always want to be with Mama – no matter if you had a large home or not. PS cleaning a small space is SO nice!!!! Embrace this time of change, movement, and creativity. Your family will be blessed. I will be praying for you all. May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and dwell in your home.

  11. I really enjoyed all the comments and especially love the story of the family with 11 children. Just think when everybody is talking about downsizing and the stress that goes with it.. . Plus it seems no matter how big your home, everyone always seems to be in the kitchen… Your home seems to be filled with a lot of love, and really, isn’t that what matters. A home with a lot of love and some cobwebs is way better then a sterile, neat home with not much fun and love. I was told once that the 3 things you remember most from childhood is family dinners, playing outside and family vacations. That is true for me.
    From your photos, it looks like you have accomplished that. I dream every time I see your fossil trips. (fossil hunting trip – top of my list)

  12. I am thinking of all of the learning opportunities for your bigger boys during the house changing work.

  13. Sounds like a great weekend Ginny, despite the wet kids. I am so glad you got those wonderful comments by those nice people. Every one of them is true. We live in a typical suburb and there is an “older” side of town, and newer developments scattered here and there. I live in the older section (as a matter of fact, it’s the house my husband and his siblings grew up in). I think it is so sad when someone mentions they live in “the slums of ___(our town)” just because they live in the older section where the houses are not 4000 square feet and brand new. I wish they would read your post & comments.

    ***BTW, my son just turned 10 a couple of weeks ago & we got him a metal detector. He cannot wait to use it (we have lots of snow right now).

  14. Our tiny one bathroom house was great when the kids were small but now that they are teens it’s not so good. They have no space to have their friends over because their bedrooms are too small and we only have one living room. On the upside we aren’t always feeding a bunch of hungry teens because they don’t come over here. What teen want to sit around with their friends parents no matter how cool they are?

  15. Love will make your house big enough.

  16. thank you for putting these gorgeous images and words in my mind. LOVE!

  17. I look forward to seeing pictures of your renovations. We live in a smallish 1940’s ranch house. The houses one mile to the east of us are even older and smaller but the area in a much desired neighborhood and the houses are about $200K higher than ours. We are good to stay in our house that is not quite the “it” neighborhood because we have a HUGE back yard and they don’t!

  18. I think what you are trying to get at with the maybe-I-do/maybe-I-don’t quandary is the different between comfort and peace. Comfort is often only physical, but real peace is felt deep in the soul. We all want to be pain-free and comfortable, but sometimes we want it at the price of true peace. For instance, if you bought a larger house that really stretched your finances, Jonny might have to work more, spending more time away from the family to keep your financial heads above water. That would give you less help and less freedom to do all your fun, spur-of-the moment outings that your kids will treasure. I’ve found that once I accept a situation and really stop complaining (aloud and in my head), the comfort of peace comes. It also helps to think about all the comforts you do have, to try to cultivate a grateful heart. Finally, remember this is so temporary. I know it’s a cliche, but children do grow up so quickly. I know when you are right in the middle of it, it’s hard to believe, but soon they’ll be leaving one-by-one. Then your little house will feel big. It will be the little house that your adult children will remember fondly and love to come visit and bring your grandchildren.

  19. Sometimes the best times & most wonderful memories are when the plans go wrong! Sounds like you all had a perfect day that will be remembered for years to come!!

  20. Jere Wineman says:

    I read all the comments after this marvelous post, and I just had to add my 2 cents. I am 87 years old, my husband passed away in April. Today would have been out 67th wedding anniversary. Glenn was in the Navy 27 years, and we had five children ..under five years of age..twins were fourth and fifth. We moved , and moved..mostly living in Navy quarters. They are not spacious! But as the important theme of today’s message is “There will always be space but your time with your children is passes so quickly and you don’t realize how fast until it is gone, never to be recovered. “Things” houses,etc. can be broken,lost and empty but memories can never be taken away.. So treasure every moment, and remember to make memories for your children. Glenn, my husband, said so many nice things to me but the one I remember most is “Jere I never heard you complain” Jere

  21. Children all squished together keeps them warmer…..in more ways than one! When they grow up and move out they will all have cherished memories of your home. I am sure of that! By the way, your porch is beautiful (love the rock work!)

    • My mom came from a family of 14 children. They would sleep 3 to 4 in a bed. My mom said it was just like a basket of puppies.

  22. daughter sitting a bit pensively on the rocks….. she looks so much like you!

    I love that you take your family on so many outings. So many memories being made. And I so appreciate that you don’t make the handknit items you’ve created for your children “too Precious” to wear! They will always remember being wrapped in your loving creative energy.

  23. Both your last post and this one were so encouraging about being content with a small space. Not least were all the comments from and about people in the same boat. While we’re still thinking about that “someday” when we find a new place to call home (Our four small kids above a cranky neighbor lady who doesn’t like noise or children? Stressful, to say the least.), I am more at peace with our space. It’s probably shaped me into a better parent to boot! We are outside far more and we have far fewer things. We still have clutter everywhere, which makes me shudder to think what will happen if we do move to a bigger space.

  24. Lovely trip. We didn’t add on til the kids were grown, then a large den for when they all come home. People build such huge homes, which is fine, but often have to work so much, they’re never with their children. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve things, but raising children is so much more important.

  25. My husband and I live in a 2 bedroom 1 bath house on a street of them. Our next door neighbors for a while were 2 sisters in their late 80s. They were the youngest of 7 children – nearly all born in that house. 1 bedroom for mom and dad, 1 for the sisters, and the brothers slept in the living room. Needless to say, the “living room” was probably the upstairs kitchen, with most of the cooking happening in the downstairs kitchen (that is a trend, now on it’s way out in our neighboorhood – everyone had 2 kitchens…but 1 bathroom…but I digress :))

    They spent most of their time in the kitchen and out of doors but always talked about the memories!! They raised rabbits, pigeons, and chickens all for food, and raised a garden, and I am sure made do in a multitude of ways.

  26. Thank you for the beautiful quote from Pope Benedict! I immediately wrote it out and hung it up in my kitchen, the room in which I spend so much time.

  27. this post put a great big smile on my face. This is the stuff that great families are made of. :)

  28. Jennifer K says:

    You sound like a soundtrack from our kitchen! My husband wants more space and I am not ready to renovate another house or wanting to clean another toilet. We have a 4 yr old, 2 yr old , and 7 month old in 950 sq ft and seem to do fine. I agree wholeheartedly on the bigger the space, the bigger the mess. And yes, we are probably not the norm, but in this case I am glad to be in a place where the focus is right where it should be; family. Keep up the great work! We reorganize and rearrange MANY times throughout the year to accommodate growth; once complete you will be so happy you did it! On a side note, I was just grumbling to a friend about my student loan (which I don’t feel I am using as a SAHM). She had a really clever spin on it. Its your family’s insurance policy…should my husband not be able to work for any reason, I always have the ability to put my education to use. Makes me feel a bit better about our plan to pay it off and also a little less painful to click submit on billpay!

  29. This post was so much of what I needed to read! Expecting our fifth has me feeling cramped and frankly ungrateful for the home we have. If only I had a bigger kitchen, I could have an island. If only my laundry room weren’t all the way in the basement, I wouldn’t have so many socks EVERYWHERE! If only we had another room, I wouldn’t worry that my three boys will be too snug and go bezerk on one another. In truth I have so much more than I need. Thank you for the lovely reminder. I especially appreciate the comment about eleven children under one roof and not a drop of shame or worry for what anyone thinks. Just lovely.

  30. Yes! Well said, Ginny. We lived in a very small house until last year – 6 of us in 650sq feet. We still miss it somedays. We are now in a slightly larger house but it already feels to be bursting at the seams. I have been trying to wrap my head around how to comfortably fit the 3 girls in one small bedroom. The other day I had brainstormed and perused Pinterest to no avail but nothing was quite right for our situation. In the end I deep cleaned their bedroom, got rid of some stuff, moved the furniture, and we all feel like it is a new and roomier place to be.
    I love the Pope Benedict XVI quote! I definitely understand the feeling of wanting things being comfortable and easy. Our old house was off grid (generator!), we had trucked water, and we needed to run two wood stoves 7 months of the year (one inside and one in the crawlspace to keep the plumbing and water tank from freezing). Being pregnant often (we have 5 kids eight and under), there were days where I wanted to pack it all in but then I would remind myself that I still had so much more than many people living in other places in the world did and that they would be delighted with my current situation.
    Your trip to the playground reminded me of our Sunday morning this week. By the time we got everyone dressed and out the door and dealt with diapers and fussing babies, etc and drove to church – it was literally ending. All dressed up and no where to go! Ha! Somedays you just have to let go of what it was supposed to be or what it could have been and figure out had to make the most of it anyway. :)

  31. beth lehman says:

    i love hearing stories about enough…. and the realization that gratitude makes what we have enough. to hear you say you feel good about staying put is so good… now you can focus your energies on other things!

  32. The best thing about this is that you and your husband are on the same page. Believe when I say if not a larger house would be wonderful! You are a very lucky woman for all that you have. You are rich beyond measure.

  33. Really encouraging stuff here for me– Thank you! I look forward to your blog each time I see a link in my FB newsfeed, and especially resonate with your small-space/many-people living situation (and homebirthing and home education and knitting and spirituality, and, and, and– I just LIKE you! and think we would be friends in real life!).
    Anyhow– I have lived in Germany now nearly 5 years– moved here with a 7 month old son, and quickly added two more daughters (one is now just-turned-three and the other is 4 months old). We live in an upstairs, not-quite 900 square foot apartment, and have done so for all of this time. And it has honestly been very trying (and super exhausting) living upstairs: 5 years of lugging babies and carseats and groceries and bicycles and strollers and even furniture and all manner of household goods up many flights of stairs while pregnant (w/a separated pubic bone) and in all kinds of weather. And it has been a pain, really, to have to take all my children out with me to dispose of our household recycling and trash as it is some distance from our building (my husband mostly does this, but he is gone frequently). And to literally ‘go out’ with my children to even get some fresh air for them is a huge ordeal, an event– (In other words, I have never had the luxury of being able to say ‘go outside and play’ on a yard or in a garden, as there is no grass anywhere we live. Instead, we have to make an effort to pack up and drive to a park or walk long distances (which can be exhausting all on their own, even before playing!).) In other words, 5 years here has not been easy–esp. the upstairs part. But now we are facing moving back to the States in a few months and I am daunted by the home rentals I see online– of houses that are 2000 square feet with more than one bathroom, and I just can’t fathom it! The size seems daunting to me and kind of sad in a way… Honestly, when it comes down to it, I can say I have truly loved the nest this small apartment has afforded us during this season. We all sleep together anyhow in the one bedroom and I always know where my kids are or if the baby is awake or what someone needs help or whatever– and my children have no concept of ‘my room’ or ‘my space’– everything is ‘ours’.
    We are a happy family and these have been precious memories–I am so grateful for small space living. I think we’ll always prefer it since we like so much to be close to one another. Your family is so blessed by your space!

  34. I love everything you have said. I find that as I age (!!) and add more kids to our brood through adoption, I’d rather adopt than have a bigger house. I’d rather have a giant gaggle of kids than an extra bathroom or an extra closet. I’d rather throw half of my stuff away and have one more person to love and cherish. You inspire me! :)

    Now that you know I’m aging, please help my aging bring because I’m a bit daft on the pictures. Did you take a window out or put one in? Is that for your bedroom?

    Please don’t think you are boring us with details of these exciting renovations!

    Kim

    • Jonny removed a window in a bedroom that had five windows. That is the wall where he is going to build the triple bunk.

  35. I really, really love this. I can tell you that this big house we moved into last spring is completely overwhelming in the cleaning department. Messes x lots of rooms. And I only have two kids home during the day! lol.
    We’re making some really serious plans about our future. They include Joe getting out of the Coast Guard because in truth, we are just so tired of starting over. And at this point we’re looking at leaving adult kids as we move to each new place if we continue on our current path. This breaks my heart. I realize they will all leave the nest and fly, but I don’t want to be the one leaving. It’s just so hard.
    All that to say, we are looking at downsizing *everything*. We’d like more land but HALF the house for sure. Both in square footage and mortgage. No more guest room. No more studio. Most people think we’re crazy for Joe to leave a very well paid job to settle down and work part time, and choose to struggle. But life is so fleeting. So short. Time is worth more than square footage. And now that we have a choice (he’s got 20 years in this fall) we feel like it’s the best (craziest) thing for us to do. The three year countdown begins…….

  36. I remember those times so well from my childhood. My mom was pretty good at keeping the rules, so when she tossed them off for a day–oh what a day!

  37. That’s a very interesting saying, “Love grows best in a small house.” After 16 years of marriage, my husband and I finally built our dream home, twice the size of our previous home. I love our larger space, but it was built for the second “phase” of our life, so to speak. My children are all teenagers. We entertain a LOT more. We have a much bigger extended family, and when we host, there can be upwards of 20 people in the house.
    But we don’t have more bedrooms or more bathrooms than we did in the smaller house…just bigger closets ;0)

    • That is also what we are thinking makes sense: adding more space for when all the kids are older/bigger and for the future when they have families of their own to bring home for visits. I would love to have more space for entertaining and hosting extended family too. And, it will be easier to add on when we don’t have small children!

  38. what a blessing. Thank you so much for this ~ very encouraging…

  39. Awesome! Being happy and contented is not a bad thing!

  40. It’s amazing the peace we feel once we find contentment.

  41. Sounds like a brilliant day! I know the kids were happy!
    We have a finished basement on our ranch and let me tell you the kids hang all on me, around me and underfoot despite all the room to spread out! And man can they make a mess of the place! The only plus side is that we were able to give our 16 yr old his own room which he thoroughly enjoys. I say make do!

  42. Your beautiful children are surrounded by love and that is all that matters……

  43. My husband and I bought a tiny 2 bedroom house built in 1944 in the township where he grew up. It used to be farm land, but for some reason, this township has turned into an “affluent” community. Huge cookie cutter mansions and the type of people that go along with said mansions. It is not the place where he grew up. We do not have enough room for our children and us, but we all love our house. We are trying to make do, too, as we cannot afford another house nor an addition. It can be frustrating, but it is also comforting. Our house had stood for 70 years. The houses we watch being built here are not built well. They look like matchsticks. When we had to have our front door replaced, we marveled at how the wood frame was hogged out to fit the door. It was all done by hand. We have real plaster walls and ceilings. We have old wonderful block in our cellar that form the foundation. No one builds houses like that anymore. We made a wise choice. The houses being built today I doubt will still be standing 70 years from now.

    I also have to tell you – I love your blog. You are honest and genuine. You don’t act like some bloggers at there that act like superwoman. You are human, you are real. Thank you.

  44. “When the kids asked for ice cream from the case, we said yes.”
    pure bliss!
    my policy- the kids can ask for anything- ONCE- I usually say no. There will be no asking again or whining- and sometimes….I say yes!

  45. They’ll survive it all! And I dislike saying this, because it is a reminder to myself more than anything… what they will remember more is how you and Jonny reacted to it all and made it all seem like something adventurous and wonderful, instead of letting it get you down. (event he occasional trips for processed food and grease!) :)

  46. I can so relate to the feeling of being crowded and “needing space” but when I saw how cozy our tiny house is decorated for Christmas, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

    And that sounds like the best kind of day trip to me :)

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