Welcome to our house. Five people live, work and play here. Enough said. You want me to elaborate?That means that at its most tidy and minimalistic, there are five pairs of shoes—and this is Calgary, so let’s face it, probably 15, because there is no all-purpose pair of shoes for this whacky climate, and at least one set is guaranteed to be wet/muddy/slimy at least half of the time—five coats (or, really, 10-15, because everyone has a fleecy, a rain jacket, and at least one more warmer coat that one might put in the back wardrobe for the six weeks that it’s guaranteed not to snow, but really, why bother?), five hats (well—10, a sun hat each and a winter hat each), 5 pairs of rain pants or snow pants (or both simultaneously), and then there are the frackin’ mitts…
Pause. Rewind. All these things need to hang out somewhere near the front door, in an area in which one person can move about comfortably but two are a huge crowd and three start to step on each others toes, and four—well, can one of you please wait outside? I know it’s -30, but for God’s sake—ok, just step over there, wait in the laundry room. (The fifth, meanwhile, hangs out on the landing or stands on the stairs. Five people cannot stand in our entry way at the same time, even if one of them is not quite three feet tall.)
The entry way sets the tone for the rest of our house. We five live in 1000 square feet, plus 300 or so square feet of basement. The unlivable basement (it’s colder than Antarctica) is comprised of the miniscule entry way, laundry room, and a hard-to-navigate space that’s home to the freezer, pantry, gym equipment, film production equipment, and boxes and shelves of miscellaneous crap against which I wage an unending war.
After you navigate through our entry way, you’ve got to head up the stairs—try not to knock any of the coats and things off the hooks on the landing, ok?—to the main living floor. Designed by an architect who liked walls, corners and hallways, and thus turned what could have been 500 square feet of beautiful open space into two separate rooms—kitchen and living room—separated by a hallway and a furnace room (seriously). Another flight of stairs—stuck smack in the middle of it, of course—takes you up to the bedrooms, one large, two tiny, and a bathroom about the size of our entry way. And that is the rough lay-out of our house. It’s hot in the summer, leaking heat like mad in the winter, designed for people who neither cook nor entertain much (and don’t need to store more than one towel in the bathroom), and lived in by two work-at-home adults and three homeschooled children.
Yes, it’s a tight fit. We live here for the world outside: the big balcony that looks over a large Commonn area on which dozens of children play, from which we can see the expanse of McHugh’s Bluff and the towers of downtown Calgary. We can walk or bike to most of our work commitments and many of our homeschool adventures. We have excellent neighbours, and considering our stellar location, we don’t spend very much on our housing cost.
But yes, it’s a tight fit. Especially in the winter, when we have to mostly live inside and don’t walk or bike as much. That’s when I start browsing MLS listings looking for 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom—extra family room!—houses in the ‘burbs. That phases passes when I engage in the accompanying math, to be replaced by trips to the library for books on living in small spaces, organization, and decluttering. Then comes the purging: making our small space seem bigger by carting out bags upon bags upon boxes upon boxes of stuff out of our house.
It helps, briefly—and then another wave of stuff comes in—or comes tumbling off the newly purged shells.
And I sit in the middle of our living space, surrounded by stuff—which includes a pile of books from the library urging me to get rid of stuff—and ponder on how to achieve my peace with it. Because I am very aware, that even after a massive, ruthless purge, we have more stuff than any human beings need. And because of the world we live in, more stuff will come. If not today, then tomorrow. And some of it is neat, and lots of it we use, but pretty much all of it is unnecessary.
No pithy answers. It’s an ongoing project, a journey, a struggle.