During the Calvin seminar, our family stayed in a two-bedroom campus apartment, and the boys shared a bedroom for the first time (apart from previous trips with hotel room stays). At first we worried that it wouldn't work, that Elijah would keep Josiah awake or vice versa, but as it turned out, they got along fabulously as roommates. Instead of having two separate bedtime routines, we combined them, reading books and Bible stories for both of them together. Josiah told us that he really liked sharing a bedroom with Elijah. So much so that when we came home, he said, "I don't want to be alone. Can Elijah be in my room?"
So we rearranged everything, put Elijah's crib in Josiah's bedroom, moved around dressers and the diaper changing table, and put Josiah's train table and toy bins in what was Elijah's room. Now the boys have a bedroom together, and the other room is a playroom. No idea how long this arrangement will last, but so far, a week into it, both boys are enjoying it.
All this made us realize that we had had some default assumptions about kids each having their own rooms, which is a fairly individualistic, Western notion of privacy and personal space. American houses are larger by far than those in other societies - the average size of an American single-family home has increased from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,329 square feet today. The typical American has 718 square feet of living space per person, compared to 442 square feet in Canada and just 170 square feet in Japan. Most American suburban homes, if set in other parts of the world, would be used to house multiple families. The authors of Suburban Nation write, "There is not another nation on earth that houses its citizens as we do, and few could afford to."
The accommodations for the Calvin seminar also gave us a chance to practice a temporary form of voluntary simplicity. Just one set of plastic plates and cups in the kitchen. Just a week's changes of clothes. Just one bin of toys for the kids, not four or five. No TV. And a new city to explore, so we visited the zoo, the children's museum, the beach and so on. (Because Grand Rapids is smaller than Chicago, instead of taking half an hour or an hour to get anywhere, most of our trips only took ten or twenty minutes, max. Very nice.) Josiah went blueberry picking and got a whole pound of blueberries for just one dollar.
I love going away and having a change of scenery, meeting new people, having new experiences, etc. After the fun of being away, I've been feeling a little blah this week, as we've quickly gotten reabsorbed into our daily routines. But time away can indeed change how you see your usual surroundings. When we got back home and started rearranging the boys' rooms, we looked at all the stuffed animals that they never play with and decided to purge some. We gathered a whole pile of things to give away. We try to do that periodically anyway, but the Calvin trip made me realize anew that we have way more stuff than we need. Simplify, simplify.