Friday, August 04, 2006

How much space do we need?

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.


Margaret Feinberg said...

i love simplicity.

Anonymous said...

I recently came back from a trip to Spain and was amazed how much simplier life was. A family of four and all their stuff fit in a 2 bedroom, one bath apt. that was maybe 1,000 sq. feet.

Even better, they were happy. In fact, the families I met were much more content that most suburban couples I know.

Craver Vii said...

Dude, I really love this blog!

"Mrs. Craver" wants to give move our older boy his own room downstairs. (It is now a storage room.) Since even before The Fall Of Mankind, it was not good for man to be alone. I want to persuade my family to leave the boys together. Any ideas?

Al Hsu said...

Everything totally depends on your family's dynamics and personalities - what might work for my four-year-old and one-year-old may not work at all for teens. And I feel entirely unqualified to address how to parent teenagers! Apart from the Brady Bunch episodes where Greg got his own room in the attic, I have no perspective this. Sorry, Craver, I don't have any easy answers for you. But I'm glad your family is talking through these issues and weighing the pros and cons.

Tonya said...

Great post Al! Sorry I'm a little late in coming to it, as we were on vacation too.

When we moved last year (from the 983 sq ft to the 2329 sq ft you mentioned, I'm not kidding!) we acquired 4 bedrooms, one more bedroom than needed. We almost never have sleep over guests so we had no need for a guest bedroom. So that room was promptly designated the library (I knew you'd appreciate that one!)

But, in our old house the girls had shared a bedroom, as our 3rd bedroom was in the basement and though we tried for 2 months after #2 was born, having a child in the basement just wasn't a workable arrangement. I knew I wasn't ready for them to split up yet. In fact, I hope they will share a room right straight on through high school until one of them leaves the nest.

My good friend has two older brothers who are 15 months apart and VERY different men in how they approach life. One day she asked her dad what he would do differently if he was raising his kids again. His answer? He would've made Andy and Joe share a room all through high they would've had to deal with each other. He believes it would've made a difference in how they understand each other today.

Going on my instinct and her father's advice our girls continue to share a room in this house...and we have plans to move them to the master suite when they hit the teen years.

What's the 4th bedroom? An art room!