Sometimes, it feels like we live in a dollhouse.
Our family of four people and three pets currently lives and homeschools in a 768 square foot home. No, it’s not easy. But yes, it can be done.
We moved from a larger, basement rancher into this wee space for two reasons. The first was simply money. We have always tried our best to avoid excessive debt, and we knew we could reduce our mortgage drastically if we were willing to sacrifice space. My commitment to homeschool our children meant that we’d probably remain primarily on one income for many years, and my husband wanted a short-term mortgage that he could manage while still contributing to savings and retirement.
The second reason was philosophical and spiritual. Our family disagrees with society’s apparent obsession with keeping up with the Joneses by accumulating more and more stuff in larger and larger spaces.
In moving into such a small house, we aspired to teach our kids to embrace simplicity in a world that celebrates excess–a level of excess that can have negative consequences for one’s health and happiness, finances, and the environment.
We might have gone a little Henry David Thoreau.
But Thoreau didn’t have a family to squeeze into his little cabin, and he didn’t homeschool his kids all day. Sometimes ideals must crash into reality, just as one’s big toe might crash into the corner of the two-foot-long hallway of one’s absurdly small house as one rushes to the single bathroom that is, of course, occupied. What were we thinking?!
I can’t sugarcoat the reality of squeezing four people and their stuff into a home that is so much smaller than the average American abode. What I can do is try to stay creative and diligent about managing the space we have.
Here are some strategies for making homeschooling in a small space work:
- Streamline your curriculum
While books and learning materials take priority in our house (we have sacrificed extra seating in our home for bookcases), I make sure to keep only the resources we actually use or will use in the near future. This means I don’t buy giant science kits “just in case” or purchase the entire cannon of Charles Dickens because I’d love to have my kids read them in high school.
Books and supplies that we use daily or weekly live on a small bookcase near our kitchen table, and all other carefully curated books live on a larger bookcase near the couch. Extra craft supplies are tucked into drawers in our computer desk.
I try to follow a “one in, one out” rule for new curriculum purchases. If I purchase a new math workbook, I recycle the old, used one. I love how keeping our curriculum fairly simple also instantly reduces overwhelm by visually showcasing only our real work for one school semester instead of cluttering up our shelves and minds with materials that may or may not be used in the coming years.
Though our space for curriculum materials is limited, we take advantage of our library’s almost unlimited resources. A small bookcase placed (okay, squeezed) into a corner of our home houses constantly rotating library books. Nonfiction tomes enhance our history and science studies, while picture books and novels keep my kids bathed in language and literature. We never feel deprived when we know we can simply return our library books and get a fresh crop of new material.
Every school morning, my kids and I start our day with me reading aloud. We snuggle together on our tattered yet comfy couch while I read. I love this time for physical closeness as I share the joy of literature with my kids.
My older daughter finds that doing her mostly independent math work on on our comfy sofa is more pleasant than working at the table. When we’re nearing the end of our day and I need to cover one more subject, the prospect of relaxing on the couch as they listen can often entice my kids to calm down and work through one more lesson.
- Use old-fashioned clip boards or lap desks
Clip boards allow my kids to take their work anywhere in the house with them while still having a sturdy surface for writing. This allows one child to retreat from working near a sibling if they are getting distracted. My kids often find that working on mom and dad’s bed near our sleeping cat can actually help them to calm down and focus. I find this to be further evidence in support of the magical, calming power of felines.
In a world of constant comparisons and Google images featuring the “perfect homeschool room,” it’s easy to feel inadequate or abnormal for living with less. By the way, don’t ever Google “perfect homeschool rooms.”
I often worry that I might be cheating my kids by not providing them with their own desks or special workspaces, but I remind myself that my kids are doing well and learning just fine. They even like our house, at least most of the time. I also remind myself that these days of cuddling on the couch and squeezing in at the kitchen table to practice handwriting are very precious and won’t last forever. It’s easy to get mired in routine and daily stresses and to forget how spectacularly radical and special it is to be free to educate my kids in the loving, safe environment of our home.
Ultimately, it’s holding on to a sense of gratitude that makes homeschooling in a small space possible, no matter how many times I stub my toe.