In 2006, my husband and I decided to buy a co-op apartment. We had some savings, including an inheritance from my grandparents and we thought real estate would be a good investment.
Things were going really well in the real estate market at the time, and buying and selling seemed like a prudent idea.
We could only afford a one-bedroom apartment, but the woman we bought it from had only lived there a few years and was making a great profit by selling it to us. We expected to follow suit.
We knew in the back of our minds that we wanted to start a family; we figured we could last in a small apartment for the baby years, then sell it for a bigger place. It was going to be a nest egg that would someday turn into the home of our dreams.
Then, two things happened: we became pregnant with our first baby before we even closed the deal. And then, a few months after our son was born, the real estate market crashed.
The next thing I knew, I was living in a small home with kids.
Not only did it seem impossible to sell our apartment without losing all the money we put into it, but after my maternity leave was over, I realized I wasn’t ready to go back to work.
My heart hurt when I thought of leaving my son and I wasn’t even sure I could make enough money to cover childcare for him while I worked.
So we decided to stay in our cozy little apartment until either the real estate market improved or I was ready to return to work so we could afford a bigger place.
But then months turned into years. The real estate market wasn’t getting better and before we knew it my husband and I were ready to have another child.
We lived in our tiny apartment for seven years and welcomed our second child in the process (he was born at home, actually — a planned homebirth in the 150-square-foot bedroom).
Some people thought we were crazy for staying for so long. Even we did sometimes. But I have no regrets about it.
In those years when my children were young, they couldn’t have cared less how much space they lived in. Most of the time, they just played in the living room where their toys were — and where we were.
Even now, living in a three-bedroom home, my kids would rather just spend their time in whatever room I’m in.
We ended up being a family that preferred to co-sleep, so sleep wasn’t an issue. If we hadn’t co-slept, we could’ve had the kids sleep in the living room, or we would’ve.
I learned a whole lot about minimalist living. Every few months, I’d do a sweep of every single item we owned. I’d end up throwing away or donating about half of our stuff and the whole apartment would feel light and airy again.
I was the queen of organization, too; everything had its place. There was no room for mess. These tidying skills have proven helpful even since we’ve moved to a larger space.
My kids learned that having an abundance of toys and stuff isn’t a necessity and that spending time with people, playing simple games, and endless conversation and cuddles are where it’s at.
Really, most families in the world live in smaller spaces than we did and with much less stuff.
Small-space living was a lesson in humility and gratitude. Most importantly, living small allowed me to stay home with my kids when they were little.
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I know not every mother wants to stay home with her kids, but every mom should do what works best for her.
I wanted to be with them in those early years; it felt like an important priority to me. Living simply and giving up some of life’s luxuries was what I needed to do to make that happen.
I definitely complained at times and there came a point at the end that there was literally no space left; my toddler was grabbing all of my big kid’s stuff and making everyone crazy. But looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
My kids only have good memories of those years. And aside from the normal insanity of early motherhood, I have good memories of our little home as well.
I know that living that way isn’t for everyone but for mothers who want to stay home with their kids, scaling back is definitely an option worth considering.
Wendy Wisner is a writer, editor, and lactation consultant whose work has been featured in The Washington Post, VICE, Parenting Magazine, Fit Pregnancy, Verywell Family, Scary Mommy, Rewire, Child Magazine, and others.