When Smaller is Better

We moved into our house a little over 7 years ago. Our oldest was 1 and ½ and we were so grateful to have a home to grow into and a yard to imagine our son and his future sibling/s playing in.

Up until that point in our marriage of four years, we had lived in 4 apartments in two different states and two different countries, from a 500-sq. ft. studio apartment in Germany to a subsidized living apartment in the suburban Midwest.  In the latter, we celebrated our son’s first birthday with joy and spent nights crying unending tears over leaving what we originally thought was a life calling.  While we knew God was with us, we felt otherwise and waded through many doubts about His provision at the beginning of that year.

During that year (you can read more about it here), we had weeks where we could barely afford groceries.  I remember standing in the produce aisle at Kroger, wanting to buy an organic apple but knowing we couldn’t afford that kind of choice and having to force myself to accept the reality we were in.  The tension between following along with our social circle who were all breaking up with anything non-organic at the time, and living within our means was extremely isolating.

But, we made do.  Life was simple.  From meals to entertainment, choices were few. We discovered these free monthly food boxes from a local church, and while they weren’t exactly appetizing, they were a gift to us.  We took long walks together as a family and we found a Christmas tree that year that looked like something straight out of Charlie Brown’s Christmas.  We were struggling, but we were together and having little gave us new measures of sight for all that surrounded us.  Gratitude was our path to joy and our guide to living in the present.

So, when circumstances drastically changed and we found ourselves moved into our current home with a stable income, we knew it was a gift.  We were full of gratitude and we were also afraid.  Would having more change us for the better? 

It didn’t take long before I noticed myself having conversations with other suburbanites and beginning to refer to our home as “little.”  Others casually mentioned that our home reminded them of their “starter” home, 2 or 3 homes ago.  It sounded as if moving into bigger and bigger homes was akin to moving through levels of video games. There were so many subtle things I began to notice, from language to what felt like the unspoken requirements of suburban hospitality, along with every new imperfection in and about our home. I grew suspicious of my previous feelings of gratitude and wondered if it was only rose-colored glasses I wore in my naivety. I began hesitating when I wanted to invite new friends over, worried that they would think less of us because we still had cabinets that looked like they were from the 80s.

Noticing the beauty in and around 
our imperfect home and giving thanks.

God was pruning my heart in uncomfortable ways the first two years after moving into this home. He showed me new corners within that were dusty with envy, my own desire for more, and prideful worries about what others would think of me and our home.  Over time, as I brought these ugly corners of my heart into his light, his forgiveness and grace renewed my vision.  And with time, my heart has grown in the freedom of contentment.  

Since bringing Everly home almost 4 months ago, more than one person has asked us if we are going to move now that we have 3 kids and 2 of them share a room.  I won’t lie.  There have been days when I have thought that buying a bigger home would solve all of our problems, and then some.  I’ve spent time looking at bigger homes we can afford and I’ve had moments when I’ve wondered if having a small home by this county’s standards is going to drive our kids away to homes that have “more.”  Sometimes it feels like the tide of culture is against small and slow when it comes to homes and schedules.

While Zillow tempts me to look for something I can't actually find in a bigger space, I keep coming back to the things Matt and I have always talked about.  While buying a bigger home wouldn’t be bad and isn’t a choice that we've committed to keep off of the table forever; for now, we are choosing to stay.  Here's why:

1. Simplicity
We believe simplicity makes space for good things in our family and that even though it sometimes makes us feel like we are missing out, in the end it actually makes more room for the things that matter.

2. Giving
Giving generously is a non-negotiable for us.  We are so aware that we have been given much and we know that giving brings lasting joy.  We want to live with a kingdom mindset and build there before we build here.

3. Travel
Travel is something that makes us come alive and if we could choose more travel or more house, we’d choose more travel in the end.  I am not just talking about vacations.  Part of what made international adoption possible for us when it called for the expense of international travel, was the choice to stay in a smaller home. 

4. Freedom
We want to be free to go and do what God calls us to. Stuff is heavy and moving isn’t easy.  He may call us to live in this house and city for the rest of our lives, but if not, we want to be ready. We never want our stuff to be what hinders us to say yes to wherever and whatever God asks us to go and do (again, see #5 on adoption). 

5. Living modestly
This is something we want to model for our kids.  We aren’t perfect at it but it’s important to us.  When we were in full time ministry, I will never forget learning about the founders of the organization we worked for and how they made a lifelong commitment to live modestly. I remember reading how they valued having guests of all means and all countries feel comfortable in their home. Isn't that beautiful? Living modestly pushes against the pull of immediate gratification.

6. Choosing beneficial.
This is what it all boils down to in a nutshell.  1 Corinthians 10:23 says, "You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial." This verse has guided us throughout many choices, big and small.  Asking ourselves what’s most beneficial, not just for our immediate wants in this world, but for the future and for our part in building towards the kingdom of God, has helped us tremendously.  I love The Message's version:

Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well."

Please hear my heart here. I am not against big houses or buying a bigger home.  Sometimes, that may very well be the most beneficial thing to do. I am not against style or aesthetics or beauty.  In fact, I love those things and they matter to me a great deal. But, I am for rewriting the subtle language of the suburbs that says “bigger is better.”  I am for the kind of kingdom lasting hospitality that can happen in any living situation, any size.  I am for the freedom that contentment offers.  I am for the belief that there can be another way. For some of us, whether for a season or forever, smaller is the better choice.  
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