Monday, February 6, 2012

In Which We Conclude That Size Does Indeed Matter

About three years ago I went back to school and couldn't afford to keep paying the inflated mortgage on the house I own. I was devastated, because I had been so determined to keep my house - shyster mortgage broker, adjustable rate mortgage, property taxes and underemployment be damned! Finally giving in, I found renters to pay the mortgage and rented a smaller, much less expensive house that we came across in a fortuitous chain of events.

I had found an affordable, craptastic apartment and was about to pay a non-refundable deposit. We happened to have dinner with some acquaintances the night before, because they were about to move. I mentioned our upcoming move and they said we could have their house, which they had been renting from some longtime family friends. It's an old Craftsman, close to downtown and the river, with a porch and a partially finished full basement. I laughed and said, sure, that would be great, but we won't be able to afford it. The punch line: Rent on the house was less than the crappy apartment. We moved in the next week. (Please do not kill me and take my house!)

While I soon discovered that I adore living downtown for lots of reasons, I am beginning to find that the small size and old-fashioned layout of this house are a boon when one is attempting to raise an adolescent. I can't quite say definitively, seeing as how Twelve may yet become awful, but I've begun developing theory in that direction.

Our house is tiny. Picture a square, with four rooms of approximately equal size; two bedrooms on one side, kitchen and living room on the other. The front door opens onto the living room. Walk in, and R's and my bedroom is on your left, with the kitchen straight ahead. Go into the kitchen, and Twelve's bedroom is on your left. The bathroom is between the bedrooms. That's all there is to the upstairs.

I'm pretty convinced that it takes more effort to perform stereotypical adolescent behaviors when the physical space isn't conducive to them, and this house sure isn't. It's not that there's no privacy - the doors close, and Twelve could go into her bedroom and shut herself off - but there's something about the layout that discourages self-isolation. There are no hallways to stomp down before slamming oneself into the bedroom to sulk. There's no way to spend inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom without somebody soon needing to brush their teeth or pee. There isn't a faraway family room or upstairs great room or anywhere really to go besides the places where the rest of us already are.

The smallness encourages frequent and positive interactions. We can poke our heads into Twelve's room to say hello and see what she's up to with relative ease. It's obvious when someone arrives home and greeting her/him requires no special effort. When R and I are in the kitchen, we're right there; Twelve can join in (read: interrupt and derail) our conversations from her customary seat on the bed. When somebody has taken the face wash out of the shower and left it by the sink, somebody can be easily summoned from aforementioned customary seat to hand the face wash back in. And then she leaves it out again the next day and dares to summon you to get it for her, at which point you comply with a somewhat sarcastic version of your very best Mr. Carson impression, "Can I get you anything else, Milady?" (Mr. Carson's voice is the most fun to try, you see.)

Nice theories, eh? We'll see how I feel about this tiny house when (perhaps if?) all adolescent hell breaks loose, but for now I'm just going to enjoy it, lack of closet space and all. Remind me of this the next time I'm trying to put away a few loads of clean clothes.

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