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My Hovel, My Home: The Family Grows, The House Feels Smaller

More history and context to show what led up to our choice to remodel.

“Where are we going to put all of my clothes when the baby comes?”

I ponder aloud to my husband as I hang clean laundry in the closet of our extra bedroom. Although the three small bedrooms and one bathroom have served us well for the past two years, we have used every inch of storage space available between the two of us. All three closets are full; with our first baby on the way, it’s time to consider making some changes. 

We sketch out a simple plan to bump out the back corner bedroom to create a master with its own bathroom. A large closet along one wall will enable us
to move my clothes and dresser out of the extra room that will become the baby’s. 

We meet with several contractors and decide on one who has just built a garage next door. He doesn’t do fancy work, but we’re not looking for anything extraordinary. In fact, we tell him to keep the new construction consistent with what we already have since we have no intention of staying in the house long term. We figure it will get us through the next five years or so.

The bedroom addition clicks along at a steady pace from January of 1999 through the spring. The noise and dust are frustrating at times, especially since the workers have to walk through our main living space every day to get to the construction area. It is inconvenient, but livable. 

In the evenings, we inspect the progress before closing off the room for the night.  My husband drags a lounge chair into the construction zone for me to recline on with my growing belly. Meanwhile, he brainstorms and sketches plans for our closet on the wall where it will be. It feels so extravagant getting to design it exactly how we want. 

We are fairly “hands off” with the contractor; our only big request is that he finishes before the baby is born. My being pregnant is probably the best incentive for him to complete the job. He eyes my growing belly sheepishly as the months roll by. Ultimately, he makes the deadline with one week to spare.

The carpet is laid on the first day of my maternity leave.  I go out for the evening and return to find that my husband has single-handedly moved all of the furniture back into our room. Now, in the final weeks of pregnancy, I am huge and there is no way I could have helped, even if I had been home. My feet are sore and swollen from the unusually early May heat. We fall into bed exhausted that first night in the new room. It feels enormous to us, as the house once did when we were first time homeowners.

In the next room, the baby’s crib is stands awaiting his arrival. The guest bedroom with the ivy wall stencil I’ve painted is ready for visits from family coming to see our first child. A week later, our son makes an early arrival on Mother’s Day- a week ahead of his due date. The house fits our family perfectly for now and we settle in to enjoy our first year of parenthood.  

All is well until the following summer when our next door neighbors decide to move to a bigger house in a different neighborhood. They have grown to be friends as we’ve worked on many home improvement projects together. We’re sad to see them go and find their move unintentionally plants a seed of discontent in us. 

Hoping to have another child, we fixate on the idea that we need to move to a bigger house. We find one that seems just right, make a lowball offer and get no response. Apparently it was too low to be worthy of a counter offer. Deciding we’ll be more attractive buyers if we sell first, we make plans to put our house on the market. We pray and ask God to show us if moving is the right thing for us. Before the sign even goes up on our home, the house we want sells. We’re disappointed, but soon another one catches our attention. It costs enough that there would be no funds left to update it. We realize that our prayers have been
answered with a fairly resounding “no.” 

Our second son arrives 27 months after the first, and we figure out how to make things work in our little house that seems to be growing smaller by the minute. His birth ends the convenience of having a guest bedroom. We discover that what we think we need and what we truly need are two very different things. Still, I hold out on re-decorating the room until about a month before he’s born. I’m excited about his arrival, but have a brief grieving moment as we paint over the adorable ivy stencil that lines the walls. I have a fleeting thought of keeping the room intact and fitting the crib in with the queen size bed. My husband convinces me that the room needs to be the baby’s, not just the guest room he’s borrowing while he grows up in our house. An inflatable bed on the living room floor will have to serve as our guest room going forward.

A few months before his birth we realize that we’re about to outgrow our three-person table. We decide to tear out the kitchen linoleum and family room carpet to install wood laminate, which will allow the two rooms to flow together, creating space for a bigger kitchen table.  It’s a simple change that makes a big difference. The house that had empty rooms is now filled to capacity with every
square inch containing furniture and baby paraphernalia. 

As our first son becomes a toddler, new hazards begin to reveal themselves. The original wall heater that we still use now seems like a child safety nightmare. I’ve never liked the way it looks, but now it seems menacing and dangerous. We talk
about replacing it with a modern furnace and even upgrading to add air conditioning. The house has no ducting, so this would be a major undertaking and an expensive one at that. We deliberate long enough for both kids to
grow past the toddler stage.  The urgency of replacing the 1950’s wall heater
all but vanishes.

As the kids grow and accumulate more toys, we get creative with our storage tactics. A raised bed for one son leaves room for large bins to store toys underneath. Sturdy plastic chests in the yard house balls and bulky outdoor games. We build two sheds in the side yard: one for bikes and sports gear, the other for the lawn mower and yard equipment. Amazingly, we can actually use the garage to park one car.

The yard is huge and flat, perfect for kids. We build a play structure and a sandbox in one corner. Outdoor gatherings with friends and neighbors happen often on the back patio that we poured our first summer there. We enjoy opening our home, but find it challenging to do when the weather isn’t warm. Despite our many creative solutions, there are still days when we just wish we could push the walls out. 

The need for expanded living space feels more pressing, as the boys get older. We start talking about the possibility of adding on and try drawing out plans on graph paper.  The contractor who did our bedroom addition suggests building a garage out back so that we can expand the family room into the existing garage. Many neighbors have done it, but we can’t bear the thought of cutting down the huge old elm tree that shades our patio.  We bought the house for the yard, so it hardly makes sense to build in it and make it smaller. 

Figuring out a floor plan that meets all our perceived needs proves to be nearly impossible. I can’t let go of the idea that we must have a formal dining room for the table I “had” to buy before we had kids. We’d love to have a guest room again and a real laundry room inside instead of in the garage. Most importantly, we want a bigger family room and a re-configured kitchen with the sink facing the window. Each time we try to sketch out a plan, we just can’t make everything fit into it. 

The issue of the house seems to be a continual topic of conversation. We regularly toy with the idea of moving. Every time we look around, we can’t seem to find a location that we like as much as ours- or a price that will allow for an
affordable mortgage payment. The neighborhood still has its “scruffy” element, but its transformation seems to be moving forward slowly. And the longer
we live in the house, the more tied we feel to the community. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst those of us who live here. 

We have a neighborhood pool where we love to gather in the summer. As the kids grow, they start to ride bikes to each other’s houses, play football in the street and explore in the creek. We bring cookies to our neighbors at Christmas and host gatherings to get to know other families. Without realizing it, the neighborhood has worked its way into our family and our way of life. 

For all its quirks, the house has become a part of us too. We would almost feel like we were betraying it and our neighbors if we moved. Besides, the property taxes are cheap, the mortgage payments are low and we have a stubborn
sense of pride at not needing a big house in neighborhood with more “status”. The five years we thought we’d stay in the house come and go in the blink of an eye. 

Still, there is a sense of restlessness in us about the house and our future in it.  The question of moving or adding on surfaces regularly, but finding clarity seems
to elude us. We continue praying and waiting to see what God has in store.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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