Be Well Family: In Praise of My Small Philly House

Or: How to hide from your family in the bathroom.



Be Well Family is a collaboration with Wee Wander, a site dedicated to helping Philadelphia parents navigate their city. See more in this series here, or keep up with all of  Wee Wander’s tips, guides and Philly related parenting help on Facebook

Like a lot of us probably did, I grew up in a non-rowhome city, where even the small houses tended to be bigger than your average Philly house. Friends who still live in my hometown (friends who spent no more than we did on a home, I might add) have what now seems to me to be insane, glorious amounts of space — like, four bedrooms, a home office, a den, a laundry room. An attic. A playroom. Seemingly innumerable full baths. A powder room the size of my sole upstairs family bathroom. And, oh, my Lord, the closets. So many closets. 

I don’t want to sound like a spoiled jerk, because, well … look, we have a house. So we’re good, we’re lucky. But I can’t help myself from sometimes thinking about all that we could have — space-wise, I mean — if we lived somewhere else, or if we had chosen a different type of life. (I blame every single show I watch on HGTV for this line of thinking.) And then, last weekend, my mother-in-law asked me (rhetorically, I guess?) if we’d ever want to live in her house. Her sprawling suburban family house with more square feet of storage than my house has … well, square feet. I laughed, and said, “What would I do with all this space?” (Answer: Claim a bathroom as my very own; throw away the under-the-bed storage boxes for ever and ever; buy a giant, hulking couch; do some round-off-back-handsprings in the hallways. For starters.)

Seriously, though, the question really made me confront a sort of unexpected truth: Personal bathroom notwithstanding, I really don’t want a bigger house. Space isn’t something that would enrich our lives that much more. I certainly don’t have time to clean more. And as it happens, I get a sort of weird high out of finding the exact right piece of functional, adorable, storage-filled furniture for our rooms. I feel like a straight-up genius when I figure out new ways to maximize vertical space or find a smart new place to stash some of our stuff. I used to lust after four-posters and antique dressing tables, but now I gleefully bookmark things like staircase drawers and amazing Murphy bed set-ups. And I like it.

Our petite Philly home also pleases me on the parenting front: I can hear my son cry, or laugh, or cough, or sing to himself in his crib from anywhere in my house. Within 10 seconds, I can be by his bed after a nightmare. We share tight little quarters, but, well, we are a tight little family, and I hope we remain a tight little family. So what more do we need?

In fact, in that vein — the “needs” vein — nothing keeps you honest about collecting stuff like a small house does. I can talk myself into “needing” just about anything from my mom’s wedding china to one of those whimsical ottoman poofs for the living room. (They’re adorable! And child-friendly!) But the metrics are non-negotiable: A poof will take up approximately 1/10 of the living room, and the china is only sensible if we use it as our everyday. (And it’s not dishwasher safe, so …). Because of those types of constraints, we live a much more eco-friendly, economical, non-materialistic existence than I ever really planned to. I mean, we’re not monks or anything, but the restraint is real … and the result is really pretty freeing.

And okay, yes, it’s true that on our designated “sleep-in days”, my husband and I shove a towel in the crack under the door because otherwise you hear what’s happening downstairs; it’s also true that if we have one more kid, we will lose the extreme luxury of our guest room/home office. Also: We have to store some tubs of off-season clothes in my brother-in-law’s basement, and I still have not a single remotely attractive solution to storing our winter coats. But, well … it still works just fine for us most of the time. And on the few occasions when it doesn’t, we get out. We step outside our tiny city house and into the actual city … which is sort of the original point, right?

I hope we stay in the city, and in our precious little house forever — or I hope at least we can stay until the people who make up my tight little family are truly too big to comfortably fit. But in case that doesn’t happen, in case it’s just a couple years before I’m drowning in a sea of kids’ crap that won’t fit into any stair drawers, well … maybe you can do me a favor and try not to mock me for all of this when I write about the beauty of a slightly bigger house, one with a home office, a few more closets, and maybe my own personal bathroom.

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly—here’s how: