Living in a small space in the city seems cool, but does it work for families? Here are some of the issues we came to terms with as we made our move.
I’ve lived in some of the most remote communities in Australia, and now I’ve lived in the heart of the city for two years. I now know that our new life in the city is different to the suburban lifestyle I grew up with in some subtle but important ways.
The walking lifestyle
One of the main differences is how you get around. As soon as we moved to the city we knew we’d be able to get rid of our second car. We also realised everyone in the family would need good walking shoes. That’s because now we can walk to most of the places we need to go. We love this convenience. When our children get a bit older we will all need to invest in bikes and metro passes too.
When you walk a lot, you become more involved in your local community. You see your neighbours out walking too, and you get to know shop owners and local businesses. We’ve learned that the inner city is actually very diverse, which is not what I’d predicted. I think it’s great that our children get exposed to this diversity.
When your living space is small, you naturally tend to get out and about to explore the community around you. In fact, your local community becomes an extension of your living space: you develop Second Spaces in your local library, parks and cafés. So choose your location carefully. You want an area that has good footpaths, bike lanes and public transport in addition to these amenities.
For children and families
The city has attractions for families that sometimes get overlooked as people rush to buy bigger homes out in the suburbs. For example, because of the density, there is often a bigger choice of schools within a smaller radius. And older children can walk or ride to them, which means less time in the car for everyone. Also, you can make use of the attractions of the city, which are often free. Recently, we have been hanging out at the art gallery and science museum which both have great programs for kids.
One thing we have had to get used to is the consumerism of the city. Having the shops right on our doorstep is both a great convenience and a terrible temptation. Keeping up with all the latest products and fashions was not a big concern when we lived in rural Australia. This is something I have written about often, and I don’t have any simple answers. But one thing that does help is getting away from it all when you can.
Another thing that you might need to consider is the family pet. In most small spaces pets aren’t an option. We have a fish called Guido, but he doesn’t offer the same companionship that a dog or a cat does. Pets are great for children, but they do complicate life as well. We’re glad we don’t have a pet these days, because it means we can go away at a moment’s notice.
How much space is enough for a family??
You will need to consider this question sooner or later, but don’t assume that small-space living is all bad. It does involve compromise, but there are benefits too. Smaller spaces are often cheaper to buy, and they cost less to heat and cool. There’s less cleaning to do too.
Having little or no yard space can put pressure on a family. We are lucky our home has a good sized yard and a park nearby. If we didn’t have these things I wonder if this way of life would work for us. But one thing we don’t have is a second bathroom or living room. So no home theatre for us. This isn’t a big problem for us since we don’t have a television and I made some simple changes in our bedroom to make it a more useable space.
I suppose the issue of space really comes down to whether you really need all the possible conveniences at home: the media room, the coffee machine, the swing set and sandpit. Or wether you are happy to make use of those facilities out in the community: your local cinema, café and playground. For our family, we decided that life would be a lot simpler if we made use of the facilities around us. We’ve kept our home as a place of refuge from the busyness of modern life: it’s our little nest.