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Friday 7 December 2012

The Little Things: Living Small

As of last week we've been living in our apartment for a year. This got me thinking about how well the girls have transitioned from living in a relatively big house to a relatively small apartment. I had initially been worried about how they (and I!) would cope with the major downgrade in living space but they adapted to it really quickly and without fuss.

In Australia we lived in a 3 bedroom house with a decent sized backyard. Our living room, dining room and kitchen were all distinct separate spaces (although fairly open plan) and the girls had their own bedrooms. Our backyard wasn't huge by Australian standards but had enough space for a large cubby house, fruit trees and vegetable patches, a verandah, a paved area for the outdoor setting and BBQ, a double garage and lots of lawn for running around. Ok, by San Francisco Bay Area standards that sounds huge!

Ava in our old backyard with her cubby house and veggie patches (and very patchy lawn!)

Lots of room for spinning around!

Here in Berkeley we have a 2 bedroom apartment with a combined living room, dining room and kitchen. Our current living, dining and kitchen area is only slightly larger than our old dining room alone. Needless to say we had to downgrade our dining table to a much smaller size too! We do have two bathrooms here which is an upgrade from our house in Australia. We don't have any private outdoor space but we are lucky to have two quite large shared outdoor spaces in our building complex. One, a large rooftop deck divided into three separate spaces and the other a large courtyard garden on the second floor between the two buildings that make up our complex. This is right outside our apartment so it gives us the feeling of being on the ground even though we are not.

The courtyard garden on the second floor of our apartment building

Lola was only 1 year old when we moved so she doesn't really know life any other way. Ava however was almost 5 years old when we moved. After having her own bedroom her whole life I was a little concerned about how she'd cope with having to share with her baby sister. Turns out there was no need for concern as Ava was looking forward to sharing a room. Especially when we told her we'd get bunk beds for her and Lola to share. A year down the track and she's still happy about sharing with Lola. We're yet to come through on the whole bunk bed promise but Ava doesn't seem too concerned - as long as the bunk bed promise does eventuate one day! We've been really lucky that the girls have been able to share a room without disturbing each other at night. Ava is a really deep sleeper and can sleep through Lola waking and crying through the night.

Living in a smaller home has both its advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side:

  • You accrue a lot less junk if you don't have the space for it. We've had to get rid of a lot of our belongings with our move but we've found that we haven't really missed any of it.
  • You find yourself reassessing how much space you really think that you need. When we had a 3 bedroom house I was so sure that we needed a separate room as a study. Now that we have less space it's become obvious that (while it would be nice) I don't actually need a whole room for a sewing machine and computer! 
  • We find that we spend a lot more time out and about than we would if we had a larger house. 
  • Less space also means that there is less cleaning to do! Always a plus :)

On the downside:

  • Having a smaller living space means that it's much harder to keep it from looking cluttered. The girls get their toys out in the living room and instantly the entire floor is covered in puzzle pieces, lego, pencils or whatever they've chosen to play with - quite often all of those things at once!  
  • Noise can be a bit of an issue. With the kitchen and lounge room in the one space watching tv while the dishwasher going is almost impossible - unless you turn the volume way up! 
  • While the girls are small I'm happy for them to share a room but once they get a little older I think it's important for them to have their privacy and their own space.
  • Things can get kind of squeezy when you have visitors stay over. Considering how infrequently we have overnight guests this isn't really a big issue. The kids just have to camp out while guests stay in their room. Ava loves playing camp out so she'd probably move this one over to the "plus side" list if given the chance!
  • Not having any private outdoor space means that I can't hang my washing outside. We perpetually have a folding indoor line set up somewhere in the apartment which, given our limited space, creates a lot of clutter. Plus my clothes take longer to dry and they miss the sun's natural sanitising powers. Trust me - you want the sun if you're using cloth nappies/diapers!
  • I do miss having my own garden space as well. Although it's nice having beautifully landscaped gardens outside our windows I would like to be able to grow a small vegetable patch. I don't miss having to weed our front yard or mow the back lawn though!

Although I'm happy living in an apartment for now the lack of our own gardening space does get to me a little. Ava always enjoyed growing vegetables and herbs in Australia and I think it's important for children to learn where there food comes from and how to grow it. Due to the gardens outside our windows (one of which is full of tall bamboo plants) we don't get a huge amount of natural light. This means that we can't grow herbs in pots in our kitchen window sill like I had planned to do. At some point down the track we'll look into moving into a house or duplex with our own garden space or at least space for growing herbs and vegetables in pots. In the meantime I've put my name down for a spot in one of the many community gardens around Berkeley. That said, it could be years before a spot becomes available and I hope by then we have our garden.

While it would be nice for the girls to have a little outdoor space of their own to play in it's not a huge concern as good parks and playgrounds are plentiful in Berkeley. Fun in the park is only ever a short walk away which is fantastic. If we don't feel like leaving the building but want some fresh air then we go play up on the roof garden or in the courtyard outside our apartment. These amazing communal outdoor spaces are really underused by most tenants in our building (I guess they're at work or university) so the girls pretty much have free reign to play where ever they like.

Lola and Ava ride their bikes on the roof of our apartment building

Hanging out on our roof top garden for Ava's birthday

The biggest advantage to our current apartment? The Trader Joe's supermarket on the ground level of our building! Now that's something you can't get living in a house! You don't know convenience until you live on top of a supermarket! It's like having a giant pantry downstairs - which makes up for our lack of kitchen storage space.

Oh, and there's one other thing. Our building has this view...

The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz fro our roof top garden

San Francisco from our roof top garden

For now we're all pretty happy living in our little apartment. I may be writing a very different post a year down the track though! We'll have to wait and see...


  1. Lovely views from your rooftop! Apartmentliving was ok...until I got used to Aussie blocks of land...our new house has approximately 1500 square metres! Lots of space and privacy. And the girls love to explore! Will plan a fabulous outdoor playground for them this year.

    1. Wow - you're new place sounds huge! The girls are going to LOVE that playground :) Ava and Lola will be very jealous!


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