Many years ago, when I only had 3 children, I met a family of 11 who were living in their garage while they built their home debt free. I wrote about how they inspired me to live a simpler life and how every time I thought about purchasing something or organizing something, I would ask myself,
“What if I lived in a garage?”
I received so many questions about their living situation that I finally asked them to write down more details for my readers so I could publish their answers. But life happened, and that post never made it on the blog.
Until now! I ran across my list of questions, sent it to them via email, and here we are – the long-awaited sequel that gives more details of what life was like during those years, and helps to answer many of the questions my readers had about a large family living in a very small space.
Question #1 – How long did you live in your garage?
We had planned to live in the garage for one to two years, but it took longer and cost more to build a house debt free than we had expected. We also faced some unforeseen, and very high, medical bills. We ended up living there a little more than five years.
Question #2 – How was the garage set up – specifically bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, washer/dryer?
Here is the floor plan:
What were your storage solutions?
We sold all of our large items, like furniture, that was not in use in the garage. Our “long term” storage was in a 12×24 portable storage unit that sat right next to the garage. Out of season clothes and sizes not currently in use were sorted by gender, size, and season and stored in large Rubbermaid tubs. Lawn and garden tools and construction supplies and tools were also stored in that building.
Tell more about the bunk beds! (as mentioned in this post)
We built the garage with ten foot ceilings. We did this with both future garage space and current living space in mind. When you can’t stretch out, it helps to be able to stretch up. The bunk beds were essentially two 8 foot by 10 foot platforms that hung from three walls of the bedroom. These platforms were hung at intervals that evenly divided the vertical space into three levels…
There were two wooden ladders constructed at the foot end of the beds that also served as additional structural support for the platforms. Each level had enough space for three twin mattresses side by side with room at the head of the bed for milk crate type storage stackers for each child’s clothing and personal items. Each child had their own fluorescent or clip on light for reading, etc. Initially, the floor level was devoted to play space with containers for toys and a wrap around shelf of children’s books. As The Lord blessed us with more children, we had to take over some of this space with another mattress. There was also a free standing baby bed in the room for the youngest.
How did you handle “alone” time as a couple?
The children’s bedroom was separate from our bedroom and the rest of our living space. Our oldest child was 10 years old when we moved into the garage, so the children’s bedtime was still relatively early. This left us a couple hours every evening for bill paying, conversation, and other married stuff. Two children were conceived and born while we lived in the garage.
How did you handle nap time?
The children’s room was separate from the rest of our living space. The younger children took afternoon naps in their beds while the older children had an hour of quiet time when they could read or work on schoolwork.
How did you organize your pantry and did you buy in bulk during this time?
We had four sets of large metal shelving in a row along one wall of the garage providing a total of 16 feet of 7 foot high shelving. Most of this space was used for food storage. We had an upright freezer in the storage building. We had a monthly meal plan and did most of our shopping on a monthly basis, buying perishables more frequently. We did a lot of home canning, freezing, and dehydrating.
How did you handle meals?
We had a fully functional kitchen with full sized appliances. We had limited countertops, so we often used a board over the kitchen sink for additional space. Meals were served buffet style on the island. We each had designated seating in the living room for mealtime with adults and older children sitting in the recliner and on the sofa, younger children sitting on the coffee table/cedar chest sharing TV trays with those on the sofa, a couple older children sitting on folding chairs with TV trays, and the youngest in a high chair. The TV trays had a tall edge that caught many of the spills that seemed to happen nearly every meal.
How many of certain items did you keep out of storage? How did you decide how much was enough?
Our goal was the basics for our family. We had just enough plates for everyone and two extras. Each person had designated cups that we used each day. We had just enough pots and pans to prepare a meal. If we had guests we used disposable plates, etc.
Books were an essential for us, but we rotated them in and out of storage about once a month because of limited space on the bookshelf. “School books” were limited, but we did lots of hands-on, project activities.
Bedding was kept to one extra set for the twin beds. We wore those sheets out. But for gifts, the Grandparents would occasionally buy new sheet sets for an individual child. We bought washable “potty pads” that saved sheets from laundry more than once a week. The pads could be washed daily, if needed.
Towels were washed every other day. We were able to let them dry between uses. So we had just enough bath towels for each person plus two extras.
Clothing was decided by what would fit! We had bars in the laundry room for hanging clothes, but all of us shared that limited space. We had a full sized bed that set on top of a set of drawers for us. The children had milk crate type stackers two crates tall for each child to put clothes and personal stuff. Each child’s bed became his space and we tried to carefully protect that personal space.
There were things that “lived” in storage, but were easily accessible for use … things like canning supplies, toys to rotate, books to rotate, and seasonal coats and swimsuits, etc.
How did you organize clothes?
Each child had a set of four milk crate type storage stackers at the head of their bed for their clothing and personal items. Out of season clothes and sizes not currently in use were sorted by gender, size, and season and stored in large Rubbermaid tubs in the storage building next to the garage.
What kind of down time activities did you have for children (especially wintertime)?
As mentioned before, we had toys and children’s books in the floor level of the children’s bedroom. The floor had a carpet with a picture of a city with streets, etc. We had Legos, blocks, toys cars, and a few other toys. Our first construction project after moving into the garage was to build an outdoor playhouse for the children. The playhouse had child sized play appliances and furniture. We did a LOT of reading as a family. We worked on various craft projects like basket weaving, cross stitch, stamping, and card making. We learned about and began gardening, rabbits, goats, and chickens. We did a lot of canning and cooking together. Several of the children began hobbies like coin collecting, bee keeping, and photography.
What kind of “less is more” lessons did you learn?
Some people felt sorry for us, but my (Jon’s) occasional mission trips to Mexico reminded us how thoroughly blessed we were. Though smaller than most American’s, our home had reliable utilities, running water, heat and air conditioning, refrigerators and freezers, electric washer and dryer … every modern convenience. And our home was truly our home because we built it debt free. It was a constant comfort to know that no job loss or financial difficulty could threaten the loss of our home.
Most of our “less is more” lessons have been recognized in hindsight. We often remember the good-ole-days living in the garage when we didn’t have so much stuff to contend with or distract us. We had everything we needed without the burden of excess. We enjoyed simple pleasures and the joy of working together. Everyone felt needed and useful because there was no way we could have done it without everyone’s cooperation.
Did you find that a lot of your stored items were no longer necessary after living so long with less?
When the time came to move into the “big house” it only took one day to be all settled in. We did pull things from storage … Corelleware dishes and glass, glasses were unloaded and put to immediate use! We did find a lot of unnecessary items. We still have camping stuff and seasonal items in storage. Children’s clothes are still sized and sorted in storage. And you know, it’s time to sort through it again!
What was it like adjusting to a bigger house?
The garage was 24×30 … 720 square feet. Our home has 1632 square feet of living space. It was nice to double our living space, especially when the space wasn’t filled with stuff. It was really nice to expand to two bathrooms. One of the most memorable additions was a dining table that would seat our entire family with space for serving dishes.
But the house wasn’t the only thing that got bigger. We added two more children, bringing the household to fourteen people under one roof. And there weren’t just more people, but all the children kept growing, getting bigger, too. There is little that is static, unchanging about life, which means life is an ongoing series of adjustments. Move to a bigger house, build new bunkbeds, have another child, rearrange room assignments, build a dining room table, add another chair, have another child, trade beds so the youngest can be on a bottom bunk, now there’s four young adults in the house, the oldest graduates and starts work, reassign daily/weekly chores, the baby grows enough to move from the high chair, add another chair at the table, rearrange room assignments, number two and three graduate, one starts working, the other starts college, adjust chore assignments, the oldest moves out, trade beds, number three moves to the garage apartment, etc., etc. You get the idea. It’s just like your life.
So, my question to you, dear readers would be this…
How would your life change if YOU lived in a garage?
Please, share this post with your friends, and ask them what things they couldn’t live without, what things they would change, how their life would be different! I’d love to hear your thoughts!