Now, before you feel sorry for them, hear me out.
Next to this garage stands a house they are building from ground level up totally debt free. Unless you are independently wealthy (which they are not), this takes time. So, until the house is livable (next year, Lord willing), all 11 of them live in the garage.
This isn’t just any garage either. It is a 2-car garage with a miniature “apartment” at the back. It has a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, & laundry room. The children share the most incredible space within this “apartment.” They sleep in bunks that, I must admit, even make me a bit envious! On floor level, there are two mattresses for the littlest girls and then a 2nd and 3rd level that sleeps 3 children a piece. A crib stands at the foot of this monstrosity for the 10 month old. My children thought they had stepped into the pages of Swiss Family Robinson! My oldest daughter even asked if when they left, could we please move in!
The kitchen also shares space with the living room/dining room/master bedroom/school room/office/library/pantry that makes up the front of the garage that will eventually house 2 cars–correction…vans–ummm….correction…busses (remember we’re talking 9 children here, with hopes of more!)
Now, the reason I am so awe-inspired by this family is not because they live in a garage. It is not b/c they have 9 children. It is not even because they are building debt-free (although all these things are truly awe-inspiring). What amazes me the most is the use of their space. You would think that the sheer volume of things for a family of 11 would more than overload a normal garage, but everything had a place and things were kept tidied up. They do have many of their things in storage, but for everyday living, they have what they need and what they need is really not that much. Yes, the pantry extends to the ceiling, but it is neatly stocked with home-canned items and things they buy in bulk (you should see their juice cubby!) The cupboards are just boards and braces that hold everything from meat grinders to a grain mill to cookware. Tupperware plates, bowls, and cups sit on a lower shelf where they are easily accessible to the helpful hands of her children (the floors are cement, so the lady of the “house” has chosen to keep her nice breakables in storage). She has a beautiful collection of stoneware and cast iron. Their living room furniture consists of a worn couch and chair and a cedar chest that doubles as a coffee table. We ate a simple, yet wonderful meal that truly became like the loaves and fishes b/c they had realized too late there was only one package of tator tots for the casserole (this is not the first time we have experienced this phenomena in the home of a “large” family…God does provide!)
As I reflect upon our visit to their “home,” I am struck by one thing in particular–the lack of stuff. You know what I’m talking about–the things that just seem to clutter up a home. There were no tiny plastic toys lying all over the floor, there were no unnecessary items invading every inch of available space, and there was no tv which can easily take over the excess room in the home and the excess room in the mind. Here was a family with more than double the number in my family, living in a space that is less than half what I live in. Talk about humbling!
While Mrs. D doesn’t believe their household is as efficient as it could/should be and she is always looking for opportunities to pick the brains of women with larger families than hers (which believe me is not an opportunity that comes often!), I find myself watching her and her family and taking note of how they do things, what they buy, where they put things. I do not know if the Lord will bless us with 9 children (although my oldest believes we should make a concerted effort to “beat” this family by having MORE than 9 children!), but I see how even now with our almost 4 children, we are already “out of the norm.” This fact requires us to plan and prepare more than I ever did with just 2 children. A trip to the grocery store is not a simple jump-in-the-car-and-take-a-little-jaunt-through-the-aisles. It is a well-orchestrated mess…
Do we have enough diapers? Are we going to hit a mealtime? Do we have snacks that will keep them from asking endlessly to eat out? Has everyone gone to the bathroom? Have they kept their water intake to a minimum? Can I manage to get everything in one cart? Are we far enough away from or close enough to naptime so that no one will melt down?
Mealtimes now require that the older 2 children pitch in because there is more to prepare which equals more to clean up. I could play the martyr and work myself to death, but I am truly blessed by how capable these two little people are. I am so thankful someone told me early on that little people are adults-in-training and can do way more than you realize if you just take the time to train them.
After visiting our friends, I am seeing even more places in my life that can be streamlined. Less stuff & things = less mess, less for me to clean up, less for the children to keep track of, less for the toddler to put in her mouth, less for me to trip over b/c I can no longer see my feet! I can share from the abundance of my home. Magazines do not have to pile up, they can bless another family or they can bless the trash! My children do not need enough clothes to wear something different every day of the month. Why not pass the extra along?
The Lord has always blessed us w/ more than we truly need. We are not well-to-do by any means, but yet we “need” for nothing. Oh yes, there are wants, but most of these are either silly and useless or simply require the “wanting” party to save their pennies until they have enough to own their particular want.
I must say I do have a good start on things. The children each have only 2 toys in the house at a time. There are toys in the garage that they may rotate in, but they have yet to really take advantage of that. They have their favorites and would probably not even notice if the excess in the garage suddenly disappeared (which is probably going to happen after the new year!) I am whittling away at my kitchen cooking and baking ware and appliances–removing what isn’t used and replacing it with high quality items that will be used (What on earth am I going to do with a trifle bowl? I haven’t used it since I received it as a wedding present 9 years ago, what makes me think I’ll use it now?) I continue to streamline closets. I make nearly weekly trips to the local thrift store to drop off bags of no-longer-needed items. I feel good about the progress I have made through the years, but I know I can do better. And as the family grows, there will be the natural progression toward more stuff & things, but that does not mean it has to take over.
So, as I declutter and consider new purchases, I have this thought running through the back of my head…
What if I lived in a garage?
NOTE: After 8 years of readers asking for an update, I have finally gotten around to gathering up all your questions and sending them to this family to answer for you. Soon, there will be an update here, so stay tuned!