Living in a Garage

Living in a Garage {How one large family inspired me to live more simply} | RaisingArrows.netA couple of nights ago, our family visited some friends from church. While all our friends are wonderful and interesting people, these particular friends are somewhat extraordinary. You see they have 9 children and they currently live in a garage!

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!

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30 thoughts on “Living in a Garage

  1. I wish you had pictures of their garage home! I would love to pick her brain and take notes of all their storage solutions, especially the bunk beds! This is exactly what we are doing; we’re trying to downsize and have only the basic needed things. The thought in the back of my head is “what if we moved to a tiny, tiny apartment?” It would be too much to hope for that she has a blog somewhere with pictures, right? :-) Thanks for posting this!

      • I looked at the dates of the posts saying they were praying for Amy. They appear to have been written shortly after the death of Amy’s daughter, Emily. They are not related to this post, specifically.

  2. Not only are they one of the most organized families with less stuff that I know. They are also one of the happiest. :) Mandy

  3. It seems as though God’s message to me at this time of my life is “declutter”. Everywhere I turn, I find stories of godliness in not hanging on to stuff. It is a freeing process. :)

  4. I am also in the process of downsizing. I am a recovering pack rat. I already have an entire van load for Goodwill and I am adding more every day. This is a truly humbling story. Thank you for sharing. I may even get rid of more things I have actually held on to.Jennifer

  5. Sorry, Robyn…no blog. I will tell you that even the new home is fairly simple and small: a boys room, a girls room, another boys room, and mom & dad’s room, one huge room to serve as kitchen, dining and living room, 2 bathrooms, a mud room, a laundry room, and a wrap-around porch w/ a summer kitchen (ah, my ultimate dream!).I do have another post that I’ll be adding eventually that is much along the lines of what you were saying about moving to a tiny apartment…we think alike! ;o)

  6. I realize that this is an old post, but please tell me more about your kids having only two toys in the house at a time. I have three boys 6, 4 and 1. Toys abound. Free space dwindles. The playroom is cluttered. Do your children receive toys as gifts for birthdays or Christmas from you or grandparents, aunts and uncles? We get a lot of toys in the house that way. I appreciate any advice you have!

    • The toy situation right now is pretty bad because I’ve let it go. Honestly, my boys would be thrilled with just Legos and nothing else. I would highly recommend hinting to relatives your specific NEEDS, so you don’t have an overload of toys for birthdays and holidays. Consider doing joint gifts that are bigger, like a swing set, sandbox, tub toys, etc. Also, don’t be afraid to send the toys off to the thrift store or buy some tubs and pack them away, rotating as needed (or not at all as you see what your boys really prefer to play with).

      Hope that helps!

  7. Amazing! This is exactly what I dream of doing someday… building my house while living in a hovel/shanty/tent/log cabin until it’s finished. How inspiring!
    Blessings,
    Kate

  8. Pingback: Half My Stuff Saturday | Raising Arrows

  9. I am so inspired by this article. is there any way to get pictures of the inside? Would your friend be willing to share with me individually? I have a nice size home but it is owning me not the other way around. As a single mom time is my biggest challenge. To be honest I hate stuff. The more stuff I have or see the worse I feel. I read everything about decluttering. But I don’t want to buy more stuff to organize my stuff. My dream is to find someone who will come in and take all that stuff away and just leave me with the bare essentials. I can’t seem to do it myself. My kids want all of their stuff. their stuff is starting to own them. I don’t want to train them up to be spenders and big consumers and money wasters. I want to do better. I want help with this defect of mine but unless somebody comes in and gets me through the trauma of letting the stuff go I don’t think I ever will. I would love to see how your friend has what she uses set up so that it takes up as little space as possible.

  10. I love the art of de cluttering. This has been a long journey for me with it and I am not close to my goal. It’s sad how much the stuff does begin to eat up so much time in our lives and brings absolutely no joy to it. This family is so inspirational! What a blessing it must have been to share a meal with them and see what can truly be done with a bit of ingenuity.

  11. You said that your kids are only aloud two toys in the house at a time… Do you have a post about this anywhere? I would love to hear more about this concept. — my two kids, sadly, have stuff in almost every room of our house lol.

    and I would LOVE to see a picture tour of the “garage family” house. and how do they get ALONE time?!

  12. I really LOVED this! :) We have six children, seven in February and we’re currently renting a four bedroom house. But we know we need to focus on buying something more permanent soon. With one income, it’s going to be tricky – and perhaps living in a garage is a way for us to accomplish our goal!

  13. Inspiring, I’d love to see the Inside if she’d be open to that. I really enjoy our house, but as the kids grow my husband and I are recognizing it will be far too big for the needs of two in a few years. And we don’t buy more stuff for the house to decorate (decorating cheap/free is a passion of mine) but even without extra money we live in a lovely environment. It is filled with love and as our family (at home) will decrease in a few years I imagine we’ll begin the tough job of downsizing

  14. Pictures PLEASE! That is if they don’t feel it invades their privacy too much. It could just be close-up if that is the case… sorry, family photographer here. I am very visual :)

  15. I would be SO grateful to see how they organize and manage things in that small a space. The pantry especially. I dream of a pioneer life one day…….