Love grows best in little houses, with fewer walls to separate. Where you eat and sleep so close together, you can’t help but communicate. If we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss. Love grows best in little houses just like this.
A year or so ago, I bought a little wooden sign for our little California house that was inspired by this quote. It was from a little shop on Instagram (@mandysmarket), and it just says, “Love grows best in little houses,” which I absolutely think is true. We had been in our starter home for seven years or so, and many of our friends were moving on up into their larger, second, “forever” houses. (In our extended group of friends, we not only had the smallest house, but we also had added the most children to our family. We often joked that it’s not the square feet that is important, but the population density of your house that gets you!) Because we weren’t sure which direction our life would take – farming somewhere in the great unknown? Bigger house in our hometown? More extensive remodeling of this one? – we were in a holding pattern, saving our pennies and making the most of our 1200 square feet. Seeing these words on the wall every day helped me see that our little house was just where our family needed to be at that moment in time. Yes, our house was full of toys and books and things, but it was also full of laughter and love.
At one point in our history, 1200 square feet seemed positively palatial to us. Chris and I started our co-habitating journey many, many moons ago (hello, 2002!), in less than 500 square feet. We lived in a “granny flat” behind a bungalow with the sweetest, yet spiciest landlords in the world. We felt like their newly adopted grandchildren, and we count them among our biggest blessings. Our rented 500 square feet held a minute galley kitchen, “dining room” (glorified hallway), living room/office space combo, bedroom, and the tiniest bathroom not on four wheels. We stayed there for six years to the day – May 1, 2002 to May 1, 2008. Those six years inspired our often-repeated motto: “If we can make it in 500 square feet, we can make it anywhere.”
When we bought our first home, one of the major positives was that it had a master bathroom – two bathrooms! Such luxury! – nevermind the fact that it (along with the rest of the house) needed a complete overhaul. Overtime, we (mainly Chris) remodeled and updated our 70s-tastic house into something a little more of this century. After getting the keys in May 2008, we took the house basically down to drywall and updated as much as we possibly could in a short time and on a shoestring budget. We focused on the most public areas of the house first, and the whole-house initial update consisted of scraping and re-texturing the ceilings (peace-out, popcorn), new millwork, new floors, and fresh paint on all the walls and cabinets. As we filled the house with possessions and babies, the remodeling naturally trickled to a slower pace. And, because we tended to host most people in our living room, dining room, and hall bathroom, those places all got (a little) extra help well before our master bathroom did. In fact, the master bathroom was the. last. room. to receive any sort of special attention whatsoever. 70s cabinet with “HI DAVE!” scrawled in the inside? Hold the extra toilet paper. Shower that leaked so profusely that we had to employ a long-term garbage bag and duct-tape patch? Lather up, buttercup. This sad room had very few redeeming qualities, as it was not really even large enough for our two normal, adult-sized selves to comfortably inhabit it at the same time, unless one of us was showering. And even then, it was a squeeze. Needless to say, it was not my favorite room in the house. (As an aside, we lived with and used our little bathroom completely amicably, even with all its faults. Chris and I waited our turn, never spoke a cross word, and managed to – usually – share the mirror when needed. Conflict is not our jam, though if anything were to ever provoke us, it would’ve been that bathroom.)
Because we had spent so many years brushing teeth and bumping elbows, I tried to pay special attention to any master bathroom situations in the farmhouses that we toured this past summer. Some houses, especially the older ones, didn’t have true master bathrooms, and some had tiny, outdated ones like what we started with in Woodland. For the first three days of our great Midwestern Potential Farm Tour, I was beginning to resign myself to starting over with a 70s-fabulous square one, or at worst, sharing a hall bath with Chris and all three girls (help me, Jesus). The master bathroom situation wasn’t on our main “must have” list because when looking at farm properties, there are myriad more factors to consider: acreage, outbuildings, proximity to Target, etc.
Everything changed on the last day.
On that last, gloriously humid day in Braham, Minnesota, I walked up the stairs in the second farmhouse and beheld a sight I had previously thought unattainable in my lifetime. The master bathroom had two. separate. sinks. Not only could Chris and I brush our teeth SIMULTANEOUSLY, but we wouldn’t even be able to reach one another, as there was an entire shower in between. No fighting for mirror space up in this heezie – we had made it. Obviously, it would be foolish to make such a large life decision based solely on one room in one house on our tour. I won’t even begin to insinuate that we fell in love with Braham, Minnesota all because of one extra sink. It wasn’t an inconsequential detail, but it certainly wasn’t the essential deciding factor. The farm in Braham was the perfect one for us for so many reasons, one of which just happened to be its number of bathrooms. Once we had all the offers, what-ifs, contingencies, and paper signings out of the way, we moved the entirety of our lives 2,000 miles (a topic best saved for its own post) into our new home, and I moved into my personal, unshared vanity.
We settled into new routines and new “normals” for our family, slowly but surely figuring out what all the light switches do – except for that one in the living room – and where our soaps and socks were stashed. After a couple weeks, I noticed something was awry with my toothpaste. I was not brushing my teeth more frequently, nor glorping out more toothpaste-per-scrub than normal, but I seemed to reach the end of the tube much sooner than I should’ve.
It hit me like a midwestern thunderclap. Chris, for the entirety of our 15 years of shacking up, always squeezed the paste like a responsible, patient adult, from the bottom up. I, like an un-monitored child, grab the tube around the middle, squoosh some out the top, and just rely on the fact that it will get redistributed by someone eventually. When the tube gets mangled in the middle, Chris is always the one to take the extra five seconds to readjust the paste toward the top. I hadn’t realized it until this moment, but that is one of the small, frequent, fanfare-free ways that Chris shows his affection. His love language is small, necessary, silent acts of thoughtfulness. Not once did he roll his eyes at my mid-tube squeezing, and not once did I assume it wouldn’t get squeezed. Toothpaste re-adjustment (and things of the like) are his love language; our cozy bathroom living had lent itself nicely to his modest, constant, attentive gestures.
And silly, inconsequential stories like this one are ones that bring the meaning of the “little houses” quote to life. In our small houses, with our tiny bathrooms, very small, seemingly meaningless acts were really ways that we shared our affection for one another. In our larger, dual-sinked bathroom, we are left to our own devices, and being separated by a shower suddenly seems like a much larger divide than a luxury. While I absolutely do not expect Chris to seek out and fix my toothpaste tube (I’m a big girl, I can do it), I am positively more mindful now of making sure that all those small, little-house niceties don’t get lost in all our new square feet. We might not be bumping elbows and sharing a mirror, but we can certainly make a point to keep bumping into each other for kisses and sharing stories about our day. Because if we can make it in those first 500 square feet, we can certainly make it anywhere. ~Lauren