5 Truths I Learned from Moving and Apartment Living with My Family

WELL.

First let me say……….. I’M BACK!

This last year has been a whirlwind of activity. Last April, we listed and sold our 4-bedroom (just over 2,200 square feet) home. That alone was an experience.

Then, we were displaced and living out of suitcases for two weeks. My husband and I shared a guest room at my father-in-law’s, while our kids slept in his office in a crib and a pull-out bed.

Then, we moved into a 2-bedroom apartment (just over 1,000 square feet). While it was nice to not have to shovel snow, mow the lawn, or rake leaves, it was definitely a totally different living experience.

And now, just about a year later, we are once again proud homeowners.

The road that got us to our destination was a doozy, but I am so grateful for the experience. The combination of both moving and living in a small space really put things into perspective, and I learned some important lessons about my (and my family’s) needs through the journey.

So let’s take a look at the 5 major truths I learned from moving out of a house and living with my family in an apartment for 8 months.

Truth #1: Living in a small space forced me to realize that I needed much less than I thought I did.

Throughout the process of selling our home, I was collecting things fast and furiously to get rid of. If you’ve read my blog post about decluttering before moving, you understand exactly why I was trying to do this.

Anyone who is planning to move should declutter prior to packing, regardless of where they are moving to. But because of the very nature of apartment living, we were forced to downsize simply because we would not have fit in the 1,100 square foot space otherwise.

In larger homes, we tend to hang onto more than we need because there is space available to contain excess. But once you need to exist in a smaller space, you are forced to live with just the essentials.

At first, this made me incredibly nervous. But once I realized that a good portion of what we had was unnecessary, it made it much easier to let go. Which brings me to the next truth…

Truth #2: Living in a small space shows you exactly what you DON’T need.

Many people suffer from “but what if I need it?!” syndrome, including myself to some extent. Living in an apartment forced me to decide what to bring with us and what to leave behind (temporarily in my father-in-law’s basement).

Even though we decluttered prior to moving, we purged even further once we unpacked in the new house. The truth was that many of the items we stored away thinking we may need actually ended up completely forgotten about and simply no longer played a part in our everyday lives (it wasn’t that we were looking for them in the apartment and couldn’t find them; we just realized we didn’t need them to live).

This is only a small fraction of what we purged. Prior to what is pictured above, we sold, donated, or gave away hundreds of other items including furniture, media, clothing, dishware / glassware, and children’s toys / collectibles (see circle collage above).

A decluttering trick I use with clients is to have them make a note of how often they use certain things in their home (clothes, small appliances, personal care, books, etc.). If an item isn’t used within 1 month, 6 months, 1 year – discard or donate it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: organization isn’t static. Maintaining an organized state of being is a balancing act – a constant awareness of your surroundings paired with the ability to be flexible and adapt.

This ability to “get and stay organized” comes more naturally to some. For others, it requires practice and patience. Either way, any decluttering and organizing you have accomplished is a positive step forward.

Truth #3: Vertical space is your best friend when it comes to living in a small space.

When we first moved into our apartment of 1,100 square feet, I was both flustered and frustrated as I tried to find space for all of our essentials. Going from 4 bedrooms to 2 bedrooms really changed two things:

1. How much storage space I had.
2. Storage locations of frequently used items.

When living in a large house, I stored things in the same rooms that they were most frequently used: diapers in each of the kids’ rooms; cleaning products in the bathrooms; mail, stamps, envelopes, and pens in the office; coats in the front hall closet. Everything had a place, and was easily hidden away with little to no fuss. I also had lots of additional space left over.

Once I moved into an apartment, I had to completely adjust my way of organizing. Suddenly, two bedrooms worth of kids’ things were crammed into one. A playroom and a formal living room were smooshed unceremoniously together. Our master bedroom now had to contain our office as well. Space was precious, and I needed to develop more ways to use whatever dead space I had.

Vertical space is critical in small living situations. Here are some of my favorites from our apartment:

My kids love to have their art on display. Some command strips and clothespins helped to make this boring wall come alive with my little artists’ creations. Also, you’ll see our solution for cleaner, more efficient mealtimes (to the left and center) and meal prep (to the right).
My earring collection hangs proudly and aesthetically pleasing on my bedroom wall. Displaying them in this manner saves valuable tabletop space on our bureau.
No front closet? No problem! We kept all of our essentials right at our fingertips using Command hooks. Storing the most frequently used items right by the door made it easier to find things (such as car keys), harder to forget things (“Where’s my hat?!”), and get quickly out the door.

Truth #4: Living in a smaller space encourages you to be mobile.

The best part of apartment living was that my boys (as much as they liked playing inside) loved to go out and about on adventures. The confinement of a small space really opened their eyes to the excitement of visiting both new and familiar places. And now, in our new home, their enthusiasm for exploration only continues to grow.

One of my goals as a parent has always been to encourage my kids to actively engage in the community. We were lucky to live down the street from our local library, and frequently visited the children’s room for story time, puppet shows, or music performances. We also played at the local playground when the weather was nice, or went swimming indoors when the winter months came around.

This speaks to an aspect of minimalism that I feel is incredibly important for parents: presents are not substitutes for presence. The power of experiences will always outlast the lure of toys. While new toys are interesting and exciting for a few days, they are soon forgotten about and discarded.

The last truth is not directly related to organizing, but OH SO IMPORTANT about moving as a family…

Truth #5: “You’re young, you’ll adjust.”

When I was in college, one of my favorite teachers used to periodically share important pieces of wisdom with us. He called these tidbits starred thoughts. One of these starred thoughts was: you’re young, you’ll adjust.

The number one thing that concerned me as a parent about our move was how will this affect my kids? I was fairly certain for about a month that we were permanently going to screw up our children. The uncertainty of living arrangements and chaos of moving an entire home from one location to another was almost too much for any one adult to handle – let alone a child.

My eldest son’s room on the last night we spent together in our old house.

When we come to an adverse or difficult situation as adults, we can react in any number of ways. Some of us may feel excited, or stressed, scared, anxious, exhilarated, hopeless… the list goes on. But one thing that is universal about a challenging situation is that kids will respond to a situation in the same manner as they see adults responding.

When I realized that the anxiety and uncertainty I felt regarding our impending move was causing my kids to also feel insecure and confused, I knew that I had to start looking at this move differently. Instead of speaking about the move with hostility and confusion, I changed my tone to one of calm discussion and excitement. When I did this, I noticed a big change in my kiddos.

The whole “living out of a suitcase” and “apartment lifestyle” aspect of our move didn’t phase them like I thought it would. Sleeping on a pull-out couch at Grandpa’s? Awesome! Sharing a room with my brother? Sweet! We get to have neighbors in the same hallway as the one we live in? Neat-o! To me, all this seemed like a huge adjustment. But my kids just went with the flow, as if all was normal.

And – to them – I suppose it was.

Once we moved into our apartment, my eldest son would sporadically tell me things he missed about our old house. I listened to him. When he finished, I would tell him some things I missed as well. But I made sure to end our reminiscing with all of the things we loved about our new (albeit temporary) apartment. Sometimes we even talked about what we wanted in a new house.

Ending on a positive note always helped my children see the bright side. After all: they’re young, and they’ll adjust.

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