Friday, August 14, 2015

Creative and Contented: Large Families Living in Small Homes :: Maia Jarvis from From Little Hands

Today I'm happy to introduce you to Maia Jarvis (of From Little Hands) who shares on the beauty of delighting in the things that we have instead of making excuses about the things we don't. Welcome to Ordinary Lovely, Maia! Thank you so much for your contributing your thoughts to Creative and Contented: Large Families Living in Small Homes.

Finding Dulce Domum
(and escaping the if-then doldrums)

I’m writing this piece in the midst of a crisis, if you will.  I’d like to tell you about the joys of living small, but the reality is that it doesn’t feel quite so joyful at the moment. In fact, it feels downright anxiety-ridden at the moment. It’s not really a living small problem but more a problem of MY HOUSE IS TOO SMALL!

Hello, my name is Maia and I live in a 1100 square foot, two-bedroom apartment with my husband, three children, and a really big dog. I know for a fact that he is a really big dog because when I take him for walks and we meet new people or go past people we haven’t seen before they say, “Wow. That is a really big dog.”

Two weeks ago, I started reading That Book. You know. The one about tidying up. (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, if you need more specifics.) I made the mistake of reading this book right before bed, and realized that it was having the opposite effect of the normal sort of book I usually choose to read right before bed. Kind of chest-tightening, in fact.

Prior to this point, I was realizing that I was nearing a breaking point, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. Our narrow hallway that doubles as an entryway/laundry room was and continues to close in on me everytime we try to leave the house. Children sprawl in the space as they fluctuate between various states of actually getting their shoes on and passively getting their shoes on. And I think, “If only I had a grand entry way with a Pinterest-worthy bench and coat rack set up...THEN I wouldn’t feel so hassled getting the kids out the door.”

My living room triples as an office (where I work from home) and a dining room (where we eat...from home). Sometimes I think, “If only I had an office...NOT EVEN AN OFFICE,” I exclaim inside my head, “I would settle for one of those tidy, alcovesque office-y nookish-kind-of-places.” (That’s the official term.) “THEN I could put a clearer divide between work and home.”

I have read A Mother’s Rule of Life and ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life and been thoroughly resolved to amend my house and avoid near occasions of disorder and clutter. And it was in the same frame of mind that I picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, thinking, “If I could just find the time to put these ideas into practice, then I would be a much more peaceful person to be around.

And I probably would be. And these books have their merit. And I both re-read them and re-recommend them. And there is something to be said for spacious entry ways and tidy offices. And. And. But.

When you (read: I) fall into the trap of “if only, THEN” my world gets a little green-colored around the edges. I don’t get specifically jealous (necessarily, but, on the other hand, maybe) of someone else’s life, circumstances, entry way, office, or ability to de-clutter, but I do get a little more discontent. Discontentment takes up more square footage than anything I know. It increases clutter. It decreases shelf space. And it buzzes around, taking up any energy that was available to infuse a house with home.

See, my probably isn’t really that my house is too small. It isn’t. It’s actually the perfect size to keep clean - my new standard for this (for me) is if I can plug the vacuum into one outlet and vacuum the whole house, then it is just right! In fact, while not ideal, I know from experience that we can live smaller. I also know (from experience) that we really don’t need anything much larger. We don’t need nicer thing or even different things. While I am not about to tell you that I don’t need to de-clutter (because I do), I also can’t get stuck in this place I am of feeling that “if only” I “had this”/“did this”/“was this” THEN I would be/have {fill in the latest desire thing or state of being}. My life is so much richer than Mad Libs!

My kids and I are reading The Wind in the Willows, currently. My boys listen to this frequently as an Audible, but we are enjoying reading a really fine copy that we found at a used book store. Last week we were reading chapter five, “Dulce Domum”, and I found this bit:

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and choked it as it came. ‘I know it’s a - shabby, dingy little place,’ he sobbed forth at last brokenly: ‘not like - your cosy quarters - or Toad’s beautiful hall - or Badger’s great house - but it was my own little home - and I was fond of it - and I went away and forgot all about it - and then I smelt it suddenly - on the road, when I called and you wouldn’t listen, Rat - and everything came back to me with a rush - and I wanted it! - O dear, O dear! - and when you wouldn’t turn back, Ratty - and I had to leave it, though I was smelling it all the time - I thought my heart would break.

Rat and Mole go back, and Mole is reunited with his home. It’s a little neglected and very dusty. Mole is, then, upset and wonders why he’s bothered to bring Rat here when they were tired and hungry and could have been somewhere nice. You will have to go read the chapter, to see the work of mercy and hospitality that Rat undertakes, though tired, before he gets to rest. The chapter ends with:

The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple - how narrow, even - it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence.

So right now, like Mole, I’m having to rediscover my little home and be delighted with the things that are there and not be afraid to offer hospitality even though I’m not quite sure what I have to offer. I’m having to remember that that love and contentment makes this home a sacred space while discontentment and jealousy profane it. I’m escaping the doldrums of the if-only-thens and discovering this place that really is home, little sweet home.  Are you with me?

Maia blogs at Her dream job is Professional Encourager and Idea-Haver and Coffee-Drinker. Motherhood is great resume-builder for these. She is a taker of pictures and a keeper of moments and her children's things. She has a husband (who does not like having his picture taken), three children (who do like having their pictures taken), and a really big dog (who really doesn't care if you take his picture or not so long as you feed him).  You can find her and her photos on Instagram and again on Instagram.


  1. Ooooooh I LOVE this: "Discontentment takes up more square footage than anything I know. It increases clutter. It decreases shelf space. And it buzzes around, taking up any energy that was available to infuse a house with home. " Wow!!

    1. Second! That line is brilliant! How did you get into my head?

  2. "If I can plug the vacuum into one outlet and vacuum the whole house, then it is just right!" --truth.


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