Saturday, October 4, 2008

Inverse Pyramid of Living

My husband and I have been growing and forming our family within the insane crucible of active duty military service for five years now. Despite my frustrations of never being able to grow a garden or paint bedrooms due to the frequent moves, our unconventional path continues to teach me valuable lessons.

Most recently, we moved to Germany for a three year overseas tour. The constraints in our current living situation provide me with ample opportunities to demonstrate patience, organization and optimism (two out of three are big struggles for me). As we settle into our smallest home ever-- a two bdrm apartment on the second floor of a multi-family unit -- and begin the two month wait for our household goods to arrive, as I memorize the limited bus schedule since our car will not arrive for two weeks still, I often reflect on how drastic God has to be in my life for me to “get it.”

Really, for a young, college-educated North American couple, we are living the inverse pyramid lifestyle: downsizing, living on less (exchange rate –eek!), seeing what we are made of, and relying on the fabric of our family rather than the fabric of our clothes. As my peers settle into lovely homes with sweeping green lawns, I am learning how to carry groceries on my back, an umbrella stroller under one arm and an 8-month-old on one hip to make it up to our second floor home. Surprisingly, I feel no jealousy. Rather, I feel that this drastic exercise in stream-lined living is just what I needed.

As a neophyte stay-at-home mom these small Army quarters prevent me from getting overwhelmed. Only so much will fit in the kitchen cupboards and it doesn’t take that long to vacuum 700 square feet of carpet. As soon as the baby is less of a night-waker he will shift into Big Sister’s room and neither child will know the meaning of the phrase “my room.”

So, all in all, I would like to thank Uncle Sam for squeezing us into this place for the next three years. And I would like to preemptively and presumptuously thank the Lord for reminding me daily of all the blessings inherent in such a modest living arrangement.

Tell me a story of your down-sizing and its fruits, would you?


Nicole said...

I can partially relate. I, too, lived in Germany for nearly three years in Army quarters (in a multi-family unit) but without children. I will long remember taking the bus, walking to the on-post library to check my e-mail (and thinking this was the greatest thing ever) and being thrilled when I finally purchased a 12-year-old euro car to have some means of transportation. I was jealous of my stateside friends at times, yet when I look back on it all, I think that experience was so unique and something that has really helped keep things in perspective.

Elena said...


I can completely relate as we (husband, wife and four children under 6) moved into 900 sq.feet three months ago. We downsized from 1800 sq. ft. with 9 ft ceilings to a very small and cramped cottage. Although I feel at times like bashing out the walls, I also recognise the fruits of such a move. Our move is only a temporary one but I have learned how much easier it is to clean a small space and, especially, only one bathroom. It's also more necesssary to teach children how to clean up after themselves because a small place gets very messy very fast. I've also witnessed that young children don't really care where they are as long as they are with their family. I'm also happy for my children to learn to sleep together and to be able to sleep through babies crying and older siblings reading with the light on. I think that such flexibility is a tremendous asset for a child. I think downsizing is an excellent opportunity to build character in our children but, even more so, in ourselves. However, a small space can also be excruciating at times. I have found that the only antidote other than grace is a good sense of humour. God bless you in your house of diminished circumstances.

Clare Krishan said...

Scale can be deceiving - quality trumps quantity when one is fitting out a tiny space - instead of the convenient (dare I say "lazy") inexpensive expansiveness most Americans are familiar with - a kind of Sam's Club mentality of the more consumption the merrier consumer, you may find yourself called to discern what to turn down, to prune, to learn to embrace abnegation and in the end discover precious treasures that are unique in time and place, that express the real presence in a moment much more deeply than you may have been aware of before.

When I married my American hubbie, thrift required me to downsize my 900 sq ft "hab-und-gut" (German for chattel and real estate) to an airfreight container since a private relocation is costly (you are benefiting as the military pays your way). Things I dearly treasured -- 13 years of Burda Moda magazines with all the patterns I'd used to knit and sew mine and my sons clothing -- Flohmarkt (flea market) finds including favorite furnishings such as a large Persian rug -- an elaborate electric racecar track setup -- terracotta balcony planters, mountain bikes and on an on -- were all jettisoned instead I packed multiple photoalbums, framed maps of territories visited, my sons paper model of a castle on the Rhine, fine household items received as wedding gifts, a selection of schoolwork and childhood mementos and financial records (company and state pension funds, life insurance documents etc) were compressed into a half a dozen packing boxes. You'd be surprised how little you need so long as you have your loved ones!

Here's an America writer wed to a German chap who has set up home in Munich for a few months each year
she blogs (and runs her own home-based business) at


Right Said Red said...

God Bless you AWOL and all you other parents out there living in small spaces! I think the small spaces I could handle, but the foreign country, bus lines, and language barrier might drive me over the edge. I'm a bit of a home-body so I really admire/respect all the military families out there who move from place to place frequently. Thank you all for serving our nation with such courage!!!!

Elizabeth said...

My parents moved us 12 times internationally between the years 1986 and 1997. We owned nothing but a few pieces of heirloom furniture which were stored at a relatives house...I don't know how my mom did it but she did!

I just moved a few months ago with one carload of stuff to a new city by myself. talk about downsizing! I slept on the floor until I got a bed, which happened as soon as I could because I was not comfortable on the floor!

I have not gotten much else besides the bed and a desk, and a few pieces of cold weather clothing, trying to keep the simplicity going.

I stored all my stuff at my parents, and when I get home it's all getting sold! I have realized what I truly need and don't need.

Mary Alice said...

We have been on a consistent journey where each residence has been just a bit bigger, so I cannot speak to the struggles of downsizing, but I will say that there have been great benefits to for our family to the time spent in small living spaces on limited budgets.

First, I grew up with a bedroom that was 6ft by 10ft. That is tiny! From that experience, I learned early on not to be overly attached to stuff, and to be highly organized about the stuff that I did keep.

We have lived with four children in two bedroom apartments, and that helped all of them learn to share space, to be respectful about sleeping babies, etc.

More than anything else you will develop, during this time, both a rugged independance and a willingness to make use of the kindness of strangers. The senior citizen who helps your daughter off the bus, the boy who holds the library door open, these people make a huge difference when you are navigating a city with little ones.

texas mommy said...

We recently upsized, not downsized, but I loved going through all of our stuff and being able to get rid of a lot that we didn't need. Maintaining simplicity and peace is easier with less stuff.

I hope you can find some good parks or green spaces around!

I definitely had a language barrier issue when living in Rome and was lonely a lot of the time. But by the end of my time there was surprised at some of the friends I had made with my limited Italian and their limited English!