The best room in the house.

The best room in the house.

We used to have the best yard in the neighborhood. At our old house, our rare double lot may not have been large by exurb standards, but it was darn near sprawling in our little first-ring suburb.The best room in the house | Modern Mrs Darcy

It was great for the dog, with plenty of space to play fetch. It was great for the kids, with lots of room for baseball and a play set and a trampoline.

And then we moved, to a larger house, but a smaller lot, our backyard just a fraction (One-fourth, one-fifth? Maybe less?) of the old one.

When old friends come to visit our new place, they take one look in the backyard and say, “Wow—it’s tiny!” Hasn’t it been tough to go from your old yard to this tiny space?

The best room in the house | Modern Mrs DarcyWell, no. It’s been glorious. There are drawbacks, sure (namely, our play set now lives at my parents’ house). But overall, we adore our tiny backyard. The apparent limitations of this small space have shown us the upside to restraint.

It’s the best room in the house. Here’s why:  

We’re not yard(work) people. 

We love being outdoors, but Will and I both hate mowing and despise yard work—so much so that I talked about finding a condo. (Gasp!) Our huge lot at the old house came with a huge amount of yard work. Small yard, small work load.   

The best room in the house | Modern Mrs Darcy

It’s cozy. 

When a real estate listing says a house is “charming,” they really mean it’s falling down. I don’t mean it like that; I mean it in the best sense. When we had a giant backyard, there was no place to sit without feeling exposed to the neighborhood. Our tiny backyard is snug, walled, and has clearly defined spaces. Because of all the patterns at play, it feels more like a room than a yard. 

twinkle-lights

Your space shapes your behavior.

Without even thinking about it, I started taking my coffee out to the patio in the morning—in my pajamas. I would never have done that at the old house: we just didn’t have the privacy.  

We’re also not having problems with the kids leaving their toys all over the yard anymore. In the small space, it’s easy to see when things have been left lying about, and a toy in the tiny plot of grass looks like clutter. The kids are picking up after themselves with (almost) no prompting. It feels like a miracle, but it’s not: it’s just the space.

bThe best room in the house | Modern Mrs Darcy

Somebody else did the work. 

The landscaping is all there, and it’s lovely: we just have to maintain it. It turns out I don’t mind maintaining my tiny triangle of yard, pulling out weeds or watering flowers. It’s meditative—but only because even a serious weeding only takes 5 minutes. 

Lovely limitations. 

I struggle with decision paralysis. We could have done almost anything in our old backyard, which completely overwhelmed me. There aren’t as many options in a small space, so there aren’t that many decisions to make. For me, that’s a good thing.  

Of course, this is about more than a backyard. Have you had a similar experience with finding freedom in limitations? I’d love to hear about it in comments. 

29 comments | Comment

29 comments

  1. Katherine says:

    I refer to our backyard as “the prison yard”. High privacy fence and no landscaping.

    BUT a small yard is probably the only size I will ever attempt to make nice. Big spaces are overwhelming for a non-gardener like myself. I think I’m similar to you in that way.

    I tried my hand at a butterfly bush last summer and it failed miserably. Not too encouraging, but I’ll keep trying…

  2. Leanne says:

    I feel the same way about our yard, which has a very small usable space, but drops off into a forest of tall trees. We get a beautiful view and not too much maintenance.
    I think most Americans get too carried away with the size of our yards AND houses. It’s refreshing to hear someone say they’re happy to find something just the right size, not too cramped, but also not too large to create more work.

  3. Jenn says:

    We’re in the middle of a cross-country moved. We left behind a 2,700 sq foot home, affectionately known as “the big house” and are now currently living under my parents’ roof. Although we fully enjoyed the advantages of a “big house,” our desire now is for smaller– much smaller. All the reasons you listed above regarding your back yard are exactly what we’re feeling. I always desired more— and when I got the “more” I learned what it really means to have it. Definitely not all it’s cracked up to be….

    Btw, I’m in the middle of The a invention of Wings and loving it:) Thanks for all your recommendations!:)

  4. Mandi says:

    This is really encouraging to me, as we’re looking at trading in our place in the boonies for a move to the suburbs simply to be closer “to town”. That will mean giving up our country acres for a smaller backyard. I’m dreading it in some ways and looking forward to it in others, and this may have helped tipped the scale a little bit!

    • Kim says:

      Mandi, my husband and I moved this past year from a home on acres of rural countryside to a home on a third of an acre in a suburban neighborhood. The nearest mall and city was about 45 minutes away, and our daughter’s high school was a 45-60 minute bus ride.

      We LOVE where we are now! While the neighborhood is quiet and an extremely walkable and safe loop of almost a mile, we are a mere 10 minutes from 3 grocery stores, restaurants, etc. I think the key to being happy in a new place is setting priorities to help you find a home you love and can live with. Good luck in your search!

    • Anne says:

      I didn’t know you were thinking about making a move! I love love love what I’ve seen of your home, but I completely understand the appeal of a different location. I’ll be paying attention as you all continue to make decisions… 🙂

  5. We moved the opposite direction — from a midtown Manhattan apartment with no yard (obviously) to a suburban house on 0.75 acres. It was well landscaped, so it is completely private. Even in winter, you can sit in the backyard and be mostly by yourself (also fenced). We have a 3-level porch that provides multiple sitting spots to take it all in. What makes it all work for me is that I do nothing with this yard that I don’t want to do. I water my tomato plants on occasion, but we outsourced mowing, weeding, tree care, lawn fertilizing, etc. My husband spends more time on the yard work but it’s totally his me time (“I know, I think I’ll go to the hardware store again and buy another single bag of mulch!”) If I were mowing, I’d probably like it a lot less. But this was one of the things that comes with moving to a less expensive area. It frees up cash for making life easier.

  6. Yes. I have a decent-sized backyard, but it’s a complete blank slate. Which is completely overwhelming. I have visions of making it a fairy wonderland (the actual phrase on my goals sheet) for my kids, but am clueless about where to start. Plus, we don’t know how long we’ll be here, so we’re hesitant to invest too much in it.
    Love your new space, especially that pond and lamppost!

  7. Tessa~ says:

    another perfect example of how less can be more.

    so happy that you have embraced the wisdom of this.

    and are very happy with your now-perfect-size back yard!

    thank you for this post!

    tessa~

  8. Kim says:

    We’ve found freedom in limitation in different areas, but the most dramatic has been our path to debt freedom. We used to be ostriches who roamed, spent whatever we wanted, and hid our heads in the sand when it came to finances and budgets.

    Then, we learned the “how” of getting our finances under control from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace.

    We created limitations, i.e., budgets, and gave each dollar a name. Hope, peace, joy, and giving now bloom in glorious fullness because of limitations: saying no to the less important so we can say a hearty and happy YES! to what matters most.

  9. Deborah says:

    When my hubby and I got married and bought our first home (with no landscaping), our dear friend, who is a landscape architect, gifted us a garden consultation and design plan. He took an hour to ask us garden and design questions that we would have never asked ourselves. He examined the light patterns and drainage. Then he designed a plan that we could implement over the course of a few years, either by ourselves or with the help of a local garden store. It was perfect for us and if we ever buy another home with no landscaping, we will invest in an initial consultation again. So worth it! And so nice that you don’t have to make any of those big design decisions with your new home.

  10. Emily says:

    My husband and I recently moved to a new place. We absolutely love it, but the kitchen is even tinier than our last one. I thought it would drive me crazy, but I’ve found that the small space motivates me to clean up more. When there are even just a few dirty dishes, I can’t cook at all, so I have to clean up–but it only takes five minutes, and I feel so productive! It’s still not my dream kitchen, but while it’s just the two of us, it actually works better than having a big kitchen.

  11. MelissaJoy says:

    My daily physical space is full of cozy nooks. I like the security that tiny spaces bring. When I’m looking for perspective or taking a vacation I find that I must be in great, almost vast space like being at the ocean.

    In the emotional space, I find myself shoring up boundaries especially when faced with new and growing relationships. The nature of my husbands work has us moving around quite a bit and I have found it puts others at ease when I have a good set of questions to ask and lots of answers prepared about our life choices. Inevitably, if I try to be too creative when answering “where have you loved living best?” it bombs and I regret not going to my go-to’s. The exposure is not worth it most times. My closest relationships have developed because of this intentionality. And, goodness knows many have bestowed grace to me in spite of my approach!

    Enjoy your cozy place in the backyard. Pajamas and coffee outdoors sounds lovely.

  12. I’m laughing that my take away from this post is that I have a name for my “condition”, decision paralysis. 🙂 I did click on the link and look forward to reading more there! I’m glad the smaller backyard is working out, I can totally relate to everything you mentioned about a larger yard as we currently live on a 3-acre corner lot and can imagine those perks with a smaller already landscaped yard.

  13. Anne says:

    That’s great. I can see what you mean about it being another room. You could call it ‘the garden’ like the English!

    I also have a large side yard that we assume we’ll miss (still slowly house hunting, feeling unsure about what we really want), but if we didn’t have such a large yard, we wouldn’t need the rider mower. Could you guys mow with a reel mower? How neat would that be? 🙂

    • Anne says:

      We have a reel mower! My 11-year-old who loves anything deep-pressure related loves to push mow. It’s a win/win for sure.

  14. Jeannie says:

    Your reference to patterns reminded me: this spring I went on one of those house tours of beautiful homes, and in one of them, A Pattern Language was sitting prominently on the kitchen counter. Apparently its principles were used extensively in the building of the house (which was the smallest we toured yet the one I liked best!).

    I’m totally with you about the yard work! My husband mows the grass & whacks a few weeds; I put a few annuals in pots — that’s our idea of yard work. I don’t enjoy housework either 🙂 so having a small home & a small yard suits us perfectly.

  15. Valerie says:

    When my husband and I were dating he said he would like to show me his place. Well we drive up a long driveway, couple horses in the field, barns and sheds. I asked who took care of the place. He told me he did. Well, I told him 22 years ago I don’t do yard work, he still married me and I haven’t pulled a weed or turned on a lawn mower. I refuse to maintain 11 acres. We no longer have horses but we have friends that broad their horses on our property. When we sell this place I am moving into a condo, that somebody else maintains the property. I have always taken care of our house, cleaned, cooked, worked full time and have a part time job so don’t think of me as being lazy I just don’t like to be outside working.

  16. Anjanette says:

    I think your little yard is perfect. If I’m remembering correctly from an earlier post, I think you have a little fish pond too, which your kids must love!

    We also have a very tiny yard. It’s nice to have so little yard work, and we have a brook running behind us which is nice for the view and the water sounds. I envy the privacy you have though– coffee in pajamas outside sounds like a great way to start the day!

  17. Lucinda says:

    Totally agree with you. We did move to a condo and have a great deck in back with lots of trees behind our condo. Adding pots of flowers and flower boxes to the deck railing makes it a great spot to sit and read in. In the front we have a just right size for planting flowers, putting great pots of geraniums on the porch, adding a birdbath and generally personalizing this space.There’s even a bench to sit on! Perfect combination of ‘decorating’ and no mowing, raking, shoveling — and great spots for reading and privacy.

  18. Emily says:

    I am 100% with you on the yard. This is the first time my husband and I have had a yard (quarter acre, no less, so we didn’t exactly ease into it) and as much as I liked the idea of it–the gardening! the room for our dog to run!–we’re tired of the demanding upkeep.

    I find myself similarly overwhelmed when tackling tasks I don’t enjoy (like when trying to choose a motor oil today). It is a completely different story when I enjoy the endeavor at hand, however. I could peruse and revel in the diversity of book offerings or dark chocolate bar varieties all day!

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