What living in an old house has taught me about privilege.

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Our house was built in 1920. In that year, Robert and Mary were the most popular names. The Harlem Renaissance began and so did prohibition. Women were granted the right to vote. And, if you lived during that time, you might have been a flapper.

What a cool time for our house to be born.

And because our house was built in this year, things were manufactured a bit differently. Today, houses have tons of storage, finished basements, room for pools, high-tech features and every convenience you can dream up. My house doesn’t have those things. And while I would never rule out moving to a newer home one day, I like my house just like it is. It has taught me many things about what we take for granted today.

3 Small Bedrooms

I don’t know what kinds of updates were made to our home since 1920, but I am going to assume that these three bedrooms have always been here. In 2013, these three bedrooms are considered tiny for even one person. But, Mike and I plan on having more kids and shacking them up together, much like it would have been done in 1920.

It seems in 1920, they weren’t hesitant to put kids into rooms together. It creates a friendship among siblings. While it is always nice to have plenty of space for yourself, I am ok with the fact that for a while, my kids will learn to live in tight quarters together. They will learn to get along.

Narrow Hallways

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Honesty: All of these pics are from before we moved in. We don’t have a cool piano like that…

 

Everything is ample nowadays: hallways, parking spaces, shopping carts, airline seats. But our hallways in our house are mighty narrow. Perhaps it is because people were smaller in 1920. And perhaps they were smaller because they didn’t eat hormone-laden food in mass quantities. I’m pointing that finger at myself too.

Large Foyer

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When you walk into our home, you will notice a very large welcoming area. There is plenty of space to greet guests, share hugs and linger over conversation despite the fact that company planned to leave long ago. Were the 1920s a time when neighbors gathered together and shared experiences and conversation? I think so. You just don’t get that as much anymore. My introverted self likes that. My nostalgic self does not.

Little Storage

We don’t even have a linen closet upstairs. You know what that tells me? People didn’t need lots of storage then. They had what they needed and only what they would use. With lots of storage, there is no incentive to purge your home of unneeded things. We can pack it all in and hoard it “just in case” we need it someday.

Basement

Our basement is unfinished; I can barely stand up in it, and I can’t even stand at all in many points. Mike can’t stand up in our basement at any point. The basement wasn’t created to be an area where we put an extra TV and gaming system. It wasn’t supposed to be another place to store all of the kids’ “big toys.” It was a place where they kept the cistern (yup, we have one) for collecting rain water that would be used to do many household tasks. Did you really think rain barrels were something new?

What our house has taught me:

We live in a time where it is all about convenience, excess and privilege (And, I’m grateful. I really am.), but we shouldn’t forget that there used to be a time where things had to be worked for, and things weren’t always easy. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s ok to do a little work in your life and not always make your life do the work for you. <Tweet This>

 

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  1. says

    What a beautiful old house. Our old ranch has only 3 bedrooms, and I always wished there were more siblings so we’d have to be together. :) and amen to hard work. I’m one of those weirdos who absolutely love working hard. Never shied away from it before. It’s good for the soul.

    • Jenna says

      You know, I thought about this comment today while I was changing a baby in the backseat of our van while the toddler hit me over the head with a Minnie doll all in 90 degree heat. I just kept saying, “This is good for me.” ;)

  2. says

    ah. love this. you have such a better outlook. I think our house was born right around then. She OLD. I texted Simon a novel about how annoying it is that it takes a full 60 minutes for our kitchen light to “warm up” to turn on ……….. and don’t even get me started on the closet situation. Teach me your ways!!!

  3. says

    Our house has similar… features :)… though it was built in 2006. Very little storage, small children’s bedrooms, no basement, etc. And though your house has a way cooler history, I do agree on learning important lessons from a less than spacious house. Thank you for the reminder!

    • Jenna says

      If you’re a minimalist like me (or at least I try to be…), little storage is awesome. I can’t hang on to stuff just in case. I love that!

  4. says

    Our house is either the same age or a bit older, and I agree, it does take some rethinking as to how to get everything to work. We do have a basement that most can stand in and for me, the storage space is ridiculously awesome (our last two apartments lacked greatly though). I love how well you interpreted the differences as blessings – thanks for that reminder!
    Also, your wood trim is bee-you-ti-ful!!!

  5. Kate says

    I love living in an old house for a lot of the same reasons! Our house was built in the ’30s and it has 1.5 bathrooms, which I’m sure was very luxurious at the time. (Looking at the old census records you can see that many people on our street had live-in maids!) If you’re interested to know who lived in your house in the past, I definitely recommend looking it up in the census records (you can see up to 1940 now).

  6. says

    Girlfriend, I LOVE this. We don’t live in the oldest house (50s) but it is this cute little house in Redford. So many people come into it and say, ‘what a cute starter house’ ( i have a whole blog formulating about this) because it is small for today’s standards. Aaron and I always just smile at each other, because unless we HAVE to, we will be staying in our little house at least through till retirement. Our rooms are very tiny (our queen bed and two dressers are about it), there is very little storage space, and we will probs never have a real dining room table because we wouldn’t know where to put it (unless we get really creative). BUT, there is room in each of the kids rooms for 2 bunk beds (tight, but it’ll work) and we have a basement we will be converting for ‘play space’…and it will work just fine for our little family. Standards of homes have become so ridiculous, hopefully we can stay committed to living in our little ‘perfect for us’ home!

    • Jenna says

      I love that! That’s how we feel too. We aren’t planning on moving unless something changes where we have to. We don’t need a home where we can all have so much space that we don’t need to see each other…and it sounds like you don’t need that either ;)

  7. says

    I hear you! the house I live in was built in 1910, and there are zero built-in closets. I never really thought about how weird that was until now. and the basement? it’s pretty hard to stand down there (and the previous owner left handwritten messages under the stairs about how low the ceiling is haha.

  8. says

    Your house looks fantastic. It looks just about the size and type of character we want to move into when we out grow our duplex. The hubs and I have talked about house size before – being a two income family the last thing we want to do is work longer just for more square footage (or $ to heat, cool and repair said square footage). We like the size of our duplex and only want to upgrade slightly in size when we move out down the road – a slightly larger (more than 1 butt) bathroom, a third bedroom so we can divide up the kids by gender if/when we have a girl down the road, and an actual dining room (instead of our barely eat in kitchen).

  9. says

    I live in a craftsman built in the late ’50’s. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, unfinished basement, modest kitchen and living room, no dining room. My neighbor is 95 and has a nearly identical house. She told me that years ago, 8 people lived in my house. Every time I start to feel cramped, I think about that….and then throw away/donate some things we don’t need anymore. I think we’ve forgotten “just enough” and replaced it with “just in case” in this age.

  10. Cindy says

    Thanks Jenna!
    For the reminder to keep things simple and to once again count my blessings.
    Oh… and to do some spring cleaning and get rid of stuff that I no longer need! :)

  11. ellenjohnson824500384 says

    This is great! I live in a 3 bedroom duplex in a house that was built in 1870, but I like how it forces me to keep things simple. If we bought a bigger house, we’d just have to get more stuff to fill it up with! Your house is really charming; I love dutch colonials!

    • Jenna says

      Ha! I had a dream last night that we had an empty room in our house, and I was stressing about needing to buy furniture to fill it. It must be human nature! And, good eye on the Dutch Colonial. I didn’t even know what that was until we bought one ;)

  12. says

    The house we’re currently renting was built sometime between 1920 and 1935. So little storage space! But I welcome the opportunity to downsize my junk pile.