Living With Kids: Caryn Schafer

Choosing to downsize from a large home in the suburbs to a much tinier space is probably not as difficult to handle when the much tinier space is in huge by anyone’s standards New York City! I think it would be the best kind of challenge, right? Keeping only what you love, organizing vertically by use, and ruthlessly overthinking every purchase. And the minute you feel a bit claustrophobic, Central Park is one block away. Marvelous.

I love this peek into Caryn’s small space and big thoughts. I’ve read it three times, and I find something new with each read. I hope you do, too. I originally shared this NYC home tour in 2015, but with rent prices dropping in Manhattan, and people considering a move to the big city, I thought it was time to share it again. Caryn’s love for New York is wonderful. Welcome, Caryn!

Hello! We are a family of four. Mark is the solitary male of our home, who is actually quite fond of hot pink. He is a designer for a tech company, and has a passion for beautifully designed things ranging from type and furniture to letter openers, and salt and pepper shakers.

Our older daughter is almost three. She has a zest for life and would dance through it if opportunity allowed. Her height and vocabulary often fool people into thinking she is older, and she lives for social activities, working her charms on every person she can get near.

Our younger daughter is nearly one and is still quite a mystery to us. She has the biggest blue eyes anyone has ever seen and is already incredibly active, risky, and vocal. She is a snuggler and has a smile always at the ready. She is just beginning to walk, determined to figure everything out and taste it along the way too.

Finally there is me, Caryn. I am the wife, the mom, the cook, the book addict, the blogger, and the illustrator. I firmly believe bookstores are my Kryptonite, and I have an unhealthy obsession with stripes, polka dots, picture books, and French food philosophy.

We live in New York City on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The short version of this story is that we rented our apartment sight unseen. After about a year of feeling the desire to downsize from our house in the suburbs and convert to city life, Mark chased down a fantastic job change, pushing us to sell, pack, and move within two months. The short timeline, a month of training for Mark across the country, and me being in the third trimester with our second, resulted in us relying heavily on a broker to hunt down the perfect place for our family in a completely new city. We only saw a handful of pictures, but it had the most potential in its location and layout and we were running out of time for our move and my pregnancy, so we grabbed it.

It was a weird feeling walking into it for the first time knowing we had to make it work. It was better than I was expecting, and it has turned out to be exactly what we had hoped for. It is a one-bedroom, about 450 sq. ft. apartment on the fifth floor of a lovely brownstone. We are at the top of the building which means it is quiet, we get tons of light, and no one passes our door unless they are looking for us.

There are four flights of stairs, 77 steps to be exact, to get to us. That could be considered a downside, but every flight saves us money and serves the dual purpose of exercise. We have been here almost exactly a year and I do actually feel a marvelous sense of relief and joy when I enter our home. Perhaps it is only the effect of being winded from the stairs. Really though, I am overwhelmingly satisfied with how our hopes and vision have panned out.

You know the gorgeous scenes and streets from You’ve Got Mail where brownstones abound, streets converge in cool places, hot dogs are singing, and Starbucks are on every corner? That’s where we live.

I probably should have mentioned my deep love for You’ve Got Mail in the intro. My joy, memorization, and watch-count verge on lunacy. Which makes our great move to the Upper West Side even more fitting. By some bizarre stroke of luck, we landed smack dab inside that picturesque world of Nora Ephron. Even 17 years after filming, this neighborhood is charming. Every day I walk down the streets to run some errand, quite possibly in Zabar’s, I hear The Cranberries singing in my head and ponder picking up some more daisies at the corner bodega. I desperately love this city and am always looking for the beauty.

I am realistic, though. We are a family of four living in a small, one-bedroom apartment in an ever-changing city. Thankfully we had been hoping to downsize because it is quite the necessity in Manhattan. Rent is pretty astronomical. But we were thrilled to sell our car and offload the carseats. Our transportation costs plummeted now that we get to walk and bike most everywhere. We hop the subway, bus, or taxi if time won’t allow walking, and we have the most lovely stroll across Central Park to get to church every week.

It takes Mark the same amount of time to either take the subway or bike to work each day. We live around the corner from a subway stop, half a street away from Central Park, and four avenues from Riverside Park. Central Park is a great escape from crowded city life and the best backyard we could have ever dreamed of. Mark celebrates every time he doesn’t have to mow. My oldest and I have made it our goal to visit every playground in NYC, starting with the 21 located in Central Park. There are hundreds of incredible restaurants to be experienced, shows to see, classes to take, free activities everywhere, and a museum for every possible interest.

As far as everything else goes, yes it does seem to cost more, but not in the way I thought. Groceries are basically the same as what I was paying back in the South, unless you make the mistake of forgetting something and have to pick it up at a corner store. You can get just about everything delivered, and I happily tip anyone who will carry things up to me.

I think the real change I’ve noticed is the pressure to spend to fit culturally. You don’t need as much or have room for as much, but you need and want nicer things in NYC. And you are expected to go out to expensive places, and see costly shows, wear the right kind of clothing, and have a nanny.

But, I’m so thankful for the downsizing as it has made us more mindful consumers and made us invest in more quality pieces rather than quantity. Instead of cleaning and caring for a big house, we spend our time exploring the city, visiting museums and parks, and just having fun together.

Oh, I love Manhattan! I feel like to some extent we are still in the honeymoon phase with NYC; but I don’t think there is anything better than being somewhere you know you are supposed to be. I once heard a quote somewhere that NYC has a tendency to embrace you at one moment and then slap you in the face the next. We have definitely felt those moments, but our years of desiring to be here seem to have given us a better chance of laughing at the hard blows.

I do feel like my aesthetic has changed with a smaller home, but I think the move is a reflection of that rather than a cause. If I met my newlywed self now, I don’t think we would recognize each other. I have gone very modern, thanks to my husband’s design influence for sure; but also due to culling what I really want around me.

When we were feeling our desire to move, we started purging as some sort of preparation. Mark wrote the words, “Edit ruthlessly” on the chalkboard wall of our house inspired by a TED talk from Graham Hill. Living daily with those words had great affect.

It took us a year to actually have a reason to move, but in that time we focused heavily on getting rid of things that we didn’t need. We searched for better solutions to our essentials. We re-evaluated every item we owned, harshly critiquing whether we really wanted to give it real estate wherever we ended up. We sold our television and suddenly realized we never had time for it anyway. I said goodbye to things I thought had sentimental value, figuring out ways to remember them outside of the space they took up. It was an immensely helpful time, not only paring down our possessions, but preparing us emotionally for big changes.

Now, I would describe my current aesthetic as mid-century modern, a little obsessed with gray, and with an emphasis on displaying our favorite things – mainly books and art. We long for things that are both beautiful and functional. And there isn’t room for singular-purposed items here anyway!

It has been an odd experience designing the space Mark and I want, while keeping in mind that the girls have to live here, too. Bins for toys sound like a great idea, but finding ones that fit perfectly, are easy to play with, and meet our design taste is not an easy task. We created a no-electronic toys policy before our oldest was born and I am so grateful in our tiny space. We focus on toys that are beautifully made so that we don’t mind having them visible.

Both Mark and I have a deep love for books, and we had to be incredibly creative to make it all fit. It took us a couple of weeks to design the solution we wanted and make it work within our budget. We walked through stores, scoured catalogs, and brainstormed exactly what we wanted while we slept on an air mattress in the middle of piles upon piles of books. And yes, I was very pregnant during this time. We wisely got rid of most of our furniture before moving, giving us a mostly blank slate to work with and a bit more cash to start fresh.

Thankfully, we do have tall ceilings which aids in space and in light. We also have NYC’s fantastic Craigslist which helped us sell a few pieces we shouldn’t have brought and get pieces that work so much better. There are only a couple of antique pieces we feel strongly attached to, and that gave us freedom to rethink it all.

Our wall bed was probably one of the biggest puzzle pieces to help everything else fall into place. Have you ever thought about how much space a bed takes? Once I gave up my need for a picturesque duvet cover and took delight in a beautiful, functional rug; life became much more spacious. I sincerely love our carpet tile rug. It functions as a room divider, the area where toys must remain, a soft ground for somersaults and learning to walk, and a cushion for my feet when getting out of bed. And I don’t have to feel precious about it since a tile can be picked up, cleaned, and put right back down.

Going vertical was a necessity, but also helps section things off. The girls’ books are easily accessible in their room or in toy bins in our main room; while our books are high up, but request-able. I organize items vertically by frequency of use in every room, and we bought a beautiful wooden ladder that we delight in having out in the open all the time.

We only have two closets total, so there isn’t that space to just hide things as easily. I ended up hanging the girls’ lovely dresses out in the open in their room and I’m so thrilled with that decision! It works as an excellent divider between their beds while it saves us closet space for the storage we do need.

Little things like that seem to be the key. We have closed shelf space behind the sofa, a toy box that functions as extra seating when we have company, and a rolling unit with drawers and bins to move away from our bed at night. Some of these solutions came quickly and others we agonized over, starring Pinterest photos and dog-earring catalogs until we found the right thing. In the end, we have an apartment that is fully customized to our family with a unique juxtaposition of brands and price tags. The key now seems to be blocking any more catalogs from coming in as we just don’t need anything else!

I am still on the steep learning curve of carving out work time for myself. I was a graphic designer for a couple of years before our oldest was born, but my passion has always been for picture book illustration. Shortly after my oldest was born, I began my picture book blog as an outlet for me to talk about books as much as I wanted. It has been a great source of inspiration and forced me to find space to think about books and my own illustration dreams.

As I hinted earlier, it seems to be the expected norm on the Upper West Side to have a nanny or at the very least have your kids in classes and preschool. But we just aren’t there yet, and I’m not sure we ever will be. The nanny culture is fascinating, but also expensive and not what we envision for our family. I honestly don’t know what we’ll do in the future, but if I’ve learned anything from motherhood so far, it is essential to stay overly flexible.

As our baby edges closer to her first birthday, I feel more time being given back to me. I am trying to have a goal of at least sketching something every day, even if my sketches aren’t worth anyone seeing. It is beneficial for me to do even a tiny bit of work each day rather than try to find large chunks of free time, which are pretty elusive when you have toddlers. I review picture books whenever inspiration and time allow. I’m constantly making lists and notes about books, and also jotting down ideas for illustrations and plots.

I have also realized that I require deadlines in my life. I can go months without really creating any paintings or even drawings, and then something comes up that I want work for and suddenly I am pounding out the pieces. I hope to find a more fluid way to make myself work amidst the daily tasks, but for now I am learning to create deadlines even when it is simply for the pleasure of creating something.

We have already been told many times that we’ll outgrow this apartment, but our minds are open to whatever needs to happen. We truly love it here and already envision several room solutions we could make as the girls grow. A lot of this will depend on our rent, but this location is perfect for us. I like that the small square footage makes me overthink every purchase (except books, unfortunately) and I feel the need to purge every corner almost weekly.

I’ll gladly take the flights of stairs when I can walk around the corner to Central Park, down a couple of streets to the Ballet, Opera, and Theater, up a couple blocks to museums, and I am surrounded by gobs of fabulous restaurants and grocery stores. We tend to take life one year at a time and are focusing our energy on just loving all NYC has to offer. We would love to live overseas if opportunity ever allows as we strongly desire to share other cultures and world views with our girls, as well as continue to expand our own. New York is definitely big enough, but we’ll always be open to what’s next and strive to be content wherever we land.

My favorite part about living with my kids is finally having a visible excuse to read as many picture books as I want. There is a children’s book or poem for just about everything and every stage, and we are always on the hunt to find them. I love when my oldest quotes a book as a way to express something. Stories can give words to emotions when you don’t quite know how to process them yet.

I also love sharing new experiences with them. The joy of doing things for the first time is something I had forgotten. Experiencing those moments with my kids is like doing them for the first time again myself, but this time having the insight to realize how special it truly is.

One of the most surprising things to me about being a mom is realizing that I have to choose to love my kids every day. That feels so wrong to say, but I think it is true, at least for me.

When we married seven years ago, our minister counseled about love being something you don’t always feel, but promise to choose. I guess I always assumed that when it is your child, it comes naturally. There is something to that, of course, but they are still separate people from me. They are unique personalities that I have to learn and respect and choose to love as well. I will always feel love for them simply because they are my babies and I am their mama. But they grow up, and in those moments of attitudes or annoyance, I have to choose to love all of them even when it is different from me.

In all honesty, I’m still in a bit of mourning for the relationship I lost with our oldest daughter when we moved and the youngest came. It was such a crazy intense time of change and I tried very hard to make it as smooth as possible for her; but I didn’t really realize how different she and I would be after it was all over.

It is quite different the second time around. I don’t feel as panicky about rough nights or weird stages. I actually kind of miss the sweet, squishy newborn phase, but I’m thankful to be beyond the insane hormones and constant nursing. I think having our second daughter helped me slow down and enjoy it as it comes, knowing that everything passes.

I hope they remember how much we danced! Both Mark and I love music and we are all taking turns getting obsessed over one song or another. One of our oldest’s first phrases was, “I need music.” We try to dance for everything: a new day, cleaning up, making food, painting, venting frustration, and especially celebrating things like Daddy coming home.

I know it is supposed to be one thing to remember, but that second part about what they remember about me as their mom longs to be separate. While I sincerely hope they forget my impatience, angry moments, and occasional meal disappointments; I am desperately praying that I can pass on to my children a healthy body image. I despise all the back-handed comments we make about our bodies, the airbrushed women the media surrounds us with, and the guilt and binges of food. I hope to teach my girls that they have value because of who they are and that their minds are just as important as their bodies. And I want to teach them a healthy view of food, that isn’t related to rewards or punishments. I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.

I wish someone had told me that motherhood would be very, very hard, but that hard can be really, really good.

I had no idea how lonely it is to be a mom. No one really understands all the hormones, emotions, fears, worries, and intense hours you expend on your child. And yet, every other mom is experiencing her own version of that. Motherhood has revealed so many selfish and ugly parts of me that I find myself having to take my own parenting words to heart every time I say them. I, too, need to be kind, have patience, and express myself appropriately.

I just pray that somehow, through all my faults and inadequacies and especially how I deal with them, my daughters will see that we are all broken people who need love and grace.

–-

Oh, Caryn! There is so much goodness in your interview that I resisted the urge to bold all your wisdom. But this is wonderful, and deserves to be repeated as many times as needed: “I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.” Yes.

From the nanny culture around you to not recognizing your newlywed-self’s style (so true!) to choosing to love your kids every day, it’s all incredibly thought-provoking. I really hope Caryn’s words added to your day! And, tell me: Did you find their bed?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

94 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Caryn Schafer”

  1. What a beautiful post, thank you for all the inspiration and smart solutions, I think I spotted the bed in the living room with the organizer on wheels at the bottom :) so smart!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I think the idea of space in western culture is so….off. The idea that we need giant homes, well not a bad thing, are not necessary for our children to thrive. I think you have proved that point by creating a beautiful usable space.

  3. Caryn!! Thank you thank you–your post today was an answer to many months of thoughts, meditations, and prayers. Thank you for your honesty, vulnerability, love, and genuine openness. I’ve gone back to work full time w/a seven year old AND a delicious, newly added little four month old and have been debating whether or not to keep on with the awful daily grind of two parents working full time and managing the demands of daily life. Isn’t it amazing how much energy is expended just on the daily care of bodies (ie: feeding, clothing, loving, washing, sleeping–lather, rinse, repeat)? I think it’s time for me to take a break, even though that prospect opens up so much unknown for our family. I love what you said about motherhood being lonely, about eating cake in celebration. Most of all, I love what you said about slowing down, knowing that time in childhood is so fleeting, enjoying whatever comes; and that real love is so much about choice, especially with our children. Sometimes I struggle to be a nurturer, and reading your perspective about choosing to love our children (in those inevitable moments of frustration!) and respecting our children as separate and whole people seems so obvious, so full of common sense, yet I’d never even considered it that way. You are so wise. Thank you so much.

  4. Oh, Caryn! I wish we could be friends. Your words are wise and beautiful–and as a cake-eating, kitchen-dance-party-having, book-loving mama in need of patience and grace every day, your story spoke deeply to me. Here’s to you–and to the hard work of raising your people with such mindfulness, kindness, and love.

  5. Absolutely love the decor and unique, personal, colorful touches. I’m a working mom in Northern Virginia who has a nanny — after having been a stay-at-home mom for several years. I’m not sure what to think of the term “nanny culture”. Is it an NYC thing?

    1. I’m a native NYer, so let me say we all have nannies because there are not many other child care options in the City. And many moms work because they want to and they have to, to afford to live even in a 500 square footer. I don’t think she fully gets it CeeBee – she’s a new New Yorker! She’s not cynical enough. ;) I thought the apartment was super cute and even though the UWS is not considered “cool” these days, I love it too.

    2. Hi CeeBee! I’m a recent transplant to Northern Virginia from New York, but originally from Oklahoma (which is sort of the south, where Caryn mentioned she is from), so I have all perspectives here. I wanted to explain that “nanny culture” isn’t a New York thing…she just means having nannies, period. Hah!

      In the middle of the country–where there aren’t as many big cities and there isn’t as much wealth–very, very few people have nannies. And if you do, you are typically quite wealthy. I’m actually racking my brain right now, thinking of all my friends back in Oklahoma, many of whom are architects, engineers, attorneys, and other “well-paid” professionals, and I can’t think of a single person who has a nanny. There you either put your kids in day care or stay at home. I think it’s a cultural thing but also financial. When you make $22/hr (about what I made as an architect before I left), it doesn’t make sense to pay someone $15+ to take care of your kids.

      It’s taken me awhile to come around to the idea that having a nanny doesn’t mean you are super wealthy or career-obsessed. But I’m actually working on getting into a nanny share starting next month!

    3. Hi CeeBee,

      Thanks for your sweet comments about our space!

      So sorry if I confused or frustrated you with calling it a nanny culture! I honestly didn’t think about it meaning something negative. It is a term I’ve heard since before we moved to NYC and also many times while being here. I have seen it on NYC blogs and even the NY Times so I never even stopped to think about it offending. I definitely meant it as there just being a lot of nannies. It was a bit of a culture shock when we first got here and I would go hang out at the playground during the day. I would be surrounded by nannies. I still get approached almost weekly by someone giving me the name of a nanny they know for when I’m ready to go back to work.

      I too am from the Midwest, like Rachel, and had never encountered families with nannies except in literature and movies. Where I grew up, your options were staying at home or putting kids in daycare. I have nothing against having a nanny, it is just something I had never considered because it wasn’t the typical thing in other cities. As I tried to say, we have to stay flexible in parenthood. We don’t need a nanny right now, but who knows what we’ll do in the future!

  6. Great home tour! Our apartment is a bit larger (about 740 I think) and it’s a 2 bedroom. Where I live in Maryland it’s actually illegal to rent a one bedroom to more than three people!

    We actually all share one bedroom and closet. The second bedroom is our cozy study/book room/extra storage. My kids are 4 and 1.5 (and I’m expecting) and we’ve always shared a room. It’s just such a more efficient use of space for us. I actually feel like we have plenty of space here and there are still things we could get rid of and refine.

    Really enjoyed your tour! Thanks for the inspiration XO

    PS- I totally had that FP cash register :)

    1. Hey Sarah!

      I love that you all share a bedroom! We actually considered that when planning our setup before we actually got to the apartment. Then we couldn’t fit a queen or even full size bed in the bedroom with much room for the girls’ beds! Totally keeping that in mind for any future moves though and love to hear it works for your family.

      Also, that FP cash register was my husband’s as a kid! :)

      Thanks for the sweet comments!

    1. Hey Sheryl!

      We shopped intensely for a wall bed to maximize space. We ended up buying it here in NYC, and even got a floor model for a small discount! The bookcases are from Ikea and my husband actually used a handsaw on bookcase extensions to make them fit over the top and look built-in with the bed. It is a true Ikea hack. :) Those bookcases are the Billy model with the solid doors on the bottom.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Thank you Caryn for sharing your beautiful words with us. As a stay at home mom of two toddlers, I relate to EVERYTHING you said. I choose to love my kids. Always.

  8. Yes, Caryn, we should eat cake & not make comments about it. Such great inspiration. Loved that! Along the same lines we moms should put on a swimsuit and swim with the kids without hiding our bodies or making comments about our bodies in swimsuits. I’m trying to be better about this. Could definitely connect on how experiences change us and our kiddos, thinking a lot about that right now as we go through an unusual family time. Thanks for the reminder to be kind to ourselves as moms, wives and women. Loved your words. And I totally get You’ve Got Mail. Totally. :)

  9. What a beautiful and incredibly functional home. Thank you so much for sharing your space and your thoughts with us today. I found your perspective on motherhood to be deliberate, thought-provoking, and exactly what I needed today. I hope you have a fantastic day!

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  11. I love your Living with Kids series Gabrielle but this was one of my favorites because it turns out I know Caryn! I went to college with her and Mark and they are lovely people and have a lovely home and family. Plus, there’s so much wisdom in what she says here on so many levels. I have read it twice and got new things each time like you did.

  12. What a wonderful interview. I can relate to so many of the thoughts Caryn shares, and I love how honest and transparent her words are when talking about parenthood.
    Also, now I want to go live in NY and be Caryn’s friend.

  13. Wow, I can really relate to what Caryn said about mourning the relationship she had with her older daughter! The playground plan sounds like a pretty awesome way to keep the relationship strong.

  14. Refreshing to see a family of four in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment! As Jessica said above, US culture seems to value spaaaaaace, to such an extreme. Thanks, Caryn, for sharing your home!

  15. Our first apartment was about the same size, and we had a Murphy bed. It was the greatest thing. In some ways, I miss it, even in our big house that we have now.

  16. Hello Caryn! I absolutely loved your house tour and your WORDS. Beautiful. I don’t usually comment, but you said something that I just have to say something about. You said that you are still mourning the relationship you had with your oldest before the move and the second child, etc. THIS HAPPENED TO ME! My oldest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2. 2 1/2 years later after so much stress and such a demanding ordeal for us all, I would look at my now 4 1/2 year old daughter and wonder if I even loved her at all. (I know that sounds awful.) I searched and searched and prayed and prayed for resolution to this. She had been hard-won to begin with (fertility issues) and then all that chemotherapy to keep her alive. Finally, the answer came, and it worked, so I’m just putting it out there in case it helps you. At bed time each night, I started to tell her stories about herself. Funny ones. Sad ones. The story of her diagnosis. The point was that they were all true. Memories, basically. About 6 months in, I realized it was working. By telling the stories, I was reminding myself of all those moments in time that are still ours to share even if our relationship had suffered so much strain and pressure. And, SHE loved them. I think she could feel my love for her through the stories. It was a reminder to us both. She is now almost 7, and although we don’t do the stories every night anymore, I believe the stories repaired the damage done by unfortunate life events. Good luck to you! I love New York and You’ve Got Mail, and I will vicariously live through you since my husband would not take that adventure with me in a million years! :)

    1. That is such a lovely solution to share, Sally. My youngest had a really rough start to life, and I think re-framing those early years in stories that make sense of the trauma and re-affirm the love that was always there, underneath and despite it all, are healing for both the child and the parent. I’m definitely adopting your idea! For what it’s worth, I’ve found that my little one’s eyes light up when I snuggle with him and tell him, ‘You are *safe*; and you are *so loved*; and you can do all sorts of things.’

  17. Hello Caryn!
    I loved your home tour. Thanks for sharing! Like others I really loved your words and your dedication to what you and your husband believe is best for your family.
    I’m a stay at home mom to two little ones and a new homeschooling mom (which I never dreamed of being!) living outside of NYC. We live on a BUDGET, which doesn’t seem to be in the vocabulary of many around here, and live in a home smaller than our realtor thought we could handle. It’s hard, and it’s wonderful, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
    You seemed to have reached a true happy place. Love it!

  18. Loved, loved this house tour and thoughts on motherhood especially the part on choosing to love your children and certainly because I face the same kind of situation (2 girls same âge , living in an appartement in Paris)
    Thanks a lot for this !

    1. Thanks! The kitchen island, as we call it, is actually from Ikea; but I found it on our Tennessee craigslist years ago. I think they still make one like it, but perhaps have upgraded it a bit.

    2. Hm… I just realized you may have been asking about our dining table. Sorry. That is the Verner Panton table. We love it! We actually found it on the NYC craigslist which we considered a beautiful gift. It is the perfect size for our space and the pedestal makes it take up even less space and fit any number of chairs we desire. Highly recommend it!

      1. And I’m commenting again to correct myself. Mark just reminded me that the little white chair is actually a Panton chair and the table is the Saarinen table. Everything else is true. Ha!

  19. Phew, this one gets me in the feels. Wonderful words and a great family, thanks for sharing! Also, I give major props to anyone who decides to move to NYC after having kids – that’s bold. Good for yall for following your dreams!

  20. I loved this house tour and Caryn’s words. For me, I find loving my children easy (and I am also impatient, cranky and annoyed with them too) but I think I made a choice to love my husband forever and sometimes have to remind myself of that when he is being less than helpful.
    We moved to NYC from England with a 9 week old and I also found the “nanny culture” strange. of course it makes sense if you are working out of the home all day but most of the mom’s I met where not, and still had nannys. Now we live in the suburbs of NYC and have a huge house and I love it. Coming from England where I lived in small to tiny houses all my life, I walk into my house every day and LOVE the space.
    and btw – I think any area of NYC is cool to live in!

  21. This resonated with me so much! We have a year old and 1 year old girl and we just did the opposite – move from our small NYC apartment to a house in the suburbs. We are enjoying the extra space and our own yard but I can see the transition working in just the opposite direction!

  22. I love these posts! It’s always great to remember that it’s not important to have the bigger house, but to be with the ones you love, even if it’s in a small apartment. I needed the reminder to live with what I have and be grateful everyday.

  23. This is officially my favorite one ever. I want this woman to be my friend! “While I sincerely hope they forget my impatience, angry moments, and occasional meal disappointments; I am desperately praying that I can pass on to my children a healthy body image. I despise all the back-handed comments we make about our bodies, the airbrushed women the media surrounds us with, and the guilt and binges of food. I hope to teach my girls that they have value because of who they are and that their minds are just as important as their bodies. And I want to teach them a healthy view of food, that isn’t related to rewards or punishments. I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.” AMEN! Love this!

  24. Beautiful home.
    Beautiful words.
    We Live( my partner, two kids aged 7 and 4 and two black puppies) live in a two bedroom home in an isolated town in Patagonia we have plenty of outdoor space with so much to do outdoors but little culture in terms of what you find in a big city like Sydney where both my kids were born.
    Sally: Just had to say Sally your words About story telling to your eldest to keep a loving close relationship made me cry and are so true. Thank you!

    1. Hey Andi,

      That unit is my husband’s joy! It is a system from Vitsœ that you customize to your space and needs. We have it on both sides of the fireplace and are so pleased with how it works seamlessly in any space and how it kind of disappears so you notice the items instead of the shelving. It is something Mark had long wanted to invest in as it can grow and change to your needs. It makes small space living much more functional and beautiful!

  25. This is so beautiful! I’ve been wanting to downsize and have received a lot of negative feedback from family and friends. They say it’s impossible with two children. Not so. You did it, and did it well. I can too. Thanks for the inspiration. Question: where did you get those high chairs? They are perfect. I want one for each child.

    1. Ashlee, just do it!! If it’s what you want, try it out! If you don’t like it, you can always go back. :) Our family of 6 lives in under 950 sq ft townhouse. We love it! It can be tricky, but we are living out our happiness, not our families! Good luck!

    2. Hi Ashlee!

      The high chairs are from Stokke and they are awesome. We got our first one new when our daughter needed a high chair. We just got the second one last fall and actually found it used on the NYC craigslist! It is a great chair as it works from birth to adulthood. Check them out!

      Also, I can totally relate to the feedback from family and friends. Our culture usually has a totally opposite mindset to downsizing so people thought we were crazy. We got a lot of laughs and definite concern from family wondering if it was feasible and really a good idea, especially because I was very pregnant when we did the move. But in the end, my husband and I were on the same page and that was what mattered. It isn’t for everyone. We all live different lives and different families. Pray about it and be open and honest. There will always be opinions. Good luck!

  26. What a beautiful little space. It certainly doesn’t seem as tiny as 450sf sounds!

    My family downsized three years ago when we moved from Australia to the SF Bay Area. We moved from a 3 bedroom house with large living areas and back yard to a 950sf 2 bedroom apartment. Friends and family who visit are amazed at how we fit 5 people into such a small space but it doesn’t feel small to us. Actually, after seeing your apartment Caryn mine suddenly feels gigantic – and cluttered! We’re always getting rid of stuff but it always feels like we still need to get rid of more.

    Storage is the biggest issue in our apartment. We don’t have a car but we do use Zipcar regularly for day trips, so that means we need to have car seats for our kids. It’s amazing how much space 3 baby/booster seats take up in a closet! The kids’ clothes take up a lot of storage space too. With three girls I save everything our oldest grows out of to pass on our middle daughter and then onto our youngest. With a 3.5 year gap between each kid this means we have a LOT of clothes in storage. The top of every closet in our apartment is filled with kids’ clothes! I need to get some Space Bags – stat!

    We brought most of furniture from Australia with us – a huge costly mistake! Our move was very short notice and at the time we had no idea how long we’d be here. If our stay ended up being very short and we sold all of our furniture then we’d have to buy it all again (we’d been burned that way in the past). On the flipside if our stay ended up being long term (which after three years looks more likely) we didn’t want to have to fork out a lot in storage costs to keep our nice furniture in Australia. So we shipped it all over. I now wish we’d sold it all and come over with nothing but clothing and the kids’ toys. That way we could’ve bought furniture that fit our space here. Our king sized ensemble bed is nice and comfy, but we can’t store anything under it. We didn’t need that storage space back home but we could certainly do with it now. Plus you’d be amazed at just how many apartments (and even houses) in the Bay Area have master bedrooms smaller than a king sized bed!

    Living in New York City has always been my dream but I know that if we were to move there one day we’d have to downsize even more – and definitely leave behind all that oversized furniture from Australia! I really feel that NY is a much easier city to live in a small space though. You really don’t need a car and everything you could possibly need is guaranteed to be close by. The Bay Area is almost there but it’s still pretty car based.

    Thanks for sharing you lovely little home Caryn. I’m off to purge a few more unneeded toys and kitchen gadgets. And eat some cake :)

  27. This is wonderful: “love being something you don’t always feel but promise to choose.” How much heart-ache could be avoided if we were all taught that when preparing for marriage!

  28. What a lovely house tour. I find so much in common with Caryn, from living with no nanny in the middle of a total nanny culture (London) to fiercely loving the UWS, to loving childrens’ books! I can also identify with your perspective and enthusiasm for living small-scale and for exploring with kids. I especially love what you said you hope your children learn through seeing the way you treats others; that we’re all broken people who need love & grace. Oh wow-no better place to practice that than NYC!

  29. I LOVED this tour. We recently moved to the NYC area as well; we are ten minutes away in NJ and downsized greatly too. This makes me want to keep purging and keep what we truly love and need.
    Where did you get the unit that is in front of your bed?
    I would love to meet up with you when the weather warms! We have two little ones that are 4 and 2 years old.
    Love your mom thoughts too; so refreshing to know we aren’t alone in this motherhood adventure.

    1. Hi Sara!

      Thanks for the sweet comments. That rolling unit in front of our bed is from Ikea. It is an Expedit with casters that you buy in the store. You can also customize inserts like the drawers we have on top.

      Would be glad for some new friends to meet up with! Have any cool playgrounds to check out? :)

  30. Wow, this really resonated with me today. THANK you for such wisdom and honesty. Your home is beautiful and is clearly curated with a lot of love.

  31. Caryn! This space is so inspiring! I live in a one bedroom in SF with my husband and our three kids, I think our place is about 600 SQ feet. We’ve decided to put all the kids and their toys into our room and use the front room as the space where we will sleep/do everything else. I’m on the fence as to wether we should do a sleeper sofa, Japanese sleeping mats or a wall bed. Your wall bed looks so sleek, can you share your source? Thanks!

    1. Hey Bille!

      Thanks for commenting! We purchased our wall bed at Milano Smart Living. We searched around a bit and went with them as we liked the simple model and they could get it to us faster (crucial considering I was weeks from delivering my second). We considered a sleeper sofa too, but those things are a beast and we didn’t like the vision of carrying one up all our stairs. Our bed is so easy to put up and down. Once I tested it in the store, I was sold. Good luck!

  32. Caryn, I love your home! I really need to show this to my sister-she and my BIL also live on the UWS in a one-bedroom and are planning how to arrange their apartment when they have children. My daughter (a college student ) also lives in the city so I love that aspect of your story. We love NYC for all the same reasons as you. Your parenting wisdom really resonates as well-my girls are 15 months apart and I’ve always worried about shortchanging my oldest. Thanks!

  33. I loved this post! We are getting ready to move our three small children to London in a few months and this gives me hope that we can live well in a small space on a budget. I can relate to the editing phase. It is hard to be in the middle of it but it also feels liberating to let go of stuff. I’m inspired. Thanks.

  34. Beautiful tour! I love hearing about your desire to downsize and then actually doing it. Very impressive in 450 sq. ft.! You also have such wonderful words about love and parenting. Thank you for sharing!!

  35. Caryn, I loved everything about this post and your oh-so-lovely home and space! You are inspiring to the max :) While I’m still living in the Midwest, I relate so much to your love of the city, your deep appreciation for all things “You’ve Got Mail,” your penchant for good kid lit and your desire to create. I also completely get the dance of loving being at home with two small kiddos and fervently seeking room to express myself in the midst. Thank you so much for the window into your 450sq ft plot–you are clearly an amazing mama who loves her family and is giving them (and God) your very best! Blessings!!

  36. I couldn’t believe it as I was reading this post. My husband and I are contemplating doing this exact move with our 3.5 yr and 13 month old boys. We live in Maryland right now and are trying to decide if now might be the right time to make the move to NYC that we’ve always dreamed of. My biggest concerns were apartment size and feeling isolated lonely. I find that since I had kids I rely so much on my parents and friends being close by. How has it been for you being alone in a new city with no family?
    Has the small apartment been difficult for you this winter? Is there a place you can take your kids to get out their energy?
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Sonel! Thanks for saying hello. I’m excited for you and your open possibilities! To answer your questions, it has been hard in a new city with no family, but that is nothing new for us. We have never lived close to family so I’m actually quite used to it. I think moving is just hard in general. It is a starting over. No one knows us and we have to be very intentional about finding a good church family, friends in surprising places, and open to however long that takes. I’m trying to teach myself to just be content with the bouts of loneliness, but also grab opportunities.

      I actually find it much easier in the city to make friends and step out. I already know my neighbors in our building better than I ever knew our neighbors on our cul-de-sac. We are trading off having playdates with our kids in each others places through the winter. Our church has open gym and activities several times a week so I try to go to something like that when cabin fever sets in. But really, when I feel us growing crazy with cabin fever, we do an outing. Walking a block or two, hitting the subway to a new or favorite store, strolling briefly through Central Park around the corner… all of that does wonders for our moods. We just learned quickly to bundle up for the cold and embrace the season knowing that it will end and our playground will reopen from the snow. The changing of the seasons is nice. It keeps us creative!

  37. Thank you, Caryn, for a sweet glimpse into your home and life! Is that a wee resin/ceramic model of your family on the fireplace mantle? It is adorable and such an interesting way to capture a portrait! Did you have it made or is it art?

    1. Hello leafyNell! Thanks for commenting. I love that you call it a wee model! It is actually a 3D printed model we had made of our family before the holidays. We just used it on our Valentine’s Day cards! We had it made in a pop-up shop from a company called Doob. It is an amazing little piece that we consider our family portrait!

  38. Hi Caryn, thank you for sharing this. I loved your words and all of the art on the walls. It is a beautiful apartment. Can I please ask where you got the beautiful light fixture in the living room?

  39. This was a great read.We moved to a 2bed in NYC (1150sf) with a 1 year old. Our family has grown since then–we have three kids now–2 are teenagers, and we have made all sorts of hacks to “fit.” It works. We don’t have a lot of stuff which is fine because it means less to store and care for. We edit all the time because we have to. We often find things in drawers and closets that have been unused for years and then we donate it. I wish we didn’t have that 2 year lag–I guess it means we have more storage space than we really need!

  40. “In all honesty, I’m still in a bit of mourning for the relationship I lost with our oldest daughter when we moved and the youngest came. It was such a crazy intense time of change and I tried very hard to make it as smooth as possible for her; but I didn’t really realize how different she and I would be after it was all over.”
    I just experienced this too; you are not alone. It is so difficult and so bittersweet :(

    1. Hey Robyn! That bedding is from Land of Nod. I literally gasped when I saw it in a catalog. It matches our beloved Sarah Jane Studios balloon print so perfectly!

  41. Oh Caryn! What lovely words!!! Yes, we were some of those who were originally quite shocked and surprised with your dream of moving to NYC but we love how it fits you guys SO well… and we love getting to visit you there! =)

    Thank you for being so open and vulnerable and honest about everything from parenting to mothering and body image. You have such a beautiful way of expressing these nuggets of wisdom, they are so inviting and dear. Thank you friend!!

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