Chenay has been here once before, about a year ago when she talked about her and her then husband moving into a much smaller space. Well, since then she and her husband have divorced and while he stayed in the home they shared, she has downsized yet again and is now in a 400 sq ft studio apartment that she shares part time with her kids and full time with her two older cats. Chenay has great advice about moving on, living in a smaller space, and readjusting when life throws curve balls. Welcome back, Chenay!
Hello! My name is Chenay and I live in this roughly 400 sq ft studio with my kids Evey and Max, as well as our cats Achilles and Antoinette. Our family dynamic has changed since I wrote my last Living With Kids interview a year ago: I am now divorced and my ex has our old house and the dog, and the two of us share 50/50 custody of the kids. We made the decision to get divorced last December and I moved out in June of this year. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time I asked for a divorce, but I found a part-time job in March, and then another one in April.
Living under the same roof with my soon-to-be ex-spouse was not ideal, which is putting it lightly; there was too much hurt, anger, and no space to process these feelings. I’m so grateful for my therapist and friends and family who supported me during such a mentally exhausting time of my life. But, all these months later, things have started to calm down and I feel like we are now in the beginning stages of our new family rhythm. My ex and I took the kids to school on their first day, and we just recently went to the Reno Hot Air Balloon Races with the kids. Evey and Max are handling things as well as they can right now, and I think that seeing their mom and dad get along has had a lot to do with that.
Evey, now seven, started second grade last month and was thrilled to start back in the classroom this year instead of homeschool like last year. She is kind, helpful, and incredibly astute. Max, who turned four in June, just started preschool, which he does love, although he doesn’t always show it at drop off in the morning. He is sassy, sweet, and sociable. Achilles, who is 15, and Antoinette, who is 12, are old and lazy cats who are enjoying the hidey-holes in our little studio. And I’m Chenay, a 36 year old divorcee working at our local children’s museum and state museum. I’m enjoying the days when I’m childless, while simultaneously missing my kids.
We still live in Carson CIty, Nevada, but now in a different neighborhood. We are currently in the Historic District, just walking distance from the Governor’s Mansion, across the street from a park, and surrounded by beautiful old houses. There are resident deer that roam the neighborhood and all of Carson knows that you do not mess with them, even when 10 of them are in your yard eating your garden. It’s so fun to step outside and see a herd of deer. I’ve only met two neighbors, when my friend and I accidentally dropped my new A/C unit out of the two story window and into their bushes (it was really all my fault). The A/C unit was completely fine and the neighbors cracked jokes right along with us, so that was definitely an interesting way to meet them.
I absolutely adore this part of town, but what I hate about it is the housing prices. Really, all of Carson City, to include neighboring cities, is crazy overpriced. The place I’m renting is currently valued at $600,000 and the median home price in town is $437,059, according to Zillow, which makes me want to puke. I’m not sure if the housing prices will ever become affordable again.
Living in the Historic District is such a treat in itself; I used to drive here just to go for walks. It’s also nice that both of the museums I work for are just a couple minutes away. We are also close to downtown which boasts some decent restaurants (although we need way more) and a blossoming art and culture scene.
When I started thinking about moving out, I was stressed because I had just started working again and I knew I’d need a couple months of work under my belt in order to put in an application for a rental. But then I remembered that my friend and former co-worker, Pat, had a studio attached to her house that she rented. We chatted and I was able to move in a couple days after her tenant moved out. Now, I know living in a small space is not for most people, but I guess it was good that I had downsized previously from 2070 sq ft to 1200 sq ft, so what’s another 800 sq ft, right? I also wanted to live out my tiny house dream and this studio definitely delivers that.
Downsizing again was different this time around, I can’t say it was easier or harder because, honestly, I just left a lot of things at my ex’s house and I still have some things there in the shed that I might want to take some day. I did feel overwhelmed in the beginning, because there were so many things that I loved about that house: the eclectic dining room, all of the open shelving, and we had changed up the living room last fall and I freaking loved it.
I wanted to take the vintage blue velvet sofa we had purchased for the living room, and the bookcases in the kids’ bedroom, but I decided to leave all of the furniture. Sounds crazy, right? But I knew that leaving the furniture would help the kids with the transition, and I also needed to buy furniture specifically for my tiny space. Most of the furniture in the studio pulls double duty, like the daybed that acts as a couch and pulls into a king size bed for me. The kids’ bunk bed is part bed, part playhouse, and part reading area. The bookcase houses books, games, toy bins, and hides a cat bed.
My advice to anyone living in a small space like ours would be to use vertical space as much as possible and get creative with storage. The space under the kitchen cabinet used to house a tiny fridge (which I removed pretty early on because there was no way the kids and I would have survived with that!), and I was at a premium for cabinet space, so I bought metal stacking shelves and placed them in that nook to hold pots, pans, food storage, and the blender.
I’m not a minimalist, but I like to read and listen to minimalist and simple living blogs and podcasts; what I’ve learned from these is that you should only keep the things that you love around you, otherwise they’ll just feel like a weight. Why maintain, store, and clean something you don’t like or won’t use?
I feel so calm when I come home. It probably has to do with the amazing natural light we get and the views of trees and mountains from our window, but it’s also from the way that I decorated our space. Everything in our studio is intentional and I placed things and purchased things with mine and my kids’ aesthetics in mind. I’ve also tried to make sure that our functional items are pretty, like our hamper, and the kids’ dishes, because there’s no place to hide them!
Evey and Max love our small space, which I’m not surprised by because we get along very well and they are extreme mommy cuddlers. But I think that they just feel the calm energy that flows from our peaceful color palette, their favorite stuffies covering their beds, and our abundant art collection, which includes their handmade art. They know that our home is a space for playing, making art, building, and cuddling.
My mom superpower is listening to my kids and empathizing with them. As an empath and highly sensitive person, I’m naturally drawn to do this for my kids, but sometimes I do get stuck in my head and I have to make sure that I am actually paying attention, because sometimes my introverted brain just wants to retreat after a long day at work. But I know that listening and empathizing with my kids is incredibly important because, in the present, they feel heard and seen, and in turn feel safe.
In the future, I hope they will be more apt to open up to me about more difficult things, and will be better able to express their feelings to me and others because their own feelings weren’t ignored or they weren’t told that they were unimportant.
So, having joint custody of the kids with my ex is a mixed bag. I thought that I’d be a total mess in the very beginning, constantly crying when they weren’t with me and feeling like a cruddy parent because I was no longer with them 100% of the time. But, there was a lot to distract me in the beginning, from moving into my new place, setting it all up, making sure that the kids were doing as well as they could, starting a new relationship, and diving into my work.
I thought that I had avoided that sad situation all together, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case, because three months into moving out I had an epic meltdown. I didn’t have the kids that night and I had plans to visit my boyfriend, but I just couldn’t do anything else but sob like my world was ending for at least an hour. I realized that life had settled into a pleasant groove, the custody schedule was going smoothly, the kids were far more used to having two homes, and my relationship had hit a nice stable point, and that’s when all of the feels decided to rear their ugly heads because I now had the time to process and feel that stuff.
In the beginning, I thought that when I had the kids, I would make sure we would have fun and I would save cleaning and shopping for the days I didn’t have them. However, I soon realized that my kids would turn out to be entitled brats if that’s how I spent their time with me, so now I try to balance out the fun with the work, just like we’ve always done.
One last thing about having joint custody that was less than ideal for me was relinquishing control. Knowing that my kids’ dad does things differently than I do, talks to them differently, feeds them differently, puts them to bed at a different time, was difficult for me and I stressed about it a lot. But I’ve talked to many wonderful friends, and my therapist, who have taught me the beauty in letting go, since I can’t do anything about these things anyway.
After living in the studio, I hope Evey and Max remember that small living can be fun and that it brought us closer together, literally and figuratively! I hope they remember the cozy spaces we’ve created and cuddling up to read stories on my bed. I hope they remember the magical lighting we set up in our space and that they were safe and loved.
I hope they forget the moments when they needed space but were not able to find it (sometimes Evey makes do with shutting herself in the bathroom or in the closet behind the curtains). I also hope they forget that I nagged them about putting their things away because, as I consistently point out, a tiny space gets cluttered real quick!
My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids this time around has been watching them grow and adapt to new things. The divorce was/is hard, and they have done so well with the change. They were incredibly excited to live in our new space and make it their own. I have to remind myself how resilient they are during the times when my depression and anxiety pulls me down and tells me that I’ve ruined them for life by divorcing their dad. I know that the divorce really is the best thing for our family, because my ex and I deserve to be happy and our kids deserve to see happy parents, even if we’re no longer married.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that I am a good person and that my feelings are valid; that I’m not a horrible manipulating individual, and that shame and guilt were the root causes of all of these awful feelings I had about myself. Once I let go of shame and guilt, I was able to reexamine myself and make peace with the parts of me that weren’t so nice, but that were there because I wasn’t dealing with the deficiencies in my marriage.
Questioning things about my marriage, while terrifying and which eventually led to the divorce, has freed me from many (but not all) bad feelings about myself. Being with someone for 19 years is a long time, and letting go of thoughts and triggers that don’t serve me is difficult, but I’m slowly but surely making progress and my kids have a better mom.
Thank you, Chenay!
Trying to live with two kids and two cats in 400 square feet must be so challenging, but I love that Chenay is taking advantage of all the space — the couch that folds out into a bed, the vertical storage, the book shelves/ storage units/ toy storage used to hold whatever she needs. And I love the personal touches mixed through out so that it feels more special that just “storage space.” So smart.
As a divorced parent with shared custody myself (Josh, the editor, speaking!) I love what Chenay says about joint custody. It is incredibly complicated and emotional and sometimes difficult. But like Chenay says, kids are very resilient and can adapt really well. And there is something really beautiful in letting go of parts of your kids life and letting their other parent, who also loves them, make some of the decisions, even if they are different than the ones you would make. I think that is something that can be beneficial for any parents, even if they are still together.
Do you and your spouse have similar parenting styles? Or do you have some major differences? Are you OK letting go of control and letting them parent in their own style, or is that tricky for you?
Truckee River Print
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.