Crafts and Creativity in a Tiny Space: Finding the Balance in Making a Mess and Raising a Creative Free Spirit

The other day I was washing the breakfast dishes. I turned my head to the left and my almost three year old daughter was quietly talking to herself and playing. I felt myself cringe a bit, then I smiled.  It was 9am and our less than 100 sq. ft space looked like about five tornados had passed through it. There were feathers ALL over her bed, along with dried macaroni, popsicle sticks and pom-poms. Stuffed animals and books covered the floor. Our tiny table was strewn with markers, glue drying on random pieces of paper and globs of glitter pen goodness. I was surpressing my urge to freak out and have her clean everything up right away. I was thankful that she was so great at occupying herself with creative, imaginative play in our tiny home.

As a parent, or maybe more honestly as an adult, it feels so natural to feel uneasy with a mess. Society says we should keep things neat and tidy. That mess is bad. That structure is good. But what about the importance of allowing and encouraging a child to be creative,  a free-spirit? I’d argue it’s important to balance your own desire to keep things neat and tidy in a small space  (or any space really) and teaching that behavior to your child with all the benefits of allowing them to make a mess, to be creative and free-thinking.

Naturally we want our kids be to be responsible. And in a small space it feels extra important for things to be in their place, to keep things picked up before they overtake everything. When we first moved into the Casita that was my plan. Our daughter was told that she had to put away one toy before taking out another. There isn’t much room and it seemed an easy way to keep things neat and tidy. To have her practice responsibility.  She was good at it.

Then I started to observe that it wasn’t what came naturally to her.  She would start to forget that rule because she was so involved in her imaginative play. I saw the huge flaw in my plan. I was hindering her creativity.  She would be playing with her magnet letters but take out her cooking toys because she wanted to make me alphabet soup. She would take out her farm animals while playing with legos because she wanted to build them a new barn. She wanted to make paper hats out of her art supplies for her stuffed animals to have a birthday party. I couldn’t in my right mind say “ hey kiddo let’s keep those toys separated, we don’t want any creative thinking happening here, don’t exercise that part of your brain at all.” I’d be a fool.

So while I still find myself cringing now and then I let her make a mess inside with her toys and art supplies, or outside with sand, dirt or mud. We paint inside even though we have carpeted Casita walls.  I allow her access to all her art supplies and toys without asking.  I remind myself how important it is to her development to be allowed the freedom to create, be inventive. How it exercises her cognitive skills, her emotional skills and motor skills. How it shows her that I trust her. That I know she will clean up when she is done. And that I want her to have fun, to be a kid. And I do. And she does.


This post was written for inclusion in the August collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!
Indie Mama Health– “Tiny Home Living .:. Being Creative and Organized in Small Spaces” : One of the aspects of tiny home living that I really enjoy is the requirement to be super creative with storage and organization. It’s a game and I LOVE it. I love to be organized and I love for each item to have it’s own home.
Little Bungalow– “Colourful Minimalism” : Sharing my totally made up design style and some images that are inspiring me creatively in my new small home.
A Life Shift– “Do You Need to Be Creative to Live Small?” : Thoughts on whether creativity is the key for this family of three’s harmonious life in a tiny Hong Kong apartment, or if there are other “secret ingredients” that make it a successful lifestyle we love.
Fourth and West– “Hobbies, A Baby and A Tiny House” : Finding space for creativity in a growing family.
Family Pedals– “Creativity in the Cold” : So it is the coldest months when the kids have the most pent-up energy and the fewest outdoor options that we have the least square footage. Having limits–limited space, limited toys, limited options–gives our kids the freedom they need to create.
The Streamlined Life– “When Creativity Spills Over into Something More” : Living small doesn’t make us creative, but living with purpose does.
Tiny Ass Camper– “Crafts and Creativity in a Tiny Space” : Finding the balance in making a mess and raising a creative free spirit.
Justice Pirate– “Creativity Bursts in Small Home Living” : When sometimes you have dreams of fabric, colors, and getting snuggly in a quilt you made yourself.

About Jenn

Jenn has created 27 entries.


  • Kate

    Oh, this post so strikes me at my core, Jenn! I really needed to read this because it’s something I struggle with myself….to just let the girls be free to make messes when they dig deep into creative play. I’m getting better at it, even if I do grumble a bit inside!

    • Jenn

      It takes SO much practice! And I think I will probably always grumble a bit inside!

  • Nicole Slater

    I feel this SOO much. It’s so similar in my house. Always a mess of toys and dirt and well…chaos. I could clean my house in the morning and 10 minutes later you’ll barely be able to see the floor and there is dirt everywhere. I’ve had to let a lot go…with still the occasional freak out. 🙂

    • Jenn

      I guess the positive is with a small space it doesn’t take too long to clean it back up again. At least that is what I tell myself! 🙂

  • Victoria the Justice Pirate

    HAHA. I’d probably cringe too because I am not fond of messes one bit. I really liked reading this post and that you had a photo to go along with the description too. I am glad she was having so much fun creating. Paper hats are fun!

    • Jenn

      Thanks so much Victoria!

  • A Life Shift

    This is such a good reminder for me as my little guy starts to get older and play gets wilder and messier. I’m a natural “tidy-upper” and I will need to work on relaxing those tendencies to allow him to be creative.

    • Jenn

      Thank you! It’s a hard balance but it does get easier. 🙂

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