Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beating the backyard blues.

We don't have a backyard. And I'm beginning to notice.

Now, first I need to qualify a few things. This is NOT a 'poor me' post. My family and I choose to live where we do, in a flat in an inner-city suburb. There are other potential scenarios and options available to us, but when we examined our priorities after the birth of our first son a few years ago, we opted for proximity to support networks, friends, work and facilities over 'space'. It's absolutely been the best decision. And in worldwide terms, it's quite normal not to have your own backyard, let alone more than one or two rooms to your dwelling. 

Because I know this to be true, part of me really wants to stick at this two-bedroom, no-backyard thing forever, just to prove that it's possible, even preferable, and of course the most sustainable option. Kids growing bigger? Stunt their growth! Another baby? It can sleep in the bath! Visitors? They can have our bed, we'll sleep on the dining table. Oh that's right... we don't have a dining table. Top-and-tail, anyone?

But reality has a way of interrupting my idealism with plenty of 'yeah buts', mostly in the form of two rambunctious children. My kids don't know what they are missing...  but I can see that they thrive in the great outdoors. We have so many parks and facilities nearby... but it would be great if sometimes I could chuck them out of the house and let them play free-range in the dirt without constant supervision. We can buy lovely fresh local produce just up the street... but perhaps my food-phobic William would try something new if he helped to grow it himself. 

Revving up the Christiania on a sunny Winter's day

Anyway, while these issues are up for debate at chez clutterpunk, we're getting on with the business of  having a Claytons* backyard. I have a loose deal with myself that we have to get out at least twice a day, rain or shine. 

Mostly, we visit local parks, walk to the fruit shop or post office, or head to the train station (and sometimes even catch a train for fun!). When it's cold and rainy this requires some preparation:

The $15 waterproof overalls from Aussie Disposals, while outside my ethical clothing pledge, have been a real hit this winter.

We also spend a fair bit of time befriending unsuspecting people with backyards and taking them over. On Monday and Wednesday mornings we often drop in on friends in the area, and in the late afternoon, we have a bit of a rhythm going with a new family nearby, in which we come and tear up their turf in exchange for, um, company? 

And late afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can find us giving the next-door-neighbours' trampoline a workout. I've recently struck a little deal with the lovely, intrepid single-mother-of-three-primary-schoolers next door. She heads out for a run while I let my kids fight hers for the best trampoline-related injuries.

In all of this, one thing is for certain. If I'd never gone without a backyard, I know I wouldn't know how to appreciate one. If and when we do have the privilege, I promise you, it will be cherished.

And now I'm curious. Do YOU have a backyard? Is it big or small? Do you wish you had more or less? Do you use it or neglect it? Do you think owning or renting makes a difference to how you use your outdoor space? 

And most importantly... do you have a trampoline and are you home on Friday?

*Aussie slang for a poor substitute or imitation


  1. Isn't it a fun one!
    First off, yes we are home Fridays with trampoline and the little punk-ettes are welcome anytime.
    We are renting a 3 bed townhouse so we have a small yard, big enough for a little frisbee, low key ball kicking and guinea pig hutch. It was all paved, but we fake turfed half of it for softer landings.
    I think with kids more room always sounds great, but I think if sometimes stuff is a constant access, like play equipment it is run of the mill, but a special 'park outing' sounds so much more fun (that is what I tell myslef anyway)

  2. we have a lovely backyard - which david has transformed over the years (we are renters). the garden is very kid friendly, we grow veggies and we even have four chooks. most importantly we have a trampoline and you are more than welcome to come over on friday for a play.....pity we live too far away :(
    if i were honest - i would give up my backyard for family support - there's nothing like it.

  3. Hi! I'm coming out of the woods to make my first comment :) I rent a small one bedroom apt. with my husband, no kids. Our last apartment had a small backyard big enough for a laundry line, which I miss, and a small firepit that sometimes we used with friends. But mostly, we neglected our backyard. Now, we garden with friends at a nearby farm. i think it makes us more grateful! but i do wish i could just walk outside and pluck off a cherry tomato :) i really enjoy your blog and your perspective on life!

  4. Yes, I have a backyard. A BIG one. But not as big as the one I grew up with. And my inner child is extremely jealous of the cubby that is here, but I miss the big willow I used to have.

    We use it, but not as much as we probably could. We are still getting used to the idea of having a big backyard. But I have plans for it. A veggie garden and a kids garden. And I want a potted herb garden on the deck, so I don't have to go down all those stairs to get my dinner. In the mean time, we neglect it, don't mow it often enough, and allow my mother to have her way with it.

    We do just hang out more in our backyard when we own it. But then, in the places I rented, there wasn't much of a yard to hang out in. I think I grew strawberries and lettuce, and hung out my washing in the last place I rented. There was no space for anything else. And Cindy is right, parks are always a hit, and their equipment is ALWAYS superior to home.

    You can come around ANY TIME and jump on our trampoline. And stay in our playroom. Or our spare room (although you will have to push the beds together). ANY TIME!

  5. Love, love, love a big back yard for kids. But at the same time your children will mange fine without one so long as your inner attitude is that it is fine. Trampolines are great if supervised but my 16 year old now suffers with footballers knee because of one. Have you thought of getting rid of your lovely masterbed and simply replacing it with a trampoline. You just move the mattress whenever the kids need to play ;) Cherrie
    PS I still have big backyard but it is mostly neglected as my teenagers/young adults don't spend any time out there and the lawn mower has gone on long service leave.
    PSS If your going to get a backyard that needs mowing, make sure it doesn't have a slope unless you want to loose a lot of weight.

  6. We have a small backgarden with some grass (currently a quagmire), a few garden beds and a paved area. The boys have enough room for a play house and climbing frame. Having lived in a number of abodes without gardens, I am very grateful for the space ( ... and love pushing the children out the door!).

    A week ago I got someone from Jim's Mowing to come and wield a mattock and remove a useless, ornamental hedge and now we have our first vegie and herb garden. Its made me appreciate the garden even more.

  7. We have a back yard, mainly used for the dog and drying washing, also a small front garden where all Little D's outdoor toys are. No trampoline i'm afraid, but then, i'd think Scotland might be a bit far to travel. lol.
    Sal. X

  8. Hello,
    I am a new reader to your blog and your post today sparked something in me. I live in a one bedroom apartment in the city with no children, but a wonderful boyfriend, musical instruments, books, my sewing machine and fabric stash! We also choose to live where we can walk to restaurants, our local park, library, grocery stores, thrift stores and we are centrally located to our transit system. We love living smaller. We consume less and leave less of a carbon footprint and that is great. Yet, I would love a small backyard, even a little tiny postage stamp size yard. Just enough space for a couple of chairs, table and some plants and a grill. I really miss having a grill. However, if we did have a yard, chances are good that because of my schedule and his loathing of yard work, it would be neglected. So for now when we want to enjoy a nice evening, we actually get out and go to the park where we can people watch, meet friendly dogs and get to know our community that we might not know if we were cooped up in our backyard.
    Good luck on your inner search for a yard! By the way your hexi-quilt looks wonderful!

  9. I rent and I don't have any outdoor space. I'd love to have a patio or deck, where I could sit outside with a beer or a book or a project. I'd also love space for a container garden.

  10. We have a small backyard, which suits this park-phobic Mummy to a T. ( I get vertigo by proxy!!). Cubby house, wading pool (in Summer), sandpit, cement and jumbo-chalk, kiddie-slide, veggie patch, compost bin and Hills Hoist washing line are all much-used. Lawn can be mowed with one of those hand-pushed jobs (by the man-of-the-house... which also suits me nicely!).

    I feel like I neglect my child's appreciation of the great outdoors and her gross motor skills because I don't take her out for afternoon walks and visits to the park..... so is a handy little backyard a good thing?

    Oh, and we're not home on Friday and we only have a mini-trampoline, but I can tell you how to break into the backyard if you're desperate....?

  11. You can come hang out at camp with us, Gina---or, if you'd rather, you're welcome to take advantage of our yard at home (and give the chooks a bit of exercise, perhaps?)

  12. Oh I am with you totally. Team MooBear never had a back yard yard till 6mths ago. Like you we utilised local facilities and friends houses. I was lucky one of out local parks were fully enclosed so i wasn't on high alert the whole time.

    Now I can head out the back to have a mooring uppa and thevkids more often then not join me. They sit with me, ride their bikes, pulling clothes line in circles while creating more washing(but I don't mind that) Carlos plays soccer with the kids and play tennis. We thouroghly enjoy our back yard and I am even liking the idea of a dog... I am a cat person!! So that says a lot.

    I think moo appreciates the back yard the most as she put up with none for so long... Oh we also have a front yard on a really quiet street so we use that too play chasing lol...

    We rent always have so i am not sure if kt makes a difference owning... Don't have a trampoline... But we use our friends one 5 doors down... Feel free to join us either thurs or Friday.

    Hmmm not bad... Xo Steph

  13. We live in the 'burbs and have a smallish, fenced backyard, and big unfenced front yard (our house is a corner lot so the front is bigger). When the kids were little, the backyard was WONDERFUL because I could let them play outside without having to sit right there. At various times we've had a big inflatable pool, sandbox, kiddie garden, etc.. A couple of years ago we re-landscaped and now there's no grass back there, but the boys still enjoy the small vegetable garden we've planted. I really like having the small backyard as it's super low-maintenance and it gives us a private outdoor space for summer dinners and hanging out next to the firepit.

    Now that the boys are (almost)8 and 5.5yrs, they are old enough to play in the front yard while I'm in the house. So they don't spend much time in the back any more. Mostly they play out front with their friends, riding bikes, playing soccer, etc.. We live on a cul-de-sac so I feel comfortable letting them out to play mostly unsupervised (I can hear them but not see them).

    Our area has A LOT of parks, but it is so convenient to be able to let the boys play outside while I am still able to do things like fold laundry, make dinner, or read a book on the sofa LOL

    Hmmm...we own our home....no tramp (they are actually very difficult to own here- many homeowners' insurance companies will cancel your policy if you put one in!)....but you're always welcome to come and play in the cul-de-sac!

  14. We have a reasonable backyard- not huge but not teeny tiny. Enough room to run wildly about with no purpose and some dirt to dig in. No trampoline and our cubby just broke because my children didn't deep learn the instruction, "don't climb on the roof". It is nice to send the kids outside. I really appreciate it actually. I am reminded by this post to appreciate it more.

    It sounds like you and your kids have a great time in the great outdoors using what is available to you.

  15. I live in a house with a large backyard by town standards. I have a large vegetable garden, a dog and 3 chooks with plenty of room to run and play.

    Given I grew up on a large farm it is not enough. I want more space for the kids, for poddy lambs and the pony. I want the fruit trees and the rural life. I don't want to see my neighbours, but I wnat to know they are there.

    It will be ours in about a week and we are all super excited about it!

    You can be happy and make do, and while they say 'less is more', sometimes it just isn't.

  16. We've opted for the big house and garden in the burbs. Love it.
    But I still find my kids would rather be indoors watching telly or drawing or playing board games than venturing outside to the cubby house.
    I guess they're a chip of mummy's block!
    I'm not really the outdoorsy type.

  17. I have a 2 acre garden with the works, sheds, veggies, orchard, chooks, ducks you name it. I wouldn't trade it for the world. BUT....my support is here, I have family close, friends and a great community. THAT is what I wouldn't trade, all those people. If you can find you peace in the flat then live your dream, if you can't....look for something else. Thats what we did and it worked.

  18. We started without a garden/yard and we now have a kiwi style 1/4 acre. I'm totally with you on the having not had it I do totally appreciate it. It's great! Being able to let them out on their own is such a huge pleasure for them, and me! The section is fenced and safe and they can just be .... digging mud, throwing mud, eating mud - you know, just doing what children do! Having now had one I certainly wouldn't like to go back, in fact I'm getting greedy I would like more! We do now own a tramp, which is wonderful, and we are at home on Fridays, so when you guys head on over the Tasman come and play - in fact come and camp out with us! xx

  19. PS Meant to say that I adore the blanket that covering your offspring's knees!!!! xx

  20. There are always pros and cons to every situation. If only we could have it all. I don't have any kiddies obviously, but I would have chosen the family support over the backyard too, and just think - if you did have a backyard, maybe you would have missed out on meeting such wonderful neighbours?
    PS - I don't have a trampoline, but I do have a small patch of dirt masquerading as a backyard. Although, I haven't been out there for so long, that it could actually be a weed jungle again by now.

  21. Ah, Gina. I could have written this post (and we have 6m3 more backyard than you do!). Can't wait to see you next week xx

  22. Hey there. We don't have a backyard at all either. We have a bit of grass at the front but we are on a shared plot (unit half houses) so there are no gates or fences to block the main street (so I can't let my little one run around unless I am right there with him). We spend a lot of time at the park and a local "playhouse" and when he needs a big outdoor hit we go to the grandparents house. I definitely long for some of our own land but for now local parks are a blessing and there are so many to choose from so you can often switch it up! xx m.

  23. We have quite a decent-sized back yard Gina but I still take the girls on regular outings to parks, both the ones we ca walk to and 'special' ones further afield we drive to.
    I think parks bring new experiences, they figure out how different things work and make new discoveries each time.
    That said I love watching them potter in the cubby or ride their bikes, sing and dance on the covered deck and the advantage of the deck is they can be out there rain, hail or shine.
    I'd trade it all though for my parents to be living just around the corner though!
    Support/friendship/community can never be underestimated in my opinion Gina.
    PS - we are home Friday afternoons and have a small trampoline, but lots of covered room for running!

  24. We have a pretty big backyard (veggie gardens, chooks, cubby, sandpit, trampoline, swings, etc...) and I have to admit that I wouldn't survive without it. The kids & I all like rugging up & getting our there. Often I can then head back inside & they continue for another 40 mins or so (especially since I hid the TV for a trial).

    That said I grew up on a farm so it seems small to me. We are lucky to have a couple of parks around that we go to (weekly, not daily).


    we don't have any family around us (all interstate) & it is an uphill (no-can-do on the bike) hill we live on so the shopping, etc. outings are by car.

    Perhaps you can get a community garden plot to dig around in or do some guerrilla gardening with the boys.

  25. We have a backyard of sorts - 2.4m wide, sloping, and mostly concrete, so not exactly the most desirable space.
    I still hope to fix it up, but from a child's perspective it's not so bad - there's concrete to draw on, a tiny patch of dirt for gardening and mess making, and a tiny sand box. I think I should learn from you, though, and try to visit friends with bigger backyards more often. I also love the waterproof overalls!

  26. Hi Gina! We have a small backyard and a pool. Pool only used in summer and only by the little one (apparently it's not that cool anymore to swim as a teenager!) Such wasted space - I keep threatening to turn it into a veggie garden. Small yard also used only by the little one to kick ball around or practice hockey hits. My sister's boys (currently staying with us for 2 wks while my sis is OS) love our garden and have currently dug out their own dirt-pit for trucks etc. I don't mind too much as at least they are using it and... well, it keeps them happy and out of my hair! ;) So yes, I feel for you. If you lived near us you could take over the yard anytime hon! Kx

  27. My backyard turns into a wading pool when it rains a lot, and a trampoline would be a bad idea unless you really wanted to see in to the carpark over the fence. I don't use or appreciate mine nearly enough.

  28. oh oh oh I have been LOOKING for outside overalls!!!! Are these strong enough for a crawling one year old?????

    Yes we have back yard - but to small for a trampoline. We have a park next door which the boys call the back yard (lol). Works GREAT. Grass stays in good nick and plants not squashed!

  29. We're currently renting a place with a little backyard - which we don't use as it isn't secure. We have lots of fenced playgrounds in our area so I usually take my 14mo to one of those.

    We're searching for a house to buy and I want to live in an inner suburb so we are within walking/bus distance to everything. But the houses are so pokey that we would like the option of extending... so we are looking for a place with a decent backyard.

    However, I could be swayed into buying a place in an outer suburb/semi rural if we could have chooks, a vege patch and some fruit trees. But then we'd definitely have to buy a second car.

    So many pros and cons....

  30. We own 9 acres of forest and hills to play on here. It is great but a HUUUUUUGe amount of work maintaining it. 6 of the acres are forest- the rest is cleared but its massive. I couldn't imagine living any other way now but Chef and I often ponder what our lives would be like if we lived in an inner city flat- so much more time on our hands we reckon! So maybe it is a case of the grass is always greener. I grew up in Sydney near the city but with a huge backyard ( we had swings trampoline and chooks etc) I like that Ms Busy has the space to run around, dig in the dirt, ahve a sadnpit etc - she is getting a trampoline for christmas - and OF COURSE you and yours couldn't be more welcome! x
    ( maybe we need to do a house swap!)

  31. We (couple with a 3 year old girl) live in a terrace style townhouse with a tiny courtyard. It's a great location and townhouse with lovely people in the same complex. There is a shared green space, which we use for playing/riding bike and we are the only ones in the complex who use it really. I try to remember to get out for a bike ride or walk, but now that it's winter and I'm working, it seems to happen less. Recently when thinking about buying a house, my daughter says she like the garden best. So I sometimes wonder what life would be like with a garden. We'd certainly have a whopping big mortgage.

  32. I think we had those same waterproof overalls when we were kids - fantastic!! I love that you are getting out "whatever the weather" - good on you! I love kids being in the outdoors and I don't think it is good for them to be cooped up inside all of the time and I have found a backyard to be a perfect lazy option for me as I am not required to be involved in their amusement - they can make their own fun and I can actually get some housework done for a small amount of time.

  33. This post is what I have been thinking about a lot lately! We live in a very small 2 bedroom flat in a suburb close to Adelaide city. It's pretty much a concrete jungle. Communal laundry...very small area of dirt for growing things, some people do grow things in this space now...before it was overgrown with weeds! Tim and I often say to each other when we have a bigger place we would love a garden to grow vegies. sometimes I wish we had more space...and a yard togo into, BUT when it comes to cleaning a tidying it doesn't take long because there isn't many areas to clean!

  34. Firstly can I say how refreshing it is to see an original trampoline with the springs exposed and everything! Man I miss those things. Nowadays there all closed in and buffered up the wazoo with foam and stuff. Heaven forbid a kid should get their bum pinched in a spring! Actually that did used to hurt I guess ...

    Anyhoo to the backyard. We have a teeny tiny little backyard in our rental digs but when we moved here (with one toddler and bub two on the way), from our unit we might as well have had an oval out the back such was my excitement. Now of course it is starting to feel small and we are deciding whether to stay small and buy nearby or move out a bit further for a bit of space ... oh the dilemma's ...

    p.s you are my hero for taking two small boys out in the rain ;)

  35. We have no kids, bvut we used to live in a little townhouse with enough yard front and back to make an ornamental garden. No room for vegies, kicking a footy, or harassing the native birds. Scott is a keen gardener and I needed a sewing room so when we could afford it we bought a bigger house with a massive yard. Now we have vegies and fruit trees and climbing trees for the nephews and piles of dirt and we have a great old time. I wouldn't swap my big backyard for the world, and if we'd had kids it would have been a great backyard for them.

    However I can see the appeal of a place with no garden. If it hadn't been for my sewing obsession, a rotten racist and homophobic neighbour and our love of gardening, we'd still be living in that little townhouse, very happily.

    Good luck deciding what to do!

  36. Great post Gina! Yep, we have a smallish backyard - it's big enough for the Little Mister (now 3 and a half) to run around, have a small sandpit and a trampoline (come over any time - seriously - more company would be great), and for our two small, old dogs. I love to garden, and we've had our little dogs for about 10 years now, so we've had no choice but to live in places with a yard, even when the option of living in an apartment would have been more convenient at times. I would love a bigger yard, but I'm not prepared to move away from the inner suburbs. Maybe go halfway - a semi or something? Good luck! Nic

  37. We have a psuedo backyard. We live in a townhouse community where there are larger spaces of lawn here and there where anyone within the association can come play. We purposely bought a unit that had the biggest outdoor space so we could pretend we had a backyard. Unfortunately, as my son has an autism spectrum disorder and as there are no ways to gate him in, he prefers to have free-reign over the neighborhood rather than staying in the backyard where I'd like to be supervision-free for a while. *sigh* But, I know it could be worse.

  38. We moved from a two bedroom inner city townhouse to the burbs just before M. was born. Now we have a decent sized backyard + a pool. Our house has lots of space. It has been great but I do miss our ol' place lots. I'm not sure though if this is more to do with missing elements of our pre-children life?!?
    There are 'fors' and 'againsts' with every decision - take your time to decide.

  39. What a great post. You know what some times just reading that someone else is in the same situation helps. We are in exactly the same place, except I think you have a few more backyard friends to take over. I think it would be easier if I hadn't grown up with backyards and lots of space and instead grown up in a flat as well- then I wouldn't know any different!
    Its a hard call and somethings got to give. Trade the friends, support network, everything within walking distance, public transport, little shared courtyard for a house with a backyard?... Sometimes. Depends on the day and whether they are driving me nuts :-)
    Your owning or renting question... maybe it does, but having not owned before maybe it doesn't. I certainly feel I could use spaces more if I didn't have to 1/consider other neighbours and 2/get permission to change things.

  40. Hey Gina,

    I have just one thing to add. Bunnings.

    At Bunnings you can find portable patio greenhouses. If you have 1 metre square of space, you and your boys could do at least a little bit of herb/vegie/flower gardening.

    Tiny space idea, but a great way to get the process happening :-)


“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
~Albert Einstein