Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ten Tips for Raising Children in a Smaller Home

Children will not remember you for the material things you provided but for the feeling that you cherished them.”

Richard L. Evans

Shortly before or after having their first child, most parents will utter the phrase, "We need more space. Let's start looking for a larger home." My husband and I did the same thing. Our first son was born when we lived in a one bedroom condo that was under 800 square feet. After we brought him home from the hospital, he slept in the bedroom, my husband and I slept in a futon on the living room floor every night. And this futon was only the size of a twin bed! We did this until my son was 18 months old and then moved to our current three bedroom, 1800 square foot house. I now have two sons and my oldest is 18 and leaving for college in the fall. So how do you raise children in a smaller home? Let me pass on a few tips that I learned from experience, as well as from a good friend who is married and has 12 children - that's right an even dozen - in a house no bigger than mine.

  1. Throw out the changing table. You do not need a changing table to change a diaper. Either change diapers on the bed or on a clean towel or diaper mat on the floor. I don't think I have ever seen a 1 1/2 year old lie still on a changing table for a diaper change. You will be saving money and space in your home.
  2. Babies and older children can sleep in the same room. Yes they can. So what if the baby wakes up the older sibling sometimes. Your older child will learn to fall back to sleep and babies like the company of someone else in the room.
  3. Children can share bedrooms. Contrary to conventional wisdom, children do not need their own bedrooms, they can share. This is what bunk beds are for. There is nothing wrong with two or three children sharing the same room. In fact, siblings tend to be closer when they share a room. My sons will talk to each other after the lights are out and discuss things they would never bring up with me. They also figure out how to solve problems on their own.
  4. Keep computers and TVs out of the bedroom. Put the computer and TV in the family room or the basement. This not only lets you keep tabs on what the children are watching or doing on the computer, but leaves space in the bedroom for the essentials - a bed and nightstand for each child, which leads me to the next tip.
  5. Keep furniture in the bedroom to a minimum. You only need a bed and nightstand for each child along with a lamp. This is more than enough personal space. But what about a dresser for clothing? That leads us to tip #6.
  6. Use closet organizing systems instead of dressers. If you organize the closet with space to hang clothes, as well as drawers and shelving units, you can do away with dressers and cabinets for storing clothes. I like the Elfa storage systems at the Container Store.
  7. Use the dining room table for homework. This is typically a space with good lighting, children can spread out and do their work and a parent is usually available in the kitchen or close by to offer help.
  8. Buy a nice book shelf and dedicate one or two shelfs for each child to store school work and books. This eliminates the need for a desk for each child and keeps children organized.
  9. Store toys in a nice cabinet kept in the dining room or family room. You can organize the different toys in baskets inside the cabinet. I know its hard, but try to get children to put toys away after they are done playing. Don't feel bad if you have to yell to get the kids to clean up. This seems to be a normal motivational tool.
  10. Adults shower in the morning, children bathe at night. This bathroom routine makes it possible for an entire household to function with only 1 full bathroom and a powder room.

Just remember, the skills learned by children living in a smaller home - negotiating shared spaces, learning to respect differences - are the same skills that lead to success outside the home.

Until next time,



  1. I like the article, lots of great tips! Thanks! But...1,800 square feet is really a pretty big house! :) My husband and I have three girls, ages 4,2,and 4 months and we live in a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom home that is 870 square feet... that's less than half of 1,800 square feet and with 3 kids! It's a challenge and at times it's frustrating and great at the same time! :) Thanks again for the tips they're great!!!

  2. Great topic, though I agree that 1800 square feet sounds like a palace! My husband and I share our 1150 square foot, 4 bed, 2 bath bungalow with 2 children and a cat. Because of the current recession and falling home values in my area, it would not be prudent for us to upgrade to a larger home at this time, so I'm having to get used to the reality of making do in a small house with no garage. Fortunately our home is quite well laid out, with plenty of counter space in the kitchen and a decent sized dining area. It has 4 bedrooms (2 of them only 9X10) and 2 full baths. Despite the compact size, all of us have our own rooms (my husband and I enjoy a small master suite and private bath), but space is minimal. Here are some of the things I have done to make it work:
    One of the smaller bedrooms is used as an office, housing 3 bookcases and a computer desk. We have an armoire in the front room which conceals the tv, so that it can function as a family room or parlor, depending on the situation. (We don't put tvs in our children's rooms either.) Next year we plan to purchase a fold-out couch to accommodate the occasional overnight guest.
    My husband installed a cat flap on the door to the utility closet, where the enclosed litter box is kept out of the way.
    We limit furniture to only what we need, and buy the highest quality items we can afford so that they will last. (I never buy anything but solid wood because it can be refinished; when my son outgrew his dresser we painted it, and it is now good as new in our baby daughter's room.)
    We do not have walk-in closets, so I have the same policy regarding clothing- I try to buy high quality where it counts, and if it's not something worn regularly, out it goes.
    Every Christmas I politely request that the grandparents do not give the children bulky items that will take up space, and whenever new toys are brought in, older ones go to charity.
    We are hoping to build a carport or garage with additional storage soon, but until then, we do just fine in our cozy little cottage, and the children don't seem to notice our tight budget and living space. I feel that living in a small house makes me more discriminate with my purchases, and encourages me to keep our space tidy. We may not have a lot of stuff, but we have everything we need, a low mortgage payment, and the peace of mind of not being significantly in debt. Life is good!

  3. Great suggestions! Somehow it's a little comforting to think of a jewel box home, instead of a house that's too small.


  4. I really like this post. We live in a 3 bdrm, 1.5 bath house that is 1,150 sq ft. It is my husband, 5 yr old son, 2 cats and I. We are considering having another child, but we are concerned about space so this post made me feel better. I think that the comfort of low expenses when raising childer is more important to me that having a big house that comes with more to pay for. My son is happy and having a smaller home ensures that we spend time together. I would rather have more money available to have experiences with our children and help put money away for college. Another good thing about a small house is that it is easier to take care of. It is a piece of mind to know that if something needs to be fixed it isn't going to be as expensive as it could be in a larger home. Our property taxes are low in comparison to the average home in our area too, which run about $6k/yr whereas ours are $3,200/yr.

    It also teaches our children to be more conservative and energy efficient. In reality, no one NEEDS more than a maximum of 2k sq ft to raise a family of 4. Yet we wonder why our natural resources are lacking.

    Great post!

  5. To all of you who wrote about 1800 square feet seeming like a large space, you're right. It is. However, if you re-read the intro to the article, the writer is NOT talking about her 3 bedroom house, but about any house with more children than bedrooms. If you are in a 2 bedroom with one bath, try not to have any more kids than you can fit into a room with a bed and nightstand each.

  6. Great post! We are raising a family in a small home and while it wasn't necessarily our choice initially, we are really appreciating our little home now. Check out our story:

  7. My family of eight lives in less than 1,000 sq. ft. with three bedrooms and one bathroom. That's me, my wife, and our six daughters, who are all under 10 years old.

    The tips in this article are good, but I have to say that even a nightstand would be extravagant in our home. The author seems to know that her home is not among the smallest around (nor is mine), so I'm not saying that as a criticism.

    We don't keep clothing in bedrooms, but in a designated space we all share. That frees up the rooms for movement, toys, and personal belongings. Needless to say, bathrobes are invaluable in our house! There are lots of other work-around we use as well. Folding furniture, bench seating, unconventional storage space, etc. Anyone who has lived in a small house, or even in the same room as another person knows that it can be done.