When my husband and I bought our home in 2009, we were so proud to get the keys to our first house. Our daughter was just 15 months old, and this 1400-square foot, 3-bedroom rancher was the perfect space for our little family of 3 to spread out. The realtor described it as a “starter home,” which made sense considering we were just starting our family and our life as homeowners. What I have learned that term to mean 6 years and 3 more kids later is “place you don’t want to stay for very long.”
Don’t get me wrong; I love our house! We have a fantastic yard, unbelievable neighbors, and the most picture-perfect screened-in patio for morning coffee and Sunday afternoon naps. But when we brought home our 4th child in August, each of those 1400 square feet seemed much smaller than they did in 2009. Still, we have managed to make our situation work. While expanding our frontier may be on the horizon, in the meantime, here are some of the tips and tricks I have learned for making a growing family work in this same little house.
- Get organized. As much as I hate to say it, surviving a big family in a small space starts and ends with organization. Get rid of things you don’t use, or put them in storage. Rotate clothes and toys so you only have to contend with small quantities at a time. Label everything so you can easily find less-used items that are tucked away. Actually file stuff in the filing cabinet! (Yeah, some people really do that! I am not inclined to be one of them, but desperate times call for desperate measures.)
- Combine wherever possible. Our kids have always shared rooms, but that got a little tricky in their 10″x10″ bedrooms when they outgrew the cribs and toddler beds. We got bunk beds for our boys, which is an obvious space-saver, but we also slid a cheap mattress underneath the bottom bunk as a make-shift trundle. Our daughter had her own room, but she chose to sleep on that mattress on the weekends so she wouldn’t be lonely. (I didn’t expect that!) It’s rather convenient that she prefers this setup, because it’s our (hopefully temporary) everyday arrangement now that the baby’s crib is in her room, at least until he’s sleeping through the night.
- Maximize wall space. When floor space is limited, you have to go up, not out. Think using tall bookcases for toys, creating a make-shift book rack on the wall, or painting a section of the wall with chalkboard paint rather than buying an easel. Just do a quick “space saving” search on Pinterest, and you’ll get plenty of ideas!
- Use storage wisely. I think it’s real pretty when you decorate your shelves with antique books and quirky pottery, but to be honest, ain’t nobody got time for that. And by “time” I mean space, and by “nobody” I mean me. But seriously, making it work in a small house is all about functionality. Our shelves hold baskets of toys, our display cases hold DVDs, even the space under the crib is utilized storing out-of-season clothes and extra diapers. Beds have 4-inch high storage bins slid under them, and every closet has a shelf above the clothing rack and crates on the floor beneath.
- DECLUTTER. This is one of the most significant things you can do to make your home feel bigger, regardless of its actual size. Get those piles of papers off the kitchen counter and see how much more open the space looks. Go through the kids’ toys occasionally and trash the Happy Meal trinkets that are just taking up space. Let the kids watch a movie while you spend an hour staring at the playroom and giving all those stray toys a home. You will be amazed at how freeing it is to let go of that eternal mess; it will probably motivate you to keep your house clean and clutter-free for, like, a whole week or something!
Believe me when I say that none of this comes naturally to me, and even though I know it all to be true, I really kinda suck at it. Even when I do everything right to keep it together around there, there are times I look around and want to scream, Get me out of here!! On those days I think of my grandparents, whose 2nd home – the upgrade! – was about the same size as mine, only they had 9 children! To this day I don’t know how they did it, but I sure am thankful for my “little” family of 6 and every single square foot we’ve got.