Families in Small Spaces: How To Do It And Not Go Crazy

updated Mar 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

It’s one thing to pare down your belongings and live simply and compactly in a small space of your choosing if you’re just one or two people; it’s quite another thing when you have a family to contend with. As one reader asked us, “How do you simplify? How do you figure out what you need? How do you get a spouse/child on board to simplify? How do you make a small space that has to have stuff in it feel open and inviting?” All good questions, and we have some answers:

1. Minimize Your Purchases:: Check out this post on how to pare down your stuff. Keep toys to a minimum. It’s amazing how little you actually need to keep a child entertained. (How many times has your toddler been more excited about your kitchen pots and pans than the expensive gadget-toy you bought?) If you do get new toys, make sure to cycle out the old ones. Pass on old clothes and toys to friends and family, or donate them. Institute a toy storage limit. Make it a priority to teach your child to clean up after him or herself. Hang up pint-sized wall hooks especially for them. As for help with an unwilling spouse, see this post on dealing with a partner who doesn’t want to part with anything.

2. Get Easy-To-Use Storage: We love the canvas bins from Hable Construction. They’re practical and useful yet still stylish. Bins, baskets and dressers are all good options as well. (And there are many places to put a dresser besides just the bedroom!) Look for one multi-functional furniture piece to replace 2 or 3 pieces. Perhaps a trunk (both a storage bin and coffee table), or a daybed (both a couch and bed). Check out this post for more double duty furniture ideas for small spaces, and this interview with Maxwell in Cookie Magazine for more on kids storage solutions.

3. Set Up a Kid-Friendly Landing Strip: We can’t emphasize this enough. When you’re dealing with school-age kids and all of the stuff that comes with that (shoes, backpacks, homework, coats, umbrellas, lunch boxes), most of the battle happens right when your kids leave the house (“Where’s my other shoe?”) and when they come back home. Having a designated place where they can hang their coats, place their shoes, perhaps a file tray for their homework, a box for important items like lunch money or a cell phone, can make all the difference on how stressful your morning and evening routines are. See more on putting together a landing strip here.

4. Think Color, Texture, and Light: No matter how much you pare down, if you have a family you are bound to have a certain amount of stuff. So how do you create an open and inviting space? The objective is to create the illusion of a larger space. Lighter, paler colors make a space feel larger, but to keep it from feeling too cold, warm up the space with textural elements like blankets and rugs in darker, richer colors. For example, paint the ceiling a bright white, the trim a softer white, and the walls an even warmer white. The differences may be subtle, but help to brighten the space and give it dimension. Then anchor the room with a dark floor (either stained or covered with a rich rug). Add linen curtains, which feel wonderfully fresh and airy. Remove doors (in doorways or on cabinets) to further “lighten” the weight of the room. You can go for open shelving or else hang up a curtain instead.

5. See It As An Opportunity: Sometimes the best thing you can do for your family when you live in a small space is to get out of the house. Give them experiences rather than stuff. Use your small space challenges as an opportunity to take more day trips together as a family. But we’re not convinced that bigger is better. There are 4 reasons why we think small spaces can be great for families, including more interaction with your loved ones, an easier time cleaning, the chance to live a lighter, simpler life, and the ability to help your child feel safe, secure and comfortable (the “cozy” factor).

Do you live in a small space with a family? What are your coping strategies?

(Image: AT:Chicago)