We share our one-bedroom apartment with our baby and we like it this way

Guest post by Mary B.
If this crib is going to be in our bedroom, it's going to look cool.

My husband and I were usually met with three or four questions after we announced that I was pregnant. From the benign “When are you due?” and “What are you having?” to the rude “Was it planned?” and a fourth question was posed: “When are you moving?”

We were living in a one-bedroom apartment that was part of a larger family-oriented student living complex. And we’re still living there today. Sure, space is tight at times, and we’re always dreaming of a bigger home, but we like it. The complex is owned by the university, which means STUFF WORKS. After dealing with slumlords during our undergraduate degrees, knowing that the stove would be hot and the fridge would be cold and that toadstools weren’t growing in the bathroom was a Very Big Deal. We like the neighbourhood, as it has a good mix of renters and owners, a nice international population, and was within walking distance to the YMCA, public library, parks, and other important things. And the price is right — and price is key when adding another member to your family.

But people expected us to move. Jason and I had gone off the script, so to speak: we graduated and then got married, but neither of us had started our “real” jobs. Jason worked in sales, and I was just finishing my Bachelor of Education program. What were we doing pregnant? How were we possibly going to raise a child in a one bedroom apartment? Didn’t we know we needed a house and a yard and a deep freeze and a washer-dryer combo?

(Okay, I would like a washer-dryer combo. But I am willing to wait.)

We had already renewed our lease by the time I had a positive pregnancy test in hand, and I didn’t want to be bothered finding a subletter, or apartment hunting for the bigger place we apparently had to have, and hey: I like this place. So a little creative organization was in order, and we would figure things out as needed. My husband loves an organizational challenge, I am a continuous purger of stuff, and both of us are used to improvisation thanks to a few years of working in the theatre. Let’s do this thing.

We started by figuring out what was bothering us about the apartment — basically, what needed to change before baby arrived. Our most common complaints were dry air, not enough lighting in the living room, and a lack of storage in the bathroom. A few Sears gift cards bought us a humidifier, and we watched online sales and Craigslist/Kijiji for floor lamps and one of those over-the-toilet bathroom organizer things. Okay, good. We had taken care of our needs. But what would the baby need?

Portable playspaces are AWESOME!

What would the baby need, indeed. Everyone will tell you their “must-have” list — from family members to strangers on the internet. Gift registries? You need everything from birth to age two, and you need it now… apparently. At the very basic level, our baby would need a place to sleep, clothes to wear, milk from my breasts, and diapers for pee and poo. Everything else would come on its own time. That meant we pissed off a lot of family members by refusing to register for gifts, but instead prepared a document explaining what we wanted and why. Exersaucer? No thanks, it’s too big and bulky. Folding Go-Pod? Yes please. I can’t say that anyone really paid any attention to the document, but it helped Jason and I suss out wants from needs, and allowed us to research the products that would best suit our livestyle.

Despite providing our wish-list and wish-list reasoning and spreading the word that gift cards would be great, we still were gifted with a lot of baby “stuff.” I get it — it’s way more fun to buy itty-bitty baby gifts than it is to buy a gift card. And we were really blown away by the generosity of friends and family. But our apartment looked like a mini Babies-R-Us once Georgia was born — an explosion of sweet florals and pastels once everyone received the all-important update “It’s a Girl!” We didn’t have room for it all, and we didn’t want or need it all. What to do?

Some things went into storage, either in large Tupperware bins, or to the basement of my parents’ house. Other gifts were sent to a family friend who had recently been asked to adopt her niece with very little time for preparation. But there was still more stuff — either we would have to rent a storage unit, or the stuff would have to go. This lead to some tough decisions: “But her nannie gave her that dolly!” “But that blankie is homemade!” Ultimately Jason and I decided that the act of giving was more important than keeping the object — and that once a gift is given, the giver no longer has a say about how the gift is used. This mindset allowed us to donate, sell, or pass things along, and helped us keep our sanity. It’s not always easy, but it works for us.

Georgia's book nook.

Once the issue of baby stuff was settled, we focused on the idea of “nooks not nursery.” I’ll admit it: Apartment Therapy, Pinterest, every parenting forum ever all made me long for a dedicated room for Georgia. I still dream of a room painted in Robin’s Egg blue, with bright and cheerful accents… someday, someday. But since a nursery wasn’t an option, I focused on what I had, and what I could do, and so we created baby spaces using the “nooks not nursery” motto.

The main nook was Georgia’s sleeping corner in our bedroom. Originally she slept in a wicker bassinet next to our bed, but at three months she moved into a crib. The transition to crib meant that our bedroom had to be re-organized, and one of my favourite pieces of furniture (an art-deco tall boy dresser) had to be put into our closet to make space for baby “stuff.” While I love having Georgia close by for night-nursing, I resented the presence of her baby stuff in my once fabulous room. Pastel blankies, sheets printed with ducks and ABCs, a Winnie the Pooh mobile… ugh. So not my style.

So I decided that Georgia’s nook was by extension my nook, and I was going to make the most of it. I covered the mobile in purple yarn and swapped the Pooh characters for jingle bells and a felted My Little Pony ornament. I put up art that was inspiring to me, yet still appropriate for a wee babe. Her sheets still annoy me, but I’m going to sew new ones once I find the right material (and the time).

The nursing nook!

Her other nooks are decorated in a similar fashion, and are spread throughout the apartment. Since I’m the one at home with Georgia, her space is my space, and I need it to be a place that makes me feel good and that reflects my personality. This will obviously change as Georgia develops her own sense of style, but for the meantime we have toys stored in an old Barbie box. Toiletries in a Beatles lunch tin. A fabulous Dr. Seuss-inspired wall-hanging above her change table/dresser. You may have noticed an emphasis on storage, and multi-function items. It’s pretty much mandatory in a small space.

Is it perfect? Is it my dream home? Far from it. But does it make me happy, and will it work for right now? Yes. I know we’ll have to make changes as Georgia grows, and I’m sure there will be a few grumpy relatives when it comes to gifts that have landed in the donation pile, but that’s okay. This is our first home as a family of three, and I’m pretty damn proud of it.

Comments on We share our one-bedroom apartment with our baby and we like it this way

  1. Wonderful! We live in a two bedroom apartment and I was freaking out about space and storage but you’ve made do with a one bedroom! This makes me feel better. We are also going to insist on the minimalist approach to “stuff” and as fun as it all looks, we really need to raise our kids with the knowledge that things aren’t needed but are nice to have.

    What about returning the items that you didn’t need? I know that I will be keeping the tags on everything, especially clothes and shoes. and thanks for pointing out that folding go-pod thing – what a great idea!!

  2. I’m a constant purger too. My mom has finally gotten use to it. She now gives me stuff and says “If you don’t want it, just donate it.” Hey, at least she’s sort-of on board now.
    We’re living in a two bedroom, about 700 sf) with three kids (10, 8, and 1). You can make any space work; although I’ve found that spurgling on a few large pieces of furniute to act for storage really helps. I think that most times things clutter our spaces because they don’t have homes. Once you have furniute to store your things in, the place is less cluttered.

  3. Oh, yes — the Script! As soon as we announced our engagement, people started asking, “So you’re going to buy a house now?” Our response — “We said we’re getting married. Not getting rich.” Same thing when we shared the news of our pregnancy — “Where are you going to buy a house?” Not only did we not buy a house, we kept our roommate! So we are living in a tiny 2-bedroom cottage with a roommate.

    Some things that work for us in a tiny space: using a pack n play as a diaper changer & crib (the basinette insert is great); not buying/acquiring anything “needed” for later stages of babydom (like a highchair — babies can’t really sit in one till around 6 mos, anyway, and a bouncer seat or something like that folding pod also works fine); we have one small set of storage bins/drawers from Ikea that hold all baby’s clothes. No baby bathtub, just dunking him in the sink.
    We have absolutely no baby decorations.

    The gift thing is tricky; you do really have to stick to your guns and assume the gift was meant to help you & act accordingly!

    • The gift thing can be so difficult at times, and I can only hope that people are understanding and respectful of our situation and current needs. I have family members who love giving gifts for every occasion, which can be very overwhelming. One technique that I’ve found helpful is to keep a little wish-list on hand: things you know you’re going to need in the near future. That way when someone asks “what can I get for you?” I can say “baby gates! a sunhat!” This (sometimes) prevents me from going “ummmmm” and ending up with another dress or stuffed animal. My other piece of advice for gifts is to have an RESP for your child-that way it’s available for important life events like birthdays, christenings, etc. It’s hard to argue with contributing to a child’s education!

  4. This is great! My partner and I are expecting in August, and even though we live in a 3 bedroom house, we support my mom and brother–who live in those “extra” rooms! So, we’re effectively making space for baby in a 1 bedroom.

    We’re very lucky to have a largeish walk-in hall closet that can serve as a happy little changing nook, but we’re rearranging our bedroom for sleeping and nursing space. I’m glad to see it’s working well for you and that you don’t have to compromise your personality and style for baby.

    As for stuff, we’ve registered for what feels like the bare minimum using an Amazon universal wish list and we’re working hard to explain our rationale for the what we’ve chosen. The cool thing about Amazon is that you can add comments and priority for everything, so we’ve been able to justify our fairly minimalist approach pretty well. I like your mindset on giving and have a feeling that we’ll need to adopt a similar approach. Thanks for the great insight!

  5. Thank you for this! We’re expecting and live in a 2-bedroom with plenty of space, but are NOT constant purgers…I love being reminded that spaces can multi-purpose, and that the space we have is grand if we prioritize. I appreciate it when people have the attitude that you can make stuff work and that you don’t need a million things. Especially for a tiny person who won’t generally appreciate them anyway.

  6. We’re still making our one bedroom work, and our son is 2 ½ . It’s completely and totally do-able, although part of that for me is getting out a lot. For us, we live in a one-bedroom because we love our dense, colorful (and yes, expensive) urban neighborhood. Living in a small space is the compromise we make to live in this ‘hood, so getting OUT into the neighborhood is an important part of how we make it work. Your house may be small, but the world is BIG!

    (Almost as important as our ONE THING IN/ONE THING OUT purging rule.)

    • This is tangental, but … Ariel, would you be willing to write an article or something about how you handle rainy days (or weeks!) when you’re stuck inside. And, if you aren’t stuck inside, how do you pull that off? I spend hours every day out in my neighborhood with the bebe, but I can go a little stir crazy when the weather goes south.

      • I’m not sure it’s a whole post, because it’s so dependent on where you live. Here’s what we do:

        * We have annual memberships to inside places like the Seattle Aquarium, The Museum of Flight, etc.
        * We also have a circuit of coffee shops that we walk to and hang out at
        * Good raincoats, boots, and umbrellas! 🙂

  7. We have a two bedroom currently and it’s pretty big (for us), so I think when a critter comes along we’ll do fine, but it’s hard enough getting rid of MY stuff that is piling up. I’ll have to hope that my family continues to be very cool and practical when the time comes.

  8. We are currently rocking two kids (2.5 years and 8 months old) in a one bedroom and it is going FINE. So fine that we’ve got zero plans to move anytime soon.

    We put a murphy bed in the living room and the one bedroom is dedicated sleeping/play space for the girls and we don’t feel at all cramped. Similar to Ariel, we live in a dense urban neighborhood that we adore. We’re also in a building full of families with small children making little spaces work, so it doesn’t feel weird to us, despite the confusion of our extended family. I find it freeing to live in a small space and honestly I cannot imagine cleaning or maintaining something bigger with two small kids and all the other stuffs going on. 🙂

    • I love how you describe living in a small space as “freeing”. We live in a small two bedroom, and I love not having a lot stuff to take care of.

  9. I’m really struck by the weird disconnect between people wanting to be generous, but not caring about whether you really want what you’re giving them. It’s total selfishness disguised as benevolence. Weird, weird, weird.
    We have lots of space but don’t like lots of stuff, and whenever I read stories like this I am so glad we have friends and relatives that really listened to our preferences.

    • Don’t go too hard on folks: in the US at least, we live in a consumer-driven society where people are told that gifting/buying is how you show you care. It’s a cultural thing.

      • Ditto. It’s also really common in many areas/subcultures to downplay your need for gifts in order to not appear greedy. This can make it difficult to determine who is sincere and who is just polite. So people will generally give gifts anyways and leave it up to the recipient to decide whether or not to keep it. Although it can get annoying sometimes.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing! My husband and I are expecting our first, due in July, and we are not moving out of our one bedroom apt.

    And oh, trying to keep one’s style when inundated with baby stuff is no small feat! It looks like you’ve done it well!

  11. I love this! We are currently a family of 4, two adults, one 4 year old and one 6 year old sharing a small two bedroom apartment. I hated it for a while until we decided to rethink the whole space so it works for our family. We turned our sons’ bedroom into the hang out/comfy/tv room, the living room (and largest room in the place) into a dining room/play room/art studio/office, and we all sleep in the dedicated bed room. After we decided to let go of the idea of a traditional living space, we all fell in love with our little apartment.

  12. Love Love LOVE that you realize your baby’s space is your space too. In those early years we are by them constantly. So many times I have sat in my son’s room and thought “it’s nice in here” If we had a girl her room would be the same verdant green with jungle animals, because hey I hang out in there a lot!

    Believe it or not I have had MANY people tell us that our house is too small for a family at 1,000 square feet and one bathroom!

  13. This is GREAT. We are in a 1 bedroom with our 4 month old and this post has given me some great ideas. We are also all about the mobile/folding baby stations and multi-use storage.

    Our main issue right now is that our bedroom is oddly shaped and we have a king bed that takes up pretty much all the room. Right now the baby sleeps in a pack ‘n’ play right next to the bed that we can move out into the living room during the day, but once she outgrows that I’m not sure what the next option is… Hoping co-sleeping starts working better for us than it has so far, I guess!

  14. Is there a direct link to the closet nursery posts? Thats what I thought of when I started reading this one…

    I love talking about manipulating small spaces and growing families. Why sacrifice your rad neighborhood or lifestyle? Babies only need TLC and dipes! I happen to like old-PDX, Victorian apartments with *character.*

    A while after discovering this website, my family of 3 moved from our 1br apartment (which we lived in with baby for a whole year!) to a 2br duplex. However, the second “bedroom” is a crappy “finished” room down in the basement dungeon. Fat chance my 2yr old is gonna navigate up/down rickety stairs!

    Sooo, after reading OBM, I was very inspired and excited to redecorate a walk-in closet for my son!!

    I love my son’s room and he loves it too– thank you so much Ariel for posting multiple articles about closet nurseries!I just can’t get over the genius of this. I did get raised eyebrows when I shared this info with family, but over half of them remarked on how creative we were with space.

  15. We are currently living in a two-bedroom townhouse that we love. To get anything bigger in our neighbourhood will double the mortgage quite easily (and thats only adding one bedroom), so we are making plans for how we are going to deal with having a baby around the house.

    Reading this, I am no longer so concerned. We have a good amount of space, even if its smaller than many of our friends with kids.

    For me, the biggest advantage to our house is that our bedroom is completely the wrong shape and size to fit a cot in, so baby will always have their own room. And it also means we have an excuse for suggesting clothes and books as gifts, rather than plastic rubbish that will break and be thrown out.

  16. So good to see someone else making it work in a 1 bedroom. Honestly, people make it sound like we’re depriving our baby of something, when a lot of parents of newborns have told me their babies rarely spend much time in their own rooms.

    Because we’re also interested in co-sleeping what we’ve done is “side-carred” our cot. Photo here: http://mamashaz.com/2012/04/10/pickles-squirrelly-nursery/

    The mattress hasn’t arrived yet, but basically we’ll lower the base of the cot so that the mattress height lines up with ours. We bought one where one side comes off so it sits right up next to ours. (With an added piece of foam for the small gap.)

    This way baby has her own semi-enclosed space but is in easy feeding/cuddling reach without even having to sit up. We’ll re-evaluate after 6 months, but like the author I just love our apartment and fun urban neighbourhood and can’t bear to give it up.

    Next challenge is to explain to people why we’re not getting a pram!

  17. I Also share a one bedroom with my son Ian, he is 16 months now and I like having him across the room from me. I own the small apt. Building we live in and I have no plans of moving..I do have plans of moving my bedroom down to the basement eventually when I can afford it. But for now we are happy.

  18. There’s some amazing ideas here on how to live in a small space! Would I be out of line to ask if any of the commenters would do a home tour for Offbeat Home? I’d love to see some of these living arrangements in action.

  19. There’s some amazing ideas here on how to live in a small space! Would I be out of line to ask if any of the commenters would do a home tour for Offbeat Home? I’d love to see some of these living arrangements in action.

  20. At least you were asked if yours was planned, haha. I look young so everyone just assumed he wasn’t, and that he had to be my first so I needed lots of unsolicited advice. A gas station clerk congratulated me on my “surprise,” and I was so taken aback! I said he wasn’t really a surprise and the man back peddled and said “well they’re always a surprise when they come out…” No, I was pretty much expecting an infant…you’re right though, people think you NEED way more than you really do for an infant, and we were forced into completing a registry and no one even bought us the few things we were sure we needed, they all wanted to buy clothes which he absolutely never needs–I am a clothes horse, and I have a specific sense of style! Anyway, I’ve learned that having a baby becomes very much about everyone else’s needs and feelings and it can be aggravating, but I’m glad you guys figured out a way to navigate it without too much bloodshed!

    • “I’ve learned that having a baby becomes very much about everyone else’s needs and feelings and it can be aggravating”
      Yes! I get so many comments along the lines of “oh, you’ll WANT to know the sex of the baby before it’s born, how could you not?” These assumptions about what I’ll be doing/feeling during the pregnancy and also after the baby is born – they’re all very tiring.

  21. this article is exactly us! i AGONIZED over our baby registry – we needed to make one because we couldn’t afford to buy everything on our own, but i wanted to make sure that we got the things we WANTED. no massive exersaucers here, please! there’s no place to put one.

    my mom makes fun of me for being a “toy snob”, but this small space is our space, where we all live every day. if i am going to have baby toys out and visible, i’d rather have the tan baby bjorn bouncy instead of the hideous flashing zoo animal fisher price swing. i’d way rather have the simple teal, fuschia, lime, and natural wood colors than the busy-stickered-primary-colored fisher price toys. “Since I’m the one at home with Georgia, her space is my space, and I need it to be a place that makes me feel good and that reflects my personality. This will obviously change as Georgia develops her own sense of style” this is dead on.

    thanks for the idea of putting our dresser in a closet . . . we’re getting a crib this month after 8 months of cosleeping and i was really not sure how it was going to fit in the room.

  22. SERIOUSLY THANK YOU! for posting this! I’ve been really suffering living in our one bedroom bedsit with our four month old. Everything is a mess and there is no room for anything, anywhere! we are doing the nook thing as well but it’s not organised and we lack cupboard space or even money to organise as I want.

    Reading this has inspired me to try to make it my own and love it somehow, instead of hating it every day.

    Thank you 🙂

  23. We lived in a 600 sq ft one bedroom for the first year and a half of my son’s life. His crib went into the walk-in closet once we were done with night feedings. I love that we were able to make it work for so long, but we just moved into a much bigger 2 bedroom duplex, and I have to admit, having a dishwasher, laundry room, big kitchen, and a whole BEDROOM for Buddy to play in has been kind of amazing.
    I have a lot of respect for people who can make it work in those spaces; it was not for us.

  24. I’m so relieved to hear that we’re not the only ones receiving gifts we’ll end up donating because they don’t fit into our home/lifestyle.

    “…that the act of giving was more important than keeping the object — and that once a gift is given, the giver no longer has a say about how the gift is used.” is a GREAT mindset – thank you for reminding me I can let go of the guilt associated with giving away gifts!

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