My partner and I are raising two young kids in a third floor walk up apartment in Brooklyn. We have two small bedrooms.
How small, you ask?
Well, when I insisted that we get a queen-sized bed during month six of my second pregnancy, the trade-off was that we would no longer be able to shut our bedroom door.
We have a living room space, a kitchen and a bathroom. While our apartment is bigger than what many people make do with in the city, its not spacious by any extent.
I’m not sure if what we’ve done to make our lives work was then extrapolated into bigger ideas about how we run our family, or if the bigger ideas have been used to make decisions about things as mundane as closet space and toy selection.
Either way, we’ve come to not only love our tiny place, but the kinds of choices it’s forced us to make about how we raise our kids and what it means for something to “take up space” in our house.
Everyone sits at the table
We don’t have enough space to have a working kitchen (think a fridge that opens, a stove that’s heating things and a table that seats humans as they eat) as well as a highchair. We tried it for a while with the first kid but we spent most of our time feeding the baby on our laps and stubbing our toes.
We finally got this awesome attachable baby seat that can rotate 360 degrees. This single purchase made such a difference. From a practical standpoint, it was the perfect place to put a baby down while you do dishes but still swing them around to watch you or interact with them. It clipped on to the table so there was no longer anything to stub a wayward toe upon and it folded up nicely for when we were having a meal with just the grownups.
On an emotional level, allowed both our kids to feel like they were at the table with the rest of the family while eating. Everyone took up an equal amount of space in front of them, and as we have conversations, its easy to look everyone in the eye.
Only keep the things you love
The space constraints meant we have to be very selective about the number of toys we have. This has been great in two ways. First, it puts an natural limit on the amount of random plastic crap people can buy your kids. It also forces people to be more thoughtful in their choices of purchase for your kids, since they know you simply don’t have space for just any old toy.
Second, it’s forced us to only keep the toys we really love and that actually get played with. If something isn’t loved dearly (or doesn’t have a special meaning to mom or dad) it gets donated. We try not to have any more toys than can be easily seen and accessed by the kids. No big storage bins or random dolls or tubs of stray birthday party favors.
The added emotional benefit to this strategy is that we truly love and use everything in our house. And everywhere we look in our house, we see something we love.
Forget about how its “supposed” to be done
You need to get creative in utilizing every single inch of space in a small apartment. Sometimes this means just buying great, collapsible or double duty products (for example, I love these folding baby bathtubs: Prince Lionheart Flexibath Foldable Bathtub, Blue and Puj Tub – The Soft, Foldable Baby Bath Tub, White), or putting unused real estate to work, like making the side of a wardrobe a Velcro wall that can be used for storing things vertically or painting a chalkboard on the outside of a cupboard. These racks for baby food storage made use of an extra six inches sitting idle on the underside of some pantry shelves.
But sometimes that means foregoing what you think you’re supposed to do or supposed to want. We often have books and tea time on the floor of the kitchen because we don’t have enough space in the living room for a coffee table. On hot summer days, the baby bathtub becomes an impromptu kiddie pool on the kitchen floor, since we don’t have a back yard.
Forgetting about anyone else’s idea of what we should do or should want has also been very freeing for us in deciding NOT to move to the suburbs, even as our family grew. Despite us both growing up in California in nice, spacious single family homes, neither my partner nor I really want to go back to living in that kind of community.
While we definitely see the appeal of having things like a driveway, backyard, dishwasher and even owning a home, those benefits simply don’t outweigh the pleasures of city living for us. But you can’t make that kind of calculation for yourself if you’re using someone else’s standards for what “space” means.
This home belongs to ALL of us, equally.
One of the main things my partner and I wanted to preserve when we decided to have a family was a sense of our adult selves. I know we’re not the only ones who struggle with making that happen. For me, what preserving my sense of self has meant is preserving a sense of space.
I’m the lead interior decorator for our household, so when my eldest expressed interest in making pretend meals, I knew I would want to get her a play kitchen. But since this play kitchen would have to sit in the living room and I would have to look at it even after the kids went to bed, I decided that the kitchen needed to be something that fit with MY aesthetic.
Thankfully, there are now some truly bad-ass play kitchens on the market (here’s the one we got). When it’s kept tidy, it seamlessly blends in to the rest of my living room and when I settle in for the night with a drink in hand, I can look out over the living room and feel like a grownup again.
The flip side of this decision is our commitment to make every room in the house a safe place for the kids to be. With such a small space to play and explore (especially on snowy or rainy days), we didn’t feel like it made sense to make any room truly off limits. So my partner and I worked hard to baby proof everything. This included having custom wooden radiator covers built, creatively covering power strips with stacks of books, and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the kids just needs to wear my high heels and prance around waving a tampon as a magic wand and there’s not much harm in that.
What this does for us as a family is truly make it feel like we all live here, and all of our needs to be safe, relaxed, and inspired have been taken into consideration in the setup of our home.