How can we make a small space work for five kids?

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By: anyjazz65CC BY 2.0

We are expecting our fifth baby this summer and recently moved to California where rent is higher, and we had to get a smaller space. It’s safe to say we are running out of room!

For the foreseeable future, we’re living in a three bedroom, 900-square-foot house. The kitchen has only three upper cabinets, three drawers, two lower cabinets, and no pantry. The bedrooms are small and the closets are barely big enough for me to fit in, so clothing storage is an issue — there is no linen closet or storage of any kind.

I’ve seen what Ariel did with her walk-in closet nursery and Offbeat Home’s post about fitting a family of four into a 500 square foot apartment. Fucking impressive — I would love to see more ideas like that. I’m also interested in advice about small space storage and tips for getting kids into the idea of sharing rooms.

Tell me: how can we make our small space work for five kids and two adults?

Comments on How can we make a small space work for five kids?

  1. It seems to me like a good excuse to purge a lot of the kid/baby “stuff”, which is often more of an issue than the kids themselves when it comes to space. Have the kids share a dresser, where each one gets a drawer. Have one toybox, and when it’s full, have your kids decide on a toy to get rid of to make space for one new one. And for sleeping there’s always bunkbeds, murphey beds, trundle beds, or even hammocks!

    When in doubt, think vertical.

  2. ikea has amazing ideas on how to make rooms work. to get them to share a room you have to give them part of it for just their stuff. as in, this is your space for special stuff that you have and no one else is allowed to touch it, then teach the other kids about respect. bunk beds work wonders! i know ikea has some great ones that are super durable and work. have them pick out the sheets and blankets so it feels like they have their own space with their own bed.

    how old are your kids? i would have the youngest share a room with the baby at first and have the oldest three share a room together till the baby is older.

    i would use what jill said, she has some wonderful ideas! i would elimate dishes. one dish per kid, one cup, one spoon, one fork, and so on, to save space. each one gets a certain color too. you could even make them responsible for washing their own dishes! i would also get a wardrobe cabinet for clothes and what not for more space. you could even get Tupperware for each child’s toys and stack them on a book shelf. under bed storage. ikea has the best storage ideas for tiny spaces. i would look online and check it out. you might get some good ideas!

      • Same. We were 5 kids 2 adults in tiny 4 bedroom house (sml rooms, barely any living area).
        We each had our own plate (melanin ones that we got to design the picture on it ourselves!), our own towel and our own personalised mug. We were in charge of keeping them all clean ourselves.

        We all had bunk beds with underbed storage boxes. We had to go through and dejunk our rooms every season and we didnt have tonnes of clothes each. We put up shelves wherever there was room.
        Oh and don’t forget the space behind doors! Put up hooks not only on the back of doors but also on the wall behind it. great for jackets, library bags, stuffed animals etc

  3. Our last apartment had zero storage too – no linen closet, no front hall closet for coats, nothing in the bathroom, zilch. We have 2 toddlers (2 1/2 and 18 months) and we got them each an inexpensive wooden bookshelf from Ikea (although I found them both at garage sales for even cheaper) and used that for all their clothes. Folded kids’ clothes don’t take up alot of space, and all their everyday stuff fit on them and was easy to find. Our new place still doesn’t have closets in the kids’ rooms, but even if we did have it, I’d probably use the closet space for household storage and keep the shelves. You can get those mesh hanging organizers for a couple bucks from Ikea or consignment stores, and they’re great for stuffed animals and lighter toys. I once used one for all my socks and underwear instead of a dresser for the better part of a year. Thinking vertical can give you a lot more space than you thought.

    And congrats on the new baby, 5 is my magic number! (just don’t tell my husband, he thinks more than 2 is insane:)

  4. Vertical space is big. Look to see how many things you can get up off the floor.

    We don’t have a linen closet. In my bathroom, I have a shelf for extra towels, command hooks on the wall for the towels we are currently using, and a shoe holder over the door that holds all of our lotions, shampoos, razors, etc.

    My boys share a small room, they each have a loft bed and we put peg board underneath to allow them to hang stuff (at the fabulous suggestion of ‘Simply Sara’, an advertiser at Offbeat Home). We gave them a folding table and chairs, so they could put them away when not in use. I bought two drawer units made of that hard plastic from Sterlite (the kind that go in your garage). This way, my boys can’t destroy them by trying to shove too much in, etc. The lizard’s cage is also in their room, and their baby brother will be moving into their closet soon.

    Most of my pantry items are on shelves in the laundry area. We only kept a handful of plates/ bowls for everyone and just the basic pots and pans.

  5. Vertical vertical vertical! Bookcases and shelves should go up to the ceiling. Bins with out-of-season items can go on the tops of bookcases or standing closets. Bunkbeds are great. Rows of hooks for hanging coats, backpacks etc take up less space than a coatstand. Apartmenttherapy has a lot of ideas on small spaces.

    Use furniture that serves multiple purposes: an ottoman that works as both seating and a coffee table with storage inside; captains beds with built in storage; a daybed or sleeper sofa for guests.

    As far as room layout, if cosleeping works for you (not necessarily bedsharing, though maybe that will work too), I would have the baby in my room and split the kids in the other two rooms, two and two. If cosleeping doesn’t work, you could have the baby share a room with the youngest, assuming they’re close in age. Another option is to have all the children, or the four oldest children, sleep in one room, and use the other room for a playroom. The bedroom would just be four beds or bunkbeds and some dressers, and the playroom would have all their toys. You could also put a daybed in there as a couch for the kids and to use as a guestroom.

  6. With 5 kids, you probably have a lot of hand-me-downs that are between kids at the moment. Look into the idea of storing them off-site. Find out how much it will cost to rent a storage unit, figure out how many boxes you’ll be able to fit inside the unit and calculate how long they’ll be stored there. Then crunch the numbers and decide whether it makes sense to store or to donate and later replace.

  7. When my parents built their new house they covered an entire wall of each of the childrens’ bedrooms with peg board. Peg board is great for mounting hooks (tie a ribbon around a stuffed animals neck and hang it on the wall so it doubles as decor), but you can also mount shelves on it and the make bins that hang from it. When the peg board is floor to ceiling, your organizational options are nigh limitless. Plus, unlike wall mounted shelves, or even tall bookcases, it is really easy to reorganize the storage situation as the items that need to be stored change. Shelves can be raised or lowered, hooks added or removed, etc, all with a few seconds of work.

    Also, definitely utilize underbed storage. In most homes that’s a lot of space that just ends up becoming a place for things to get lost when it could be a place for them to live and be organized.

  8. In my four years at college living in tiny rooms, I learned two very important words: loft bed. Lofting beds frees up a ton of space underneath.

    If you have high ceilings, that space can be used for a desk and chair, not to mention all the stuff you can hang from the bottom of a bed frame.

    If you have low ceilings, attach a long piece of pipe under the length of the bed. Instant closet space for shirts, pants, shorter skirts, and baby clothes. On my lofted twin bed, my dad put in two pipes – one the whole length of the bed in front, and the other half the length of the bed behind it. The pipeless back corner (which I wouldn’t be able to get at easily) was used for storage of things I didn’t need often.

      • my friends have three kids, and two of them share a big loft bed. they love it!
        other friends even did a family bedroom for a while – just covered the room with matresses and that was that.

  9. Bunkbeds, there’s some really cool ones where you can get a ton of storage space underneath, and the kid will enjoy having their own space whilst sharing.

  10. Same issues here – with 6 kids (most of them teens) in a 4 bedroom house. Our solution? We absolutely do not hang anything up. Fold everything. From hanging closet organizers with clothes folded neatly inside, to under-bed organizers, to those space saver vacuum bags, it’s all folded and stowed. Look for places to stow things you’d have never imagined before. Like behind or under the couch. And Vertical shelves are SO your friend. Put one behind the toilet. Also, you can get little baskets at the dollar tree that are rectangular in shape and help store a lot of stuff, from baby shoes and socks to hair items, meds, and kids toys. Each kid of ours has their own color. They get that in towels, baskets, and dishes. So we know who left their towel on the bathroom floor and we know whose basket that is that didn’t make it back to the shelf, and we know which kid didn’t take their cereal bowl or cup up. We also stack bookshelves UP. And use those canvas boxes (you can get them fairly cheaply at Dollar Tree, Freds and Dollar General in my area) for stuff like socks and underwear. So the underthings are hidden. But you don’t need dressers to do it. Dressers take up too much room. Milk crates are good for stacking too, zip ties will keep them together and you can attach them to the wall. For kitchen storage, we slowly bought storage containers for things we really use. This way everything fits neatly, has it’s place. Plus with the kids having their own color for dishes, we store their dishes down low, we’ve got LESS dishes taking up space and there are less dishes to wash!

  11. As far as sharing rooms, I don’t know how you feel about co-sleeping, but our son hasn’t even used his room and he is approaching one year old. We even currently have the crib in our bedroom to start getting him used to the idea. I don’t know how big your room is, but keeping the baby in your room for the first couple of years (through co-sleeping or the crib) might be a good idea to get the other children used to sharing a room before throwing the baby in the mix.
    Also, there had been another post on offbeatmama about making one room feel “individual” for each daughter… I need to go find the link…

  12. Bunk beds, under bed storage, get rid of something(or two things) when you get something new, and utilize vertical storage. Shelves, hooks, pegboards. Also just think about things that could get out of hand: too much dirty laundry, dishes, clashes over personal space and figure out a system to ease the tension.
    Oh, and good luck! 😀

  13. Three pieces of advice: consolidate, up, and out.

    CONSOLIDATE: Use a basket by the front door for all shoes. Limit number of shoes to how many fit in the basket. Double up coats on hangers. Two backpacks to a hook, etc. Use storage cubes instead of coffee tables or bedside tables etc. Put big items on wheels. I even have wire shelving units on wheels so I can store stuff behind the shelves.

    UP: Look up! Tall bookshelves, baskets on top of cabinets in the kitchen for little used items, and of course loft spaces. If you have a garbage, hang up the bikes on hooks from the ceiling.

    OUT: Rent a storage space off-site (even rent one with a a neighbor) to store seasonal crap and memory-makers (you know, your kid’s first picture or ceramic hand print, etc. that you can’t bear to throw out but don’t have the space to keep just now).

  14. My bf, his son and I are looking at house boats, which is super exciting, but my one worry is “where will our (hypothetical) five children sleep?” at which point he looks at me in a fond, who is this crazy woman kind of way. Which is exactly the face I pulled when he declared he wanted to live on a boat…

  15. I agree with everyone that going vertical is a great idea. But since you’re in California, make sure to attach tall furniture to the wall! Apparently it’s fairly easy with the right equipment – it’s pretty common here in Japan. I’m lame and haven’t done that in six years and two apartments, but luckily everything stayed standing in the big quake. (Although books, jewelry, and laundry powder sure made a mess when they fell off their various perches.)

  16. We have four kids in a 3 bed house, sounding very similar to yours. At the moment we have 2 sets of bunks, both with trundles under for sleepovers. And we have both sets of bunks in one bedroom. Yep, all four of our kids sleep in the one room and we have the other bedroom as their ‘closet’ which has all of their freestanding wardrobes in.

    When we have the sleepovers our kid and their friend sleep on the trundles in the closet room.

    The ‘closet’ room doubles as a playroom to keep their toys and things out of the living area. It also houses a set of old school lockers, which gives them each four individual cubbies to store their special goods.

    We have coloured towels for the kids too, and have put a coat rack with six hooks down low in the bathroom so they can all reach.

    Minimise as much as you can, we now give activities for gifts instead of plastic crapola.

    Our arrangement won’t work forever, but it’s worked for the last couple of years and we figure we can get away with it for a little while longer. We are working on converting the garage to make two bedrooms so they each have their own space, and this has to be earnt by them by keeping the space they have now clean and free from clutter.

    Good luck!!

  17. I have 4 kids. And we rent an apt in a church in the heart of bay area. Our sq ft is 1850 but 500 of that is a long hallway which can be used to make cricket runs.

    I also have a Ebay reselling business and that has taken over my house. I do not know what and how to control the chaos that has become my house

  18. I now have 10 (yes ten) younger siblings and when I was in high school there where 7 of us kids plus our parents living in a three bedroom home. My parents had one room, my three brothers had another, and us four girls shared a room.

    The girls room was long and narrow with two sets of bunk beds against one wall and two sets of low dressers against the other wall. That was it. Each bed had a bookshelf as a headboard and we each had one toolbox that would fit under the beds to hold any personal item. We then had one large, traditional toy box in the living filled with toys for everyone. Any toy that didn’t fit in the box or in your personal space had to go. Although, seven kids tend to break toys through use alone, so we didn’t throw whole toys out very often.

    One thing my parents did was really emphasize the idea of a shared space. Everyone had their designated personal space (the bed) and anything left unattended outside that space was fair game for anyone to play with. This sounds mean but it kept the house clean and was only fair to the smaller kids who shouldn’t have to memorize every single thing they could and couldn’t play with.

    Hope that helps!

  19. I grew up in a small two bed house with my sister. We shared a room for 14 years, until our parents got sick of us constantly fighting and slept in the living room with a fold down bed. Far from ideal for the parents for sure.

    There will be an age where kids want their privacy. Why not decide on a particular age and get the kid to choose some kind of screen/partition for privacy. Treat it with respect like you would a bedroom (Knocking etc) and then the younger kids get used to the idea that they will have a space too. of course space is an issue but curtains could work too.

    Me and my sister got along so much better when we had our own space: almost over night!

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