Large Family: Small House

WE’ve been living in houses designed for families about half our size for many years now- having been living on one income since 1983. We’ve come up with various solutions to help fit our family into the house we have.

We don’t always have a lot of spare sheets, but what spare sheets we do have are stored between the mattress and the boxspring of the bed they fit.

Aim High, a suitable phrase for an Air Force family: by this I mean we work to have vertical storage rather than horizontal. I’ve put one dresser on top of another one to make more floor space before, and I’d rather have a tall, narrow bookcase than a low, wide one.

Put the legs of beds on bricks or buy those ‘bed risers’ from the local department store ( we found a set on clearance; turns out they even work under bunk beds). This gives you more under the bed storage. Updated to add, we’ve also used small paint cans- leftover from when we built and painted the new house. This doubles as stoarage space for our extra paint!

Get dual purpose furniture. Need a bench for the dining room table? Get one with storage space under the seat. Need an end table? Get a piece of furniture with storage space. Need a toy box? Make it one the children can sit on when the lid is closed.

Look for skirt hangers at thrift shops. These handy hangers have a row of rungs with clips on them. You can fit multiple skirts on these in tiers, and they take up no more space than two or three skirts would in your closet.

Do not limit yourself to the intended use of a particular space. We’ve used a kitchen cupboard for a bookshelf, a bathroom shower for a broom closet and tool storage, a storage room for a dining room, kept the microwave in a bedroom, put a hutch top on a desk, used a hutch top on a workbench for a baking center, and we currently use an old ice-cream table and a crate for a computer desk.

Use a walk in closet for a small play room or napping area for baby.

put hooks on walls, doors, anywhere you can to hang up coats and clothes.

Get a potrack in your kitchen. It does not have to be a big, expensive fancy one. Mine was 7.00 at a thrift shop, plus the price of the chains and hooks to hang it. Mind was not originally a pot rack. I don’t exactly know what it was. It is a smallish, green rectangular wrack of some sort. I turned it upside down and it makes a great pot rack. I have seen them made with old wagon wheels, bicycle wheels, even an old oven rack would work. Be creative!

When you need to maximize floor space you need to wring out every inch of closet space. When our older children were smaller we put an extra rod in the closet, several feet below the first one. Five little girls could share one closet because dresses for small people don’t take up much space, and by the addition of the extra rod we’d doubled the length of their hang-up space. We hung up everything in that closet because we wanted the floor space that dressers took. An entire outfit could fit on each hanger. This made dressing much simpler, too, as everything they needed, including underwear, was right there on the hanger. Shirts, sweaters, skirts, blue jeans- everything goes in the closet. Sweaters can be attached to a hanger with clothespins to prevent those pointy hanger marks from stretching out the sweater.

Today I realized just how long we’ve been making do with the space in which we find ourselves when I overheard Pipsqueak and Head Girl (an honour student in college, please remember) discussing the new house we’re building. Pip wanted to know if there would really be closets in every bedroom, or would some of them have to share closets (our house comes with three closets, two of which are upstairs where only three of us sleep. Can you do the math? Downstairs: one closet for six people).

HG told her yes, they’d have their own closets, the only people who would share would be the people sharing a room. That would be HG and Pip (and the DHM and HM, of course, except the parents’ room has two closets, so never mind).

HG told Pip that they might be sharing a closet, but she had this really cool idea that she’d learned while visiting a friend in Texas. “Pip,” she said, “We can get a dresser and put sweaters and t-shirts in the drawers! That frees up lots of closet space!”

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  1. Mama Squirrel
    Posted September 17, 2005 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Mama Squirrel spent her teens in an old house that had very few closets. Five bedrooms (were more bedrooms just the norm in those days?) but only two of them had closets. The rest of us used wardrobes (armoires, chiffarobes, whatever you want to call them) or the hall closet. Mama Squirrel’s wardrobe had the added charm of the fact that she leaned against one of its mirrored doors one day and smashed said mirror to smithereens. Leaving a door with a big hole in it, of course. Which was fine, because after that she didn’t even have to open the wardrobe door to get her clothes out. 😉

  2. Timotheus
    Posted September 17, 2005 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Get a potrack in your kitchen. It does not have to be a big, expensive fancy one.

    Ours is an extremely non-expensive one. :) I mounted a pegboard on the kitchen wall, just like people often have for tools in their garage or shop. I hang all our skillets, saucepans and large utensils (BBQ tongs, steel rolling pin, etc.) up on that. Now I’m looking for something to help store sheet pans vertically.

  3. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted September 17, 2005 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Timotheus, that’s a good idea. We don’t really have any kitchen wall space to speak of. The wall behind the stove is taken up by the microwave shelf- it fits on the oventop to make an extra shelft over the stove for the microwave. I love it, but it was also not cheap. I asked for it as a birthday present.

    To store cookie sheets you might try one of those metal desk trays for papers. Use the back of the tray as its bottom, and put the cookie sheets in the now vertical paper slots.

    Or maybe… A chain with a strong magnet on the end attached to your pegboard?

  4. jquinby
    Posted September 17, 2005 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Purge stuff early and often.

    We also ended up breaking into the attic to utilize the space up there for storage, and we added a shed out back several years ago. The attic could be even better if I put shelves in – for the moment, it’s just some pieces of plywood here and there. We have more dead space above the garage – I had to cut into it last year to fix the dryer venting. At the moment, converting it is a bit low on the list.

    A couple of years ago, we paid one of those closets-and-more companies to come in and redo the kitchen pantry, laundry closet and master closets. It was a little pricey, but the extra storage has really paid off. I’m not sure I’d use them for the children’s closets, but now I have ready examples if I try to do them on my own.

    The shed, by the way, is where we rotate all of the out-of-season kids clothes or clothes that are too-small or big. There is a whole wall of large rubbermaid bins labelled with things like “boys, 2T-3T, summer”. We haul them in and out as needed, though the clothes usually need to be washed to get rid of the shed-smell.

    We’ve almost done a potrack once or twice, but don’t really have a good place to put it. The kitchen has one of those inside-corner lazy-susans, and most everything fits in there if we nest them right.

    We could, conceiveably, stay here for some time to come, so long as we continue to keep our acquisition of stuff a zero-sum game.

    3 girls in one room, 2 boys in the other. The ‘sitting area’ off the master BR is the classroom. Otherwise, just about every square inch of the place is accounted for.

  5. Gem
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I was at my SIL’s home today, her home that was built maybe 5 years ago at the earliest. They bought it 2 years ago and have since had 2 babies. It is a 2-bedroom home with great room (all that wasted space in the cathedral ceiling), dining room, and kitchen. They redecorated the dining room into a nursery for the second baby, so the boys wouldn’t have to share a room. This is in a house with a fully finished basement. They have one room down there as an spare room, and the other bedroom-sized room is the game and toy room. This is besides the family room down there complete with bar area (almost as big as my galley kitchen) and HUGE big-screen TV. Do you know what she said to me today? I’m not sure what we’ll do if we have another baby, I guess we’ll have to buy a bigger house. Her house is at least 1800 sq ft, not counting the basement. Our 5-person family lives in a small 900-sq ft bungalow. I just sat there. I didn’t know what to say. I reminded her that 5 years ago, we had two babies in a 2-bdrm apartment and were quite comfortable. She acted like we had lived in squalor “I know, I don’t know how you guys did that! We are so fortunate to have a home, at least.” She thought she was commiserating with me! I just smiled inside, and we ended up changing the subject. I love my little house, even though space IS a challenge. I’m going to have to see if I can implement some of your ideas.

  6. My Boaz's Ruth
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    So– any tips for getting rid of STUFF?

    We are in the midst of cleaning out our condo to sell. (With the amount of stuff we have, I really can’t see having a baby in 550 square feet — and besides the money we make from the sell could help me be home with our baby even if my husband isn’t making “enough” yet to afford it.) But I know I need to get rid of stuff, somehow… and better to do it now than later. But so much stuff has sentimental value…

    I guess the question is, how do you determine what to keep from your kids’ growing up years, when you were married, etc?

  7. jdavidb
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I really appreciate all these comments. Gem, I especially appreciated your story.

    It’s interesting to me how many of these are aimed at saving kitchen space. We actually have about twice as many kitchen cabinets as we will ever use. They are beautiful, although Sarah grew up in a house with no kitchen cabinet doors, and so we are taking them off. :) All this reminds me we have plenty of space up there for the things Sarah has told me to get out of her site or do without.

    Aiming for a large family, Lord willing, we’ve had several interesting discussions about making do with space. We have more space per person than most people posting here, and Sarah actually grew up in conditions about like what DHM described, albeit with slightly less siblings. But it’ll still be an issue eventually. (We hope!) Our preferred solution is actually to buy some cheap land closer to Sarah’s parents and build a large steel home. (There is a floorplan for a two story monstrosity “fourplex” townhome/condo-type building that we’d like to convert.) But we’ve actually come upon some other ideas. For one, I started looking at our oversized master bedroom, and realized that there’s no law that says the parents belong in there. In fact, by my reckoning we can fit SIX bunkbeds in there with plenty of space in the middle. (Admittedly I haven’t accounted for what other furniture they would need.) Meanwhile, Sarah and I think we could be quite happy in one of the smaller rooms, if we had to. It only makes sense for more people to be in the bigger room. We might never have to move.

  8. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    David, more than once we’ve given up the masterbedroom to the children and taken a smaller room- because, as you point out, there’s no law that two people should have more space than four.
    In one house we gave two of the girls the room with the double closet. Then we took the doors off their closets, put down genuine Japanese futons (NOT couches as they are here in the states) and put huge posters on the walls. They still remember that as one of their favorite arrangments.

    Currently our ‘bedroom’ was probably originally the parlour to this old house. It has huge double doors opening directly into the living room and no closet.

  9. Myfriendconnie
    Posted May 25, 2007 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been meaning to put a lower rod in the closet where 3 girls share a room. I had never thought of putting an entire outfit on one hanger, though. Great idea!

    I’m going to try to get it done this weekend. Thanks! (I was just grumbling about how the girls throw all assortment of clothes in their drawers – socks with shirts in the same drawer as pajamas, etc. Then they complain that they can’t find the white shirt they need. Of course not, it’s in the sock drawer!)

  10. Sherry
    Posted May 25, 2007 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Lots of creativity is required to live in a small space. We had to use Rubbermaid boxes for out of season clothes storage, because there was simply no other storage available. They were exactly cheap, but they last for many years, and as I said, we had absolutely no other storage.

  11. M. Garrison
    Posted July 5, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Boy, it’s nice to hear that other people are learning to live with their small spaces! I am struggling myself. We are waiting with such longing to move into our three bedroom trailer which would seem small to some people with four children (and one on the way), but we can’t wait. Right now we are living in a STUDIO apartment behind my in-laws!!! Yes, our in-laws allowed storage and 1 room for the kids at their house, but still, it has been hard. And I’ve always considered myself an organizing decluttering queen. We have survived though for about eight months like this. I just remind myself of the pioneers in one room houses with large families and try to be thankful we are not strapped with a huge mortgage and I am able to stay home with my children. Fortunately, we are looking forward to moving soon.

  12. Brusekabiner
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    wow that is really a good idea

  13. Mom to Many
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    SO familiar. We own the smallest home plan in our neighborhood and have the largest family.
    But, we hang in to me staying home even as it gets more difficult.


  14. kristen6
    Posted October 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    We are a family of 6, which consists of 2 toddlers and 1 teen! We are moving into a home smaller than what we are in now but we will be buying instead of renting! We are excited for the large gated yard for my husbands garden and for the toddlers to play in. So I plan on using the covered patio in the back yard as a play area for them put all their large toys such as their huge Little Tykes kitchen, tricycles and their easel. I am also taking a bar that was taken out of my mothers house as she renovated and using it as an eating area on the patio as well!
    I love the idea about the pot rack. Our kitchen is much small that we are about to have so I will definitely use this idea!
    I love the sheet idea as well!
    Thanks for sharing!

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