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How to make a small space work for a growing family

The more the merrier, or so they say. But things may not feel merry if your family is quickly outgrowing your home. Perhaps you purchased your home as a single person and now you’ve got a family plus pets under your roof. Maybe the house you bought when you married, which was great for “just the two of us,” now feels overcrowded. A smaller home can be especially challenging if you’ve got little ones who each need their own space and room to grow. If you’re not planning to purchase a larger home anytime soon, here are some strategies for keeping the peace (and your sanity).

Color Coordination

Take it from the parents of multiples: color coordination is the way to go. It’s essential if you’re sharing a bathroom or kitchen, where everyone needs their own toothbrush or drinking cup for sanitary reasons. Let everyone pick their favorite color and make sure all their personal items match. Your little ones will be able to easily tell which items are theirs and, more importantly, which ones aren’t. For instance, you could set out a coaster for each person in the kitchen on a counter everyone can reach, and place a colored tumbler on that coaster. Use the space as a cup corral, and let everyone know where to place their cup when it’s not in use. 

Cubby Corners and Go-To Spaces

Continuing the color-coordination theme, find a space in a common area for some cubbies. An entryway, mudroom or playroom are perfect choices. Mark each shelf with colored tape to identify the owner, and encourage your school-age children to keep their backpacks in that spot. Each kid gets a distinct space that is theirs alone, and they are responsible for keeping their important items in that spot. If your cubbies are low and horizontal, consider adding coat hooks directly above each one so it’s easy for kids to get dressed to go to school. This also works for shoes, books and other personal items that need a home.

Schedule Posted

Remember the schedules that were posted all over summer camp to let you know which activities you’d be doing when? This strategy works well if you’ve got a less than optimal bathroom situation and a lot of people to shuffle through every day. As a family, sit down and agree on an order for the bathroom. Maybe Mom gets to shower first because she has to be at work, and then the older kids go next because they have school earlier than the younger ones. Whatever works for your family is fine as long as everyone agrees and the schedule (with names and times) is posted. Keep a clock in the bathroom to keep everyone on track.

Kitchen Duty

If your kitchen is small, keep it efficient with some planning and organization. Take a little time each week to plan out your meals. This will reduce your grocery trips and last-minute dashes to pick up forgotten ingredients. You’ll also reduce time spent in the kitchen and pantry looking for dinner ideas, thereby creating a more efficient process for a stress-free mealtime. Give your kids age-appropriate jobs to do while you cook so there are fewer people in the kitchen. They can be in charge of setting the table, putting away groceries and picking up their belongings (and stashing them in those cubbies!).

Activity-Based Spaces

Are there areas of your home that you don’t use much? Even if your home is small and your family is big, chances are there are a few corners and spaces that are underutilized. Take a look around and pick a spot that can become a reading nook or homework space for your little ones. Make sure it’s stocked with school supplies and ample lighting, and is in a quiet part of the house so they can concentrate. Providing a space for quiet-time activities will help them get in the mood to focus and learn, especially if the rest of the house feels more like a circus than a library.

With a little coordination and planning, you can make sure that everyone in your home feels valued and recognized with space and belongings of their own. You’ll reduce the number of quarrels over where things should go and who owns them, and help make your space feel like a cozy palace of peace.