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Trying to live in a small house with a big family? Keep reading for six tips to make it work!
Ever since we moved to Missionary Acres in July of 2020, we’ve been in temporary guest housing. The space we’re in is an old single-wide trailer with a large bunk room space added on. Altogether, it’s just over 1,100 square feet. With 11 of us here, that’s about 100-square-foot per person.
We’re definitely in what we’d consider a tiny house for the number of people in our family.
Note: When we move to that house, we’ll have 1,810 square feet thanks to our garage conversion, which gives us more room to spread out. (And someday, our planned front addition will give us another 384 feet, making that house almost 2,200 feet when we’re done, or roughly 200 square feet per person.)
Our original plan didn’t involve staying in this house for so long. The one we were assigned here at the Acres was supposed to be a quick flip.
Unfortunately, if you’ve ever done remodeling of older homes before, you know that quick flips often turn into more complicated projects. That’s the stage we’re in now.
It seems like every time we get something fixed, we uncover more problems.
For instance, while checking things out in the crawlspace under the kitchen, we found significant dry rot under the kitchen sink. The wastewater line had fallen off at some point, and all of that water ran down into the crawlspace over the boards instead of going out to the septic tank like it was supposed to. The sill plate was rotten, and we had to jack up the corner of the house to replace the rotten bit.
As you can imagine, that unexpected repair added a lot of days to the timeline. Especially since the kitchen sink wasn’t the only waste line that wasn’t glued in properly.
It’s safe to say that the remodel is taking so much longer than we planned. And it’s involving aspects of repair that we never anticipated.
But, we’re so thankful that none of this took God by surprise. We can continue to trust His timing for the move. And praise the Lord, He’s provided for the additional remodel costs so far. He’s also provided wisdom about how to make things work in our small space, a home we never planned on spending a winter in.
We’re so thankful for all of the blessings He provides. And since we know we aren’t the only ones trying to live in a small house with a big family, we wanted to share six of the strategies we’ve been using. Hopefully, they’ll help you embrace the home you’re in no matter its size.
1. Embrace a Minimalist Mindset
When you’re trying to fit this many people into a small home, you can’t have a lot of stuff. There’s just no room to put it.
So, you get rid of what you can and learn to live with less.
Right now, everyone in the family has one dresser drawer. There’s no floor space to add more dressers, so that’s how we made it work with what fits. This means we have most of our clothes in storage at the house we’re remodeling, and rotate what we need through the seasons.
This is also what we’re doing with books, homeschooling supplies, dishes, board games, and pretty much everything else. We picked out what was most important to have in this space, and are doing without the rest.
When we seem to be bursting at the seams again, we take time to go through the house and declutter. We get rid of things we don’t need, move things up to the other house that we need again in the future, and get rid of anything broken.
As an added bonus, going without the majority of our things for this long has helped us to see what we truly need, and what is just taking up space. I’m sure when we finally open our other boxes, we’ll be ready to downsize our things even more. And that’s not a bad thing.
2. Creatively Increase Storage When You Live in a Small House with a Big Family
Without a lot of built-in storage or shelves in the trailer, we had to get creative when it came to storing things. So we went to Walmart and bought some inexpensive storage ottomans. We have two large ones and two small ones in the living room.
One of the big ones is serving as our toy box. It helps contain the clutter and doubles as an extra seat for school and when we’re spending time together in the evenings.
The other large one has the older kids’ homeschool curriculum inside. We keep this one pushed against the living room wall with plastic drawers such as this on top.
The younger kids’ homeschooling curriculum and supplies are in these. Then when it’s time for school, we drag everything out for the morning. (You can learn about how we do homeschooling in our family in this post.)
Invest in Double Purpose Furniture and Storage
With the two smaller ottomans, we have library books in one and large binders and things in the other. When it’s not school time, they’re sitting in front of the large ottoman on the floor. This doesn’t look great, but having them all together helps make it simple for school time.
Shoes were also a logistical problem to overcome. Everyone has at least two pairs of shoes (one for church and one for every day), which means we needed a place to store 22 pairs of shoes. And actually, it’s closer to 30 pairs, since many of the kids have easy-to-throw-on slide shoes as well.
Back in Washington, we used a shelving unit with cubbies for shoes. However, this wouldn’t fit well in the space we had here. So, we looked around at what we had and decided to repurpose a laundry basket into a shoe bucket. It’s right next to the door, so the kids walk in and put their shoes in there. Then when it’s time to leave, we work together to dig out matching pairs. It’s not a perfect solution by any means, but it keeps shoes from getting lost under beds or couches, which is good.
When everything has a home, it’s much easier to keep things picked up. You can teach the kids where they go and everyone can help clean up. It’s items that are homeless that always seem to be just lying around. So as much as possible, find homes for things.
3. Get Outside
When we’re all in the house all day long, we’re more likely to get on each other’s nerves. There’s just no space for quiet thinking and alone time. So, we encourage the kids to get outside as much as possible.
We take walks as a family, play with Legos at the picnic table, or just enjoy the quiet of reading in a favorite tree.
Of course, this tip was much more practical in the summer and fall. Now that it’s winter, it’s a bit cold and wet, especially for some of the younger kids. But, we still bundle up and get outside as much as we can.
Everyone gets a bit stir crazy if we spend too much time inside.
To encourage outside play, we asked some of the grandparents to get some fun outside things for the kids. They were blessed with a portable swing set that you can stretch out between two trees and a large trampoline. We also used some of the Christmas money our family was given and bought a climbing dome for the kids. Our plan is to set it up at this house in the short term, and then use a trailer to take it down to the other house when it’s time to move.
The kids spent hours on our playset back in Washington, so we know they’ll have a lot of fun with these things.
Honestly, spending time outside is good for everyone – even if you aren’t living in a tiny space. If you’re looking for more ways to spend time outside, check out this post on Lisa’s other blog: How to Fit More Outside Time into Your Busy WAHM Schedule.
4. Assign Everyone A Bit of Space
Most of the toys and books in the house belong to everyone. They’re fair game for all of the kids to play with. But, we also have some special belongings. Things that clearly have an owner. Some are special stuffed animals. Others are remote control cars or unique LEGO sets.
When trying to make a small space work, it’s important that everyone feels like they have some space for their things. The kids each have their beds, and many have a bit of space under their beds they can use for storage (we use shoeboxes to help keep things from getting lost under there). For the others, who are on the top bunk for instance, or on a mattress on the floor, we had to get a bit creative to find them their own space. In the end, we went with a large windowsill for one, the top of a dresser for another, and a small end table for another.
This way, everyone has a space for their personal possessions. They know where these things need to be put if they want them left alone.
Then we teach the other kids to leave these personal possessions alone. It takes some training with the younger ones, but the older kids especially appreciate that they can have their things not getting destroyed by their little siblings.
You might have to think outside the box, but giving each person a bit of storage can really help improve the living situation in a tiny space.
5. Clean Regularly
When you live in a small house with a big family, you don’t have much space to spare. This means you can’t put off doing dishes or folding laundry. There’s simply no room for stacks of dishes or piles of clothes waiting to be folded. Instead, we get dishes done and the kitchen cleaned shortly after each meal. That way, the clutter is out of the way and when it’s time to cook the next meal, we don’t have to stop to clean before we start.
Likewise, we try to put away school things once school is done. If we leave them out, not only are they in the way, they’re also much more likely to get damaged.
The kids pitch in and we do a quick clean-up every afternoon and again before bed. This way, we restore order a couple of times throughout the day. It makes things run more smoothly when we aren’t dealing with things left out. Then in the evening, one of the older kids uses a Swiffer mop with a sprayer to quickly get the floor clean.
So to help keep your small house in order, make it a point to clean up regularly. Assign some chores and let the family help. The work is much more fun when you work together, and it gets done a lot more quickly.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
When you’re living in a small home, don’t be afraid to experiment with the placement of items. We’ve completely rearranged several times since moving in. Some of the arrangements lasted only a day or two because they ended up not working. Others worked for a couple of months.
But, if we hadn’t tried, we wouldn’t have come up with the current placement we have that seems to be working well.
So if an idea comes to mind, break out the measuring tape first so you know if it’s possible. (Lisa and the kids made that mistake early on and it took a long time to put things back went they finally realized something wouldn’t fit through a doorway to make their plan work…)
If the measurements check out, give it a try. You might need to undo it. But you might reveal something that works even better for your family for this season.
It’s also important to ask your family if they have any ideas. Kids often have insight on what would work better, and if you take time to check in with them, you might be surprised at well their suggestions work out.
Give Each Other Grace when You Live in a Small House with a Big Family
When space is tight, you might find yourself getting annoyed with each other fairly quickly. To help prevent that, make sure you’re giving each other grace. Remind yourselves that you’re in this home now for a reason.
And ask the Lord to help you be content with where you are. It might not be where you want to be. But, with grace and prayers, you can make it work.
What are your best tips for living in a small space?