Too-Small House for Growing Family

Parent Q&A

We've outgrown our small house - alternatives? Aug 3, 2018 (7 responses below)
Sleeping Arrangements for Newborn + Toddler in a 2BR house Jun 21, 2016 (6 responses below)
  • My two kids, partner and I live in a small house in Central Berkeley. The kids (ages 10 and 13) are rapidly outgrowing their tiny room, and we're trying to get them some more space. We own the house but can't add on because of the size of our lot. We're thinking of selling but we'd like to stay local until the kids finish school and the housing market is daunting (we're both teachers, and we bought our house 20 years ago). I'm trying to think of any alternatives. Rent and rent? Find an older couple who wants to downsize and be in a walkable location, and swap houses, paying them the difference? (I know that probably sounds crazy; at this point I'm open to any ideas!) Thank you for considering.

    One of my relatives raised their two kids in a small 2 bed / 2 bath condo.  As the kids got older, the bedroom was used for sleeping and storing clothes only.  The kids bedroom barely fit two twin beds.  The kids would study at the kitchen table, at the library, Starbucks, or at a friend’s home.  

    Your kids are getting old enough to downsize the toys and just use the bedroom to sleep.  If there is absolutely no other place for your kids to study, you could try building two separate twin loft beds with a desk underneath for each one.  It might be the size of many small college dorm rooms that hold 2 kids (just for perspective).

    I was born in another country where the density of the population makes San Francisco look sparse and the houses here gigantic. Whenever I go back to visit, I am astonished at how people make such good use of the little space they have. So my suggestion is--if you love your neighborhood, your house, and your school, don't move! Try purging the stuff in your house, or spend some money in renovating some of the rooms, turn an unused space into another bedroom etc. Another option is to turn another room in the house into a study for schoolwork, computer work etc., and keep the kids' bedroom just for sleeping. That way they have space to spread out and also a space to retreat to if they don't want to be in the same room.

    I feel for you. I am a single parent and my ex partner and I bought our home at around the same time. I am looking into renting out my house but I am worried about the pending ballot initiatives that would extend rent and eviction controls to single family homes. If they pass, I would be very reluctant to rent out my home and face the possibility that I could never move back in. 

  • We are expecting a baby in October and we live in a 2/1 craftsman. We're 
    looking for advice from other families about sleeping arrangements with 
    a 4.5 year old son. Right now, our son is sleeping quite well in his 
    crib (converted to a toddler bed) and we are next door in our own 
    bedroom. We do not intend to co-sleep and have been considering placing 
    the newborn in our son's room because it is still set up for a baby 
    (crib, changing table, glider for nursing) and then placing our son in 
    the family room. Other than the bedrooms, the house has an open-floor 
    plan so the family room connects to the kitchen but we can put up 
    blackout curtains to divide the room. This would also insulate the room 
    so our son could stay toasty and we can even turn on the central heating 
    to make sure he sleeps comfortably.

    We have a few questions about this arrangement, such as ''Are we crazy 
    to change our son's sleeping arrangement since he's doing well?'', 
    ''When can we put the two kids in a room together?'' and ''Will it be OK 
    if we just put down a mattress for our son in his play room?''

    We had considered putting the baby in our bedroom but it's just too tiny 
    in there to add the nursing and changing component. We wouldn't likely 
    put the heat on in the rest of the house so it would be tricky to nurse 
    and change in another room, but certainly that is an option. Please 
    share your experiences, advice, and pearls of wisdom. We know that most 
    families don't have a bedroom for each child so certainly there is lots 
    of experience out there!

    Your son is probably (hopefully!) old enough to transition easily to another room now -- that sounds like a good plan to put him in the family room or put down a mattress. It'll feel like camping to him! When my son was 1 and daughter was 4 we put them in together, but we could have done it sooner - basically as soon as we finished sleep training!  They've just now separated at 5 & 8. 

    Re heat, we've found the oil-filled radiators work great as space heaters in the kids' rooms so we don't have to blast the (extremely drying) central heat all over the house all night long.

    First and foremost, every family has different sleeping arrangements and that is fine. Whichever way everyone gets the most sleep is the way to go! And what works with a newborn may not necessarily work with an older infant, so my advice to be flexible and make changes if necessary. Since you already have a kid, you've been through this before, but remember that every kid is different. My first kid co-slept with us and was a horrible sleeper until we finally figured out he needed his own room; the second one is a night owl and would quietly mumble to herself until she fell asleep. They are 2 years apart. The older one had his own room; baby slept in our room in her crib; we moved her into his room when she was about 9 months old. We would put the older one to bed first, then put her to bed a few hours later (just the way the sleep cycle worked). A few months later (they were 3 1/2 and 1 1/2) we moved to a new house and put them both together in one room with a twin and a toddler bed (we also had space issues).

    One thing you might consider is putting the baby in the family room, or even in the hallway temporarily until you get a better handle on how the sleep stuff is working out. After the baby is born, everyone's sleep is messed up, including the older kid, but then once things settle down you'll have a better idea of how the new baby fits into your family and then you can decide when to put the baby in with the older one. 

    Hope this helps!

    I wonder if being moved out of his room would compound any jealousy or sense of disruption your son might feel. Would having a space that's his help him feel some sense of control?

    For now, we have our baby in our (tiny) room (there are some great mini cribs), and we put the rocker and changing table in the living room.

    Re: heat, if you would turn on the central heat for your son, could you turn it on to keep the glider and changing area warm? That said, between the hot baby, thick socks, and a shoulder shawl, I never needed the heat while rocking.

    Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Family of 5 in a 2-BR apartment

Dec 2011

My family of 5 lives in a 2 bedroom apartment. My 7 year old twin boys share one room. My 4 year old daughter sleeps w/me in the big bed. My husband sleeps in the family room! Our unused crib is finally gone and we'd like to get my daughter into her own bed. She's very excited by the prospect of having Hello Kitty sheets! My question is whether it's appropriate for the kids to all share a room. My 7 year olds are very body aware at this point (but as 7 year olds, find it all silly and provocative), my 4 year old is a bit less so, but we do emphasize privacy, private areas, etc. in our house. My 4 year old also likes to have alone time to ''wiggle'' as we call it. So in writing this I'm thinking no, but my husband would really like to get back into our bed. Unfortunately, putting a mattress in our room would pretty much take up all the floor space, and limits adult privacy as well. Any thoughts or ideas? anon

We just got loft beds...I highly recommend them. Get two, for the 7 year olds, and put a twin bed under one of them (perpendicular to the loft, or a futon on the floor lengthwise) for the 4 year old. That way everyone has their own space, and your floor space will increase considerably. There are many available. We ordered ours from heidilee

There are several ways to make bunk-type beds to divide even a smallish room into separate private spaces by making a bunk bed that has access to one side for the lower bunk and access to the upper bunk from the other side only. Seems you'd need a triple-decker with two beds open on one side and one bed open on the other side.

We got to be inventive during graduate school, living with kids in a tiny one-bedroom on-campus flat.

For us, the one tiny bathroom was our greatest challenge.

Hi there i shared bed room with my older brother from 3 to till i was in high school(when i got my own room). and for most reason it was quite ok for me. I shared the room with him almost equally till i was in my 5th grade and then we started fighting for our space so we had some rules between us to work around it.

but till about 4-5 grade we were absolutely fine with the sharing. i believe it helped us both a great deal with sharing and understanding. about the privacy part, they will learn quickly. you might have to insist on a few things and make them understand but they will understand and work with it as time goes.

about having her own little space.. may be you can come with an arrangement where in your daughter could use your bed room for her little self time during the day. hth s

First off, I have no idea what you mean by needing alone time to ''wiggle.'' But that said, our three children share a room--they are a 10 yo boy, 7 yo girl and 4 yo girl. We have only two bedrooms also. So far, it's fine, no issues. They mostly like being together. Go for it. Mom in a small house

follow up on ''room to wiggle'' - i just figured this was a euphemism for the joys of self-pleasuring. lots of little kids do it - a 4-year-old is big enough to want a little privacy around it - i think any of the loft/bunk bed situations recommended (plus maybe a little curtain or canopy or just a great big pillow to hide behind) could certainly do the trick. i may be reading too much into ''wiggle'', though, so this may not be relevant at all. my kids are ''wiggly'' too

Making one bedroom into two for 10 & 12 y-o's

June 2007

Our two boys ages 10 and 12 share one very large bedroom. They want to have their own bedrooms. Any advise on how to erect a wall cheaply or on room dividers? Any other advose on this idea of private space? anon

I suggested this to a friend years ago for splitting a small bedroom and it worked fantastically. Basically make or use a bunkbed. Place it in the middle (where you would split the room). Close off the side of the bottom bunk with plywood, shelves or something like that. You want to secure it. Close off the opposite side of the top bunk all the way to the ceiling. You can make it longer than the bed if you have the space. Good luck. I think I originally saw the idea in one of those books on kids rooms in a hardware store about 20 years ago. Wish my parents had done that.

Funny you should mention this! Last year, as our two kids reached 10 and 11, we split their big bedroom into two. It took a bit of cleverness, but has been quite successful.

The main bedroom was about 11 feet x 12 feet, and we built a wall of 2x4s laid the flat way (so the divider is actually 2 inches wide). We attached 2x2's to the ceiling by screwing them through the plaster and into the studs.

We didn't want to damage the wood floor, so we put low-stickum painter's masking tape on the floor where the divider would be. We then used double-sticky foamtape to stick 2x2s on top of the masking tape. We then built the wall framing between the ceiling and floor 2x2's. When the framing was up, we put up 3/8'' plywood over all, and then finished with wooden beadboard. We insulated the space to cut down on noise transfer.

We added a little slot to let the kids pass notes between the rooms. Also, it's easy to add electric outlets on a new wall, so we did.

Our daughter preferred her bed to be in a closet, about 5 feet off the floor, with a desk beneath. The bed fitted in perfectly and she loves the cozy space. However, during the winter, water vapor from her breath condensed on the walls, ceiling, & window. Later, I solved this by adding a small ventilation fan and heater duct.

This divider was probably overkill, but it's withstood plenty of bumps & kicks, and has provided just the privacy that the kids wanted. The project took about a week, and materials cost around $500 (I did all the work myself) When we remove the divider, there'll be some minor plaster repairs. Cliff

I've seen this done with two men sharing a bedroom. Floor to ceiling sheets became a wall - one of the guys had a couple sheet walls to make his space a box, and the other guy had the path around that and his own space outside of the enclosed box. Nice and cheap

Remodeling: should we add another bedroom for future sib?

Nov 2002

We are starting to do some remodeling and one of the questions is whether we should add enough space for two rooms (or divide the available space) for kids. We only have one child (girl) now, but I expect that we'll eventually have two.

My husband shared a room with at least one brother until college, I am an only child who always had her own room. We both think it would be fine to have two daughters share a room, but are wondering at what age would we want to separate a boy and a girl into their own space?

And a further question: is it important to have the kids' room (s) on the same floor as a bathroom? I have visions of our now 6 month old as a toddler, needing to go to the bathroom at night and either falling down the stairs, or giving herself a bladder infection by holding it in in fear of the dark stairs.

Any advice would be appreciated. Remodeling Mom

As long as you're going through the trouble and expense of remodeling you might as well add the extra room....if it ends up that your future 2 girls share a room forever, fine, you'll have an extra room that will certainly find a purpose. If you have another boy, at some point they will want separate rooms. My 2 boys shared a room till the older one was 10 and then he started asking for his own room. We have one spare room which he now sleeps in though his clothes and stuff is in the other bigger room...someday we hope to remodel and have that extra room or two. My advice....go for it. Good luck surviving a remodel. I hear you'll need it. cramped mom

If you have the space, go for the extra bedroom. My oldest two are boys who didn't get along until the oldest left for college! They shared a room for the first half of their childhood and had their own rooms the second half. Much better if they have their own space, even if it's tiny. I hope yours are great pals and get along together well, but if they don't, your entire family will be grateful for the separate rooms. Ginger

I think if you can fit two rooms in, you should. It gives you more options later. Even if you wind up with siblings who want to share a room, they can share one bedroom and one playroom/study. As for the bathroom, well, *I* wouldn't want to have to climb stairs in the middle of the night, so given the option I wouldn't want my children to have to do so either. But these things never seem to come out perfectly, so only you can decide whether having bedrooms without a same-floor bathroom is acceptable given whatever space challenges you have. Holly


3rd child in a 2 bedroom condo

Oct 2002

We are presently a family of 2 adults plus a 3 year old and a 1 year old and I just found out I am pregnant. We cannot afford a home in the Bay Area so we bought a 2 bedroom condo before our 1 year old was born. I feel we are going to get funny looks from other condo owners and I don't feel this is an ideal situation, but I'm too stressed to move and we love the Bay Area. I'm sure this situation will work itself out, but any suggestions?? Thanks!!!

I have three sons 16, 13 and 9. We're in a two bedroom house in Albany and due to financial setbacks I never could add on. I'm amazed at how my children have managed to carve out space for themselves. I always had their toys in the living room because I wanted them near me. So their room is for sleeping and dressing. The oldest does his homework there, too. He puts on his CD player and he has his own world. He reads a lot in his bed. The other two have desks in the living room.

It's really worked out alright, I'd say they are closer emotionally than if they had their own rooms.

One strange thing is that they fear being alone much longer than I think is usual. But the 13 and 16 year old are fine.

One day I overheard a conversation my sons were having about big houses -- ''In some of the houses the kids don't even SEE each other,'' my son said.

So my experience has been that you can define their own space -- their own book shelves, toy shelves...It's cozy, too. Cornelia

We have a three bedroom house with four kids. We manage to fit. When the children were younger we were all within two of the bedrooms. All of our babies slept with us until they were almost three and the kids of opposite sex shared rooms until they were about seven years old. You will manage to fit within your space. It might become more difficult when the children are older. But you have many years to figure it out before it should really be a problem. Susan