10 Tips for Living in a Small Space With Kids

This NYC-dwelling mom shares her top secrets for living in a small apartment with young children.

Toy truck on apartment floor
Photo: Maike Jessen/Getty Images

No one decides to have children and then says, "I want to downsize." Usually, the opposite happens, and our starter home becomes a distant memory soon after announcing the first pregnancy. But for city-dwellers like me, space is at a premium regardless of how many children you decide to raise. Sure, you could move farther away, but sometimes that just isn't practical, the trade-offs aren't worth it, or we simply can't afford a larger spot. I've made NYC home (so have my young children), and I have a lot of experience with the whole "apartment living with kids" vibe. Do I have tips? I have more than I can count, but here are the 10 small living nuggets that stand out the most.

Kid-Friendly Apartment Living Ideas

01 of 10

Buy a dark-colored couch.

In a small space or apartment, every room and piece of furniture is used constantly. There's no never-used sitting room off the foyer where you can put the silk-covered settee and no "kids' TV room" with a sectional and bean bags. Our couch is where my kids drip ice cream after dinner and where my husband and I eat dinner most nights. It is upholstered in chocolate brown velvet—that wipes down surprisingly well with a wet cloth—and doesn't show stains. If you want a lighter color, opt for an indoor-outdoor fabric.

02 of 10

Put glitter straight in the garbage.

Let's get ruthless right out of the gate. I live in a 1,200-square-foot apartment with my husband and two kids. When they bring home an art project from school that has glitter on it, I smile, tell them it's beautiful, wait for them to leave the room, and take it straight outside to the building's bulk trash cans. Those sparkly, shedding flakes get everywhere, and in a small space, that means they'll end up on your dinner table and between your sheets. You think you vacuumed them all up, and then sunlight comes through the window at just the right angle, and dozens of glinting shards mock you from deep inside your living room rug. If you can't part with a piece of glitter artwork, quarantine it in a plastic bag.

03 of 10

Give kids the bigger bedroom.

Apartment living with kids is a challenge, especially when it comes to sleeping arrangements. In a small apartment, kids usually share rooms. Who says the primary bedroom has to belong to the parents? Once my son graduated out of the walk-in closet (yes, closet), we put him and his older sister in the largest bedroom, while my husband and I took our daughter's old room. Before, the kids' toys were always in the living room because they didn't have space to play in the smaller bedroom. Now, everything is in their room. Toys are corralled, and it's easier and faster to clean up.

04 of 10

Make sure everything has a place.

I've found that finding a home for every single item we own makes it much, much easier to clean up, and it keeps me from saying things like, "The board games look kind of graphic and cool stacked up in the corner of the kitchen," which is a slippery slope. If you run out of room, make room (or get rid of something).

05 of 10

Don't be sentimental.

Remember the glitter rule. Donate unused kids' toys or throw things away. Don't hoard your children's artwork. You don't have room for it (and even if you do, it's still not a great idea). Keep one or two things a month or only the most special pieces. Sort through your keepsake box a couple of times a year and reevaluate. Say your kid has outgrown the infant car seat—but you might have another baby—loan it out to a friend for a year rather than store it. In the same vein, borrow a friend's bouncy seat or play mat—the things you need for very short periods of time—and then give them back.

06 of 10

Go easy on birthdays.

Again, this is helpful for any parent but crucial for those in small spaces: Don't buy a lot! Kids don't care. Focus on small things: books, those plastic tubes full of 1/2-inch sea creatures, art supplies (that eventually get used up and discarded). Ask grandparents who can't resist spoiling to buy one big-ticket item, like a scooter or an American Girl doll. If those grandparents don't listen, wait until your child stops playing with something, then give it away. It won't take long, and no one will notice.

07 of 10

Understand your space limitations.

My kids didn't get a train table. They don't have a lot of shoes (winter pair, summer pair, church pair, rain boots). Do you know those plush, kid-sized chairs with their names monogrammed on them? Nope. I got sentimental this past Christmas and bought a 2-foot-tall stuffed camel because my son is really into animals. It was a mistake.

08 of 10

Don't buy multiples.

Similar to the above: You do not need a drawer full of sippy cups. You need a couple per kid. Rinse it out and reuse it. (This also forces you to keep up with lids.) One bath towel is completely sufficient—or just, gasp, let the kid use one of yours. He still gets dry, even if his head isn't covered by a terry cloth duck.

09 of 10

Don't fill every square inch with stuff.

It can be a weirdly fun thing to find creative storage solutions in a small space, like winter coats hanging like an art installation down the hallway. Your apartment is not a Jenga puzzle, though. Kids are loud; their toys are colorful (and also loud). You need empty, stuff-free space for your eyes to rest—a corner by the couch where you could put another basket crammed with blocks but don't. Next thing you know, your kid curls up there with a pillow to read.

10 of 10

Spend time outside.

In a small space, life can feel louder and more cluttered. But what if you could send the kids to the backyard or another floor for a moment? You have to leave the house. But that's the good part of living in a small space, too. Your home expands to include your neighborhood: the parks, the community garden, and the deli on the corner. There's something about time spent outside of a small living space that can reset cranky moods, and your kids start talking to other people instead of just you (yes!).

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