When Troy and I were looking at houses this past spring, we had a basic idea of the must-haves when it came to the girls:
- One room for each kid
- Flex space that could be a playroom
- Plenty of storage options
Technically, the home we were in already met these criteria, but something about it was starting to feel… small.
I get a little guilty when I think about how much space we wanted for our family. My mother was a single mom for most of my childhood and we rarely had more than two bedrooms to accommodate 3-4 people. At one point, we lived in a trailer. So, when our real estate talks started getting into an outlandish number of rooms and square footage, I started thinking about what we as a family really needed in terms of space.
A Room of Their Own
It’s pretty easy to just budget one room per kid. This allows each kid to have their own safe personal space, where they can retreat or relax. Also called a YES space, this area helps reduce your kid’s anxiety or sensory overload as well. The room serves as a personal boundary. Fits right in real nicely with the American Dream, but is it unrealistic for a modern parent?
Around the Internet, some people suggest 600-700 square feet per person, so a family of four would fit into a 2,400 sq ft home. For middle class American families, the average homes are between 1,700-3,000 sq ft. However, depending on your budget and location, you may not have extra rooms to spare. Think of parents in city apartments or condos vs suburban homes or rural homes with land. And with real estate prices right now? Pssh.
To get to the heart of the debate, you have to center your decisions around what works best for your family.
Our girls shared a room up until the day we looked at our first listing. We got back from the showing, put the girls down to nap, and came back with both girls in the same crib surrounded by every plushie in the room. A had managed to climb out of her crib, climb onto the pull-out couch, and pull herself into Z’s crib from there. That night we converted their cribs to toddler beds, and proceeded to get the worst night sleep of my parenting life. At 4 in the morning, every toy, blanket, piece of clothing was out. There was a light switch rave and lots of screaming. There went the idea that the girls could share a room….
Perhaps one day when they are older, they could share a room again or do bunk beds, but definitely not anytime soon.
I know this is a twin-specific, toddler-specific circumstance. It is possible for kids of different ages to share a room, but basic requirements would be to make sure that each child feels comfortable, has privacy, and can sleep adequately.
The Playroom Conundrum
Growing up, I was a little jealous of kids who had their own playroom. Usually, this room was filled with toys, a TV and movies, maybe a sweet Nintendo. In our old house, we kept all the toys in the living room. As the girls got older and were gifted more stuff, toys started taking over the entire living space and it was more frustrating to clean each night. So, I can see how a separate playroom sounds like a great option.
However, having a dedicated playroom isn’t all that’s cracked up to be. Depending on how the room is organized, it could give your kid major decision fatigue. There are so many toys, they don’t know where to start. Or if it’s too organized and everything is put away, they can’t visually see anything and it curtails your kid’s imagination.
In both circumstances, your child may not even want to go into the playroom if they had the choice. Can you hear it now? “A whole room full of toys and you’re bored?”
Conversely, some parenting influencers argue against having toys in the bedroom, saying that bedrooms are for sleeping and having toys accessible there can affect sleep habits.
Where’s the happy medium? Sort which toys are warm up toys and wind down toys.
Warm up toys are toys that get your kids excited and active, get their attention and focus, and require lots of brain activity. Keep these toys in a designated area, so your kid can access them but keep them relegated to that space.
Wind down toys are more passive and bring your child’s energy down: stuffed animals, bedtime books, toys that play soft music. These can be kept in the bedroom and can be part of the bedtime routine.
For us, while we now have ample square footage, I still want spaces to be multipurpose and flexible. Our “playroom” now is actually our finished basement. It doesn’t have doors to close everything off. Toys are out, but confined to their specific areas. We have couches and a second tv down there, but we the parents also use this space after the girls go to sleep. Our guest room is also down there, so we are committed to keeping the area tidy (enough). In a few years, the basement could turn into a study room, a completely separate guest apartment, a game room, a bunk room for sleepovers, etc.
No matter how big your house is or how many organization systems you install, clutter will always accumulate to fit the space. So, if you have/want more square footage, be extra diligent about what you bring in and throw out. We lived in our old house for 8 years, and would regularly declutter. But when we moved, there was still a lot of stuff, especially little kid stuff, that had to be dealt with.
I try to go through our spaces seasonally and make regular trips to Goodwill, but toys and kid clothes accumulate especially fast. Trade these with your other family friends, or take them to a local consignment shop and get some money back.
Another way to tackle clutter and optimize organization is to get your kids involved. Let them be the decision-makers when sorting and donating items. This also gets them thinking about giving old toys to others and keeping their space tidy. Yes, every other day is going to look like a toy explosion, but if they are involved in the putting-away routine, they learn better habits for taking care of their stuff.
More Tips for Thinking About Kids and Space
- Think about your family’s daily routine. A dining room is a waste if you don’t use it regularly. Do you need both counter seating and breakfast nook? Is a formal living room worth it if you never go in there? Back porch, unused patio, sun room, etc. Could any of these spaces be turned into something more functional and kid-friendly?
- Set up a YES space. It’s a place where your child is safe and can play independently. If your kids share a bedroom, try to find or create a nook where your kids can have their own space, like a personal corner, alcove, a reading tent, etc.
- Keep toys to a minimum. One of our close friends keeps her kid’s toys in three separate tote bins. She rotates each bin every couple of weeks. This means less toys out in the open, and less chance that her daughter will get bored with each toy.
- Don’t put so much emphasis on a yard. If outdoor space is a priority for you or if you have a pet that needs running space, then that’s understandable, but also look for access to playgrounds, parks, and nature trails.
- Have your child take ownership of their space. Let them decide on paint colors or a theme or what type of furniture they want (if it’s in your budget). This also means that they are responsible for their space and its clean up. The more they are excited about the space, the more time they will want to spend there.
How to Be Happy in a Small Home. Sustainable Minimalists, Episode 185, May 25, 2021.
Creating an Eco-Friendly Playroom with Rachel Classi. Minimalist Moms, Episode 179. June 29, 2021.
YES Spaces – What They Really Are and Why They Matter. Respectful Parenting: Janet Lansbury Unruffled. June 23, 2021.