Most people would be surprised to hear I live in a one-bedroom apartment of about 800 square feet. At least, they would if they knew I’m also married with a very active three-year-old and that we live smack in the middle of the suburbs rather than downtown in a city.
While we’ve always lived in fairly small spaces, comparatively speaking, I don’t think either of us ever envisioned not having a clear division of space with our family. It happened because of a random, unexpected turn of events, as things do, about two years ago. It was supposed to be for a year. Now, we’re thinking it may be for another two and are leaving our options open.
I tend not to mention it a lot, partially because how often do you discuss the setup of your home with people? Also, when I do, I tend to get some weird looks or lots of suggestions about how to afford to rent a bigger space in our pricey suburban San Francisco Bay Area community.
The thing is, we’re good with it for now. We have our days when we’re in each other's faces and not totally happy about it but 95% of the time it works for us. And I’m guessing our friends in bigger spaces aren’t always 100% happy about their homes either.
How do we make it work? In a nutshell, lots of organization, minimal clutter, constantly editing, and a desire to spend most of our time out in the world. Our toddler vastly prefers to be outside when he’s not in school, my husband is frequently at work and I find the space works for me during the day, when I’m home by myself and things are calmer. Our weekends are typically spend exploring our neighborhood or hopping in the car and going further afield.
The most hectic time in our small space is usually around dinner and the time just after, when our son has a ton of energy to get out before his bath. The major qualm I have with this space is not a lack of bedrooms, but a lack of a large outdoor space (we do have a decent-sized balcony that’s good for sitting and getting some fresh air).
One of the major reasons this apartment worked for us is that it has a sizable dining nook that perfectly fits a queen bed. If we didn’t have that, our bed would literally be the living room and I suspect we wouldn’t have made this space work as long as we have. We also have enough room to wedge a round dining table and three chairs at the foot of the bed, as I wasn’t willing to forgo us eating around a table together every night. While some might find this odd, we’re so used to it, it seems normal. Our son loves being able to get up from the table and roll around on mom and dad’s bed. I suspect when we finally do graduate to a space with two bedrooms, he’ll be baffled by the fact that our bed isn’t in the dining room.
Since our bed is in our main living space, I keep the bedding a simple, crisp white to keep things from feeling too busy. Conveniently, our bed frame and couch are both grey, so blend nicely in the same room.
We opted to exclusively give the bedroom to him for several reasons. If he had a bedroom area where we currently do, our kitchen and living room, as well as access to our front door, would basically be off-limits once he’s asleep. In addition, he has by far the most clutter of any of us in the form of toys and books. It’s nice to be able to store this in his bedroom and only see our bed rather than a rainbow of kids toys.
We keep things as organized as we possibly can. Everything has a home and we’re constantly surveying, evaluating and editing to make sure that we’re not keeping things that don’t serve a purpose to us. Visual clutter tends to stress me out and since I’m the one that’s home the most, this is my requirement for living in this space. We've slowly swapped out cheaper and less-loved pieces for better quality and in styles we truly love. (The last thing on this list is to replace our dining table -- happening later this year and couldn't be more thrilled!).
Our son’s toys and books are always put away before bedtime. The dishes are done immediately after a meal with counters cleaned off and wiped down. Laundry is put away as soon as it’s dry.
We have a laundry room where we can store some basics like our vacuum cleaner, tool box, and cleaning supplies. We have a built-in desk in our hallway. While not a dreamy place to sit for long-term work projects, it has cabinets and shelves that enable us to store our small collection of physical books, laptops, and office supplies (I mostly read on a Kindle and Jack’s room has a large bookshelf for his books and toys).
When we selected a media cabinet for our electronics and television, we made sure it had space for some of the movies and music my husband likes to hang on to (which he prefers over digital).
A large basket in our entry was selected for it’s size to fit nicely under our hall table while also being large enough to accommodate things we need readily by the door, like backpacks, tote bags, and hats.
One other perk of this apartment is the bedroom’s large walk-in closet. I won’t go into tons of detail as I’m planning a second post on how I organize it but needless to say, we wouldn’t be able to make this space work and feel as calm as it does without this great storage area.
In addition, we have a garage that’s separate from our apartment (although just downstairs) where we can keep our son’s stroller on the main level, as well as my husband’s paddleboard and a few boxes of miscellaneous things. That said, we try to keep the items stored down here to a minimum. If there’s too much, we find it’s very easy to forget about what’s down there until it’s gotten a bit out of control.
Looking for inspiration from others has been enormously helpful as well, and seeing that other people with kids are living exactly the same way. Two of my favorite resources are Reading My Tea Leaves (about a mom, dad, and two kids in a one-bedroom in Brooklyn) and 600 Sq. Feet (similar in Vancouver) and both feature parents sleeping in their dining room.
While I know our way of living isn’t for everyone, it’s worked for us for the past couple of years. It’s easy to clean and maintain, is in a nice neighborhood with access to an excellent system of trails as well as great schools, and is affordable, something that is difficult to find in the SF Bay Area. I’m hoping this series will help demystify how we live and help others realize that it really can be doable.
Note: I'm not a photographer by any means and have included photos here of our personal space to show how we make it work. They were snapped with my iPhone with light streaming in the windows so the quality isn't the greatest (but the natural light is a great feature of this apartment).