Children are resilient. They adapt quickly and have no expectations. I try very hard to learn this from them. Or relearn, as we were all children once and had no expectations of the world, either, right?
They didn’t cry or moan or mope when they saw their room for the first time. They did ask—many times—where this or that would go, but they never felt sorry for themselves or reminisced of larger spaces. Their first reaction was actually joy that they would all be together in the same room.
I hadn’t ever thought there would be benefits to this arrangement except some mental toughness, but there have been some surprising ones. But let me add this caveat: I realize the fact that my children are quite young gives me a distinct advantage, and that older kids wouldn’t have the same reaction, or perhaps be as cooperative.
The first thing we had to do was be pretty ruthless about what we kept. We divided up mercilessly. We only kept smaller toys that served many purposes, like dollhouse furniture, tiny characters, blocks, cars and all manner of animals, Jurassic and otherwise. Played-with toys are organized by category and in bins with lids in the closet. And yes, they keep it this way and clean up everything each night. (My no-nag chore chart is how we got them to do it.)
We did the same with clothes. We even gave away perfectly good stuff that I just wasn’t seeing come through the laundry, which I had never done before. Under-the-bed space has proved to be crucial.
Here are the changes we have noticed over the past six months:
First, they go to sleep much faster and easier. I credit this with the fact that everyone can see at least one other person, who would presumably give them an audible warning and time to escape should monsters, zombies, or La Larona actually make it in the house this time. And since we can see them from the living room without having to get up, there are no more bedtime shenanigans as they settle down to sleep.
Second, they actually play with their toys, in their room. Can I tell you how I have tried to make this happen at our other houses? We actually had dedicated play areas—an entire room!—in New York and Texas. It never happened. They were always dragging everything out into the living room, or “had nothing to do” and wanted to watch TV. They spend so much time playing together now. My husband credits it to the fact that they can play in there and still see us, but I don’t know why our toys, once boring and uninteresting, have new life.
Third, I have had friends as well as strangers comment on how well they play together. They have always gotten along well, but I have noticed an increase in mediating disputes and sharing among them. If one of them gets a piece of candy or a toy at school, they can’t wait to share it with their sisters. There are lots of “I love” statements. They lovingly referee disputes they aren’t party to. I wonder if maybe all the togetherness is responsible. There certainly isn’t room enough for everyone to go off to their corner and play if they can’t get along with others here.
I think the trick to living in a small space is always looking for ways to improve. Better use of space, throwing out things you don’t wear or use, not being complacent to just sit around being hampered by all your junk…it’s kind of like life that way.
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