Home Tour: Living with 3 Teenagers in a 2 bedroom Apartment

Sharing our home in a series of posts on the blog the last few weeks. Not included in the tour: our kitchen and bathrooms – they are straight up boring but you can see our super tiny kitchen here. The final installment: but what about the teen years?

The oft heard phrase I hear when people find out we have three children and live in a two bedroom apartment and that we hope to stay in this space is: just wait until they are teenagers! In fact there were some funny and informative comments of that exact nature in a few posts in this series. Carmen told me I may want to move out when the boys hit the teen years because of the smell. Maybe that is the solution? I rent a small apartment in my building during their teens years? Strangely enough there is a family in our building with that exact set up. Parents have one apartment and the teen/early college boys have another.

Don’t worry, we are both scared and daunted by the idea of our three boys – likely to be in the very tall range – living in this small-ish space with us. Scared but also aware that we have some choices.

One choice would be to rent a townhouse or upper portion of a house for three to five of the high school years. I think this is becoming a very acceptable idea in Vancouver’s crazy real estate market. Buy a home that works for most of your life, rent somewhere for the relatively small window where it doesn’t work. This would also give us more options for choosing a high school that has programs our children are interested in and a neighborhood that is walkable and has all the amenities we need and enjoy. I like this idea and I think it could work very well. The downside of course would be the hassle of moving and the increased cost. Plus, renting has some drawbacks in that you could lose your lease or the owner could sell and then you are stuck with the expense and hassle of moving again. We’d also pay tax on the rental income from renting out our home plus continue to pay condo strata fees each month and of course any repairs to our home. A townhouse or part of a house would also rent for more than what our apartment would rent for. This choice would significantly increase our cost of living for the duration.

Another choice, one that I also like very much, is to invest in some space saving furniture and renovations to create more space and privacy for teens and parents. Our space usage is terribly inefficient right now: our kids go to bed early and are small. We haven’t needed to increase our efficiency and make rooms multi-purpose because right now it works. Besides the baby sleeping in a portable crib in the office each night, most of our rooms are single purpose. But I can see that older bigger children will want more privacy and our small second bedroom won’t be a comfortable space for three teen boys.

And as someone who experienced having her own bedroom for the first time my sophomore year of college, I would like to give them their own space for some of their teen years. The great thing is, we can actually do that even in our small space. It will take some work and some money but investing in furniture and some small renovations is cheaper than moving and renting a bigger home for three to five years or selling and buying a bigger home.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for making our two bedroom apartment work for a family of five that includes three teenage boys.

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Master bedroom becomes younger children’s bedroom and parents take the smaller second bedroom. Our master bedroom is large for a condominium and fits a king sized bed. We could move all the kids in there in the next two or three years and then our oldest could have the den/office as his own room later on. Double wall bunk beds would greatly increase the floor space – I’ve linked to a few options below.

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Photo credit Resource Furniture

 

Second bedroom becomes the parent’s room. We move down to a queen sized bed and perhaps even a fold down queen size bed with a desk. When our oldest moves into the office the second bedroom works nights as parents room and days as a home office. 5kids1condo has this set-up with a fold down bed that is a desk during the day and it means his master bedroom can be used 24 hours a day instead of the usual 8-9.

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Photo credit Costco.ca

Our little office/den becomes the oldest child’s room. Technically this room is an enclosed balcony per city building codes. Semantics really but it doesn’t have a closet and has a glass wall and door that faces into our living room. Because of building codes and rules we will likely never be able to pull the glass wall out and enclose it though we could remove the wall and leave it open (maybe the plan once the kids leave the next!). It’s a very small room but it can fit a twin bed and maybe a small dresser if we were able change the door to swing out instead of in. From memories of my teen years I know that getting your own space is worth it even if it’s a very small space. When the oldest moves out the next in line gets it, we move back into the master bedroom and then the two children still at home each have their own room.

The closets in our home are very small but I recently saw a smart idea from fellow Vancouverite Alison who writes at 600sqft.com (lovely blog! go check it out) about a small renovation that increased their closet storage space. A light went on for me – we could do this with our few and small closets too. So to keep up with the increasing size of the kid’s clothes we could knock the headers of the closets out and have more usable space. If we can keep all or most of the clothing in the closets we can have fewer dressers and more floor space. Which will be needed with five people in the 6ft to 6’5″ or taller range sharing 1100 square feet.

Our beloved IKEA Stockholm sofa could be traded in for a sectional. Not a chance it can seat what will be five adults. We’ll get something larger, give up our side table and maybe I will finally have a coffee table once there are no crazy toddlers in the house. The dining room table that now sits in a four person configuration will expand to it’s six person configuration permanently.

We put up a sliding barn door or put a wall with door up to divide our living room from the two bedrooms. This would create a better sound barrier between the living room and more privacy for our main bathroom.

Another way to create more privacy: spend less time at home. I know this sounds a bit strange but hear me out. I’m hoping my teens are fairly independent and that due to our proximity to so many things, including transit, they can manage their own lives and schedules without mom and dad chauffeuring them around. With so much at their door step I expect they will spend some evenings studying at the Vancouver Public Library a few blocks away, playing pick up basketball at the local outdoor courts or at the Community Centre, swimming in our condo pool downstairs or at evening band practice at the high school that’s a 20 minute walk or eight minute bus ride away. Or working their part-time evening and weekends job at a local coffee shop. Yes, this is a small space for two adults and three teenagers but one of the reasons we live down here is that we have a lot of public space and amenities close by. Our living room is limitless if we think of all the options in a few blocks radius to us to study, meet up with friends, read a book or listen to music.

Are you living in your ‘forever’ home or will you need to upsize or downsize as you age or your family grows/shrinks?

Home Tour: One Bedroom For Three Boys

Sharing our home in this series on the blog. More here and here.

Three boys. One bedroom.

My best tip for making a small space work for three kids isn’t a design hack or even a space creator like having less stuff. My best tip for making our small space work for three kids is this: get outside. We don’t have a yard nor space to have an indoor mini tramp or rec room you could play soccer in. Our home has to meet our big needs – place to sleep, relax and dine – but it can’t meet all of our needs. We can’t own all the toys or all the books. So we let the library and our friends and the tot drop in at the Community Center own and store a lot of toys and books that we use on site or borrow for a few weeks. Grandma has the water guns and the mini soccer goals and big remote control cars at her house. If you don’t have an attic or garage or basement you are forced to just own what you use most of the time and find other ways to enjoy your occasional toys and activities.

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Technically this room houses three but at the moment the youngest sleeps in the office in a portable crib but plays and has his toys and clothing stored in this room. Our plan is for the three boys to share this room for the next two to three years and then do some shuffling to give them more space.

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The IKEA hack toddler bunk beds (originally our neighbor’s 5kids1condo.com) are fantastic space savers. Our older two – age 6 and age 3 – fit nicely in them. I won’t disclose too much about the design (because it’s not mine and I don’t want to be sued!) but this is two IKEA Gulliver beds stacked on each other with four supports keeping them together and a custom ladder. It’s very sturdy and we all love it.

On the other side of the room we have a play corner centered around the ubiquitous IKEA Expedit unit. I try to keep the toy collection contained to just these boxes plus another box in the living room but I will confess there is a Paw Patroller and Air Patroller out of view. The boxes: two are full of wooden trains and train set pieces, the rest is Duplo, Lego, dress up clothing, wooden puzzles and some Hot Wheels cars and tracks. We cull the toys a few times a year via the methods in Simplicity Parenting. Some of the books are displayed on picture rails that just fit in next to the closet and there are more books stacked around the house.

kidbooks

The small but deep closet in the kid’s room holds two IKEA units for clothing. Sometimes I KonMari all the clothing… sometimes the three year old pulls all of it out looking for his pajamas (they were on his bed). Sometimes the baby pulls all the clothing out just because it’s fun. So yes, I don’t KonMari their clothing frequently. I have a rule that if the clothing can’t fit in unfolded then we need to pare it down.

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The rug is very second hand Pottery Barn and was incredibly dirty when I got it. A number of runs with the Dyson later it’s nubby and worn but pretty clean. The little chairs can fit at our kid’s table to increase our hosting options.

A big comfy reading chair that the kids could sit in with me would be nice. But it would eat a lot of floor space and make the room feel crowded. Instead I sit on the carpet or the kids come into our bed or we all sit on the living room couch. When the kids are waking each other up or pestering each other and not falling asleep I think it would be nice for them to have their own rooms. I’m not immune to the “wouldn’t it be nice to have” thoughts but when I go there, and I do go there, I then try to remind myself what the nice to haves come with: eventually feeling squeezed out of our small-ish home.

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What about when they’re teens? It wasn’t until second year university that I first experienced having my own bedroom. Oh how I loved it. The privacy and the ability to decorate and do as I please was such a luxury. I would really like our children to have a year or two of their own bedroom in their teen years. Which is why if we stay in this home we will do a room shuffle every few years so each boy can have a year or two of high school with his own bedroom. Here’s another “it would be nice to have”: It would be nice that they spend enough time sharing a bedroom with a sibling(s) that they learn how to navigate the rough and calm waters of living with people and also, that they really appreciate having their own bedroom when it finally happens.

Did you share a bedroom growing up? When did you first have your own bedroom? I feel like most kids these days don’t have to share but I like the skills learned from negotiating with a sister over what poster goes on the wall and who gets the top drawer.

Home Tour: 1 couch for 5 people

This is what my living and dining room look like when they’ve been picked up and children are not around. I write that caveat in because many days this place looks like we’ve been robbed and the thieves emptied the place looking for an illusive piece of Lego.

When we first moved into this home almost seven years ago we filled the living room and dining room. We had a couch, arm chair, coffee table, huge IKEA expedit entertainment and storage unit, a storage chest, dining table and chairs and a large storage cabinet for wedding china, wine glasses and such. Sure, everything fit into the space but looking back at the photos, and remembering how it felt to live there, the room felt heavy and crammed. When I was struck by the decluttering bug in the fall of 2010 I gave away the storage chest and cleared out a lot of what was stored in the IKEA expedit unit. Six months later we sold everything and moved overseas (it felt amazing to own no furniture!). Moving back four years later I knew that although we had added two more people to the family, we didn’t need all of the furniture we had before.

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This time around we skipped the big storage/entertainment unit and got two smaller pieces from IKEA. The bottom unit holds kids drawing items, games and puzzles on one side and the other side isn’t very full and holds some books and a few random decor pieces that we are trying to keep out of the baby’s reach. The shelving that is above the TV is storage for some electronic items and memorabilia.

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At one point we did have an arm chair but it wasn’t getting a lot of use, was bright red and we had received it basically for free while getting a grouping of second hand items. I gave it away and the space feels the better for it. When we need more living room seating we pull one of the dining room chairs over – the upholstered ones are actually quite comfortable. For now all five of us can sit on the couch together comfortably and the kids often prefer to sit on the floor to read or play or watch a movie anyways. In trying to live a life where my home functions for 90% of my needs, instead of 100%, we don’t have a second couch for guests. We do have visitors and we can fit three adults on the couch, with the dining seating another four seats and I can bring in the chair from the office. We had a birthday party here with ten or so adults and fifteen kids and we made do just fine with the seating.

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Our dining table has seen better days but was a good second hand deal and works with our space. Most of the time it sits in this compact square configuration leaving us a lot of floor space. When we have people over we take one or both of the leaves out, add in the office chair, pull out the kids table and party! *The kids table and chairs are actually my husband’s from his childhood. They rotate around our place for kid work/dining surface where needed. Currently they are ‘locked up’ in the master bedroom because the not quite 18 month old likes to stand on the table. If it’s a larger group than we have seating for we do two dinner shifts, kids eat first and go off and play while the adults eat. In a pinch we also throw down our picnic blanket and kids eat picnic style. Who doesn’t love an indoor picnic?

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Again, less furniture makes this room more livable. At another time I would have put a big book case along the wall where the kids table is and a china cabinet across the back wall of this room. Coffee table, add in a big arm chair or even a love seat, and this room has a lot less space to move in. We will have to make some adjustments when the kids are older and bigger – that couch isn’t going to hold all of us! – but I hope they are small. Plus if we are living in the city with teens I am expecting that they make use of the community centre, library and parks independently in the evenings. As Miss Minimalist says, “in pursuing a minimalist lifestyle, we must resist the temptation to recreate the outside world within our abodes.”

Next up: kids’ bedroom.

Should You Keep Your Formal Dinnerware?

formaldinnerware

Not minimalist: I really like our formal wedding china.

We left several boxes of breakables with family while we were away and it was fun to be reunited with some almost forgotten items on our return. Fun and strange. Four years ago my pre-kids self was still fresh in my mind. I thought I would be back to making creme brulee soon. I thought that I would be back to having “bust out the formal china we’re cooking something special” dinner parties in the near future. Before we moved to the UK I had a china cabinet and I used it.

Things have changed.

With three kids five and under and with most of my friends having young kids, I don’t see formal dinner parties happening anytime soon. When people come by I make something that can sit warming in our crock pot. Simple, hearty and easy to eat with children on your lap is key. We don’t ‘set the table’ with place mats because the under two set like to pull those, and the dishes on top of them, off. I will make a labor intensive meal just a few times a year to dine on once the kids are in bed.

Should I get rid of my formal dinner china?

A handful of people have emailed me asking just this question. Should they let the dust gathering, space stealing, sometimes heirloom, family dinner china go? Fewer and fewer couples are registering for formal china. Dining rooms and formal dinners at home are a thing of the past. Some families are holding onto dinnerware that has been passed down from parents and grandparents and they feel pressure to keep it in the family – even if it is never used.

The answer for me: use it or lose it. I’ve started using our beautiful china as everyday dishes. They are dishwasher safe and I love how they look. I particularly love how they look if I get up before the rest of my family and have a quiet breakfast on my own. I’m not quite ready to let the kids use them but that day will come. Are they practical? No. Are they beautiful and do I use them? Yes.

Our kitchen is so small that I have to make some tough decisions about what we have in it. If it’s not used regularly we can’t give it space. So, beautiful dinnerware, I must use you or we will have to part ways.

Anyone else face this decision? Is anyone having lavish formal dinner parties still? If so can I get an invite!??

Leaving Minimalism

The title Minimalist Mom isn’t that accurate for me. If you’ve read a few posts here you’ll know that I aim for less and what we can live comfortably with rather than a rigid goal of a handful of possessions.

I chose the name while in a burst of zeal for the idea of what Minimalism could give me. I was excited, hopeful and had grand dreams of sparsely furnished rooms and a wardrobe that could fit in a small carry-on suitcase. After many rounds of decluttering I’ve found that the things my family want in our home, the things we use, is often in flux. I’ve found that I’m not interested in counting our possessions or living a nomadic lifestyle. I am interested in the space, time and money having less can give me and my family.

I’m not really a minimalist. We have a television, my son has a push bike he has yet to master and I recently bought a blender and a crock pot.

While I’m not a true minimalist I’m still fascinated by the idea of fewer possessions and the many returns from living with less. That’s why I keep writing here. That’s why I deliberate a lot longer on purchases than I used to. That’s why I have just two pairs of jeans, why we don’t have a car and why I keep a pretty sparse pantry. I like what having less gives me.

Friends Saying Goodbye to Minimalism.

Recently two of my blogging friends have discussed why minimalism is no longer right for them.

Rayna, a contributing writer to Frugal Mama, wrote about shutting down her blog The Suburban Minimalist almost a year ago. Embracing the movement had been positive at first and then lead her to a place she wasn’t comfortable or happy with.

 I’d learned the hard way that although there’s much to be said for living with (much) less than the average American, there are also quite a few things to be said for creature comforts and man-made beauty. Fluffy towels and familiar mugs sweeten our daily rituals. A closet with enough flattering choices makes me feel feminine and confident on the days I’m just not. – Rayna St. Pierre

Her new blog, Bright Copper Kettles, explores simplicity, design and the small things that make her life wonderful. It’s a nice read and I recommend popping in particularly for her links round up. Rayna has a great eye for articles and design that will inspire you to find more beauty in your life without making you feel bad about your living room that is covered in children’s toys or that you have yet to replace the glass on a picture frame that broke three months ago (guilty).

Faith started writing at MinimalistMoms around the same time I started this blog. Later she moved to MinimalistatHome and has written several e-books on minimalism and families. Recently she decided to move her writing away from minimalism.

… it became harder and harder to write a “minimalist” blog after two years. I’ve grown tired of wondering if what I have to say is minimalist enough or even if I am minimalist enough.. – Faith Janes

Faith’s new home online for living with less is a digital magazine called Simplify that launches October 1st. You can sign up to receive the first edition here.

Still Sticking With The M Word

I’ll still be here writing about my own brand of minimalism, the challenges of living counter-culturally and if I really needed that crock pot or blender.

While the term minimalism sounds extreme I think there is a lot to glean from the movement for even non-radical folk like myself. I like the discussion here about how to live with less, the benefits of it and how to go about it happily in a world that doesn’t support slow and simple living.

Real Simple magazine always told me that it was ‘life made easier, every day’ but I found that when I read it, I hated my home and felt the pressure to buy a lot of baskets and label makers and organize instead of truly simplify. I used to flip through those glossy pages and tell myself that I’d have a show worthy home if I just tried harder and made bread from scratch and a jar of lemon curd for an Amalfi Coast inspired luncheon replete with Limoncello ordered direct from Sorrento, Italy.

Life wasn’t made easier. Life was harder and the expectations bigger in ways that just made me tired. I had zero of the 20 must-have classic wardrobe staples for a woman in her 30’s. My vintage mason jar collection was nonexistent.

I wasn’t inspired by the supposed ease of this everyday beautiful simplicity. I was overwhelmed.

There is room in my life for beauty and minimalism. I keep fresh flowers on our kitchen window sill, not the dining room table, because that is where I enjoy them most. When I’m washing dishes I see my vase, sometimes it’s just a water glass, filled with the cheap and cheerful white carnations I buy myself or roses, a gift from a friend, and it’s enough for me.

Because I have less I appreciate what I do have more.

I’ll still be here writing about minimalism and how we’re making it work for us. With our roses on the window sill, our blender and even my expensive ballet flats that fell apart.

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