Kids and their stuff make your relationship with your home feel complicated...
(Our shared bedroom)
When my now 19 year-old son was born we lived in a tiny, adorable one-bedroom garden cottage in north Berkeley. I somehow added his crib, changing table, diapers, wipes, ointments and clothing to my already small bedroom. Then there was his carseat, stroller, swing, playpen, Boppy pillow, brain stimulating toys, books, and activity mat, and bouncy seat. They landed in my tiny living room simply by default. In my tiny kitchen, the dish drainer, coffee maker, mixer, and cooking utensils now had to contend with baby bottles, a separate drying rack, a separate dish pan and bottle brush, and a sink sized plastic baby bathtub.
(The bathtub in the kitchen sink)
Almost overnight, our home had become cramped and cluttered. Ironically this was around the time I first heard the saying "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
Let me tell you. This Momma wasn't happy...
I was working full time. I was sleep deprived and anxious. I was miserable with the state of our house, and I felt like I was at the mercy of every new developmental stage and all their corresponding brain-stimulating toys. If clutter were visual noise, our house was a cacophony! I thought of moving, but immediately ruled it out. I didn't have the bandwidth or finances to look for a larger place. So for the first six months my son and kept the status quo living and sleeping in the same tight quarters.
But when he started crawling, as the saying goes, shit got real. FAST!
Out of sheer desperation I did two smart things.
First, I converted a small storage closet off my living room (filled with useless crap that had no business being kept) into a sweet little nursery. It had just enough room for his crib, a rug, a little book shelf and the changing table. I installed a regular sized window so the space would feel larger and brighter. I removed the door and hung linen curtains across the doorway, joking that it would prevent someone from giving CPS an anonymous tip that I was shutting my baby in a closet.
(My brother setting up the crib)
The result was instant sanity. Even though I "lost" a closet, for under $600 I gained a new bedroom basically out of thin air! My son made the transition to his new room without incident, and I retreated to the blissful sanctuary of my bedroom each evening appreciating the space to rest and unwind.
(The nursery in action!)
The second smart thing I did was admit I was too exhausted and emotionally stretched to help myself. So I hired a professional organizer. I knew Judy socially, and didn't exactly know how she could help me, but I was so utterly miserable in my home, I was willing to take a leap of faith.
Judy breezed in and set me straight right away. We sorted, we edited, we relocated stuff, gave away stuff, and carted stuff off to charity. Judy talked non-stop about hidden storage, vertical storage, under the bed storage, closet storage, over the door storage, hooks, containment, sensible baby proofing, and best if all, her absolute love of small homes! A few two-hour sessions later and my tiny, adorable one-bedroom garden cottage was starting to live its best family life.
The result was a dramatic drop in my stress level and a surprising surge in my enthusiasm. Everything now had a place and a plan! I no longer felt like the size of our home was a liability. In fact, after working with Judy, I began to look at our situation as an opportunity to be creative. I started to value my home in a way I never had before. I had it painted, inside and out. I moved furniture around, hung paintings, and tried to make it as pretty as I could on my limited budget. I cooked meals, I gardened, had friends over, and before I knew it, our cramped quarters had become our tiny, adorable one-bedroom garden cottage family home.
Now, wouldn't it be great if this was the end of the story?
Ha! In the following years, in four different houses, each time my son reached a new stage, I had to start from scratch. But it became easier and easier as I became more confident in my ideas about how we should live in our home. I also became more ruthless about what possessions I was willing to keep and what to pass on.
The most important thing I can impress upon parents who find themselves in a similar situation, is to truly understand the critical difference between living in a kid-centric family home, where kid clutter lives in every room, and a kid-friendly family home, where kids are warmly welcome to use every room of their house but their stuff isn't allowed to accumulate in certain areas. Kid-friendly homes will always, always, always achieve a higher quality of life for parents than kid-centric homes.
And I speak from first hand experience when I say if the parents ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!
Have you gone through this and come out the other side? Let me know in the comments below!