The Shuffle - How We Let Our Family Grow While Staying In A Small House.

 "Do you think you'll move to a bigger house?" ...This is a question people started asking us not one, but two kids ago. 

Our floorplan. The top faces the street. (Not labelled but in the middle of the house is a storage room, totally necessary due to having just one closet in our Master Bedroom. Lily's crib is usually in the play room, with the back entrance.)

When we redesigned our 950 ft2 house, we thought we'd be living in it for about 2 years. We thought we'd have one child and maybe another little baby, and then the military would have us move. As we were preparing for the arrival of our second, we were reposted here. When our third was on the way, we already had gotten used to the shuffle. We decided that if the people who lived on our street 50 years ago could make it work with even larger families, so could we.

  • You might find this post helpful if you are considering starting a family while living in a small space, want to rent part of your home out, or want to have extra room in your budget for artwork or a view of nature that nourishes your family. If you are curious and think we're crazy, read along too! We are in fact, a little crazy, but when you get real who isn't?

First, some things specific to our family, we moved my art studio out of the house. I found a great place down the street, so I don't waste time commuting and was able to go to the studio while breastfeeding Lily, when I had a babysitter. I needed more space for making my frescoes especially, but I also like working on my tiny paintings there. The separation works well for me, helping me to focus, and I even have space there to display my work and entertain. 

Here's how we do the Shuffle. (If it sounds like I'm describing a dance- you're not far off!)

1. We let them share a room, but not when they're falling asleep.  

Willem is 3 and he has always liked his own space as he falls asleep. He sleeps on the bottom bunk. Astra, is 6, and goes to sleep in our bed.  Lily sleeps in the playroom, in a slightly narrow wooden crib. It's easy to wheel between rooms and we frequently put her crib in the kid's bedroom during the day, or in our bedroom in the event that Willem goes to bed early while we have company with kids using the playroom while the adults are in the living room. At least once a week we do this, as we have a home group that meets here.

2. We move our children while they're sleeping. -It's not easy, but it is funny!

Every night before we get into bed we have to clear it first. We carry our daughter to her room and if Danny is home, we lift her into the top bunk and smile at each other as we tuck her blanket around her. If I am by myself... it's a wee bit of a different story. -I carry her to the ladder, put my foot on a low rung of the ladder, rest her unsteady body on my knee, and lift her from under her armpits up to the mattress -she flops back, sighs sleepily (totally oblivious), as I hoist her floppy legs up to the bed. Sometimes I'm lucky and she crawls to her pillow and snuggles in, but there are times I am laughing to myself as I climb up and toss her a little further towards her pillow until finally -she's all there, cosy and warm. It's a bit like trying to use a wet noodle to push a hard boiled egg down a carpeted hallway...

3. Reassign rooms throughout the day.

The kid's bedroom doubling as a workout spot.

The kid's bedroom doubling as a workout spot.

What can be done elsewhere vs. what needs to be done here? Does the activity require floorspace? Privacy? A laptop lets us work in our bedroom, or occasionally entertain the kids in their room. We have alternatives from things that are our favourite ways of doing things. Working out to a video on my phone in the playroom is maybe 15% less favourite of a thing for me, than working out in the living room, but it works. (We like them to see us working out, and hop around with us, but there's a certain age when it just doesn't work, or I just want to listen to my body, and I can't help but think about the others when I'm with them.) Our kids are learning about cooperation, problem-solving, sharing... I think those are worth the inconvenience. I don't want to make it seem like it's always easy, because sometimes I am stressed and feel "stuck" and that is when I so appreciate a check-in phone call from Danny, when I discuss, "This needs to happen, but so and so is in there, and so how do I make that work?" Sometimes it's clearer to someone on the outside.

4. Work around each other.

We frequently move activities from one room to another. We'll  write in the bedroom for a bit and then switch to the table. In the summer we really appreciate being able to work and play outside.

5. Made room by reevaluating our furniture, and buying a few things. 

When our third was on the way, I went back to the drawing board, and questioned the use of just about every room in our house. Murphy bed for us? Bunkbed for us? LOL. Um, no. Mainly we decided between floorspace-providing furniture and storage-providing furniture.

I looked at the furniture that consumed the most square footage and replaced them with more functional models. The three big ones were the table, couch, and queen bed. All of our furniture was purchased second hand so we didn't feel tied to what we'd invested in it. Since we like our solid antique table, and it does expand, we decided to keep it instead of going with a more space efficient gate leg table.

The bed, however, did change. We went from a wooden sleigh bed to this Ikea BRIMNES bed :


The shelf at the headboard allows us to forgo bedside tables, and we like the book storage on the sides. We always have stacks of books in our room. The drawers underneath meet in the middle, and use all the space under the bed. The white matched our trim, and gave a more built-in look, which works in spaces where the furniture would look stuffed-in otherwise. I debated adding a shelf at the base, so the bed would touch both walls, but the extra space gets used for blankets that are kicked off, bags of donation stuff, and empty laundry baskets. The storage space holds Lily's clothes and her bassinet fit nicely next to our bed. We wheeled it out to access the drawers. In the night if I needed a change of clothes or a diaper, it was all within reach.  I could just pull the drawer out a bit and grab it while still holding her. I tried to stay in bed as much as possible during those nights.


The couch was another opportunity. We switched from our three seater to the Ikea HOLMSUND sofa bed with storage. 


It has been great for these reasons:

  • When we have guests they have a comfortable sleep (If we lend them our mattress topper, but that can fold in half during the day, on the folded up bed)
  • We have a place to store craft things and bulkier things near the main workspace of the house, instead to taking things all the way to the basement where we have some storage.
  • We have more room for people to sit.
  • The kids can't pull off the bottom couch cushions for fort-making. By all means, take the back cushions -at least it can still function as a couch!


  • The L side that goes into the room sort of divides our living room a little, and the side of it makes a place to put laundry baskets, backpacks, a toy basket, etc. without it sitting in the middle of the room. It looks less cluttered, and is out of the way more.
  • When the bed is pulled out, and not drawn up, it makes a footstool/ spot for more kids to sit and lean back against. It's been great too, now that Lily wants to be on the couch with her brother and sister. They pull it out and she climbs up, and if she falls, she doesn't get hurt.



By choosing to use our space more efficiently, I've been able to keep creating my artwork, rather than investing that time in moving and setting up a new house. Though we may not live here forever, we're so glad that we've been able to make this work for our current season of life. I hope you're encouraged to rethink your space, to rethink your needs and find space solutions for your family too. 



This post was written for inclusion in the January collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!


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A Life Shift-- "Hong Kong House Sizes" :  A small space in North America is large compared to Hong Kong standards! Learn more about house sizes in Hong Kong and where our space fits in the city's spectrum of "the norm".


Shelley Vanderbyl-- "The Shuffle -How We Let Our Family Grow While Staying in a Small House" : "Do you think you'll move to a bigger house?"...this is the question people started asking us not one, but two kids ago. 


Fourth & West-- "Party of Three" : Following life's unexpected path. 


Tiny Ass Camper-- "Upsizing" : How our plan to add to our family impacted our search for a half-time home.