apartment building outside

Small Space Living With Littles: What I’ve Learned So Far

The Beginners Guide to Living In An Apartment with Kid/s

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Many moms I know may never relate to this-the reality of living in an apartment with having one (or more) children. But there are some who will! And some of us may wonder, as I did before I was a mom, is it even possible, much less, an actual way to live joyfully? Can you live and thrive in a small space with small children? I’d like to make the case to say yes!

Rewind 5 years. In 2015, fresh-faced, first year-Kindergarten teacher Danielle never pictured living life in an apartment with a 1.5 year old and (soon-to-be) newborn. When I thought of having children, I automatically equated that with having a home. Yet, when my husband and I began to pray about starting our family sooner or later- and landed on “sooner,” we realized something. The “dream” of what life might look like would need to look different-at least until we were debt-free. We joke about how when we finally buy our first home, we will have already paid off our first “mortage” (chiro school loans). So here we are, 1.5 children in, in a beautiful 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment, and we are so very grateful.

These are some things I have processed and learned through the past 18 months of being a mom and managing a “small home.”

Why is apartment living appealing?

Less maintenance

There isn’t anything outside to care for-like shoveling, lawn mowing, cleaning the gutters, raking the roof (if you live where I do-we have an INSANE amount of snow at times), and similar endeavors. Less outside work = more time as a family and to do the things we want to do.

Sidenote: In our current living situation as apartment managers, we DO actually have maintenance to do, but the time exchanged for the chores like vacuuming/cleaning pays well for itself in our discount! But we do miss the freedom of renting without chores sometimes 😉

Accountable for Less Stuff

The fact is, we don’t have as much space as we would if we were in a home. We do not have a basement room where we can store anything and everything we may use some day. This makes us accountable to make sure what we keep is something we actually need and use.

We do have a garage space where we can keep baby clothes for the next baby, my classroom supplies for when I go back to teach, Christmas decor, a deep freezer, etc., and I realize not everyone in an apartment has this. We are very thankful! I still feel like we have too much stuff in there sometimes though!

Affordable

Affordability of mortgage payments versus renting does depend on where you live. In the places my husband and I lived before our current location, rent was easily 2-3x as much as we pay now for half of the space we currently have. If we were living in one of those locations, we would have to reconsider the wisdom of renting versus buying. This is a helpful article my brother sent me that confirmed our renting situation is the best option for our family in this season.

Prioritize Other Financial Goals and Make Progress QUICKER

So many of my closest and dearest friends are home owners. I love that I can constantly pick their brains and learn from them about what they love and what they don’t with home ownership. What they say, over and over, is that owning a home always costs more than your “monthly mortgage.” Roofs need replacing, furnaces go out, AC units decide to shut down, and the list goes on and on. When you own a home, the cost of maintaining will fluctuate each year or even month.

This makes other financial goals-like paying off debt, harder to prioritize. This is especially true if you are on (mostly) one income like my family is. The goal of paying debt is more important to my family right now than being in a home-which is the main reason we are making the most of apartment life now. Because our cost of living/maintaining our living space is much lower than it would be if we were in a home, we are able to throw MUCH more towards our debt snowball each month/year. Our dream and goal is for the home we buy to be a “blessing and not a burden” (a borrowed phrase from a current podcast I am really enjoying-see details in Further Reading below).

It all sounds good, in theory. But what does it look like day-to-day? How do I not go STIR CRAZY in the middle of winter, with my busy toddler, in a small space? Let’s talk mindsets.

5 Important Mindsets to Start With

1. You don’t need stuff, or a house, or a backyard, to be happy.

I have believed this lie, of needing xyx to be happy, so much throughout my life. Don’t we all at some point? Once I get married, have a baby, finish my degree, get a job, buy that cool new gadget, lose 10 pounds, fill in the blank ________, I will be happy. Goodness, if money could buy happiness, wouldn’t that be something? But it doesn’t.

I won’t go on and on, but if this lie of “when ___happens, I will be happy” strikes a chord in your heart, please dig into it. I often wrestle with this lie too and have found deeper heart issues when I look more closely. It is tied to where we find our identity. Is it in our home or children or spouse or things? They will never completely satisfy you. As a Christian, I believe only One ever can. (Even if that isn’t your worldview/perspective, I’d encourage to think more deeply about what really satisfies in life.)

2. It’s not something to be embarrassed of

Confession: not that long ago I was embarrassed of the fact that my family lives in an apartment and not a house. Why? As a recovering people-pleaser, I constantly battle with wondering what others think of me. I worry and dwell on things that don’t even matter. I set limits on what we are capable of for hospitality and doubt how God could use our small space for His glory through community with others.

Not that long ago, God began a slow, subtle change in my heart. He has been whispering to me of His goodness, faithful provision, and call for me to be accountable to HIM for using our space well, regardless of what others think. As I learn to let go of what others think, and stop making quiet little excuses about not inviting others over- it brings FREEDOM. Others see us in our life space, and there is a sweet and beautiful sense of community that comes from doing real life with people.

3. Intentionality with how you spend your time is key

If you don’t plan adventures/errands/play dates to get OUT with your kids- I can guarantee you WILL go crazy. But, I think that is probably true whether you live in an apartment OR a house. When Mom is home with the kids, it’s a good thing for everyone if they get out and interact with nature, others, and the community on a consistent basis.

Real life example: I try to get out everyday with my little guy. Since he naps in the early afternoon now, the best time for our outings is early/mid-morning or late afternoon. Our adventures may be exciting (like going to the zoo or the play place at the mall) or not (like the grocery store or library) or they may be very simple (walking to the park). When we’ve been gone for awhile or if one of us is sick, we tend to hang close to home. But, getting out is key in our normal daily routine. Sometimes it’s only for a half hour and sometimes it’s much longer. As he grows older, and we have another baby, we will adjust what kinds of things we do and when we go.

4. You and your kids can thrive living in a small space

It really is possible to thrive living in a small space with a family.

One year ago, I thought we would be buying a home in 2019. Talk about a 180 degree turn-around in perspective! While there are plenty of days my husband and I dream of home ownership and the joys that come with it, I can honestly say that I am learning to love exactly where we are and the home we have now. It’s a blessing to go to sleep at night and know we have money to pay our bills, splurge on the occasional pizza night (or Starbucks), and also make excellent headway crushing our debt.

5. Creativity

Creativity is a necessary component in small space living because you often need to use the furniture/belongings you have in multiple ways.

And of course, there is the toy situation. Being mindful of how many toys your children have and use is helpful. Plan for open-ended toys that grow with them.

Here is the toy bin that we keep in my son’s closet. We rotate toys in the bins with extra toys being stored on the shelf above the clothes. I am not an ultimate minimalist when it comes to toys (obviously, look at the picture 🙂 )-but we do try to be aware of how many toys we actually have. And, we try to keep them as open-ended as possible (i.e.-megblocks, balls, cars, stacking toys, and musical instruments are all things he enjoys now, but will also keep “growing into”)

Clearly, I am not a minimalist with books! How could I be? BUT I am picky about the books we do keep. They need to be well-written and “twaddle free.” One of E’s favorite things to do when he does manage to play alone is to page through his books. It makes my teacher heart so very happy 🙂 (True Confession: I may have more books stored in our garage..and at my parents’ house. Good books for me are that one thing I really struggle to let go of.)

Also, if you have kitchen toys that are safe for them to play with-that could be a bonus use 🙂

I don’t know what it is..but our little guy is obsessed with our french press and tea kettle. (Obviously, he doesn’t play with either when they are in use or dirty). I don’t mind if he plays with these. May as well learn early how to make a good cup of joe!

Tips for Success in Small Space Living with Kids

  • Declutter what you have-consider, what do I actually need for a baby/toddler/child? Weigh carefully each item you buy or are given – think about if it is truly a need, a want, and where it will go. Each thing needs a home.
  • Be picky about the toys you do have
  • If you aren’t sure- take the toy/furniture/accessory away for a few weeks and see if it is missed or needed. If not, you may have found something you can simply pass on to someone else.
  • Consider your options for storage space for clothes to grow into/newborn items, Christmas tree, etc.
  • For Christmas/BDs, ask for experiences-such as a zoo membership, swimming lessons, passes to the local children’s museum or community play center, etc.
  • Make a list of current opportunities in your community and join local groups for parents/kids at the library, children’s museum, etc.

Common Questions/FAQ About Living In An Apartment with Kids

How do I know what toys to keep or get rid of?

  • This is a great question. If you didn’t click on the link I previously shared in this post, there is a post I wrote on my own process of simplifying my son’s nursery and toys when he was about one.

What baby stuff do I actually need?

  • Short answer: not much. A lot of the “baby stuff” from our Amazon wish lists are simply for the sake of convenience rather than need. But convenience is a legit thing when mama needs sleep!! As I linked previously, here is a great post from real life mommies on the actual necessities for a baby.
  • Noisemakers are an absolute necessity in an apartment. We have loved the one we bought when our son was born. We also utilize our bathroom fans when our toddler first goes down to muffle any noise from neighbors (we turn it off when we go to bed).
  • BONUS TIP: Borrowing is your best friend, particularly if you have a “convenience item” in mind (i.e.-baby swing) that you want to try. Some babies love swings and some hate them. If you borrow a friend’s and the babe loves it-GREAT! Either keep borrowing if your friend is gracious enough or buy one secondhand. If the babe hates it, you saved yourself $$ and storage space when you return it!

Won’t my kid/s be deprived without a backyard?

  • Not necessarily, if you are intentional with your time (see above) and are getting out most days with them. Of course, I would love nothing more than to have a backyard for my toddler to freely run about in-but that just isn’t a reality for our family right now. Take the time to explore the parks and outdoor spaces in your community. Being outside in nature is something everyone has access to, no matter the size of your backyard or balcony.

How do I keep my sanity living in a small space?

  • Having the rhythm in your day in which you are getting out of the house is important no matter where you live, but especially so in a small space. Some moms I know find it helpful to have a flexible weekly “outings” planned -i.e.-Monday-library, Tuesday-zoo, Wednesday-grocery store, Thursday – play date, Friday- park, etc.
  • Also, do your best to have a couple of evenings/mornings each month where you can get out with your spouse, friends, or by yourself to get some adult time.

Can I actually enjoy living in a small space with small people?

  • Yes ma’am! It is in your mindset and perspective of the “bigger picture” (see above). Gratitude for things we do have is where we can find contentment and it is where we can begin to thrive in loving our kids and living spaces.

How can I get “out” with my kids without spending a lot of money?

  • Make a list of current options you have. Work on adding to it by asking other moms what their favorite outings are. Read the bulletin boards at your local library for free events (some are even weekly). Bookstores often have free story times too. Ask for zoo, museum, family gym, or similar memberships for kid’s birthday ideas. Join facebook groups for moms in your community and read/chat about what they enjoy doing.

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Apartment Living

Wherever you live-in a small space or a bigger one, I hope you are encouraged friend. You aren’t alone. Life isn’t about where you live. You can thrive with your family and kid/s exactly where you are. I hope you are able to stop and reflect on all the things/people/provisions in your life. Thankfulness changes us and brings great freedom.

Thank you for being here! I can’t wait to hear YOUR thoughts. What are your go-to activities to get out of the house with your littles? Have you wrestled with the lie of “when ____ happens, I’ll be happy” too?

For Further Reading/Listening

15 Reasons Why You’ll Benefit from Living in a Smaller Space (Even with a Growing Family) from Julia at Richinwhatmatters.com

When You Don’t Have A Backyard – Ideas for Keeping Apartment Kids Active and Apartment Parents Sane from the Minimalist Mom

“How We Lived On One Teacher’s Salary” – from Life with Amy & Jordan Podcast

A Helpful Guide For Decluttering Toys -by Joshua Becker of the Becoming Minimalist Blog

pt.1pt.2, and pt.3 of Kim John Payne’s interview with Laura Forbes, author of “Clutter‑Free Parenting: Making Space in Your Home for the Magic of Childhood”

Becoming A Clutter-Free Family, Pt.1” -Focus on the Family Podcast with Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist blog