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Families come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t even have to be the one you were born with. I firmly believe you can choose who you call “family.” If your type of family involves one or more kids, you know that fitting everyone into a small home is a particular challenge. This month at Apartment Therapy, I’ll be showcasing just that—families finding clever, beautiful, and inspiring ways to squeeze everyone (and everything) into a small space. From RVs to tiny homes to petite apartments, you’ll be able to see how real families organize, decorate, and inhabit real-life homes. Check out this family of five living in a very tidy 750-square-foot NYC apartment.
Tyler Moore blogs under the name “Tidy Dad,” and tidy is just what you have to be when you’re sharing a small NYC third floor walk-up, railroad-style rental apartment with a family. In Tyler’s case that’s wife Emily, 5-year-old Mabel, 3-year-old Matilda, and 7-month-old Margaret, and they’ve had to do some adjusting to their home’s layout a few times in the seven years they’ve been renting. “Our apartment is railroad style, with a series of rooms that connect to one another in a line, like train cars,” Tyler explains. “We have to walk through the first bedroom in order to get to the second bedroom! When we originally moved into the apartment, we set up the first bedroom (roughly 7 feet by 9 feet) as a sitting room and then when our first daughter arrived, we turned it into her nursery. My wife and I slept in the second bedroom, which is also the largest (roughly 10 feet by 10 feet), for several years.”
Tyler continues: “This sleeping arrangement worked until our second daughter was about 9 months old and we transitioned her out of the bassinet in our bedroom and into the nursery with her older sister. When we moved the girls into the same room together, we also transitioned our oldest daughter into a toddler bed. When we placed the crib and toddler bed in the room together, we realized that the bedroom would be too small for the girls for long-term. We decided to switch bedrooms with the girls and gave them the larger of the two rooms. My wife and I hardly spent time in our bedroom (except to sleep) and it felt selfish to take up that much valuable apartment real estate! The older two girls are still using the larger bedroom and my wife and I share the smaller bedroom with our third daughter, Margaret. In the next few months we will move her crib from our bedroom into the larger bedroom with her older sisters.”
“I began my tidying journey in January of 2018 when a newly-adopted Paid Family Leave policy in New York state gave me eight weeks off from my job for our family to bond with our middle daughter, Matilda. Stepping away from work allowed me to realize I was in the midst of an early-30s crisis. It gave me the space to reflect upon, challenge, and change my patterns of daily living,” explains Tyler. “Inspired by Marie Kondo, my wife and I first set out to tidy our physical space. We got rid of bags and bags of clothing, switched bedrooms with our two daughters, and reorganized our possessions to make the most of our 700-square-foot apartment. Tidying our lives gave me a new perspective on what brings me joy. I realized that climbing the career ladder to pursue positional power and external affirmation was actually undermining my happiness. So I decided not to pursue a promotion I was invited to apply for and left my school administration job to return to teaching, my true love and passion. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I want to provide well for my family, but I am learning to live with just enough. Just enough is a powerful way to live. I firmly believe the process of tidying, or putting things in order, doesn’t only apply to the physical space in a home.”
Tell us about how and why you chose this home and why it works for your family: We’ve lived on the same street in Astoria, Queens, but in two different apartments, since we moved to NYC 10 years ago. We first lived in a one-bedroom apartment for three years. When our current apartment became available, we broke our original lease early and jumped at the chance to move into a railroad style apartment. Prior to moving to NYC, we had stayed with friends in Astoria who lived in a railroad style apartment. We fell in love with that style apartment. While some people are turned off by the layout of a railroad style apartment (because it’s basically a series of rooms connecting to each other in a line), we loved that the layout actually gives you a bonus room that connects the bedrooms to the living area/kitchen. We thought that room would give us some flexibility when it came time to start our family. And it certainly has.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We use the bonus room as a playroom for our girls. The room is basically a glorified hallway (it is 14 feet long and only 5.5 feet wide) that connects the living room to the bedrooms, but it has become the perfect play space. We put down a carpet remnant that we purchased from a home improvement store. The carpet helps to buffer sounds of play for our downstairs neighbors (my brother-in-law and sister-in-law) and is much more comfortable for the girls than hardwood. We installed low shelves that act as play ledges for the girls, and hung a wooden doll house on the wall. We also added a play kitchen to one corner of the room, which is now their favorite imaginative play spot. The room doesn’t have a closet, so we don’t use the space to store toys.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the design or organization of your small home for your family? Our apartment only has closets in two rooms: a pantry in the kitchen and two closets in the first bedroom. We’ve had to creatively think about how to add additional storage in the apartment. When we first moved in to the apartment we had a small table with two chairs in the kitchen. As our family grew, we made one corner of our living room a dining area so that we could seat all five of us. In the kitchen, we added a storage cabinet opposite the stove and installed open shelving on the wall above. This has proved to be super functional, as all our kitchen items are stored within reach.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have, especially as they relate to having children in a small space: We want to support our girls to independently help with routines in our home, so we’ve set up systems that they can access and maintain. In the kitchen we use the lowest drawer for their plates, bowls, and cups so they are accessible to them. By the door we installed low hooks that they can reach so they are able to independently hang their own coats and bags. We also have a small cabinet by the door for park items, winter gear, and things that we need for heading out the door! The wardrobe systems in their bedroom are set up with low drawers and a low hanging rod so they can reach their current season/size of clothes, with storage shelves above.
We converted the pantry in our kitchen into a toy rotation closet for the girls. In the pantry, individual toy sets are stored in clear bins so that the girls can easily choose what they would like to play with. We also have shelves that store puzzles, and bins that store games and art supplies. This toy rotation system allows the playroom to feel more open, because the playroom isn’t a storage room. We are teaching the girls to choose what they want to play with, take it into the playroom, and then return it to the toy rotation when they are finished. This system also helps the toys to feel fresh, because they don’t see all of the toys out at the same time. We also love this system because the amount of toys that we are able to store is fixed. We don’t store toys in the bedrooms or living room, so the system helps to reinforce the routine of editing toys. When the toy rotation closet gets full, we sort through toys with the girls and they help decide what toys they want to keep and what toys they are ready to move on to another family.
We’ve also added hooks to the back of doors to provide additional storage. The door in the living area has hooks for adult coats, the back of the pantry door has bins for extra food storage, and the door in the second bedroom has a hook that holds the stroller. We also don’t have a coffee table in the living room which provides an additional play area for the girls. It’s nice for them to be able to spread out and play games or build puzzles on the floor.
Most recently, we added three wardrobes in the second bedroom. We designed individual wardrobe systems for each girl so that they would have storage for their clothes, shoes, and individual items. Because we have three girls, we have storage for all of the hand-me-down clothes and we’ve been able to configure a system that helps to keep everything organized! The wardrobe system wasn’t cheap (cost about $1,200) and since we rent, we debated the purchase for a long time. After a successful run on “Cash Cab,” we used our winnings to purchase one of the wardrobes and then purchased the other two with our own money!
What’s the best thing about living in a small home with a family? Do you have any advice for raising a family in a small space? There is something about a small space that feels simpler. I love that we are teaching our daughters how to live with “just enough.” We are forced to confront the number of material possessions in our home. I also love that a small home encourages our family to spend time together. The girls don’t each have separate bedrooms to play in alone, so they spend their time playing together in the playroom, or the entire family spends time together in the living room. We also get out and explore parks, museums, nature, and our city. Advice: You have to tidy your own items before you can expect your kids to learn to tidy their items. Develop systems that have the ability to evolve and grow as your kids change clothing sizes and toy interests. Choose furniture that can adapt and change, like using the top of a dresser as a changing table. Go vertical to optimize storage space!
This submission’s responses were edited for length and clarity.