Six layers of rugs should be enough, right?
April 16, 2018 9:38 AM   Subscribe

2 parents, 3 kids in a 1000 square foot rental apartment for the long haul: how did you make it work? Hacks and advice needed!

Background: We’ve tried the exurbs and it’s not for us. Now we want to move back to the city, but to the extent possible, we want this to be our last big move. We feel like we should be able to manage quite well in a not-at-all posh three-bedroom, one-bath rental apartment with dishwasher and laundry in the building. We will either live on the first floor of a two-family house or in an elevator building. This will be in a neighborhood that is safe, with decent public schools through high school, and several local playgrounds, but which is not trendy or terribly desirable. We’ve lived in the neighborhood before, however, and it’s fine with us. Assume our budget will accommodate this. If we move there, we don’t think we’ll be able to upgrade our housing situation, probably ever.

Mefi, please help us figure out what we’re missing in this equation. Basically all of our family members think we’re totally nuts to move, but we’ve been very unhappy outside of the city. We have two young kids now and hope to add a third in the next year or two. We figure we’ll put down a lot of rugs and take the kids a few blocks over to the playgrounds when they wake up early on the weekends. We’ve already Konmari’d everything, so we don’t have much stuff. And we know many many families in NYC do just fine with a heck of a lot less space and with fewer resources. But maybe we’re being naive? What we don’t want to do is go through the process of selling our house and subjecting our kids to a huge move, only to be miserable (but we don’t think we will be). Have you tried a similar move? How did it work out? What, if anything, are we missing?
posted by luckdragon to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
three-bedroom, one-bath rental apartment

I don't think you're nuts, probably because I'm in NYC, but I would do everything in my power to get a place with even just 1.5 bathrooms. Guests, toilet clogs, potty-training, whole family has the flu...
posted by lalex at 9:46 AM on April 16, 2018 [44 favorites]

"rental" and "last big move" doesn't compute for me, but maybe your city has more stable housing than mine for renters.

If three bedrooms is a hard limit, at least one of your existing kids is going to need to share a room when #3 comes along. That would have made me miserable as a kid; IANYK, YKMMV. I live in a very similar kind of place to the one you plan and two of the bedrooms are pretty small. That's the only flag I see here, really.

People who don't like small city apartments don't understand how anyone could like small city apartments. I feel the same about the suburbs. I wouldn't worry too much about your family thinking you're nuts.
posted by corvine at 9:57 AM on April 16, 2018

Sounds fine to me! Do consider how you feel about going to the laundromat if the places you are considering don't have washing machines. Also, depending on the age of the buildings you're moving into, pay attention to the potential for lead paint exposure.
posted by metasarah at 10:14 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would spring for at least another half bath, preferably a whole second bathroom, for four or five people but other than that, it sounds fine to me too!
posted by snaw at 10:21 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

We raised our kids in NYC, and I did not regret one single minute. I think NYC is a great place to raise kids. I did have to live through the reactions of friends who lived in the suburbs, but you know, it's your family, you have to do what's right for you.
posted by merejane at 10:26 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Enough space" is very personal. I have 2 kids and lived in spaces very small and very large and the comfort of living in those spaces rarely had much to do with their sq/ft.

From a parenting perspective one thing I'd consider is moving the 2 young kids into one space together now. That way if/when kid 3 comes along the idea of sharing a room won't #1 be foreign and upsetting #2 all the new baby's fault. If you think having them share a room now is a no-go then consider that a potential deal-breaker because because in my experience it doesn't get easier as they get older.

You can use bedroom 3 as an office/playroom/guest room in the meantime.
posted by French Fry at 10:43 AM on April 16, 2018 [13 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but I did a lot of babysitting in NYC and I don't think you're crazy at all. Here are some things I would consider in an apartment:
-How close are you to playgrounds, parks, sports fields (for older kids), libraries, pools (in a hot climate), etc.? If you expect to be walking a lot of places, how safe is the walking?
-Can you park strollers in your building entryway (if applicable)? If not, can you park it somewhere comfortably in your apartment entryway? How hard will it be to maneuver strollers into the apartment?
-What is the nature of the hallway? Will hallway noise bother neighbors? If you're at the end of the unit and the hallway is clean enough, is it the type of place that kids can kick a nerf ball around? If so, you will probably be glad.
-How transient or permanent are your neighbors? Are there other kids? Living in the same building as kids' friends is kind of the most convenient thing ever (and of course living in a neighborhood with kids' friends is also very nice.)
-Do you have pets? Do you want pets? If so, is the apartment pet-friendly?
-As far as staying in place and stability, is purchasing a condo an option (whether now or in the future)? Is there any housing stock like that around the neighborhood?
-How are the acoustics? Is there anywhere to keep a crying kid far away from sleeping kids? How close together are the bedrooms (and the living space)?
posted by mosst at 10:49 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Comedian Jim Gaffigan and his wife have four kids in a 2-bedroom New York apartment. His book Dad is Fat has stuff about why they do it and how it works, including how they manage bedtime (which is pretty complicated). Might be worth a read for ideas and also the sense that you're not crazy.
posted by FencingGal at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm living in an urban rental with kids and it has been great. Now my kids are adult and the elder has moved out, the younger is looking for an apartment. For a while, my eldest longed for suburban life, but ironically when she tried it during high-school (long story) she realized she was totally wrong. My youngest loves her "hood", and would never dream of moving out. Everyone they know has similar conditions.
My family has had opinions all along, but for me, the most important thing has been that the kids were happy, and they mostly were. Importantly: even the elder one, who to some degree missed the suburbs, looks back and says she wouldn't want another life. Today her suburban friends see her as cool and she relishes that.
I made all sorts of spatial interventions so they could have private spaces in shared rooms and it worked fine. There are blogs for that.
posted by mumimor at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Lots of good ideas already. Using one earbud to follow audio helps with some sound situations and since this isn’t your first kiddo, using subtitles & captioning helps smooth sleeping. Structure space so you can easily have 1-2 bonus people for a meal/ birthday cake.

Being near a library helps. Having a family membership to a nearby-enough science center or similar gives some external variety when the weather keeps you from the playground.

I grew up in a cape cod with one toilet for a peak of 7 people in the house. It’s very manageable. And you might get to know a few neighbors if there is a bona fide emergency. It’s the length of the hot water cycle that matters for showers when they are older. A mirror near the front door helps with checking themselves on grooming.

Family meetings help, as well as parental meetings that you want privacy from the kids - which can be scheduling more than space, such as discussing a problematic teacher on the playground bench while kids are playing.
posted by childofTethys at 11:33 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Are you actually in NYC or just using that as an example? I think weather will make a big difference - 5 people of any age cooped up in a small apartment during a week-long snowstorm sounds like a recipe for misery.
posted by AFABulous at 11:45 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know the biggest issue for my brother and sister and law was not the actual space but the noise that cane with lviing in an apartment. Not even from other neighbors but small kid #1 wanting to play while small kid #2 nappes was basically hell every day to deal with.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:18 PM on April 16, 2018

I don't think it's impossible (see above comments), but that doesn't mean it's a good idea, either. I currently live with two adults and an infant in 1008 square feet (2br, 1ba), and... it feels pretty cramped. It's not the bedrooms that's the problem; it's the common space. Our last place was also a 2br/1ba around 1000 square feet, but it felt much bigger: the bedrooms were smaller, but there was a separate dining room, and it was split between two floors. Our current place is an open plan flat, and the problem is that if I need some privacy from my wife and kid (e.g., if I'm working from home), the only place I can go is the bedroom. It was much easier when we had a separate dining room or a different level. That's something to keep in mind. All 1000 square-foot apartments aren't the same.

Having access to the outside is also helpful. Our old place had a separate entrance with a porch and a yard; our current place has a tiny balcony and a hallway with a bunch of neighbors. Not being able to get outside quickly is probably the biggest drawback of apartment living, IMO. This is why AFABulous asked if you're actually in NYC; a brownstone-type place, even in a less-desirable neighborhood, in NYC is going to be easier said than done, whereas in a smaller city, you can find places like that a bit easier.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:25 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

We're raising our (admittedly only one) child in a two bed, two bath condo of about 1600 sq ft. One of our biggest mercies is having a second bathroom. I'd sacrifice space for that extra bathroom because it absolutely helps us keep our sanity and maintain some semblance of order in the chaos that is parenting.

The other saving grace is that there is a park less than a block away. Any time we have a stir-crazy kid, being able to bundle him out the door to expend some of that energy is hugely helpful.

These, and in-house laundry, were the top priorities in our consideration of city living with a child.
posted by Everydayville at 12:27 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yup, we're doing this -- about 1000 sq ft and bathroom -- in a big city (and am v. interested in other responses!) We also have two kids and are contemplating one more. What has helped for us is: 1. ground floor (so neighbors do not complain about noise from above -- less timid personalities than mine could handle this better); 2. 2 kids share already so third room is playroom/study/guest room (I totally agree that a 2 bed might be better than 3 if layout is better); small outdoor space makes us feel less cramped and 4. location is not trendy but like yours very useful -- good school 5 minutes walk away, 2 parks 10 minutes away, library/cafes/restaurants/shops 5 minutes away. We also have nice neighbors which was not something I knew to look for but am grateful for now. We also have a lot of storage space which is amazing because we've never managed to fully KonMari. That said there are bulky things with kids you can't get rid of (car seats if don't have a car, like us, but rent one sometimes.) My parents also think we're crazy but suburbs would not work for us so I don't really care!

Good luck -- I will also be watching with interest!
posted by caoimhe at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

we grew up in a 1000sq ft home 4 boys mom & bath.........
posted by patnok at 1:28 PM on April 16, 2018

You are not crazy. In some communities it’s a luxury for kids to have their own rooms, and one bathroom per family is more than enough. Do your thing !
posted by pintapicasso at 1:46 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't think you're nuts, probably because I'm in NYC, but I would do everything in my power to get a place with even just 1.5 bathrooms.

I've lived as an adult in 3br/1ba and 3br/1.5ba situations and can personally attest that the extra half bathroom makes a world of difference.

And this was with two adult roommates who didn't produce the quantities of dirty clothes/faces/hands that kids do, could hold it if they needed to use the bathroom, were in grad school so schedules were rarely conflicting, etc.
posted by andrewesque at 2:15 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all the super helpful responses! Keep them coming! And, yes, we would definitely be in NYC (Brooklyn, to be more specific).
posted by luckdragon at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2018

Make sure laundry does not mean a tiny thing that holds 4 shirt shared with three other units.

I'd also consider the building sound insulation both between units and to traffic outside.

I'd totally give up 100 square feet to be within three blocks of a grocery/small market.

One last note, having kids changes your lifestyle. Like a lot. Is your current lifestyle still compatible and able to take advantage of everything you miss about the city. Can you just start doing some of that where you are now? Are you in a kid cocoon?
posted by Kalmya at 5:40 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Currently living in a small 2 bedroom house (1000 sq ft) with 1.5 kids in an urban area, 100% would recommend. We do greatly enjoy having a small yard, so if you could find a place with a patio, that would be really worthwhile, IMO. Nthing that having laundry in-unit and 1.5 baths (we have both) are also very worthwhile upgrades - I would choose any of the three over a third bedroom, even with 3 kids (we're stopping at 2). Good layout is also important - we have high ceilings, which makes the main living area feel extra spacious, and a very nice open flow between entryway -> living room -> dining -> kitchen. I would gladly trade space in our master bedroom for more living space, tho.

We've carved out a few places in the main living space for toys/kids activities (e.g. a 2x2 kallax bookshelf with a rug next to it in one corner, a big basket near the middle of the living space, a small art desk on the far side of the sofa) where kiddo can play & keep his stuff. Everything is ruthlessly purged (including our adult clutter), and everything has its own place. Kids don't need a lot of stuff, really - and tend to play better when they have fewer toys.

Have a plan to get out of the house every day, and set up systems to make it easier (e.g. always have the diaper bag prepped, good outdoor gear for any weather, hang a shoe organizer over the inside of the entryway closet door with extras you might need, like sidewalk chalk, snacks, sunglasses, wipes, etc.) - anything to make getting out the door when you're stir-crazy easier.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:16 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

1.5 Bathrooms.
Absolutely necessary with 3 kids!

Other than that, the only advice I have is to enjoy your urban life.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:25 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is your current lifestyle still compatible and able to take advantage of everything you miss about the city. Can you just start doing some of that where you are now? Are you in a kid cocoon?

This is a great question. We initially moved out of the city, with a 1.5 year-old, because we thought we weren't really taking advantage of city things post-kid and city life seemed like a constant hustle. But it turns out I really hate driving (more than I had realized) and neither my husband nor I likes the part-time job of yard and house maintenance that comes with home ownership. Plus, we did the math and the cost savings are actually a wash (although, the extra half bath everyone recommends seems to increase the NYC rent exponentially, unfortunately, so maybe not as much of a wash as we thought).

Also, when we last lived in the city, we were in a walkup, and really far from parks and other kid-friendly activities, and we didn't have a car Those factors all drove us out. Current plan is to keep our old car so we won't feel trapped by the absurd car rental fees in NYC. We're introverts, and we likely wouldn't be taking much advantage of the nightlife, theater or restaurant options in the city, but there is something just about being able to walk everywhere, see people on the street, and not having to worry about cleaning the gutters that is really appealing to us, compared to where we are now, which feels like a very pleasant exile . . .
posted by luckdragon at 7:01 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am following this thread with great interest and hope you come back in 6 months to a year to update us on your progress! We live in London, which I love. I hate driving to anything and I just like stepping out of our 800 sq ft flat (2 bd 2 bath) to a busy little street, full of people and coffee places and libraries and things. I love walking to little markets on the next street, and having the option of going to five different workout studios within a three minutes walk.

We have just had our (first) baby and I am dreading the day where we may have to leave because our current place is too small. But the Suburbs really scare me -- rows and rows of houses with nowhere to walk to and nothing to see, no coffee places, and everyone driving. I agree my feelings may change with time but also looking for other people who have lived differently.
posted by moiraine at 1:29 PM on April 17, 2018

One response to people who tell you you're crazy is to point out that people who live in countries with different standards for housing square footage seem to do just fine.

For example, my read of this website is that Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) says the ideal amount of space in a multi family home in an urban center for 2 adults and 3 kids is 986 square feet, and the minimum would be 645. (Scroll to the green chart which allows for kids, add 10 sq meters to get to 5 people but then subtract 5 for each kid).

And according to this site in Western Europe the average house is under 1000 sq feet. That includes a lot of dwellings with fewer than 3 kids but it also includes suburbs as well as cities (whereas the Japan stuff I quoted was city-only).

Nome of which is to say that anyone who finds they need more space is wrong, just that it’s by no means a crazy idea.
posted by mrmurbles at 4:08 PM on April 17, 2018

Remember to take into account the temperaments of individuals in your family unit.
Myself and 4 children lived in a 3 bedroom/ 1000sq feet for 6 years and while it worked well when they were young and established very strong and close sibling relationships, as the kids moved into older ages, it became incredibly difficult and stressful to manage the needs of 4/5 introverts in such a small space. The kids began to conflict more and more often attempting to gain themselves any amount of personal space. There were many meltdowns, including that of my own over constant noise levels and over-stimulation. I think without a yard space for them to play in, we would likely have gone completely crazy being cooped up together with the aadditional effort involved in planning and physically gathering up to leave to another park or location.
When we moved into a space twice the size, these issues ceased completely and we are all much more happy, content and at personal peace having our own quiet spaces to retreat to when needed to escape or recharge from the group.
Whether this works well or not very much depends on the individuals involved.
posted by OnefortheLast at 5:15 PM on April 17, 2018

One more vote as a parent of two: that extra sink and toilet are necessary, particularly if the teens have sleepovers.
Or if several people come down with food poisoning or stomach flu.
Or you find that one of the toilets is clogged because of a flushed toy, or hair, or feminine hygiene products (your teens have friends who don't get the message).
Or you are at the end of your rope and want to take a nice long bath or shower without interruption.
posted by TrishaU at 6:03 PM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks again for all the helpful responses. It was great to hear that we're not completely nuts to think it could work. On the other hand, the repeated emphasis on the need for a second bathroom has given us pause. NYC just has very little inventory of relatively affordable 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath apartments. And while we probably could make it work with one bathroom for a few years, I'm also concerned about how well we'd fare when our kids are older and a whole bunch of introverts need personal space. So for now we're going to stay put. Many thanks again for helping us figure it out.
posted by luckdragon at 9:18 AM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

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