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18 Tips for Small Space Living With Kids

How to keep a simple and organized home when you have children.

18 Tips for Small Space Living With Kids

I’m awfully sentimental -- I like homey places that feel lived in and loved. I’ll often keep something simply because I like the person who gifted it to me, even if I don’t have space for it. But I live in New York City in an 850-square-foot apartment with two children. So you can imagine the clutter situation that I am in. What’s an urban mama to do? Get organized.

Enter Korinne Kubena Belock, founder and owner of Urban Simplicity, a home organization company with clients from Los Angeles to New York City. She came into my home, walked me through each room and helped bring sense to the madness, one room at a time. Here, I share her wisdom with you.

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From the storage space in your children’s bedroom to your kitchen’s drawers, here are 18 steps you can take to keep your apartment with kids organized.

KEEP THE NURSERY LIGHT AND AIRY. “Having a baby can be so overwhelming,” says Korinne, “and there’s so much stuff coming in and it happens all at once. Suddenly you’re forced to look for storage solutions for all these tiny things that are hard to contain.”

1. A changing station full of drawers. This way you can have a place to hold diapers, lotions, swaddles, onesies and much more. Labeled drawer dividers make it easy for you and other caregivers to keep things orderly.

2. Bookshelves that grow with your kids. Just make sure it’s mostly full of books. Dolls and stuffies don’t sit well in quantity and should be relegated to a bin.

3. Make the most of what you have. Maximize tiny closets with a customized system like Elfa, which allows for double hanging space adjustable shelves. And remember that you can store things under your child’s bed or crib, either with built-in drawer or specially sized bins.

DON'T LET THE TOYS TAKE OVER. “Urban families often live in open floor plans with no dedicated playroom, so one of my clients’ biggest complaints is that toys are taking over their home.”

4. The Five-Pile System. Empty all drawers, shelves and baskets and put like with like. You can then filter everything through her five-pile system: trash, recycle, sell, donate and “put elsewhere.” What’s left over gets strategically put back in bins, stacks or baskets depending on the space.

5. The Six Month/Two Week Purge. Take the toys your kids haven’t touched in six months, and put them in a temporary hidden area, like under your bed, for two weeks. If it goes unasked for, it’s out the door.

6. Stop things at the door. Spread the word that you just don’t have room for that indoor slide or that 4-story dollhouse. And when your little one starts going to birthday parties and bringing home tons of grab-bag toys? Give each kid a bin labeled “Little Things” and when it’s full, that headless Olaf figurine can finally be tossed.

7. Put toys in front of kids. A few open topped bins to sort larger toys like dolls, instruments and trucks can keep the living room looking organized. Labeled, stackable clear plastic bins can keep sets of smaller things like Magnetiles and doll clothes in order. A good test? Korinne says if you’ve got clean up done in 10 minutes, your system is working.

8. Art Supplies: Mobile, Clear, Labeled. As is typical with many city mamas, I am not blessed with a Martha Stewart craft room. Korinne recommends keeping things mobile so your supplies can go from a storage closet to the kitchen table without much fuss. Clear labeled containers that stack are helpful for keeping crayons in one space and glue bottles in another, letting kids know what they have to work with.

ONLY KEEP ESSENTIALS IN THE ENTRYWAY. “Think, what are you currently using, which bag, coat, shoes? That’s what goes here.”

9. A surface catchall. “This can be beautiful and useful, but should only hold the necessities. One pair of sunglasses per family member, one set of keys. And if you have a nanny, this is where you can keep the zoo pass or some petty cash for easy access.”

10. Large bags? Large bins. On the next shelf down, you can use a large basket to contain an assortment of totes, laptop cases and clutches. The rest gets relegated to a closet.

11. Shoe bins for everyone! Korinne says, “Each family member can have their own basket, and you could label them—even little kids can recognize their names, and making them part of the process can really help things.”

12. Create a home command center. Consolidate everything you need to run your home into one area. Pick a spot where you can fit a mail sorter, calendar, catchall, and notepad along with a few file holders so you’ll be able to pay the bills and keep track of your kids’ growing activity schedule without missing a beat. You’ll be one step closer to organizational serenity.

DON'T LET THE PILES PILE ON. Now that my kids are in preschool, my house is now constantly littered with piles of drawings that I just can’t part with fast enough. There is also a large swath of wall in the living room where my children have hung twenty of their favorite pieces.

13. Make a drop bin. Place a bin (open topped and big enough to hold a standard piece of colored paper) wherever it is that the backpacks get cleaned out. Once a week, while the kids are sleeping, spend five minutes tossing what you can. One favorite a month can go in a keepsake box.

14. Display the masterpieces. There’s a way to honor your kids’ work without letting it take over. Find one spot, choose your favorites, and hang those.

YOUR KITCHEN NEEDS A MAKEOVER TOO. “It can take a long time to rethink the organization of a kitchen,” says Korinne, “you really need to focus on how you use the space.”

15. Do a deep clean. Empty every drawer and cupboard and, with her five pile system, get rid of whatever you do not use.

16. Free up prep space. If your kitchen is short on counter space, relocate what you can, like cookbooks and other nonessentials to higher shelves or other areas of the home.

17. For each drawer, a purpose. Dedicate your drawers to specific tasks, like lunch prep or bottle feeding -- it will streamline your prep time. You can also subdivide drawers with internal bins, which will let you know if you’re running low on something or have collected one too many of something else.

18. Open shelves. Stack white dishes or rows of clear glasses work well on open shelves, but other things should be stored in attractive bins or put in closed cupboards.

Photography by Jonica Moore Studio for Well Rounded.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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