Small House Hacks for Quarantining with Kids

Whether you haven’t seen the outside world since March or you’re beginning to hunker down more tightly at the onset of cold and flu season, having a small home can make quarantine feel like an exercise in exposure therapy to claustrophobia. When I say small, I mean it. I’ve got 900 square feet and an open concept. While our open concept is airy and bright, it often feels like we are living in a one-room prairie home on the Oregon Trail.

Hands down, the best thing you can do to make your space feel bigger is to spend time outdoors or invest in an outdoor living space. If you’re like me and that’s lightyears outside of your budget or the weather is becoming too cold to be outside, here are a few ways you can make a cramped space feel a little roomier and peaceful during quarantine with kids. 

Establish off-limits areas with your kids.

You might already have this, but now is the time to batten down the hatches. Put up a baby gate to make the kitchen a “parents only” space. Create the expectation that the only time kids are allowed in the kitchen is when they are doing chores (older kids) or helping you with cooking, at your discretion. Gates that retract and roll into a bracket drilled into the wall are huge space savers and highly effective. 

Get outside.

I know I already said it and you already know it, but there might be some unconventional ways to be outside that you haven’t thought of yet. This is as important for you as it is for your kids. Invest in a good coat and good coats for your kids, and don’t fear the weather. Subzero temperatures are cruel, but kids (and you!) can actually be outside bundled up in the low 40’s on a sunny day and soak up all of that vitamin D. When my husband gets home in the evenings, he takes over with our daughter so that he can spend time with her, and I go sit outside and grill dinner. Grilling isn’t just a summer sport and it isn’t just for the guys! We don’t have gas in our small home, and I love to cook. You’ll find me grilling in almost any weather through the winter!

Buy a gallon of white paint.

If you’re not afraid of painting, think about walls in your home that could go lighter. Light colors make rooms exponentially brighter and therefore they feel far larger. If you’re intimidated by paint or don’t know what to choose, most paint brands have a standard white for trim. You wouldn’t believe how much refreshing the paint on your trim can make your home feel cleaner, brighter, and bigger. 

Turn on the lights.

And throw in some mirrors. Whatever kind they may be. We get a lot of natural light in the afternoons so I just open the blinds. If you want softer light and less glare, invest in some light-colored, gauze-style curtain panels or cellular blinds. It’s the right time of year to break out candles (use caution, especially around children!) and twinkly lights inside. Dollar stores have great battery LED string lights. We have a dark hallway with no power outlets, so I’ve put some of these lights in a vase on top of a bookshelf. Voila!

Lift items off of the floor.

It’s common for us to think of our homes in terms of square feet, but when you live in a tiny space, expand the dimensions of your thinking and get cubical. Think in terms of cubic feet you can buy vertically. We recently replaced two dark, large standing bookcases with white floating shelves from IKEA. It was budget-friendly and with a little math and a drill, it’s a project easily done in a day. Major benefits? We realized we had far more books than we needed & donated many. The dark wood of the bookshelves and paneling in the back was gone so that air and light could move freely. Floor space was cleared up making it easier and safer for our daughter to play in that area, and much easier to vacuum!

Take some time to talk to your kids about tidying up.

This seems obvious, but now is the time to make it a habit. Create maps (for older kids, they could do this with a little guidance) of what your playspace looks like when it’s clean and tidy. Tape it up in that play space for them to refer to. Take time to explicitly show them how to use the “clean up map” and talk about what the space looks like when it’s clean and messy and how to make it look clean. Establish a “one toy at a time” expectation. The best way to do any of these things is to be very explicit with your kids on what your expectations are (you can even decide on them together!) and model, model, model. If you don’t put your shoes away, don’t expect your kids to. 

Have an early Boxing Day!

Many parents love to do toy rotation. If you have storage space to do that, that’s great. If you don’t, it might be time to say goodbye to the friends that have been hiding at the bottom of the toy chest for months. Ask your kids to make a box of toys that can be Christmas presents for other kids who are less fortunate and take them to the thrift store together. Just don’t tell Woody and Buzz. It shouldn’t stop at your kids, though. If you’re like me, you need to de-accessorize. Get rid of excess throw pillows and decorative objects. Make every cubic inch of your space practical and put it to work.

Establish Boundaries of Time.

It’s a crazy world out there right now. No one will criticize you if your home isn’t Pinterest-perfect. Frankly, no one has probably seen your home in months! Set an alarm for a half-hour each day where you devote time to whatever perpetually unfinished task that is clogging up your space. For me, that’s putting laundry away. During this time, I’m okay with my daughter watching Sesame Street. If you have older kids, bring them into the responsibility of helping maintain their home and expect that they tidy during this time. It doesn’t need to be a time of scrubbing baseboards with a toothbrush – just whatever that nagging task is that never gets finished and always cramps your style. 

It’s more important now than ever for your home to be a place of peace, rest, and joy for you and your family and that’s very challenging with small kids and a small space. Big by your standards is just right for your family. What are some other ways you’ve made your tiny space feel bigger!

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