I really wanted to write this post as this is may be the smallest house we will live in as a family. There are a few things unique about our current situation. We are living overseas for two years, so we don't have a lot of our things with us and our accommodation is temporary, we can't make any changes to our house. But there might be others in a similar situation or some of these ideas might apply to others renting or living in small spaces.
It is so important for us to remember that bigger isn't better, we aren't better parents if we have a bigger house. We can't do or apply Montessori more in a larger house. Bigger ≠ Better. Smaller spaces may test us, may make us more creative but they do not lessen our ability to parent in a Montessori way.
I'm no expert in small spaces but here are a few things that have helped us along the way.
- Compromise, prioritize and make do. Every family will be prepared to compromise in different ways.
- We use our dining room as a playroom. Like a lot of our local friends, we decided to use our dining room as a playroom. We eat at a small table in our kitchen, it's tight. It wouldn't work for us permanently but it works for now. A playroom allows Otto to have a snack area and work shelves downstairs where we spend most of our time. It provides a largish, communal area for the boys to play.
- Otto uses a crib size floor bed. Otto started in a very small bedroom. We put a single mattress in there but it took up most of the space. Otto is comfortable with a crib size bed and it allows for space in his room for other things like a small bookcase, low shelves and, materials.
- We don't have room for a potty in our bathroom or toilets (without tripping or stepping over them) so we have Otto's potties in the walkway/corridor near the toilets. It's not ideal by Montessori standards but it works ok.
- Maintain order. Order has never been more important. In small spaces, it can get very cluttered very quickly. So maintaining order is important, everything needs to have a place and be put away when finished.
- Look for multipurpose furniture.
- We use a height adjustable table. We have a height adjustable table that can be used by all three children (1, 7 and 11 yrs). This is a real space saver. We use it for puzzles, art even group cooking. Rather than having multiple tables, this one table can be used in different rooms by different children.
- Otto uses his snack table also as a work table. I have no problems with the child using their table for eating and work/art/play.
- Look for storage in unusual places. We have two Ikea footstools in our lounge that have excellent storage in them. One footstool has all of our (clean) children's gardening/weather/outdoor materials and the other has a lot of infant/toddler materials that are out of rotation. The footstool are comfortable to sit on and the storage is invaluable. While bunk beds would have worked better, both older boys have cabin beds which have excellent storage underneath them. The cabin beds also have built in shelving for clothes and/or stationary/books.
- Utilize outside spaces. We use our outdoor space as much as we can. Art shelves, even practical life shelves can work well outdoors. It's also practical for sand/water tables and perhaps even an easel to be used outside.
- Live with less. I've been trying to donate materials and clothes as soon as the children have finished or outgrown them. We have no space for storing items we won't need again. In the past I would have held onto materials for years but it feels good to only hold onto the things we need.
- Use the library more. Books take up so much space, it's good to use the library as much as we can. Toy libraries can be an excellent resource too (my sister has an excellent one where she lives and she often borrows larger toys and materials!!).
- Use wall storage. Floating shelves, hanging bookcases, peg boards can work well to store and display materials that are accessible to children. We use our window sills for little displays and for Otis' collections like rocks, minerals and, plants (the window sills here are very deep). We love our wall display box also for displaying collections. Shelves, window sills can also work well for nature tables or for nature displays.
- Use innovative/space-saving devices.
- Get fresh eyes to look over your space. I had a Montessori friend visit and we discussed how we are currently using the playroom. She had so many quick suggestions about what would fit where. Often fresh eyes can see the possibilities, can see things differently and if you are struggling to rearrange furniture or fit everything in, it may be worth asking a friend to offer suggestions.
- Use open shelving and natural/light colours. Both of these help to make the rooms feel more light, airy and spacious.
- Rotate Large Toys. We rotate all of our large toys like the marble music tree, ball tracker, pikler arch, trike, wheely bug, radio flyer walker. We don't have space to have all of them out and once.
Recommended reading on Montessori in Small Spaces:
- Montessori Inspiration - for Small Spaces at How we Montessori.
- Montessori in Small Spaces at Montessori in Motion.
- Montessori in Small Spaces at Diamond Montessori.
- Montessori at Home: Small Spaces at The Montessori Notebook.
Let me know if any of these ideas or resources have helped you. Or please feel free to add your suggestions for living in small spaces.