Sixteen years ago, Daniel and I bought a house that had all the space we wanted. Since then, our family size has doubled! We still live in that house with our 13-year-old Nicholas and 4-year-old Lydia. It doesn’t seem as spacious as it once did….
Our house is 1,488 square feet (not counting the porch or the unfinished basement)–smaller than the average American home built in 1973 and a little more than half the size of the average new home! With 4 people in the home, we have 372 square feet per person, also much less than the American average at any point in my lifetime.
We do feel crowded at times, and we’re planning to convert part of our basement into living space so that each kid can have a private bedroom. But we’ve managed to come up with lots of ways to make the space we have work for us!
Kitchen Stewardship is all about balancing God’s gifts without losing your mind, and that includes making wise use of your resources instead of constantly consuming more. Every cubic foot of your home has to be heated/cooled, cleaned, and repaired–so less space means lower energy bills, less time and effort, fewer resources going into cleaning and repairs, more time for healthy cooking and enjoying meals with your family!
That said, I’m not a minimalist. The world is so full of great stuff, so much of which is available free or cheap after other people are done with it, that my family tends to accumulate a lot. We love the rich experience of having lots of family heirlooms with great memories attached, lots of books, lots of clothes, lots of food in the pantry! You’ll see in the photos that our home is kind of cluttered. The trick is to store our stuff in ways that make it useful and enjoyable.
I’ve already written many tips for tolerating a tiny kitchen and explained how we diversified our dining room to make space for multiple activities in one room. Here, I’m sharing a few specific details from our kitchen and dining room, plus a lot of ideas for the rest of the house. Some of these tips require a little carpentry, but others are things you can do at a moment’s notice to make more space with stuff you already have!
1. Mount a Pencil Basket on a Vertical Surface.
Instead of a pencil jar taking up space on your kitchen counter, ready to get knocked over, prone to catching bits of food–hang a basket within easy grabbing distance but in a place where it won’t bonk anyone in the head or shoulder. (We had to experiment a bit to get the right height.) Another advantage to this type of basket is that you can keep blank note paper in there, too. (Here’s how to get the perfect size shopping-list paper for free!)
We have wonderful steel kitchen cabinets, so we chose a magnet-backed basket. These are great on the refrigerator or file cabinet, too. They’re sold as locker accessories, so look for them in the school-supply department.
If you don’t have a steel surface where a pencil basket would be handy, mount your basket with hooks or adhesive on a wall, a door, or the side of a piece of furniture.
Our basket is on the same cabinet door with our shopping lists, right above the counter where Daniel packs Lydia’s lunchbox and where we pack up food for freezing. We keep a permanent marker in there, too.
It’s great to be able to grab a marker to put Lydia’s name on a lunch container or to label a freezer bag, then put that marker away out of the 4-year-old’s reach, without taking a step! Adding things to shopping lists is easier when you can do it while prepping food with your other hand–and easier means you’re more likely to remember to do it!
2. Create a Compact Command Center.
This corner of our dining room was transformed into an alcove by placing a bookcase facing toward the closet door. I’ve been hanging my calendar, to-do list, and other important papers on that door for years. Now I have stacking bins and a pen jar on the top shelf of the bookcase.
All my important stuff for planning our weekly activities is here, very convenient for me but out of reach of my 4-year-old! Lower down on the door is the calendar the public schools send us every year, with all the school holidays and events on it. This is all low-tech stuff, but I can store my iPad here, too–just slide it into the lowest stacking bin. (I got those bins free when my office was downsizing.)
I also keep Lydia’s hair accessories, comb, and nail clippers here (on the second shelf) so we can move quickly from eating breakfast to getting her ready for school. And you can see where I’m storing all that xylitol gum I reviewed last month!
These shelves are also book and CD shelves. We arranged our books throughout the house so that the books we use most (like cookbooks!) are on very accessible shelves with nothing in front of them. The shelves that have useful items or decorative knick-knacks along the front edge hold books that we use less often or that we take out only when we’re going to read the whole thing before re-shelving.
Those books behind my pen jar also demonstrate another of my favorite storage techniques…
3. Store Things in Different Directions.
When a shelf is much taller than the books you want to put on it, placing the books vertically leaves a lot of wasted space above them. Stacking books horizontally may be more efficient. You can put some books vertically and others horizontally to separate categories of books.
This skinny bookcase in our bedroom holds the “small format adult novels” category–and a lot of those books are old, with torn-up spines that don’t look very nice. We decided to display some pretty postcards (and Nick’s drawing of a robot) on these shelves.
The books are alphabetized by author, so when we’re looking for something, we can guess which picture it’s behind. We also have a subcategory of “scary thrillers that are really good, but we don’t want to think about them all the time” hidden behind the Bible so that we don’t see their titles at a glance!
The multi-directional thing also works for organizing drawers and fitting in more stuff. Many items in my desk drawers are stored on an edge so that it’s easy to see everything. It’s been decades since I bought a stationery set, but I’m still using the boxes to sort plain letter paper, fancy letter paper, notecards, and postcards.
We keep a lot of our folded clothes on edge, too. Here are my handkerchiefs in a corner of a drawer, surrounded by supplements and prescriptions and my tiny supply of makeup. (I guess I’m a minimalist there–I don’t wear makeup except for job interviews and similar occasions!)
In another drawer, I keep my leggings rolled up and standing on end–but because I store heavy winter socks the same way, in the same drawer, they got mixed together over the course of the winter. I also have a basket in the drawer (bought for a dime at a yard sale 25 years ago!!) to contain bandanas and other less-used hair supplies like my spare brush. In the little space in front of the basket are my swimsuit and stockings. I was always misplacing my swimsuit before I gave it this special location!
4. Build a Closet in a Bookcase.
Because we didn’t have a spare bedroom for Lydia when she was born, her bed is in an alcove of the dining room, and our downstairs bathroom became her “changing room.”
When you come in the door from the kitchen, the toilet is on your left, the window is straight ahead, and this space is to your right. (We removed the sink that used to be there, under the mirror. We wash our hands in the kitchen.)
This bookcase used to be all shelves, with Lydia’s clothing stacked on the upper shelves and her cloth diapers on the lower shelves. We changed her diapers on the floor. (You can see the black foam padding we stuck to the edge of the bottom shelf so she wouldn’t get hurt on it. The bookcase can’t tip over because the floor of this room is slanted in the direction that makes the bookcase lean back against the wall.)
That was a great system when Lydia and her clothes were tiny. As she got bigger, we freed up a chest of drawers from elsewhere in the house and moved it into the changing room. It holds lots of shirts, pants, socks, underwear, and pajamas…but dresses look funny after they’ve been stored folded in a drawer! I laid her dresses flat on a shelf until they were too wide for that. Then we removed one shelf from the bookcase and made her a closet!
At first, we simply hung a tension rod in the bookcase. But when all her dresses were clean and hung up, they were too heavy and pulled the rod down. So Daniel fashioned these little hanging blocks to support the rod. He put two pieces of scrap wood edge-to-edge, clamped them to the workbench, and used a large drill bit to cut a circle–half on each block. He attached them to the bookcase using Command adhesive, so we should be able to remove them easily when we’re ready. And we decorated the rod with some plush bendy flowers, just for fun!
When Lydia was a baby and I was pumping milk for her, I stored her bottle-drying rack on top of this bookcase. (I carried it into the kitchen when washing bottles and then carried it back–our kitchen is too small to keep it in there.) Now, we store cleaning products and extra toilet paper up there, out of her reach.
Isn’t it gross to store clean clothing or baby bottles in a bathroom?? We’ve felt that it’s not too bad because the toilet is a few feet away (not in the middle of everything like in tiny Hong Kong apartments!) and we always close the toilet lid before flushing.
BONUS TIP: Those white things under the dresser are zippered mesh bags for Lydia’s dirty socks and other small laundry items, to keep them from getting lost in the wash!
5. Increase Closet Space with Custom Shelves and Hooks.
Our house was built with only 4 closets, none of which is deep enough for clothes hangers! Back in 1920, working-class people had only a few clothes and hung them on hooks around the perimeter of these 11-inch-deep closets. We use the hooks in our dining room closet for our reusable shopping bags, and we’ve filled in the rest of the closet spaces with shelves. We use a coat tree for our coats.
Someone around 1950 built a large closet into one side of our master bedroom. It has a great storage cabinet across the top, and the floor of that was positioned just above the door into the over-the-stairs cabinet original to the house. That makes the clothes-hanging area taller than it really needs to be, so there’s a shelf above the clothes bar on my side–but on Daniel’s side of the closet, the cabinet door swings out into space where the shelf would be, so he didn’t have a shelf.
Over the years, Daniel has added storage to his side of the closet, designing it to hold things he needs and fit into the space available. He’s been able to do it mostly with scrap wood and basic hardware and wire bins that were being discarded in my workplace, so it didn’t cost much to make his space much more useful! The bins have hooks designed to hang over a cubicle divider; he hung them over the board that forms the side of my shelf.
6. Use Shelves as a Bedside Table.
This is a household tip so simple and cheap I feel kind of silly sharing it! But it’s very green, repurposing things we already had and keeping plastic out of the landfill.
So you want a table alongside your bed. What you have is a 1980s plastic shelving unit that fits the space perfectly but looks like it belongs on someone’s unfashionable patio. Also, you have an old curtain from your previous apartment that’s the wrong size for your new windows but happens to coordinate with your bedroom wall color. Simply toss the curtain over the shelves!
Now, not only do you have a bedside table, but you have a storage area under the table, and the storage area is hidden from view! You can subdivide the shelf with boxes without worrying how they look since you won’t see them except when you pull up the curtain to get something. This is where I keep my what-to-read-next pile and (in the box) my pajamas.
The space under the bottom shelf can be used to store things you rarely need if you’re willing to pull out the bed when you do need those things. Or, if you can reach that space from the other side or the end, it’s a great space to stack rolls of toilet paper you bought by the case!
(Speaking of green tips, here’s why you’ll want a basket of little cloths on your bedside table.)
If your shelves are plastic and under the window like mine, you can put potted plants on top during the winter.
And if it happens that you have two of these curtains, as I do, you can put on a fresh one right away when you wash the other–so you’ll never be demotivated by the sight of the bare shelving while the curtain is in the laundry. Such luxury!
Alternatively, this would be a great way to keep using a favorite baby blanket as the child gets bigger.
My bedside table fits into the window alcove of our master bedroom, side by side with my desk. There’s just a little gap between them–and we’ve made use of that, too….
7. Get Into the Grooves.
We don’t have air conditioning, so in hot weather we use a window fan to push out hot air or pull in cooler air at night. We can’t leave it in place all the time, though: Rain falling on the porch roof splashes water in through our windows, and we lock those windows when we go out.
When we take out the fan, we place it endwise in the gap between the bedside table and the desk. The cord still reaches the outlet, so we don’t have to unplug.
There are half a dozen other places around our home where a slight mismatch between room size and furniture size creates a handy place to store something. Here’s one of the others:
In Lydia’s changing room, the shelving unit stands against one wall, at a right angle to the chest of drawers standing against another wall. Their front corners almost touch. The corner of the room is blocked off by these two pieces of furniture.
We needed a place for a rectangular laundry basket that’s used only to carry loads to and from the basement. (It’s not one where dirty laundry gradually accumulates.) It fits neatly down into the corner! And it’s so lightweight that it’s easy to lift over the dresser. Oh, and that shelf we removed to make her closet is stashed here, too.
8. Hang Handy Hooks.
Our kitchen walls have plastic tile up to shoulder height and all around the window. (It’s about 60 years old; we try to see it as “vintage” rather than “tired and stained.”) It’s great for hanging suction-cup hooks! We can put them wherever is most useful to us and move them whenever we want. They work on smooth-textured steel appliances as well as tile–but don’t hang them on anything that gets hot!
We use our hooks to store things like dishcloths, the hand towel, the bottle brush, aprons, lunch bags, and the bag of plastic shopping bags for reuse. (We end up with some of those no matter how hard we try! There are 9 ways to reuse plastic bags toward the end of my reusable-bag guide.)
9. Make a Stairwell Double as a Broom Closet.
This space-saving feature was already in place when we bought the house: On the wall along one side of the stairs to our basement are two parallel boards with nails on them for hanging things. We can store our brooms, mops, and laundry bag for kitchen towels, just as we would in a closet–but instead of any square footage being taken up by a closet, these are in a space we walk through!
There’s also a shelf across the very lowest part of the stairwell, which you can reach while standing on a certain step. That’s where we keep the toilet plunger, a bag of rags for messy jobs, and stuff like that.
Of course, you can’t hang a dripping-wet mop over the stairs immediately after using it and rinsing it out! We lean it on the basement sink until fully dry, then return it to its storage space.
(Our dustpan and whisk broom are from Grove Collaborative! The bristles frayed a little, which makes them look dirtier, but that broom works really well, and so does the dustpan.)
10. Double Up Your Shelving.
We have plates in 3 basic sizes, but we don’t have enough of any one size to fill the whole height of the shelf. (Our kitchen-cabinet shelves are not adjustable.) We used to keep them all stacked up like a wedding cake. That was annoying when you wanted a big plate and had to lift all the others!
This wire shelf cost only a few dollars and has held up well for 15 years (similar one found on Amazon). It enabled us to feel like we could handle owning a few more plates in each size. That makes it easier to use our dishwasher efficiently because we can pack it completely full for every wash load, without running out of plates.
We use shelves like this in our freezer, too! Those are even older, more like 23 years. The improved organization is more than worth the small price!
11. Create Counter Space with a Cutting Board.
Need more space to put something temporarily while you’re working in the kitchen? Simply pull out a drawer, place a cutting board across it, and close the drawer to grip the board between the drawer frame and drawer front.
Your cutting board needs to be 1-3 inches wider than the drawer for this to work. My main cutting board fits perfectly over the drawer next to the stove. The smaller cutting board, which we use for onions and garlic so that their flavor doesn’t transfer to other food, fits the narrower drawer next to the sink.
Not all drawers are strong enough to allow you actually to chop food on them. (My drawers, like the cabinets, are 1950s Pittsburgh steel! They are super solid.) Be careful! You might need to use your temporary counter space just for setting aside ingredients, a prep bowl, or the compost bucket.
But if your drawers are strong enough for chopping, you may find that the slightly lower height makes it easier to press down on the knife, cutting with less effort!
I took the picture above when I was making coleslaw while boiling corn on the cob. By getting the cabbage-chopping off the counter, I created space for gathering ingredients and whisking together the dressing, and I still had room for the compost bucket within easy reach. While chopping, it was easy to notice when the water came to a boil so that I could reach over to adjust the heat.
Make sure to get out anything you’ll need from the drawer before you cover it. Also, be careful to clean up any juices or bits of food that might get into the drawer or on the underside of the counter edge. (I’ve found this doesn’t happen much when I close the drawer tightly on the board–but it’s best to check just in case. You don’t want to wonder where that rotting-onion smell is coming from!)
Oh, and to prevent bruises: Remember that the drawer is sticking out, and step around it as you move about the kitchen!
12. Use the Top of the Toaster Oven.
This tip also works with a microwave or any other appliance that has a flat, closed top and is sitting on your counter with some space above it. Just put part of your project up there when it’s in the “set aside” stage, or put the cookbook up there for easy viewing without cluttering the counter.
WARNING: Be very careful that your appliance is completely cool while you are putting things on it! Think ahead to make sure you won’t need to use the appliance later in preparation of this meal.
I especially like putting our recipe binder on the toaster oven. It’s very well lit by the under-cabinet lighting. (Nicholas added this lighting by attaching a flat LED light-rope to the underside of the cabinets using packing tape–hence the wire you see on the wall. It’s a great improvement to our kitchen, and when we remodel we’ll definitely get built-in under-cabinet lighting!) If I spill something, the cookbook won’t get stained!
In the photo, I was making Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens. I had the pasta ready to add to the pot when it boiled, I was thawing the kale, I was deboning the salmon and dropping the bones into an empty cauliflower bag, and I had the recipe ready on top of the toaster oven so that I could gather the seasonings and mix the dressing in my last few square inches of counter space! (I get great deals on whole-wheat pasta and frozen vegetables at Gordon Food Service!)
13. Tuck a Computer Corner Behind the Television.
This tip only works if your room size and shape allow for it, but it’s been great for us!
This L-shaped computer desk was designed to support a desktop computer and cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitor that were very heavy and bulky, like the ones we had when we bought the desk in 2001. When we moved to this house, we set up the computer desk in the dining room. Meanwhile, we also had an even heavier CRT television set, which sat on a small, sturdy table facing the couch in the living room.
By the time we were rearranging the house to make space for our new baby in 2014, our old TV was on the fritz, and we’d replaced our computer’s monitor with a flat-screen one. We decided to buy a flat-screen TV and put them both on the computer desk. (Learn what not to do when recycling your CRT!) Flat screens are not only lighter weight than CRTs but also much less bulky. We even had room for a second monitor when a free one came our way!
Instead of facing into a corner of a room, the computer desk is now placed in a corner of the living room but with one end against a wall. This leaves the other leg of the L-shaped desk facing the center of the room. The TV faces out, toward the couch. The computer corner is tucked behind it–but there’s still plenty of space to sit there, thanks to a small alcove in the room.
There’s room on the outer corner of the desk for our VCR, DVD player, and PlayStation. There’s room on the end toward the wall for a lamp, pen jar, and a few computer accessories.
The space under the TV is utilized, too, with a paper-recycling bin (easy to reach, both from the desk and as you walk through the room) and the Toddler Control Panel! Daniel made this toy when Nicholas was little, out of a cardboard box, some inexpensive light switches, LEDs, and a battery. It gives a little kid a chance to flip some switches without disrupting anyone else, and bigger kids use it for all kinds of space travel and other imaginative play. This is just a convenient place where it fits and isn’t in the way.
There are a few downsides to this arrangement:
- The desk blocks a small part of the 5-foot-wide archway between living and dining rooms, which isn’t ideal aesthetically.
- All the electronics and the desk itself tend to shift around a bit with use. We have to keep an eye on the alignment to make sure that nothing is hanging off the desk ready to topple, and that the desk isn’t wandering into our main “path” through the house.
- There are a lot of cords in between the screens and dangling down the wall toward the power strips on the floor. Luckily, Lydia has never been very interested in playing with the cords! They’re just confusing and not very attractive. (But I’m glad I cleaned up the desk to take photos because I found that almost half the cords in the jumble actually weren’t connected to anything! I collected them into our bag of spare cords.)
- Because the DVD player is not parallel to the TV, it sometimes doesn’t pick up signals from the remote when you’re sitting on the couch–you have to lean over to point the remote at the front of the DVD player. (We don’t have the remote for our VCR anymore! You have to get up and push the buttons like an old-fashioned person.)
14. Use the Space Above the Toilet.
Our main bathroom was completely renovated in 2010. We had the contractors install wall-to-wall “floating shelves” (anchored to the wall studs with brackets) in the alcove above the toilet. They are finished with boat varnish to prevent them from warping in the shower steam!
If you’re installing shelves, make sure the height of each shelf is right for the kinds of things you’ll be storing. Use all the space up to the ceiling; put less-used items on the top shelf. Choose the lowest shelf’s height and depth such that it won’t bonk people on the head as they stand up from the toilet!
If you can’t install shelves, try an étagére, a shelving unit designed to fit above a toilet, standing on legs around the toilet tank. Before renovation, we had an étagére to supplement the storage in our little under-sink cabinet.
But that under-sink cabinet was dark, damp, and generally annoying! Now that we have shelves that fill the whole space above the toilet, we have plenty of bathroom storage, so we now have a lovely pedestal sink that gives us a little more floor space, making the bathroom feel bigger.
Our bathroom has a skylight, so in the winter we keep our potted plants on the top shelf. During the summer, we tend to stash other things up there (right now, hand soap refills and a basket of cleaning rags), and then in the fall we have to consolidate!
These shelves also demonstrate another efficient storage tip:
15. Use Baskets on Open Shelves.
Most items on our bathroom shelves are organized into baskets we bought at Ten Thousand Villages. These were made from an invasive water plant by artisans who were fairly paid, so they solve several problems at once: removing a plant that clogs the waterway, creating jobs, and using minimal resources to create helpful storage! We are delighted that these baskets are in nearly perfect condition after 8 years of use in our steamy bathroom.
Baskets create distinct storage areas to help you find things. They also make small items easier to access because you can lift the basket down from the shelf to get things from it. (Simply step up onto the toilet lid to reach the upper shelves! In another room, you might want to keep a stool handy–see next tip.) Using all one style of basket gives shelves a unified look even when you’re storing a lot of stuff there!
Our baskets on the middle shelf hold essential oils; items like cotton swabs, razors, and thermometers; and medications. On the bottom shelf, the cylindrical basket holds a spare roll of toilet paper, the small round one is for cloth wipes, and the big rectangular one has miscellany like the empty yogurt bucket for washing my hair with vinegar. (Oh–and that brown box over at the left is not cocoa powder! It’s a cocoa canister repurposed for damp-proof storage of baking soda for cleaning!)
When a bathroom supply comes in a plastic bag, we transfer the contents to a repurposed glass jar. Then we can see what’s in the container without having a bunch of ugly packaging sticking out of our baskets. Instead of handling a ripsy bag, we have a nice solid container with a lid that keeps out the damp. (We have never yet broken a glass jar in the bathroom! And it’s rare for us to break one in the kitchen, where we use them much more extensively. They’re just not all that fragile or all that prone to being dropped, even for a clumsy person like me.)
What if we might need information that is printed on the packaging? I cut out the important part, place it inside the jar facing out, and hold it with my finger as I put the items into the jar. (You can see a pink Drug Facts panel in the jar with the yellow-wrapped cough drops.)
For things that stay in their original packages, baskets cover the labels so that the shelf looks less cluttered and “noisy.” This is especially important to us because our mirror faces these shelves, so they effectively make up twice as much of our bathroom scenery as they physically represent. When you’re looking in the mirror first thing in the morning, it’s nice not to strain your brain trying to read dozens of mirror-reversed words.
16. Store a Stool Over a Vent.
This is the one place where I’m showing you the Before picture! Writing this article motivated me to clean and/or tidy up many of the areas shown. But I just have to show you how much junk fits into this space! That’s our collection of “things to give away.” I cleared it out, Daniel took the stuff to Goodwill, and now we have a big empty hamper to remind us to put aside stuff that’s not serving us well anymore.
Baseboard vents need open space both above and in front of them, which makes furniture placement annoying! Our bedroom bookcase won’t fit into the corner because of the vent. But that awkward corner space is perfect for this tall stool! We keep the stool in our bedroom so it’s handy when we need to reach the cabinet above our big closet.
Meanwhile, the top of the stool provides some storage space–but anything we put there needs to be easy to remove when it’s time to use the stool. This mesh hamper works very well . . . as long as we don’t load it too heavily or stack it far beyond the overflow point!!
There’s also a storage space next to the stool for our portable drawing board! It just exactly fits there, not blocking the vent.
17. Expand Space with the Right Picture.
At the top of our stairs on the second floor is a hall only 4’x7′. It’s an efficient circulation space, connecting the stairs to the bedrooms and bathroom and gym (see below!), but it can feel very cramped. One way to expand space visually is to hang a mirror, which reflects light and also gives the impression that there is more space beyond the wall.
We happen to have lucked out with this huge framed photograph, which we bought at an auction years ago. When the hall is brightly lit by the bathroom skylight, the glass over the picture hanging opposite the bathroom door acts like a mirror.
When the hallway light is on, the picture itself has a pleasant visual effect. Not only does it look like a window to outdoors, but it has a “tunnel” of perspective that makes you feel as if you’re looking far beyond the wall. Even a glimpse out of the corner of your eye helps you to feel less constrained by the wall.
18. Turn Your Hallway into a Gym!
This is our most mind-bending example of finding new space in our home. This hallway is 31 inches wide above the baseboards, so obviously there was no space there for anything except walking from the main upstairs hall (the space mentioned above) to the back room. That so-called bedroom is actually too cold to sleep in 4 months of the year, so it’s Daniel’s home office/den.
A few years ago, Daniel suddenly came up with a scheme to build a home gym in this hallway. I told him he was crazy; there was no room to spare! He pointed out that we’d been storing two old doors on their sides, leaning against the wall of the hall, leaving us only 23 inches of walking space. He said his gym would stand on 4 legs of 1 1/4″ diameter, so (accounting for the baseboards) we’d still have 24 inches of walking space. I looked at his design and said it wouldn’t stand up without cross-bracing. He patiently pointed out that the walls support it along both sides, and foam padding prevents it from banging the walls or wobbling.
He was right! He built this gym out of galvanized steel plumbing pipe, plywood for the climbing wall, and scrap wood for the hand-holds on the climbing wall. He bought a set of rings to hang from and adjustable straps to hang them. The total cost was under $200, with the rings being the biggest expense. (The ring storage hooks are just wire clothes hangers!)
In 18 square feet, we have rings, a chin-up bar, dip bars (at sides), and a climbing wall! And we can walk down the hall as easily as ever! The rings can be tucked up to the sides when not in use. Here’s more detail about how he designed and built the gym.
Whenever you’re in the hall, you can simply step into the gym for a moment’s exercise. When I knock on the door of Daniel’s den and he says, “Just a moment,” I can strengthen my biceps while I’m waiting! It’s very convenient.
It’s also a great place for the kids to play. Our yard is not suitable for a climbing structure, but this one can be used in any weather! No, it’s not totally safe–a kid could crash into the wall while swinging from the rings, or fall from the climbing wall, and get hurt. But we supervise, and our kids and their friends have been fine so far.
The black pipe, rings, and straps in this gloomy space (the only light is in the main hall) do give our gym a rather alarming look. When Daniel removed lead-based paint from his den door a few years later, he decided he might as well repaint it to look like the TARDIS from “Doctor Who”. Now the gym looks less like a dungeon and more like the mysterious approach to a time machine!
(The only downside to this improvement is that those two old doors that used to be stashed in the hallway are now in the basement, and that makes it inconvenient to get them out. We used to use them whenever we needed a big, flat surface for cutting out fabric or a similar project. But I’ll admit that we did that much less often than we use our gym!)
19. Use Your Attic and/or Basement.
Our house has a full-height basement under the front porch as well as the entire first floor. That gives us a lot of space for line-drying laundry, our pantry, our workshop, and storage. You think we have a lot of stuff in our house? Well, the basement holds an embarrassing excess of “things that might come in handy someday”–we recently did an inventory and realized we now have twenty-six shelving units in our basement!
We’re planning to finish part of the basement to make a new bedroom for Nicholas so that Lydia can have her own bedroom. That means reducing the volume of storage in the basement so we can free up some cubic feet! Of course, we need to get rid of some of those things we’re really not using. But we’ve also moved some of our storage to the attic.
Our roof is almost flat: It slopes very slightly downward from front to back, just enough to make rain run off. But because our house is 42 feet deep, that slope puts the front of the roof a good distance above the second-floor ceiling. The front half of the attic is tall enough to crawl through if you’re careful not to scrape your back on the rafters!
However, there was no way to get into the attic until we renovated the bathroom. In the process of replacing the ceiling and restoring the skylight, our contractors replaced the water-damaged walls of the skylight well with new wallboard and added a hatchway into the attic!
Because we have to drag a ladder into the bathroom to get to the attic, and it’s difficult to move around in there, and there’s no lighting, the attic is not a place we’ll access casually. It’s good storage for things we use once a year or less. We’ve put our first round of stuff up there now, and we still have lots of space.
Daniel installed a floor in the attic simply by nailing plywood to the joists. (The plywood had to be cut to a size that would fit through the hatchway.) I’m kind of glad we took 8 years to get around to doing this so that we could use the attic. If we’d filled it up before we even knew we were going to have a second child, we would only have accumulated more clutter in the available basement space, and now we’d be having to sort through everything in the attic as well as the basement in order to declutter and consolidate our storage!
We definitely aren’t minimalists. We have a lot of interesting stuff that makes our lives richer! But we love the coziness and efficiency of living in a relatively small space, and we look forward to our next renovation making our cubic footage even more useful!