All of our houses have accommodations for guests; living so far from family and many friends, we are thrilled to host frequently. In the six months we have lived here, we have had guests stay with us five times. It would have been six, but E's family graciously stayed in a hotel when our guest room wasn't set up yet. When our good friends, also a recent family of four, stayed for several nights before Christmas, it was a tight squeeze, but a lot of fun! Especially with small children, it is so nice to have guests stay in your home so the adults can visit after bedtime or during nap time.
Having a nice home environment, for our own family and our guests, is a constantly evolving challenge and our house and family evolve. I thought I'd share some of our most useful strategies we've used for maximizing our space.
1: Have less stuff: Purge it
I am ALWAYS! behind on this, but it is truly, and obviously, so helpful. One of the keys to this for me is not to worry to much about the "value" I'm loosing. I do consign things as appropriate, I occasionally try to sell a bigger-ticket item on Craigslist, we have had one yard sale, and I'm currently giving paperb*ckswap a go. However, more often than not I take a monetary hit just for getting something out the door instead of having it hang around until I have time to sell it for maximum profit. I think of it this way: Is a nice, uncluttered home worth money to me? I would certainly spend some dollars on decorative items for my home, and this is basically the same thing, in reverse.
Especially great times for this are right before, and sadly, right after a move. While the ideal time to purge is before a move, and we certainly do, there's something about unpacking and trying to find a place for everything that makes some things reveal their uselessness. The question is always, "Does this justify the space it takes up"? It also helps me to realize that purging is a process that needs to be repeated frequently- like shopping.
2: Have less stuff: Don't buy it
Our families were so, so cooperative this year when we told them we didn't want any physical gifts for Christmas, and to please only get the girls one each. We make do with a very minimum of baby contraptions, with bonus points for foldable ones. (Even though E trips over it every day, this has been worth its weight in gold. Which is about how much it costs, incidentally.) I'm kind of a minimalist by nature, but knowing we don't have much space at home definitely keeps me honest.
3: Have small stuff:
Our children's high chairs have a small footprint. Our dining room table is really much to small for the hosting we do, but it fits in our dining area. Our bedroom would be so much easier if we didn't have the sleigh bed we bought when we were married, but our first master bedroom was huge. We keep H's toys on the small side, so they fit (more or less) in the space allowed. We all have small wardrobes and (in theory) update them more frequently, since each item gets more wear.
4: Use all the (non-visable) space:
Our suitcases are either packed inside one another or full of maternity or off-season clothes. We use shelving in closets and bins under the bed for storage. I have been known to hide things under and behind furniture. I try to keep frequently-accessed cabinets less full to make them easier to use, but lesser used spaces are crammed to the brim. Putting things in boxes or bins- even things like media, shoes, etc- can make it much easier to pull out the front things and access what's in the back.
5: DON'T use all the visible space:
We have some decorations and knick-knacks that we love, but are in boxes right now. Clear surfaces and empty space are both visually relaxing and allow space for guests to put their books, drinks, laptops, phones, etc. This one, like the others, is a constant upward battle- but one of the reasons we like to host is we have a reason to get all cleaned up, and it looks so nice even after our guests leave.
Our latest trick to to put a blanket over the front of H's toy shelf in the evening, so we can't see the toys. This basically makes that space invisible for the evening, so it's not as distracting that it's crammed full of
6: Use your car
It's not particularly gas-efficient, but we have kept our BOB in our trunk while we lived in both these small spaces. I also tend to stick things I need to get rid of in the car- this solves the immediate problem of getting it out of the house, and also I am ready whenever I see a donation bin or am near the goodwill/ consignment shop/ whatever.
7: Nix the coffee table
We went shopping for a coffee table early in our marriage, and after making it through the whole Ikea tour, we realized we liked not having one. More room to lay on the living room floor, spread out a project, or (now) watch the babies play. Less places for clutter to accumulate and the babies to hit their heads. We have an end table on either end of the sofa and use stackable stools as additional tables or seating as needed. Having the open space makes the room feel so much bigger.
Even though we try to arrange our furniture carefully when we first move in, we always end up doing some significant rearranging, sometimes for several months. Especially when the space is small and the furniture is plenty, it can take a few tries to find the best arrangement, and can make a huge difference in the look and function of the room. I wish I had tips on specifically HOW to arrange, but so far it's just been trial and error.
While we are VERY much looking forward to more space in a new house, I am grateful that we've had the opportunity to consider each possession so carefully! I love having less stuff, and am constantly trying to simplify more- for more space, less time looking for things, and of course to make our next move easier. I'm sure it will be much harder to avoid the hoarding when we don't have any pending moves!