Big family in a small house, part 1: bedrooms

A lot of readers have expressed curiosity over how we manage to fit a family of 10 (soon to be 11) plus an occasional brother-in-law into a house of less than 1200 square feet.

How can a big family live in a small house?

The short answer is the same answer we give to many other questions: life style choices.

  • We don’t think every child (or even every 2 children) needs her own bedroom.
  • We don’t think we need a huge master bedroom with a walk-in closet and a master bathroom.
  • Although we would very much enjoy having a 2nd or 3rd bathroom, we don’t believe that we need it. In all fairness, some of the children don’t quite agree, especially in the morning.
  • We don’t need space for an extensive seasonal wardrobe for each member of the family, particularly in South Texas. There are only 2 seasons here anyway, and one lasts for 10 months of the year. A summer wardrobe plus a few warmer items is perfectly sufficient.

And so, here’s how the bedrooms work:

Larg Family, 3 Bedrooms

We have 3 bedrooms for our large family, each roughly 12 x 12 including the closet. Hubby and I share a room (of course. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many children to fit into the rest of the rooms). The newest baby shares our room until he/she sleeps through the night, usually around 2 months. Then the playpen is moved into a children’s room.  We did away with the bulky full-sized crib many babies ago. Yes, my babies sleep through the night at 2 months. Don’t hate me.

4 Children in 1 bedroom

Each of the other rooms is shared by 4 children. We used to have them segregated by age, but decided to mix things up with the latest room arrangement. In one room, we have child #1, #3, #5, and #7. In the other room we have all of the even-numbered children. This way each room has an “overseer,” a relatively responsible middle child, and 2 smaller ones.

Each room has a set of bunk beds with a twin on top and a full size bed on the bottom. The oldest child has the twin bunk on top all to herself. The middle and two small ones sleep crosswise on the full size bed below, which gives them plenty of space. The Boy sleeps with his sisters. This will change at some point, but we feel it’s perfectly appropriate right now.

In the past, when we had 6 children and all were relatively small, they shared one bedroom. They had a set of bunkbeds with twin-sized mattresses on top and below, and we slid a 3rd mattress under the bed. It was pulled out at night like a trundle bed. With this arrangement, each child shared a twin bed with one sister.

Each room has a single dresser with 4 drawers. This is primarily to hold underclothes, since most of the outer clothes are hung in the closet. Each child has one drawer. A child’s drawer often contains personal possessions other than clothes: letters, trinkets, drawings, etc. I’m afraid we tend toward pack-rattery, though the size of our home forces us to keep the tendency firmly in hand.

Each bedroom closet is roughly 5.5 feet wide, and just over 2 feet deep. The closets have nice shelving/hanging systems, and are divided into 4 areas so each child has a place for his/her own clothes. Each child has perhaps 10-12 outfits, and 3-4 pairs of shoes. We could do with less, but this works for us. Shoes are arranged in various ways: some children have a hanging shoe caddy in their closet area, some share an over-the-door shoe contraption, one has hers in a large basket. The shelves hold board games, blankets, etc.

Each children’s bedroom currently holds 2 large bookcases, side by side. The top shelves are fiction, 2nd shelves are history, 3rd shelves are science, 4th shelves are picture books, bottom is more pack-rattery. On the very top of each bookshelf, the older girls keep their own personal books not for general circulation.

Under the bed, each child has a “treasure box,” usually either a cardboard box or a rubbermaid-type container.  The size of the treasure boxes has varied over the years, but it’s big enough to hold most of her personal possessions that she doesn’t want in common use or general circulation: puzzles, notebooks, birthday gifts, dolls, etc.

Like the children, hubby and I have a single dresser, 2 large bookcases, and our bed, which is queen sized. The big bed makes our room more crowded than the childrens’, and we also have a nightstand and the TV stand with a 19 inch television. The occasional movie night happens in our room with the entire family gathered on and around the bed. I’m not convinced that this is ideal, but we do like having the TV out of the main living area. The ideal situation more likely involves getting rid of the TV and DVD player, but we’re not quite there yet…

Lest I give anyone the wrong idea, let me say that keeping a small bedroom neat when it has several occupants is quite a challenge. They do not stay neat, but keeping the amount of possessions under control makes it easy to clean quickly.

part 2: Storage

part 3: Floor plan

part 4: Entertaining Guests

part 5: Finding personal space


  1. I found this series on Pinterest and we are going to be doing something different at the beginning of next year. One thing we are seriously considering is building a “temporary but long-term,” as you said, home. We are currently a family of six. So, do you have any update posts about your small house? Did you ever expand? Is there anything you would have done differently, some advice for someone possibly going into a similar situation?

  2. I’m curious about floor plans for small houses. We are a family of 6 (4 kids) and I would love to build a smaller house (we currently have 1800 sqft). Thanks for any links you can provide. The floor plan link in the post did not work.

  3. Thanks for your blog , and this post in especially. My family of 7 lives in a 3 bedroom 980sq ft home. We have to make the most of every inch

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