Parents are often pressured to provide their kids with more: more toys, more classes, more experiences. But increasingly, parents are choosing to give their children more by giving them less – space that is.
According to the 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, housing represents around 30% of child-rearing expenses. However, this figure is calculated with the assumption that each child has their own bedroom. You could save money, and give your children a richer experience, by having them share a room.
Combining bedrooms means that you can buy a smaller home and save money on your mortgage. In a smaller home, you’ll save money on utilities, and spend less on frivolous purchases, because you’ll have less space to store things you don’t need. Having your kids share a bedroom also means that you’ll have a free room to turn into an office if you want to work from home or start a side business.
Whatever the reason, there are many ways your children will benefit by sharing a room. Let’s take a look at what those benefits are, and some money-saving tricks and tips you can use when you make the transition.
The History of Shared Sleep Space
Only in the last century have separate bedrooms become the norm in our society. Up until the late 19th century, we lived in very small houses. Children most often shared a room with their entire family. In many cultures, several families would sleep in one shared space to conserve resources and provide additional protection. Children are comforted by their family’s presence and are hardwired to associate “family” with “safety.” Forcing children to sleep in isolation is a recent phenomenon, the evolution of which an article by the LA Times offers a fascinating look.
In the 19th century, as familial wealth began to grow, people began to associate privacy – especially at night – with being “civilized.” Cultures who slept collectively were seen as uncivilized, especially when compared to those in Western society. Additionally, shared sleeping was associated with poverty – something to be avoided by any family wishing to provide the best for their children.
Over time, homes grew and a new wave of psychologists began to champion the cause for isolating children at night, stating that it was better for their development to learn how to be on their own. Today, for better or worse, the majority of children in the United States have their own bedroom. However, parents are increasingly realizing that room sharing might offer more benefits than separate rooms.
Why My Two Toddlers Share a Bedroom
When we moved into our home last year, my boys (now three and two) each had their own room. However, I wanted them to share a room so they would learn how to get along and compromise with each other. Plus, we needed the third bedroom for a home office. So, this December, we moved them into one room.
I knew it wasn’t going to be a seamless transition, and it took several weeks for them to settle into the new arrangement. At first, they kept each other up way past bedtime talking, laughing, and jumping from one bed to the other. My youngest would often wake up his brother in the wee hours of the morning, wanting to play. Toys would be dragged out at 5am, and I’d walk into the room only to find it a complete disaster before I’d even had my first cup of coffee.
One way I eliminated their penchant for playing during sleep time was to take their toys away. I decided to go very minimal with their toys (they only have four toys in the house, in addition to their train set and building blocks), and those toys are now kept in the living room.
They’ve been sharing a room for a few months now, and there are still some ups and downs. However, there have been plenty of positive changes. I’ve noticed that their relationship is closer: They often stay up a little while after I leave the room talking and giggling together.
Having my children share a room is definitely worth the extra effort it has taken to get them adjusted. I believe that having to share a space with someone else helps children become kinder, more empathetic adults. They’re learning, slowly, that they are not the center of the universe and that they have to consider the wants and needs of others. These are lessons that I try to teach, and sharing a room gives them the opportunity to practice these life skills.
The Developmental Benefits of Room Sharing
According to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the average home in the U.S. is now 2,687 square feet – over 1,000 square feet larger than the average home in 1973. The amount of living space per person has effectively been doubled.
For many people, living in a large home – with separate bedrooms for everyone – is a status symbol of success; however, a larger home might make it harder for families to connect and spend time together. When each child has their own bedroom, they’re more likely to be isolated from their parents and siblings. Some child psychologists reason that this can strengthen their independence and encourage them to be more comfortable spending time alone.
On one level, this does make sense. However, siblings who share a room will, over time, learn other very important life skills. For example, they will learn how to negotiate and compromise. They will learn how to solve problems, how to get along with someone who might have drastically different ideas than their own, and how to defend themselves and their possessions by setting clear boundaries.
Sharing a bedroom can also strengthen the bond between your children. When they’re alone together, they no longer have to battle each other for your attention. They can become more sensitive to each other’s feelings and develop a deeper capacity for playing together. There might also be fewer fights over possessions, and you won’t have to hear the inevitable “Mom! She’s in MY ROOM again!”
Additionally, shared sleeping space might reduce conflict for the entire family. The article in the LA Times states, “…anthropologists Carol Worthman and Ryan Brown have argued [that] family structures in co-sleeping societies tend to be closer-knit, with less intergenerational conflict.”
Another surprising benefit is that your children might sleep better in a shared bedroom. Having someone else in the room to talk to is comforting, especially for children who are anxious or afraid of the dark. You might find that your children sleep longer and wake less often during the night once they start sharing a bedroom. Linda Szmulewitz, a certified sleep coach interviewed by the Chicago Tribune, states that siblings often adjust and become heavier sleepers when they start sharing a room. And the biggest benefit of all this? When your kids sleep better, you sleep better.
Of course, this won’t be true for every child. If your children end up sharing the same bed, there’s a chance they might sleep worse. A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that some children who shared the same bed had later bedtimes and later wake times. Bed sharing was also associated with higher probabilities for other sleep problems, such as bedtime resistance and night waking. Room sharing had lower ratios for the same problems.
When Shouldn’t Kids Share a Room?
Parents with older children often say the same thing: Once puberty hit, their kids asked for their own space.
Tweens and teens often want – and need – their own space. There’s a growing sense of separation that naturally occurs during this time, and opposite-sex siblings might find it increasingly important to have a private room.
Room sharing often works best with younger children who are relatively close in age. The earlier they start sharing a space, the easier it is for them to adjust because they know no other way. If your children are more than five years apart, you might run into problems simply because there’s such a large gap between them developmentally.
Money-Saving Tips for Shared Bedroom
Piling your children into one room doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on high-priced bunk beds and matching dressers. There are plenty of affordable ways to have your kids share a room and allow them to enjoy an experience they’ll remember forever.
1. Give Each Child Their Own Private Space in the Room
Although they’re sharing a room, it’s still important that each child has their own private space that reflects their interests and personality.
Letting their individuality shine doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money redecorating. Instead, your goal should be to carve out individual “zones” where each child can go to read, draw, or play, according to their interests. For example, you could use low bookcases or trunks to create different areas in the room. Or, hang curtains or screens to separate spaces. Scour secondhand stores, Craigslist, or children’s consignment shops to find gently used items for your kids’ room.
You can also help your children personalize their own space with cork boards, artwork, and posters. Give them free reign to decorate their “zone” however they like. This will give them a sense of independence within their shared space.
2. Get Creative With Bed Placement
A quick search online will yield some incredibly creative ways to cram several kids in one room. Your biggest piece of furniture is, of course, their beds, and there are a lot of ways to arrange those beds to maximize space.
If your children will be sleeping in twin beds or toddler beds, consider letting them sleep feet-to-feet, with both beds lined against the wall. They’ll be able to look at each other during the night, and this arrangement can really conserve space in the room. Or, you could place the beds heads-together, making a 90-degree angle with one bed on each wall and a shared table in the corner space.
If you find it hard to squeeze two twin beds and two bedside tables into one small room, you might want to consider bunk beds. You can often find quality used bunk beds on Craigslist. Bunk beds are a great way to sleep multiple children in one room and maximize living space.
Another advantage of bunk beds is that it’s easy to create a private space for each child; simply hang up shortened curtains in front of each bunk. This allows each child to close off their bed when they want privacy or need to go to sleep.
The floor space under the bed also provides valuable storage space. Purchase some rolling under-bed storage bins, or find some low baskets to hold extra toys or clothing.
Instead of a nightstand, use the wall next to each child’s bed for storage. For example, you could hang a canvas pouch or mount a narrow shelf or magazine rack next to the bed for books and a few small toys. Hang a small lamp with an adjustable neck for bedtime reading.
3. Use All Your Space
One benefit of having your kids share a room is that all the toys are (theoretically) corralled in one space, which makes cleanup easier. However, it also means you’re going to have to implement some storage solutions to keep everything organized.
When it comes to organizing on a budget, it’s hard to beat IKEA’s Trofast storage system. The storage unit has several sliding bins that make it easy for children to pull out and put away their own toys. Another benefit is that it only costs around $60.
You could also hang kitchen cabinets in the bedroom to give your kids a private space for personal things. Remember, you can often find inexpensive cabinets and bookcases at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, as well as at garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores. Often, a bright coat of paint is all that’s needed to make items suitable for a child’s room.
4. Declutter to Keep It Clean
Once your children are in one room, you might find that the room simply won’t hold all of their stuff.
Consider trying minimalism with kids by getting rid of all the items they don’t use or play with any longer. Talk to your children about the number of toys that will reasonably fit in their new shared space, and work with them to pare those toys down so everything fits. Talk to them about the many benefits of decluttering and donating old toys, and give them the power to choose which ones will be passed on. Keep TVs out of the bedroom to limit your kids’ screen time.
Clothes storage might also be a challenge when combining rooms. Most children have more clothes than they need, so go through your children’s outfits and look at the pieces they actually wear on a consistent basis. Anything that doesn’t fit, or that they don’t like, can be donated to save space.
Another way to pare down clothing is to pretend that you’re packing ultralight for a vacation. For example, make a pile of all the clothes your child actually likes to wear. Create enough outfits to get you through a week (with a few extra changes of clothes to spare). Try to choose pieces that are color-coordinated and will work for several different outfits. Next, put everything else in a box and put it in the garage. For the next two weeks, your child will only wear the clothes you’ve kept out.
As the days go by, look at how you’re all doing with this more “minimal” wardrobe. If you find that you’re having to do too much laundry, you might need to pull a few more pieces out of the garage to add to their wardrobe. If you find that you packed away a shirt they really love, by all means, pull it back out. Doing a trial using a minimal wardrobe will allow you to fine-tune which items to keep before donating the bulk of it to charity.
Make a Plan Before Jumping In
Before you dive into any room-sharing arrangement, it’s important to realize that there will likely be some bumps along the way. You’ll save yourself some stress (and probably some sleep) if you plan for some of these issues before they happen.
The challenges of room sharing will depend on how old your children are. For example, if you have a toddler and a newborn, they’re likely going to be napping at different times. What will you do with your toddler when your newborn needs a nap? One idea is to move all the toys to a centralized play space so your toddler can still play when the room is occupied by your newborn. You’ll also need to think carefully about baby-proofing the room if a toddler and newborn are going to be sharing a space.
Next, look at nap time. Most parents will tell you that kids need their own space for naps. For whatever reason, sharing a room for naps just doesn’t work for many children – mine included – so you’ll need to have a plan in place. How will you separate your children at nap time so they all sleep (and you maintain your sanity)?
So, to share or not to share a room? It’s a contentious question for some parents, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Every family is different, and only you know what is best for your children. For some families, putting all their children in one room, or pairing up siblings, just makes sense. Other families might decide their children are better off in separate bedrooms.
What are your thoughts on this? If your children share a bedroom, what has your experience been? What worked and what didn’t when you paired them up?