How to Make the Most of Every Part of Your Space

Spending more time at home can make our houses seem small, but you don't need a major makeover to get more space. Here are easy ways to make your rooms work better for your family. 

When you spend a lot of time inside (whether due to stay-at-home restrictions or when you have a stretch of rainy days during a school break), your home can also feel overworked. The solution to this state of mind is to find new ways to use the same old space. This can take the form of a big switch, like swapping your living room and dining rooms, say if you realize the less-used dining room gets all the good daylight. Another big change might be shifting your kids’ rooms to create a new set-up with kids sharing one room for sleep and using the other as a school and playroom. There are also little ways to seek out more from your space; here are seven creative ones that don’t require a major makeover:

Make Mealtimes Novel

Indoor Picnic
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If your gang is getting restless at the dining table, it may be because they’re tired of sitting in the same spot for three meals a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end. So, switch up the usual routine. Have a picnic on the floor of your living room: Spread out a blanket, pack the food “to-go,” and put the kids’ drinks in water bottles, or if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard and a nice day, take the picnic outdoors. Whip up a finger-food dinner to be eaten around the coffee table instead of the usual sit-down meal. You can serve things like quesadillas, chicken fingers, and crudités. If you have a rarely-used formal dining room, you might set the table with your finest china and insist the whole family get dressed up for a “fancy dinner.” Bonus points if you add candles and cloth napkins to reinforce the vibe. Or if you’re really looking to bring a smile to your kids’ faces, serve breakfast in bed. It’s guaranteed to start the day off with fun—just be sure to do it on a day you’re planning to launder the linens.

Make Your Art Supplies Mobile

Now that families are at home more, it’s likely arts and crafts supplies are in more frequent use than ever before. If setting up and cleaning up art projects has begun to feel like a hassle, consider a new storage system for all the creative gear. A mobile plastic caddy or even a tote bag may be more practical than the usual spot in a cabinet. If your family is extra creative, you might even invest in a small rolling cart that you can fill with paints, papers, markers, and the like. Whatever system you choose, make sure that the kids can easily help themselves to the supplies they need, so they can work more independently.

Put Your Bookshelf to Work—for Fun

Book shelves as play spaces
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Remove books from one or two shelves of a bookshelf to create a new place to play. Your child can use the empty shelves to create a dollhouse, a garage, or another imaginative play space that suits her interests. Use other toys to help create the imaginary world: MagnaTiles, blocks, or small boxes can build corrals for cars or become toy furniture. If you can spare the shelf long-term, you could even add patterned wrapping paper as “wallpaper.”

Make Movie Night Special

Yes, the kids may have far more screen time than was ever permitted before, but there’s still some magic in an official family movie night. To set this apart from the usual time spent in front of the television, make an announcement that “movie night” is happening. Rearrange the furniture to make your TV area feel more like a movie theater with everyone’s seats lined up to face the screen directly. If you’re feeling ambitious, create paper tickets and have one of your kids sell them to the moviegoers. (This is the time to fire up the video projector if you have one!) Then, pop some popcorn, dim the lights, and most importantly, sit down with the kids and actually watch the movie together—instead of using the duration of the film to buy yourself some extra time for work or chores. Your kids will be delighted to have you there at the “theater” with them.

Draw a “Playing Bath”

Playing Bath
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Come bedtime, it can be hard to get some kids to bathe, but something funny happens when you suggest a “playing bath” midday: Most young children are delighted to hop in the tub. FYI: this is just a regular bath, but drawn when the sun is out with the sole purpose of entertainment. Be sure to emphasize the element of water play. Let them bring extra toys into the bathtub, blow bubbles, and fill a spray or squirt bottle with water. Double-down on the bubble bath for extra foamy fun. You can even cue up a playlist of their favorite songs.

Pack Away Your Work

Pack Away Desk
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During stay-at-home days, it’s almost inevitable that your work and home lives will get jumbled up together, especially if you don’t have a dedicated home office. However, a simple strategy can help you separate the two. Create a pack-away “office” that comes out only during your set work hours, whether that’s 9 to 5 or something else right now. Store everything you need for work in a tote bag or box and put it completely away at the end of each workday, so the dining table can go back to regular family use. This will also serve as a mental cue that work is done and it’s time to get back into focused parent mode. If it is physically clear whether work is happening or put away for the day, your kids will also be able to see when you’re at the “office” more easily.

Use a Closet for Play Time

One part of your house that probably hasn’t been used to death yet are your closets. While it’s unlikely a closet would make a satisfying work-from-home escape, you can use one for satisfying playtime. One example is to play “store” by setting up a counter in front of the door and pretending your child is selling something from inside. You can get double-duty out of playing shop by making the setting up of the shop a game of its own. For flower shop, take an expedition to the yard to gather flowers to sell (dandelions and violets are fine if you don’t have abundant flower beds). For a bakery, the morning activity can be baking muffins and the afternoon is for bakery play. Pro tip: You can get in some covert organizing as you’re “setting up the shop,” but your child will still feel like she’s got your attention.

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