Large Families and Sharing Bedrooms

In our spoiled-rotten society, having children share bedrooms has become much less common than it was when I was a child. With only two kids, it’s not such a stretch to accommodate each one with his own space, in which only his own things are kept. And he has a lot of things to keep, most likely, so you’d better make sure that’s a large bedroom, please. Eventually, if you keep having babies, you’re going to end up with more kids than bedrooms. Then what? (Only in America could this sound like a difficult question.)

I have heard it spoken of as if it were an actual abuse to expect a child (or a teenager) to share a space with a sibling, but I have shared rooms with my sister, and I don’t remember it that way at all! I recall a few houses where there were enough rooms for each of us to have one, and we still decided to bunk together on occasion.

As we grew into adolescence, we grew apart, thanks to the bizarre American idea (created and perpetuated by your friendly local socialist school) that our families are the people with whom we have the least in common. We no longer enjoyed sharing our space quite as much, but I secretly wished for my roommate back. Still do, some days. (Not that I don’t like my current roomie.) Room-sharing is good for relationships. This assumes, of course, that you are nurturing those relationships in other ways. Poorly raised children won’t learn to get along no matter how many of them you squish into one room.

Attitude is everything. A reader asked yesterday how to get her children used to the idea of sharing a room with a new sibling. It was simple enough for us, because we never thought it would be a problem to begin with. We simply told them it was happening. If there was whining it didn’t last long. For younger children, if you don’t give them the idea that sharing is a hardship, it will probably never occur to them! Older kids or more change-resistant children might need some time to get used to the idea, but if you make it clear both that there is no choice in the matter, and that having a sibling is a neat thing, it doesn’t take long for the complaining to stop. Put your emphasis on “no choice in the matter”. You are the authority. Act like it.

Babies. We keep our newborns in our bedroom for the first few months, then move them at about 5 months. For night time feedings, I’ve often sat on the end of my other kids’ beds to nurse the baby back to sleep. Nobody seems to mind the interruption, or even notice, most of the time.

Fitting it all in. I know this is tough news to swallow for some people, but you need less stuff. If you can only fit one dresser, you can only have enough clothes to go in one dresser, right? We have three bedrooms and average sized closets for seven people, and we still have plenty of space for everything we need.  As for their stuff, each of my kids has one toy box (one of those larger decorative bins from Wal-Mart or a big plastic storage box will do). They can’t have more toys than can fit in one box. The boxes are kept on high shelves so we’re not constantly scattering everything about. I get them down at play times, and (ideally) put them away afterward.



Messy room

Sometimes it gets out of control.

Clean room

But this is what we aim for.

Privacy. The need for privacy is real, of course. No one wants to get dressed or use the bathroom in front of everybody. But our culture’s insistence on the absolute sanctity of a teen’s privacy seems to me to be predicated on the idea that teens need to fornicate (or other things that end in –ate). I think most readers of this blog would agree with me that teens need to not fornicate. I don’t worry too much about strict privacy, even for big kids. As long as they can go to the bathroom and shut the door, or pull the covers over their heads, they have adequate privacy. I was once a teen who shared a bedroom, so please don’t tell me how wrong that is. I know better!

How many kids can share one room? I can’t say for certain, since I only have two to a room right now. I’ll put the three oldest boys together when the baby needs to move to a crib in his sister’s room in a couple of months. This is really a question for Smockity to answer. They’ve had ten people in a three bedroom house for several years now. Since there are only two genders (no matter what our ridiculous sexual culture claims), you should, theoretically, only really need two bedrooms for the children. My grandmother raised twelve kids in a tiny 4-bedroom house, so it can be done. There are some really ingenious bunk bed configurations that could reasonably get four kids in one bedroom pretty comfortably, though you’d need a pretty big room to go beyond that number. T

Every family’s situation is, of course, different. I imagine it would be tough to fit a toddler into a teenager’s room, for instance, so arrangements would be different in a family with a large spread in ages. I’m sure we’ll have to get even more creative as our children get older and (if the Lord wills it) more numerous. When considering how to allocate space in a small home, it might be easy to become discontent, always wishing for something bigger, more storage space, more floor space. Instead, I choose to focus on the sweetness of family life, no matter how loud and messy it might get.

The fact is that our culture expects parents to provide much more in terms of space, stuff, entertainment, and even food than is necessary or likely even healthy for children to have. When I consider how much space the average person anywhere else in the world has to himself, I realize that Americans—even those of us with large families in small homes–are spoiled rotten.

We could be living in two rooms with four kids in Mumbai might not be much consolation when gazing out at a neighbor’s spacious home with only one kid per room, but that is a heart problem, not a material one.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Diana September 17, 2012, 9:43 am

    Great article!

    Question: Do you mean that each child has one container of toys, and that’s it for your home? Or that each has his own container of “these are mine” toys and the rest of the household toys are owned in common? I’m super-curious on this one because we are trying to deal with this very thing at our house right now – how to determine, in a multi-child household, which toys belong to whom. Growing up as an only, this was never a question during my childhood. 🙂

    • Blessed Mama September 17, 2012, 10:11 am

      We have 5 children… 4 boys, 1 girl. Each has a small amount of “MY” toys… the rest are ‘Family’ toys. We have also been paring down…. Not such a huge variety of toys, not much for electronic toys (one Wii, 2 remotes, 4 games)… Instead, when others ask what the children would like… I ALWAYS suggest Lego’s & Lincoln Logs for the boys (classic, open imaginative play things!) to build up supply… The girl is almost 12 and is moving away from toys; she now prefers clothes and craft supplies (she has started her own little biz selling hair bows!)
      And in our small home, the girl is the only one with her own room! 😉

    • chrissy September 17, 2012, 10:23 am

      We have three sons and this is how we handle it….when you get a present it is yours and yours alone for ONE DAY. After that it is community property but can never be snatched away, hidden away or otherwise commandeered. Each child has a blankie and a lovey that is theirs and theirs alone and knows Mommy and Daddy will defend to the death their right to keep it out of the grubby paws of another brother. A person needs their own things. But there is no such thing as “that’s MY LEGO SET.” Impossible to enforce and, I think, a major contributor to a bratty mindset. They have to share, they have to take turns and if they fight over a toy it goes on “a high shelf”….meaning no one is playing with it for a while because Mommy will forget it is there and rediscover it three days later.
      It is interesting to note that even though they are allowed to have dominion over their birthday/Christmas presents for a day…it never works out that way. They always share because they know from experience how fun it is to do so and that playing alone isn’t as much fun.

    • Cindy September 17, 2012, 11:17 am

      We have some “everybody toys” that I keep in separate bins. Kitchen toys for our little play kitchen set, blocks, building things. That stuff stored on the shelves, too, in their bedrooms and in other rooms. Sometimes we have play together time, and sometimes we have play separately times. Property rights exist in this house, so each kid has control of the things he owns. We encourage sharing, but don’t require it.

  • Ashley C
    Twitter: oliveonandon
    September 17, 2012, 9:49 am

    I have 2 younger sisters and we always lived in 3 bedroom houses growing up. At least until I was a sophomore when we moved to our first 4 bedroom house. My parents had us take turns being the one with her own room. Usually once a year or so but it wasn’t uncommon to come home from a sleepover and find that an overeager sibling had taken it upon herself to move your stuff into the shared room!
    We have a 2 bedroom house now. My 3yo daughter and 2yo son share it, and after this baby comes in November (and spends about 6 months in our room) she will join the huddled masses in the shared room 🙂
    That is the number one “concern” well meaning friends and family have when they see our growing family. That, and paying for college. Both of which you have addressed smartly on your blog!

  • Maureen September 17, 2012, 9:52 am

    Right now we have 2 sets of bunk beds up in one room for 4 of our girls because they want to be in the same room! When they were split up – 2 in each room, they still found a way to all sleep in the same room. 🙂

  • Sennie
    Twitter: 5ennie
    September 17, 2012, 10:03 am

    Great post, Cindy! We have five kids, and are used to all kinds of arrangements as we tend to travel a good part of the year. Our camp in Maine is large, but at the moment our three boys are in a small room together, and our little one sleeps in our room. In our RV there is one bedroom (for mom & dad), and the kids sleep in the living area, all squished together, teens and all. Usually at least one kid on the floor. If we stay somewhere longer, we rent an apartment, and it usually has two bedrooms and a living room, so we can split boys and girls. We have our two girls often share a bed, and the boys often sleep on the floor in sleeping bags, or sometimes on cots (that may or may need to be folded each morning and night). We make it work, sometimes to the great amazement of people watching. (As they always watch families with a lot of kids.)

  • Rebecca September 17, 2012, 1:03 pm

    Well said! If only I had let God decide the size of our family- they would have to share. But-we just found out a mom with four children may need a home soon- don’t tell anyone- our children have offered to give up all of their rooms and sleep on the flor in the living room!!! Love ya sweet friend-btw-I think u are an awesome roomie!!!!

  • Dawn September 17, 2012, 1:53 pm

    Thank you for this post. A friend with four, gave up her family/play room to give her children their own room, because it was the norm. Thought she was nuts when she did this, and she is going nuts now, as there is no place for the kids to play. She thought I was awful for suggesting sharing bedrooms, but having shared a bedroom with my sister, that experience taught me so many things and I have fond memories despite the arguing and fighting that took place sometimes.

  • kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing
    Twitter: AdventurzNchild
    September 17, 2012, 2:12 pm

    had. to. do. it. 🙂 great article – my kids have different rooms- but often sleep together in a fort built in one or the other. we have too many toys and junk – but we won’t if I can ever summon the energy to gather it up and cart it off. I just keep finding better things to do with my limited energy – like cook dinner, homeschool, do laundry and go to the beach. It’s on my list. We all need to be grateful for what we have and appreciate our blessings!!!

  • kellygirl September 17, 2012, 2:54 pm

    One blogger I read has her 3 boys sharing one bedroom….her reasoning? She tells them they better get used to sharing a room now before college when they have roommates and before they get married cuz face it, after that they’ll never have their own room again! I thought that was smart logic!

  • Alice September 17, 2012, 2:57 pm

    GREAT blog post! 🙂 I can actually weigh in on this one (!), because I have six little boys and we live in a 600sqft 2-bedroom house. Yup. Now, we just sold our house on Friday, and we are looking for something bigger, but we can’t afford much bigger at all – mayyybe an extra bedroom, but that’s all. I honestly don’t want a 4-bedroom house – my husband was asking me about that yesterday. I really don’t! We would never use the bedrooms up, there would be no point for us, in having a house with 4 bedrooms. Right now my 5 little boys share one bedroom which is 12ft by 9ft. We have a bunk bed against one wall in the corner, and a lower “cabin” bed perpendicular so that the bunks are L-shaped. The toddler sleeps on a mattress on the floor under the cabin bed, which makes it like a floor-level bunk bed (there’s plenty of height under there, still). My 3 and 4 year olds are currently top-and-tailed in the bottom bunk. They are small enough and THRILLED to be bed buddies! We have never even expressed to our children the idea of NOT sharing a room. It’s inevitable when you have the blessing of many siblings. It does help us that they are all boys, while we only have two bedrooms, obviously! The baby co-sleeps next to me, and I usually move the baby out into the boys’ room a month or two before the next baby is born. I night nurse up until that point so co-sleeping is helpful to me.

    Once or twice when the boys have been really going nuts at bedtime and not obeying bedtime rules, we have mentioned the possibility of having a 3rd bedroom one day so as to take disruptive kids out of the roomful of happy brothers, and separate them at bedtime. They were aghast, like that would be a MAJOR punishment! One or other of them will randomly mention now and then, that they can’t WAIT until Elijah (my 3-month-old) is big enough to move into their room.

    They all have their clothes in ONE double chest of drawers. It has six good-size drawers, and over the years I have managed to pare down the boys’ clothing until they each have enough clothes (roughly 5 outfits each, underwear, socks and PJs) to fit into one drawer. We have a drawer “waiting” for the baby! 🙂 In this house, with the size of the bedroom, we couldn’t fit another set of bunks, but we are actually hoping to find a home with one of the bedrooms larger than the one we’ve got, so that we can put 3 bunk beds in and our happy boys can continue to share together. They love it! 🙂

  • Melissa September 17, 2012, 3:16 pm

    Thank you for this post! I think more people need to say it! Having your own room is not a right, and it’s not a need.
    When I had just two kids, one boy and one girl, they had to share a room. When we moved to a newer house, there were more rooms than kids, and still they chose to be together. My daughter moved to her own room when we were expecting our third, another girl. She moved because she wanted to share with her new baby sister and have a girl’s room. My son, although glad on one had to have his own space, found he missed having a roomie. When we were expecting our fourth, another boy, we gave our oldest the option of moving to his own room downstairs. He was horrified at the idea, and was insistent on staying in his current room and making space for his new little brother. We now have the “girls” room and the “boys” room… and two extra bedrooms standing empty because everyone is happy to share.
    I was an only child, and often dreamed of having a sister to share my room with ( yes, I am sure that the reality might not be quite as dreamy as my childhood fantasies) . Yes, sometimes it’s hard to get everyone quiet at bedtime because they are giggling, chatting or sometimes arguing. It’s definitely a good way to teach compromising when one sibling likes to sleep with lights on, and one in total darkness, or when one is tidy and one is not. But, secretly I enjoy sitting in the living room and hearing them interact with each other at bedtime. It seems sweet, and homey, and it’s building all kinds of memories they will savor when they are older.

    Because of the age difference of our boys, we have made sure that special, breakable items belonging to the 8 year old are kept on out of reach places for the 1 year old. Our girl’s bunk bed was custom built by my hubby, and has built in book shelves. Each girl has their own shelves, and a built in bin for special items, trinkets, or jewelry boxes that they must ask the owner before using. They get to have their own personal space by decorating the wall of their bunk with things they each like.

    I don’t know how long they will opt to share, but I would love it if they wanted to share into their teen years!

  • Tricia Regar September 17, 2012, 8:40 pm

    Thank you! This was wonderful.

  • Blair @ The Straightened Path September 17, 2012, 8:44 pm

    I couldn’t agree more Cindy! Only in America is this an actual problem. We have a boys room and a girl room. We also have a basement. No toys are allowed in the bedrooms. They are only for dressing and sleeping. In the boys room we have 3 boys. A 6 and 3 year old in bunkbeds then a 19 month old in a crib. Ikea sells triple bunks. We may use those at some point or if the baby I am carrying is a he we may just invest in another set of bunks. Pinterest has some great ideas!

    Our oldest is our only girl thus far so she “gets” the baby after it’s ready to graduate from our room. All the children LOVE this arrangement. Our daughter has a queen size bed in her room that was given to us. When nursing I just lay in her bed and she never even notices. I treasure that time, praying over my oldest and youngest at the same time.

  • Savannah
    Twitter: SavsBlessings
    September 17, 2012, 8:59 pm

    Thanks for this post. We’re expecting #4 and we have a 3 bedroom house…we thought it was easy…a room for us, a boy room, and a girl room (though right now the older two, boy and girl, share one room and the toddler is still in a crib in the other room. People keep asking us if we have enough bedrooms..Um, yes..yes we do. Number of bedrooms is easy; the house came that way. The hard part is fitting enough beds into them as the kids outgrow toddler beds 😛

  • Sara Sweetman September 17, 2012, 10:07 pm

    This is so timely for me! We’re expecting #3 in a couple months and the room sharing is about to commence! The kids are really looking forward to it (ages 4 & 3), and this post just makes me feel all the more sure of our decision. Thanks!

  • Dawn Wright September 17, 2012, 10:57 pm

    We have a smallish 4 bedroom home with 2,100 sq ft…..and 9 kiddos. 4 boys in one room, 3 girls in another (one that will be a teen very soon sharing with an 8 yr old and 6 yr old). And our “twins” that are 2 1/2 share a room. Since we didn’t know how much our newest addition would wake up. It works for now, but we plan to add more. As long as the beds can fit- we are good to go! There is a great place to go- it’s called OUTSIDE to play and we do this a lot. When it rains- we play in the garage! 🙂

    Pretty sure our kids have not suffered trauma from this!!!

  • Leslie September 18, 2012, 1:02 am

    I couldn’t help but think as I was reading this that even though there were only 2 of us in my family growing up, most nights you would find us sleeping in the same room anyway. My sister would sleep on my floor, and we’d play these crazy games we made up (well, probably I made up and she was made to play them MY way.) Even the night before my wedding, she left her room and came and bunked with me. Those are sweet memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything!

    • Cindy September 18, 2012, 5:18 am

      You make me miss my sister. She’s my best friend in the whole world. Sounds like yours is for you, too! <3

  • Katherine Y September 18, 2012, 10:18 am

    Hi, thanks for the great article. I have the same mindset about sharing a room. We are currently building a bigger house, but my boys will still share a room and we will use the others as a guest room and whatever else we need at the time. I do have a question though. While my boys usually love being with each other, sometimes the little one (2) keeps the older one (5) up at night because he wants to be in his bed with him. I usually let them talk to each other quietly in bed for awhile, but sometimes I have trouble getting them to settle down. The 5 year old likes the 2 year old being with him at first, but then he is ready to go to sleep and sometimes the 2 year old doesn’t get the hint. I feel torn because I want them to be friends and have a great relationship, but they also need their sleep. They also sometimes wake each other up in the morning and their sleep is lacking. I don’t know how to curtail this. We will be having a third boy soon and he will be moving into their room when he is older and sleeping more at night without nursing, so I feel like I need to get a handle on this now. Any suggestions are much appreciated! My email is

  • Amy September 18, 2012, 5:55 pm

    We actually have quite a large house (both a blessing and a curse!), but choose to have our kids share rooms. The 3 boys share and two girls share. They’ll welcome little sister as soon as she is old enough to leave my room (usually around 2 years). We prefer to keep a guest room for family and other visitors, and keep one bedroom as our “school room”. Our house is set on a hill, so upstairs is just a basic 3bd 2bath house. Downstairs has 2 bedrooms and a living area. I’d feel a little uneasy letting my kids sleep downstairs, so far away from us! As far as toys go, most are public property 😉 with just a few gifts that are theirs alone. We keep all toys in one part of the living room, except Legos (in the boy’s room) and the girl’s Pet Shops. Only my oldest has complained about needing privacy. As soon as he got the top bunk the complaining stopped:)

  • Mary Jo September 18, 2012, 8:42 pm

    Our family of 6 went from a 20′ travel trailer, to a converted pig nursery, to a tiny cottage, then an old motel with 8 units and 9 bathrooms! But even when we had plenty of extra room, I couldn’t be separated from my little sis. I still miss her terribly! =(

  • Julie September 18, 2012, 9:54 pm

    Great article, and i whole-heartedly agree. Though God has blessed us with a large home, our three boys share a bedroom (much larger than the original 9’4″ x 9’8″ bedroom they shared at our first house). They each have their own “space” and their own things, but we keep them in the same room on purpose 😀 I think it keeps their ability to compromise, share, and get along right at the forefront.

    Good writing, and good food for thought,


  • Free Learning Life
    Twitter: therubynotebook
    September 19, 2012, 12:57 pm

    I totally agree there is nothing wrong with kids sharing a bedroom. Look I have 2 kids and 4 bedrooms and until a month or so ago my boys shared a bedroom.

    Statistically our homes are getting bigger and our families smaller…and look what is happening to our society….

  • Lisa Joy September 19, 2012, 3:33 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! 🙂 When we had our second child (a boy), we were in a 3-bedroom house. Our oldest (a girl) was downstairs and we had our son in the other upstairs bedroom near us. This arrangement remained like that until our third was born (when our oldest was almost 6 and our son was almost 4). Since we had a very small bedroom, we put the baby in with our son so she was still near us. That turned out to be a disaster since she was a horrible sleeper and kept everyone except our oldest up every night. (If we could go back, we probably would have done some things differently and worked out some sort of different configuration, but we can’t change things now.) When the baby was about 15 months, we moved out to the home farm, which has 4 bedrooms. We again had our oldest downstairs, and our son and youngest daughter upstairs with us, each in their own rooms (much to our son’s relief, as he was finally able to get some sleep!) When our youngest son was born, we kept him in our room with us for the first 6 months or so. We were going to put him in the room with our youngest daughter until we decided on a more permanent arrangement, but no one was getting any sleep with the two of them waking one another up all night. So, we moved our youngest daughter downstairs with her big sister. We didn’t see this as an issue, as my husband and I both shared bedrooms with siblings when we were growing up. For some reason, my parents decided this is a horrible idea, and will bring that up to the kids, telling our oldest how awful it must be to share a bedroom with her little sister. We did not have any real issues with things (aside from the normal little whispering/occasional arguing thing) until they sowed that seed of discontentment in our oldest. Now we hear comments from her at least every couple weeks asking when we are going to move her sister out of her room, and how she wants to rearrange her room with her stuff, etc. We haven’t firmly decided on a permanent sleeping arrangement for everyone, but obviously there will have to be some sharing. (I would be just fine with a girls room, a boy room and a guest room!) It is just SO frustrating to have people questions your decisions (especially in front of your kids) and make it sound like you are putting such a tremendous hardship on your kids when in almost every other place in the world this is not even an issue at all! Ok, I’m done now. 🙂

  • Nikki September 19, 2012, 3:35 pm

    My kids share a room, and they LOVE it! Maybe they get up a little earlier than they should, or stay up a little later, but they are forging a love for each other that is priceless. I think they would cry if we moved into a house with more bedrooms and had to sleep separately.

  • KB September 19, 2012, 6:05 pm

    I shared a room with my sis, on and off as needed until I graduated. It was never a big deal for us. As far a the need for privacy, and our own stuff, we had to share with each other or do without. I do have a friend that grew up in a household with more kids, his parents roomed him with a younger sibling and he was expected to tend to the little one at night. My friend did not speak very highly of that situation. I guess we parents just need to be aware of what we are expecting our children to do. My two youngest share a room, but I have large school/play room that I have thought of switching to one big bedroom/playroom and then have a dedicated school room with no toys.

  • republican mother September 20, 2012, 2:52 pm

    We actually have five bedrooms, but only use three!
    We are trying to get the baby to sleep by herself in a fourth room, which doubles as a guest room. When she gets big enough, she might actually get her own room, but more likely she’ll end up sharing with big sis #2. The older girls are in a bunk bed, and the boys are in a couple of twins. If I had to to, I could switch them to two bunk beds. Using the double bunk bed method, I could fit 14 kids in this house without using the rec room. Seeing how its only five years till the oldest turns 18, it looks like I’m set in here!

  • Erin September 26, 2012, 10:07 am

    We are expecting baby # 6 and it looks like this little one will bring the boys and girls to a tie in our family. So in trying to figure out bedroom arrangements I talked with my two oldest (boys) and offered the small bedroom (currently occupied by our 2 yr old) to the 13 yr old. He said he’d rather not leave the hanging loft bed my husband built for him and didn’t really want to be apart from his 11 yr old brother. As the 11 yr old is one who needs a great deal of time alone I later offered it to him and he also rejected the idea. He would miss talking with his brother. The big girls are thrilled that they will eventually have the new baby sister with them( if the doc was right and it is indeed a little girl in there) and new space saving beds built by their awesome dad. That leaves our youngest son alone but there is no way to fit 3 beds in the boy room…the hanging beds just fit the space and the boys are not about to give them up. All this rambling to say that no one who can talk in long sentences even wants their own bedroom.

    So much for making them suffer by sharing rooms.

    Of course, if I wait and ask them in January or February their answers might change. Small houses seem fine when one can spend hours outside everyday. Minnesota winters don’t lend themselves to that ;-).

  • Leslie B February 13, 2013, 9:49 pm

    To go even further “out there”, in the case of having small bedrooms, you can do what we’ve done and… give THEM the master… gasp! This is working great for us, right now with only three in there the room doubles as a play room, all of their stuff fits in there and I don’t have to worry if their bathroom is perfect when people come over! My husband and I have way less stuff than they do, are capable of going pee in the night down the hall and generally don’t spend much time in there during the day, so why not? Just a thought…

    • Cindy February 14, 2013, 6:23 am

      I’ve considered that, but I’m holding out. I don’t want to give up my big bathroom. When I have 4 big boys, I’ll probably reconsider. 😉