(editor's note: a "shotgun house" is a house where all the rooms are in one row. Typically a door is in the center of the wall dividing rooms. The house gets its name because you could shoot a shotgun clean through the house without hitting anything!)
You didn't explain the circumstances of why you are living in such small quarters, or what kind of beds everyone is sleeping in now. but assuming that finances are tight I have a couple of ideas for improving your situation.
Try to bed your children in bunk beds and you and your mate in a double bed. Or if you can't manage that, try to find a sofa hide-a-bed that you and your mate can make down in the living room. This would at least give you some privacy. Because hide-a-beds are heavy and difficult to move, sometimes you can get one very reasonably or for free. Sometimes hide-a-beds are not too comfy, try to find one that has a decent mattress, or get a good foamy to augment or replace the mattress. A good night sleep will help you get through those tough days.
I suggest this family check out a library book on lofts if they have a high ceiling. I would put a loft space in the living room so Mom and Dad could have some privacy once in a while and work out the bedroom for the children. These can be quite attractive. They could also configure it with a dual purpose in mind. To utilize space efficiently, I have checked out several books on the construction of oriental houses. Their use of space is the most efficent I have seen.
You need to get out of your kids' bedroom. Use multi-use furniture such as futons, daybeds, or sofa sleepers and use the living room as a bedroom for you and you mate. You could still keep dressers and such in with the kids and still get your privacy at night.
We lived in a similar situation while we were trying to save enough to buy the place we have now. What we did was to get rid of the beds and most of the furniture--we put a sofa sleeper in each room. The children slept in one room (two children on the sleeper and one in a fold-out playpen) and we slept in the living room on the sleeper there. During the day, the sleepers folded up, giving us a little space to "live". The kids used their room as the playroom during the day (we limited toys to avoid so much clutter) and we tried to go out for walks or to the park as often as possible to avoid the "cooped up" feeling. Never found "my own space", but it felt a little more like it after the kids went to bed and my husband and I had our "own room".
Have the room farthest from the kitchen be the quiet/no food room, the parents bedroom, book, quiet game, stereo or radio room, off limits to kids after bedtime unless there are little ones of course. The bed could double as a couch with a fitted sheet over the top of the blankets and lots of pillows. Then the middle room could be the kids bedroom/playroom, lined with bunk beds or beds built up off the floor to allow space to play underneath, could be build of recycled wood, paint and sandpaper, just be sure they're safe.
The kitchen then becomes the noisy living/family place, hopefully with room for a big table with enough chairs, storage for craft stuff, games, etc., maybe a TV and a comfortable chair or two depending on size.
This is for the reader who lives in a shotgun house. While I am unfamiliuar with the term "shotgun house" , it sounds alot like my own, so here is what my husband and four children do. We clean the house, then leave the house. Go to the library, the parks, the mueseums etc. On days, when we can not go anywhere, due to sick kids ususally, we pull out the sleeper and everyone piles on it and reads books, writes in journals, or watches tv. If you are blessed with a large laundery area, put a kid in there, especially a teen who needs his space. He gets a small room to himself and you get some blessed relief from "I need my own room" whines. I use wash tubs, the size that fits in the sink, put childrens names on them, and that is where thier shoes, spare undies, socks and school supplies go, available when needed but not underfoot.
Build screens of plywood or use tall bookshelves to divide the bedroom into a section for you and one for the children. Or better yet, convert the living room to a LR by day and your bedroom by night. It will afford more privacy and couples need to remember themselves even in crowded situations.
Why don't you, if possible, get a pull out sofa so that you and your mate can retire together at the end of the day. And to get you a little peace and quite, maybe you could disappear to the bathroom with your walkman and a nice hot bubble bath.
Why not make one room the kids' bedroom only? Get a pull-out couch for the other room and you and your mate can sleep there. During the day, fold up the couch and the room doubles as a living room. Kids usually go to bed earlier than grown-ups so losing their "play-space" when the couch is unfolded shouldn't be a problem. They can also be relegated to "their" room to play when you need some peace and quiet.
Tell A to get in touch with Habitat For Humanity. They are an organization that builds homes for people in need who can't afford adequate housing (which, from the sound of it, is A's situation). The national organization is based in Americus, Ga., and I believe each state has one or more chapters. They probably have a Web page, too. If Habitat agrees to build a house for A, he or she will be expected to invest a certain amount of "sweat equity" (work alongside the Habitat volunteers) on his own and possibly other homes, and he or she will be given a small mortgage for the house, with the payment going back to Habitat to fund other housing projects. Although I'm not involved with Habitat personally, I've written articles and seen television programs about it - it's a first-rate organization.
I lived in a very tiny house and found the best thing I could do was get rid of extra stuff and be very organized. Because a shotgun house has no truly separate space, you have to deal with more privacy and space issues. For more space get rid of stuff, get organized, and re-think your space. Do you really need to designate one separate room as the bedroom? If you use hide-a-beds, futons, and other bedding alternatives, you would have sleeping areas by night, and play/sitting areas by day. You could designate the room closest to or with direct bathroom access as the kids' sleeping area; once nighttime hits make your sleeping area off limits to the kids. For more privacy and if doors and walls do not separate your three rooms, you could make large curtain dividers across the passage ways. During the day they become decorative tie backs, and by night they give you and your spouse more privacy. If your bathroom is continually tied up for private clothes changing, consider a privacy screen in your middle room. All of those extra minutes for getting dressed can really tie up a bathroom. I hope these ideas help.
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