Why (and How) This Family of Five Lives in an 800-Square Foot Apartment

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

On September 1, 2015 I moved into my New York City apartment. One year ago, I packed up the belongings and crammed them into 800 square feet of space, shared between me and my two roommates.

I have a twin bed (because a larger one literally wouldn’t fit), the living room coffee table doubles as our kitchen table, and I try to stick to a “one in, one out” policy when it comes to clothing. While it has definitely been an adjustment, I’m surviving happily in my cozy space. But as I have the complete opposite schedule of my other apartment companions (neither work a 9-5 job), an amazing mother of three is making her 800-square feet of space in New York City work with her ENTIRE family.

That’s three kids, one husband, and two bedrooms. If that sounds crazy to you, you may want to hear what she has to say about it first.

As described in The Washington Post, when Batsheva Neuer moved into her NYC apartment 18 months ago, she made a promise to herself that she would start this journey with a positive outlook. “I reminded myself that our limited conditions would be cozy, not claustrophobic,” she wrote.

This seemed to be going along fine, until Neuer had her third child. While most urban families would have opted for a more spacious suburban home, Neuer and her husband decided they would “stick it out.”

What are the logistics of this apartment, you may be wondering?

Well, the newborn sleeps in Neuer’s bedroom, while the other kids, ages 4 and 2, share the other. They keep a minimalist approach to décor and toys, leaving only a few stuffed animals on her daughter’s bed. As Neuer describes, this was especially surprising for friends who visited the apartment. She recalls an occasion in which she hosted a Hanukkah party at her apartment, and the biggest question of the night was, “Where are all the toys?”

Neuer goes on to explain that, “The bathroom sink is [her] infant’s bathtub where [they] also thaw spare ribs when a week’s worth of cereal bowls has reduced [their] kitchen sink to microcosmic landfill.” Yes, all of you parents worried about keeping your homes clean, imagine that mess in about half the amount of space …

And when it comes to saving mementos, Neuer seems to take a similar approach to my clothes shopping rule: Not all art projects make it in the Neuer household. She humorously describes herself as playing God, deciding which crafts live, and which die.

This applies to her own belongings, as well. If Neuer finds that she hasn’t worn certain items of clothing often enough, it gets removed. As she describes a particular occurrence of cleaning out her wardrobe, she states with conviction, “It’s been seven years, and if the last time an outfit saw daylight was before the crash of the stock market, I feel no remorse in parting with it.” There is no room for sentiment or excess sweaters when it comes to her closet.

And as for the almighty fight for bathroom time? Well, they’ve learned to comprise. The No. 1 rule is: “She who can hold it in the least is first.” After that, each member of the family makes adjustments to accommodate the others. For example, Neuer has resigned to brushing her teeth in the kitchen, rather than wait for the bathroom sink.

So yes, their apartment is a little squished, but it works for this family, and here’s why.

Firstly, Neuer has found that fewer toys for her children has influenced them to use their creativity and imagination, qualities that are extremely beneficial as children grow up. Her kids have turned Neuer’s yoga mat cover into a dog leash, with her daughter taking the role of the dog, and her big brother, the owner; a diaper pail and chopsticks into a drum and drumsticks; and winter sleds into indoor slides, when pushed up against the couch.

Patience is also instilled, especially when everyone is getting ready in the morning (read: bathroom situation above). The value of patience and compromise will most definitely help her children grow into well-tempered adults. The same goes for the parents, as well. When the apartment becomes overwhelming messy, as homes with young children do, Neuer has learned to cope with patience.

“I’ve learned that my worth isn’t diminished by the marker stain on my couch or a pumpkin-stickered doorpost,” wrote Neuer. “Sometimes when our place resembles a natural disaster more than a living room I remind myself that I’m a mother of children, not a museum curator.”

And finally, having an apartment in the city makes both Neuer and her husband’s commute to work significantly shorter, and they are therefore able to spend more time with their kids. To them, this outweighs the lack of space.

Many would argue that the price of living in New York City, alone, would be enough to leave. And let me tell you, every time I see a parent carrying a stroller down the stairs of a walk-up, I seriously question how they manage to do this everyday (I won’t even buy a bike because of the sheer thought of having to carry it up and down my staircase).

It’s interesting to think about what keeps us here, against all odds, in this crammed and crowded city. I think at the end of the day, being with the people you love is what really matters.

So Neuer carries on in her tiny but love-filled space overlooking Central Park, always remembering what really makes a person happy. “When it’s 7 a.m. and all five of us are shamelessly bopping to Klezmer around our living room,” wrote Neuer, “I know I’ve achieved this.”

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