Why I’m Sleeping in the Dining Room
September 9, 2014 33 Comments
Welcome to the September 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Home Tour
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have opened up their doors and given us a photo-rich glimpse into how they arrange their living spaces.
When Daniel and I bought our house 12 years ago, we made sure to choose one that had space for a child. We planned to have one child; we thought we might consider having two, but in choosing the house we were allotting space for one. Here’s the whole story that led to our daughter Lydia being born in May, nine years younger than her brother Nicholas. “Everybody knows” that siblings with such a large age gap don’t share a bedroom and/or that siblings of opposite sexes don’t share a bedroom…but I’ve never quite understood how a newborn baby can share a bedroom even with her three-year-old sister: Doesn’t the baby’s crying to be fed every few hours disturb the older child’s sleep?
Besides, our experience with getting Nicholas to sleep put me firmly in favor of co-sleeping with my baby at least until she’s weaned. It’s just so convenient to respond to those 2am whimpers by opening my nightgown and cuddling the baby closer, instead of dragging myself out of my warm bed and into a chair in another room where I’d have to stay awake the whole time she’s nursing! Daniel fully supports my sleeping with our babies, but he isn’t all that keen on sleeping with anyone and is sometimes disturbed even by my presence; a few weeks of sleeping with the newborn Nicholas (and me) convinced Daniel that co-sleeping was something he could handle only on an occasional basis. Therefore, we couldn’t use our master bedroom for co-sleeping with baby Lydia–and for many reasons, we’d concluded that having the family bed in the kid’s room works best for our family.
The trouble was, we didn’t have a spare room that could become Lydia’s bedroom. Our house has three private, upstairs rooms, but the back one seems to have been built as a sleeping porch and later enclosed–it partially overhangs the back yard, and that half of the room is encased in siding rather than brick–and although we got extra insulation added when we had the siding replaced, that room gets much colder than the rest of the house in the winter. That’s why we use it as Daniel’s home office rather than a bedroom. It would not be a healthy sleeping place for a baby. Also, Daniel works from home and is an introvert; he needs his own room.
We thought back to what we’d learned from the apartment where we couldn’t sleep in the bedrooms and the home-buying process that inspired: Instead of making a list of rooms we needed, we made a list of spaces we wanted to have. When we toured a house that we thought might be the one, we tried to work out where each of the spaces would fit. One of the things that attracted us to this house we bought was the large and versatile dining room.
Our dining room is in the center of our rowhouse, which is three rooms deep and has two stories plus basement; the dining room is in the middle of the first floor. It is 16×15 feet and has a blank wall along one whole side. The only window is near a corner. These features make the room easy to subdivide with furniture.
Our original arrangement put the dining table in the center of the room, under the chandelier, and other spaces around the edges: the stereo and music storage, my computer desk, a round table for games or crafts, bookshelves, china and tablecloth storage, and our pet rabbit’s habitat.
That closet is only 11 inches deep, too shallow for coat hangers. Our canvas tote bags for shopping hang on hooks in there, and the shelves above and below hold supplies like tape, string, mailing envelopes, and our coupon organizer. The outside of the closet door is my “command center” with my wall calendar and to-do list.
Milgram the rabbit died the year before Nicholas was born, and over time we partially rearranged the dining room, turning the low table under the window into a drawing area for Nicholas, then later buying him a desk with hutch bookcase and placing that in the corner by the living room and moving the round table to the window corner. (Because Nicholas dislikes being alone, we knew he wouldn’t work at a desk in his bedroom but needed one downstairs. Why he still doesn’t work at his desk–but uses it for storage and does his homework on the floor or the dining table–is a mystery to me!)
By the time we were expecting Lydia, there were several things I wanted to change about the arrangement of our first floor:
- Create a bed space for my baby, in which I also would be able to sleep.
- Create a space for changing baby’s diapers and storing diapers, clothing, and dirty laundry.
- Move our dining area from the middle of the room to the window corner so that we’d have adequate natural light for daytime meals. This also would reduce use of the chandelier, which uses those little candle-shaped bulbs that are expensive, burn out quickly, and use a lot of electricity for the light produced.
- Combine the computer area with the television area in the living room. Now that I have an iPad, I don’t use my desktop Macintosh as much as I used to, so the desk space around it was filling with clutter instead of being used effectively. We had an old picture-tube TV that filled several square feet, weighed a bajillion pounds, and had a couple of malfunctioning buttons; a broken DVD player; and a VCR that still works perfectly. We wanted to get a flatscreen TV that could sit on the computer desk, turned toward the couch, and could be connected to the Mac for viewing of DVDs or streaming video.
- Eliminate the drift of flotsam that kept accumulating in the bookcase corner. We kept putting things there that we intended to take down to the basement later, and I often did take them when I knew where to put them…but since the dreadful mouse invasion of 2012, Daniel has been reorganizing and cleaning the basement very gradually, so some of those “things that go in the basement” didn’t actually have a place to go or he hadn’t told me where that place was…and somehow the bookcase corner also became the place for things we didn’t really need, like that chair with all the Naugahyde peeling off and the cardboard house Nicholas had made when he was four. The heap of junk looked horrible and made the bottom two shelves of two bookcases inaccessible.
The new scheme started to come together when I realized that our downstairs bathroom could be converted into Lydia’s changing room.. This small room off the kitchen has a toilet in one end but no longer has a sink in the other end because its pipes kept freezing, and we can just wash our hands in the kitchen sink. The disconnected sink was still in place under a pile of stuff that we were collecting for a yard sale or thrift shop, and we had put a shelving unit in the room to hold first-aid supplies, extra toothbrushes and stuff, empty jars waiting to be refilled with bulk foods at the co-op, and other miscellany. We never had been thrilled with the idea of keeping food containers in the same room with a toilet, nor did we like the idea of changing diapers in the dining room or storing dirty laundry there! So we made space for the jars on a shelf in one of the dining room bookcases, we cleared out the bathroom, I drove an entire carload of stuff to Goodwill, Daniel removed the sink and donated it to Construction Junction, Daniel repaired the water damage from Snowmageddon that had caused the walls to peel, and we filled the shelves with Lydia’s clothes and diapers. Nicholas and I covered some old cardboard boxes with repurposed baby-shower wrapping paper to subdivide the storage. With a diaper pail opposite the shelves and a laundry basket in the former sink area, there’s just enough room on the floor to lay down a changing mat and kneel at the foot of it. (We didn’t want a changing table because the baby would only learn to roll off it! Lydia turns out to love lying on her mat and pushing against the floor or furniture with her hands and feet to scoot around.) We’re now able to reach the medicine cabinet above the former sink space, so we put the first-aid supplies in there and moved the toothbrushes and such to our basement pantry.
Once we had a plan for changing diapers downstairs, I was able to think more clearly about sleeping downstairs. We already had a guest bed in the living room: a futon-couch with a folding frame, but not a flimsy uncomfortable one; it has the same kind of “hybrid futon” mattress with innersprings that we have in our master bedroom and Nick’s room, and the frame is real wood and very stable. I knew I could sleep on that bed, but I didn’t want to sleep in that location, right by the front door and the foot of the stairs, under the front window–too public! No corner of the living room had enough wall to enclose the bed. It needed to go in the dining room, and that meant some other things needed to come out.
We moved the rectangular table from the center of our dining room to the front of the living room, under the window. That is now the craft and game table, protected by a flannel-backed plastic tablecloth. It’s conveniently near our game cabinet, a chest of drawers in the living room. Several small cabinets and shelving units that had been storing craft supplies in various places (Nicholas loves to do crafts!) now are lodged under the table, and we’re also keeping our sewing machine there when not in use.
Now we eat at the round table, in the window corner of the dining room. We moved the bookcase that had been against the wall in that corner, to make more space around the table. One advantage of eating at that table is that it has a Formica top so doesn’t need a tablecloth. Instead of changing the tablecloth every month (and after any major spill) and having to safety-pin it in place to avoid accidental disastrous yanking, we can just wipe it clean! Nicholas does this as one of his weekly chores. Cleaning off the whole table at least once a week, instead of once a month, reduces the amount of clutter that can accumulate–and using a smaller table helps with that, too. We got a floor lamp to light the dining area at night.
Getting the table out of the center of the room made space for the bed, with one side against the blank wall. I knew I would be most comfortable in a cozy alcove, so we put the bookcases against the head and foot of the bed, facing out. (No, our bookcases are not anchored in place. These are real wood bookcases from Vitte’s and are very stable. If Lydia grows to be the kind of toddler who wants to climb the shelves, though, we’ll have to rearrange!!)
There’s room at the head of the bed for a small, cube-shaped table we already had, to hold my lamp, clock-radio, and telephone. Two shallow cardboard boxes slide under the bed: one for my reading materials, one for clean baby blankets and hankies.
To reduce echo from the big blank wall alongside the bed, we hung up the fabric wall hanging that was in Nick’s room from his early infancy until Daniel built his loft bed. It’s just a big piece of colorful polyester fleece with a casing sewn along one edge to slide over a six-foot strip of wooden molding, whose ends rest on two Command hooks that we hung on the wall, concealed behind the bookcases.
The areas at the two ends of the bed now serve as storage rooms, with plenty of shelf space but very little floor area where clutter can accumulate! In the bookcase across from the closet, I cleared some space on the top shelf for my inbox and pen jar, now that the computer desk is out of reach. Near the basement door, we put one of those 3×3 grids of shelves that hold cube-shaped fabric drawers in different colors; Nicholas has one of these in his room that’s been a great way to store categories of toys, and we are using this new one to store various items for both kids. One problem we haven’t solved yet is how to light these storage areas–at night, it can be difficult to find a book or CD in the shelves. We want some kind of small clip-on lamps that don’t look too tacky and won’t damage the bookcases.
Another important factor in making our first floor a comfortable place to sleep is the window coverings. We previously had some hand-me-down drapes that didn’t really fit the living-room window and were hard to close, and we’d had nothing at all on the dining-room window since removing the broken mini-blind years ago. I wanted to be able to dim the rooms if I needed to nap during the day when Lydia was a newborn, and I wanted to be able to walk around semi-dressed without being visible from the street! Luckily, while pregnant I was offered a discount with American Buyers, a local firm specializing in Hunter Douglas window coverings, which are made in USA and have a lifetime warranty. A very nice salesman came to our home and helped us settle on drapes for the living room and a honeycomb shade for the dining room. They weren’t cheap even with the discount, but they look wonderful, work perfectly, and should last for decades.
Even when everything was set up, I still felt funny about the idea of sleeping in the dining room, and I felt sad that Lydia wouldn’t have her own little nursery like Nicholas did. That feeling faded during my first nights with her. When everyone else has gone upstairs, the entire first floor becomes Mama-and-Lydia space. I can walk her back and forth in two big rooms. We can listen to the stereo without disturbing anyone. If I need a snack, everything in the kitchen is right there nearby. We can even go outside without navigating the stairs–and Lydia turns out to be the kind of baby who’s comforted by fresh air.
The bed in the dining room is great for daytime, too. Lydia can nap right near the household bustle, so she doesn’t wake up feeling abandoned, and I notice quickly when she wakes, without needing a baby monitor. She often naps during breakfast and dinnertime; I can keep an eye on her while I’m eating at the other side of the room.
How long will our daughter keep sleeping in the dining room and storing her clothes in the bathroom? We don’t know. When this arrangement seems like it’s not working anymore, we’ll come up with something new! Having rearranged our spaces to make room for another person in the same size house, I feel confident that we can do it again as the kids grow.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival
(This list will be updated by afternoon September 9 with all the
- Being Barlow Home Tour — Follow along
as Jessica at Being Barlow gives you the tour of her
- A Tour Of My Hybrid Rasta Kitchen —
Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama takes you on a tour of her
kitchen complete with a Kombucha Corner, a large turtle, her tea stash, and
of course, all her must-have kitchen gadgets. Check out Hybrid Rasta Mama’s
most favorite space!
- Dreaming of a Sisters Room — Bianca,
The Pierogie Mama, dreams, schemes and pins ideas for when
her younger daughter is ready to move out of the family bed and share a
room with her older sister.
- Building a
life — Constructing a dream — Survivor at
Surviving Mexico-Adventures and Disasters shows you a
glimpse inside the home her family built and talks about adaptions they
made in constructing their lives in Mexico.
- Why I’m Sleeping in the Dining Room —
Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook welcomed a new baby but
didn’t have a spare bedroom. She explains how her family rearranged the
house to create Lydia’s nursing nest and changing room in spaces they
- The Gratitude Tour — Inspired by
Momastry’s recent “home tour,” That Mama Gretchen is
highlighting imperfect snapshots of things she’s thankful for around her
home. Don’t plan to pin anything!
- Our Home in the Forest — Tara from
Up the Dempster gives you a peek into life lived off-grid
in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
- natural bedding for kids — Emma at
Your Fonder Heart shows you how her family of 3 (soon to
be 4) manages to keep their two cotton & wool beds clean and dry (plus a
little on the end of cosleeping — for now).
- I love our
home — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings
explains how lucky she feels to have the home she does, and why she strives
so hard to keep it tidy.
- Not-So-Extreme Makeover: Sunshine and Rainbows
Edition — Dionna at Code Name: Mama was
tired of her dark, outdated house, so she brightened it up and added some
- Our little outdoor space — Tat at
Mum in search invites you to visit her balcony, where her
children make friends with wildlife.
- Our Funky, Bright, Eclectic, Montessori Home
— Rachel at Bread and Roses shows you her family’s
newly renovated home and how it’s set up with Montessori principles in mind
for her 15-month-old to have independence.
- Beach cottage in progress — Ever tried
to turn a 1980s condo into a 1920s beach bungalow? Lauren at Hobo
Mama is giving it a try!
- Conjuring home: intention in renovation
— Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama explains why she and
her husband took on a huge renovation with two little kids and shares the
downsides and the ups, too.
- Learning At Home — Kerry at City
Kids Homeschooling helps us to re-imagine the ordinary spaces of
our homes to ignite natural learning.
- My Dining Room Table — Kellie at
Our Mindful Life loves her dining room table — and
everything surrounding it!
- Sight words and life lessons — The room
that seemed to fit the least in Laura from Pug in the
Kitchen‘s life is now host to her family’s homeschool adventures
and a room they couldn’t imagine life without!
- A Tour of Our Church — Garry at
Postilius invites you virtually visit him in the
19th-century, one-room church where he lives with his spouse and two
- Preparing a Montessori Baby-Toddler Space at
Home — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori
Now shares the Montessori baby-toddler space she’s created in the
main living area of her home along with a variety of resources for creating
a Montessori-friendly home.
- The Old Bailey House — Come peek
through the window of The Old Bailey House where Erica at
ChildOrganics resides with her little ones.
- My New House
Not-Monday: The Stairs — Claire at The
Adventures of Lactating Girl shows you her new laminate stairs in
her not-so-new-anymore house.
- To Minimalist and Back Again — Jorje of
Momma Jorje shares how she went to the extreme as a
minimalist and bounced right back. Read how she finds it difficult to
maintain the minimalist lifestyle when upsizing living space.
- Our Life As Modern-Day Nomads — This
family of five lives in 194 square feet of space — with the whole of North
America as a back yard. Paige of Our Road Less Traveled
guest posts at Natural Parents Network.