Kierstin has been living with her two small children in condos since they her first was born five years ago.
From the birth of our first daughter, over five years ago, my husband and I have either lived with family, in a townhome and now in our own condo—which is to say that we've always shared space, in some capacity, with others all while trying to raise two noisy, busy little kids.
When we set out to buy our first home two years ago, I only had one piece of solid criteria to go by: No condos. My reasons were many, mainly that I didn't want to deal with neighbors so close by while trying to bring up small kids. Did I mention yet that we homeschool? Having a space for my girls to learn, play, and run around was really important to me. But as we began to look, I realized a lot of other things were important to me too—being in a safe neighborhood, living in a home that wasn't old and in need of repairs we couldn't afford, and having a driveway we wouldn't have to dig our way out of six months out of the year up here in northern Michigan. Oh, and we had to find something under $200,000, which in our area is becoming nearly impossible.
As we went along, the scope of what we could afford dwindled down to a handful of historic homes that had rotting basements or were 15+ miles from the city proper where my husband works and where we spend most of our spring and summer evenings playing in the parks and visiting family.
Things weren't looking so good until my mother, from the next room over and possibly just as desperate as I was to move my family and I along on our homeownership journey, texted me a photo of a condo just three miles from the city limits. It was a stones throw away from the house my best friend from high school grew up in, in an area that I knew was pretty wholesome. Most importantly though, it fell exactly in our price range, a rare find in our tourist town with a serious housing crisis. I reluctantly agreed to go check it out with her and by the next day we'd put our offer in.
In all reality, if I'd known all of the idiosyncrasies of bringing up little kids in such close quarters to our neighbors, I might have stuck to my original plan of avoiding condos. But I'm glad I didn't. As for the majority of us, I couldn't have found my dream home without living another person's very wealthy life, but this place checks off almost all of the boxes I wanted in our first home. Still, there's a certain art to keeping kids safe, calm and entertained in a condo. Here's what I've learned and what you'll want to consider before settling on your own.
Your Neighbors Can Absolutely Hear You
In the condo my husband and I purchased, we're on the main level. We don't have shared halls, so, like a townhome we have our own front patio and front and back doors which is great. However, we do share walls on either side of us as and we have an upstairs neighbor too.
Last year, while small talking my neighbor, she mentioned that she was pretty worried we could hear her coughing through the walls thanks to her summer allergies. I adamantly lied that I couldn't and then apologized if she could hear my children who, let's face it, we're getting reamed out almost hourly for doing death-defying stunts like standing on the kitchen table and ramming themselves against the glass of our French doors. She sheepishly admitted that she could absolutely hear my children then quickly blurted out, "But I feel so bad for you because raising kids in a condo is really rough."
You're telling me, lady.
Unless You're Living in a Penthouse, Space Is Tight
Besides being close in with our neighbors, our little family is pretty squashed into our two bedroom home, though thank God, we're privileged with two bathrooms, which helped things immensely last week when 3/4ths of us came down with a 12-hour stomach bug.
Still, our home is compact and we've had to be thoughtful about putting it all together in a way that doesn't feel cramped and overburdened with toys while still creating a space where our daughters can create, play, and imagine. This means that while we mostly keep the toys organized, our home resembles a daycare. There's not one room that doesn't contain toys and since we don't have any extra rooms in our open-floor plan, our dining/living area is also the school room. Likewise, our girls are sharing a bedroom.
People Get Up in Your Business
Now, I don't have a lot of business. I'm a pretty straightforward lady. I've got a home to take care of, two kids to care for, and work projects between all of that. However, handling any one of those things can be taxing, handling all three with neighbors on top and all around me means that, especially in the warmer months, there's always a handful of neighbors milling about, walking or lounging in the shared outdoor space and coming in and out their doors which are right next to my kid's bedroom window.
The sense of privacy you might take for granted in a home with say, a fenced in yard, or some space between you and the next neighbor is gone. More than once I've had a neighbor come to my door to let me know they're spraying the yard for bugs and not to let the kids outside to play, or to bring me their phone number "just in case" or just to chit chat. On the one hand this is great if you're a murderino like me. I kinda love that my neighbors take notice of us, since I'm home alone with my kids often. If something happened to us, they'd be quick to notice!
However, if we're not dressed before 10 AM, or if the kid's closet has magically exploded and their curtains are wide open, or if I've failed to check the door for a mountain of packages, my neighbors are definitely also noticing that stuff.
I Don't Have to Worry About Maintaining Anything Outside My Home
And it's amazing. With all that I have going on inside our house, I'm so grateful that my husband doesn't have to shovel his way out of our driveway each morning or that I don't have rake the yard up before my kids go out back to play. When you live in a condo, townhome, or apartment, those things are taken care of by the management or association, saving you time and energy for other things. And when you have kids, there's not a lot of time or energy to go around.
I didn't think about this added bonus before we moved in, but now I'm honestly not sure how we'd handle all of that outdoor maintenance with how busy we are at this stage in our lives.
We've Saved a Lot of Money by Living in a Condo
I know this isn't true for all condos, but by choosing a newer condo over an older home (which run about the same price where I live), we've saved a lot of money on maintenance and repairs.
We were also able to live a lot closer to town than if we had purchased a newer home in the same price range, which means we save on gas, groceries and utilities (which is all cheaper in town).
Also, because we're sharing so many walls with our neighbors, our heat bill is pretty low during the fall and winter as there aren't as many ways for the heat to escape.
It's Nice to Be Near Other People
Growing up, my family and I lived in the middle of the woods in a home that was fairly isolated and to be honest, it was kind of creepy, especially when my dad was away for work.
As I said before, I like knowing that if something happened, I could walk out my front door and have three other doors in front of me to bang on.
I also don't notice as many bumps in the night since I'm used to hearing a steady hum of living noises around me. It helps me feel less isolated with my kids when their dad is working overtime.
Give Your Kids a Chance to Be Noisy and Hyper
Tips for Living in a Condo With Kids
- If your kids have to share a bedroom, invest in a daybed with a trundle or bunk beds, depending on what works best for your family. Our girls have a daybed with a trundle. Even though they're usually snuggled up like kittens in the same bed, they have the option to sleep in their own bed if they want to and in the morning I just tuck the trundle under the daybed to make room in their bedroom for playtime.
- Try to find a ground floor unit. This is a huge one for me. First, I need to be able to get my kids outside when the weather is nice. It's a lot simpler to just open up the back slider and sit on the patio while they play than it would be to drag them up and down stairs. Also, having a balcony with kids would really freak me out.
- Get your kids into a routine. If your kids are in school this is probably going to be a lot easier! If your kids are homeschooled like mine or if they're still too young to go to school, you'll have to get more creative. A routine keeps the noise down and helps deter temper tantrums that I'm sure my neighbors don't particularly enjoy. It also helps my kids to understand that there's very specific times of day that we use our "quiet inside voices"—before 8 AM and after 7 PM.
- Take your kids out of the house to get their wiggles out so they'll be quieter at home. This is easy for us during the warmer months when we're busy at the park, beach or playing tourist in our own town, but during the harsh winter months it's a little trickier. If you have family nearby with a big yard for sledding or a basement for running around and playing, utilize it! We live just down the road from a lengthy trail system that we've been using as a backyard to run our kids (and our dog) when the temps are above 30 degrees.
- Get a museum or play area membership. If you have a place like this nearby, invest in a membership so you can take your kids to run, jump, and play outside the confines of your home.
- Put up dark curtains. Living so close to everyone else's front door means that if someone has their porch lights on, it shines right into our bedroom windows. I bought dark curtains for all of our windows so outside light coming from other homes doesn't keep my kids up late or wake them up too early.
- Use your screen time wisely. I try to save screen time for early in the morning and then before bedtime - the two times when they're most likely to be going bonkers with noise and the two times when neighbors are least likely to appreciate said noise.
- Speaking of screens, make sure your kids know the acceptable volume level for the TV.
- Keep noisy toys up in a bin and bring them out during the middle of the day when most people are at work or school.
- Keep toys with lots of pieces up and away so only one bin can be brought down at a time. This isn't a noise issue, just a simple way to keep messes from getting out of control in a small space. My kids have tons of Legos and Calico Critters AKA the tiniest toys on the planet. To keep our quaint home from being overrun, we bring one bin out at a time and make sure it's all cleaned up before the next bin comes down.
Find Space for Outside Toys
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Kierstin Gunsberg
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on February 24, 2019:
Great tips! You reminded me of my young life living in a small apartment with my husband and our very active son. It was tough but I was glad the neighbors were not nosy. I had to bring my small son every afternoon, for a few hours, to a playground so he could play until he got tired of playing. Thanks for sharing.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on January 24, 2019:
Very insightful article. I bought a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom home with a big yard. Has a basement and an attic too for $123,250. Its tough finding something affordable now most of the bargains are gone. Good tips with kids. I have two myself.