life in a tiny apartment.

April 3, 2013

Tip #58: Divide and conquer.

I grew up in a house with three sisters and one shower. Most people who hear this fact make a sharp intake of breath and finish with a word of sympathy for my father.

FOUR daughters???” It’s as though he’d been stricken by some unfortunate plague.

And a female dog?”

“Your poor dad,” was a refrain that I heard through most of my childhood. Remarkably, I don’t think I’ve once heard my dad glorify the comments with a response. This didn’t stop people from saying it. Still hasn’t.

While I don’t think having four daughters is the problem, divvying one shower among 6 people is a challenge, certainly. Sunday mornings when my family went to church were the worst. Inevitably several of us would sit in the pews with our hair dripping onto the knees of the faithful behind us. I once walked down the aisle to communion with the entire back of my dress still unbuttoned. Getting ready to leave the house in a family of 6.

Now that it’s just two of us sharing a bathroom, things are decidedly less hectic. But getting ready to “leave the house” in a tiny apartment has its share of challenges. Where there was only one full bathroom in our house growing up, the bathroom was large enough for most of us to cram into, and we did. Privacy mattered only when you were the one seeking it:

“Close the DOOR.”

 And not at all if you were the one hoping to trample on someone else’s:

“I just need to get a hair elastic and brush my teeth. Gosh.

More than once I had a sister climb into the shower with me. 

In the bathroom in this apartment, there’s not enough room for a full-sized bathmat let alone two full-sized human beings. Lucky for us, our schedules have usually meant that we’re not trying to leave the house at precisely the same time. And if we are, it’s not usually early in the morning. Mostly this keeps the peace.

But if there’s one bit of advice for surviving departure hour in a tiny apartment, it’s to divide and conquer. Even though my morning routine is fairly minimal, I know that I take longer than James to get ready, so I shower first. I also keep my makeup in a small pouch so that if I need to use the mirror above the couch, I can grab everything in one go and I don’t have to bother returning to the bathroom for missing hair elastics. In a tip I learned from childhood, hair drying can happen as easily in the living room as the bathroom. I draw the line at brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink, but James doesn’t. So I guess that’s an option, too.

*It’s hard to asterisk a photo: but I wanted to offer proof that in case you think things are perfect around these tea leaves a) our bathroom mirror is sometimes quite dirty b) I sometimes Bogart the bathroom in order to take vanity shots. Fair use?

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  • Reply Chloe Moon April 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    This is my current problem with my boyfriend in our tiny studio. He takes forever and we both have to be at work at 8:30am. He has a shorter commute than me but gets out of the bathroom at 7:52 some mornings. I have a 30 minute commute…It's getting to be a hairy situation indeed!!! =P

  • Reply Ashley April 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    My bf and I are on different morning schedules, but during the weekend we basically follow every suggestion you lay out! I always dry my hair in the living room 🙂

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic April 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    When I lived in a dorm in college, I had to share a bathroom with three girls. I tried to wake up earlier than the others so that I could get to the bathroom first. But then one of the other girls would wait until my alarm clock started ringing; then she'd bolt out of bed and run into the shower before I'd get in there. She did that every morning until I started waking up even earlier.

  • Reply fibreandspice April 3, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    I used to babysit for a family with 7 girls, and yeah, Sunday mornings almost always ended up with someone in tears over who knows what ("You took MY hair elastic!"). I think having lots of sibling teaches you so much, and wish I had more than my one brother. Hopefully my hubby and I will have lots of kids someday!

  • Reply Lauren Ashley April 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Ack – I feel you. I grew up sharing a bathroom with my mom and sister, not as extreem as with three other sisters, but privacy was still at a premium. Now, I try to stagger my morning routine with the hubs, but that doen't mean that he won't have to brush his teeth in the kitchen sink every so often.

  • Reply Ashley April 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    When we moved 6 months ago, we paid an extra $200 a month in rent just to have a half bath more than we did before. Worth. every. penny. 🙂

  • Reply kelly summers April 3, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    My husband and I are currently living with his mom while we save up to build our own house this year. Her house is big, but everything we have is pretty much crammed into one bedroom with a small bathroom. At our apartment, our bathroom was long with tons of counter space and mirrors and plenty of room for two. In our current bathroom, it is tiny and the small amount of counter space that exists for some reason is really tall. So even if I wanted to do my makeup in the bathroom, I have to lean awkwardly over the counter. So I got one of those mirrors with a light around it so I can get ready wherever. In our new house, we'll create a vanity area in the closet by a window, which I think will be amazing.

  • Reply lisaathome April 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Our space, while a bit larger than yours, is very, very tiny and has a miniature bathroom to match. There have been times that we're both brushing our teeth and I stand in the shower to accommodate both of us! While I'd love to have a larger bathroom space (or updated), it's all really rather fun and definitely suits our needs.

    • Reply Erin April 4, 2013 at 11:42 am

      ha! the shower stand is something i haven't tried yet!

  • Reply blsmith6 April 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    i grew up in a family of 6 with one bathroom. I feel your pain 🙂

  • Reply tinajo April 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    As a lonely child, I wish I HAD been fighting over the bathroom space with a sister. However, now I can enjoy that with my boys – because even though we have two bathrooms with showers in both they absolutely want the same one at the same time..! 😀

  • Reply JoKnows April 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Yep, I can imagine that four girls (six people) and one bathroom would be tough. We had enough trouble with two girls (five people) and two showers! My poor mom couldn't take a bath without one of us busting in.


    • Reply Erin April 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

      oh gosh, forget baths!

  • Reply Sandy April 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I too grew up with 3 sisters in 1 bathroom. We actually used to take baths, and 2 at a time! To save water!
    People DID say that to my dad, "you poor guy". SO funny! I can surely relate!

  • Reply Allison April 3, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Oh god, thank you for this fit of laughter after a long day.

  • Reply Kari April 3, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    We have four people (2 parents, 2 kids) in one bathroom. We've been doing it for almost 20 years now. It's not that big a deal. I think people are spoiled for space now. However, there was that one time when all four of us had gastrointestinal flu at the same time…

  • Reply Inge April 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I love this piece of writing!

  • Reply Georgie K. Buttons April 3, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Yep. Three girls, one mom, two girl dogs, one dad, one bathroom. So it was nice when we got a second bathroom — which went solely to mother. 🙂

  • Reply Jessica April 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    We have four daughters and a female dog. I get the same reaction. I just smile though. I love our house full of little women!

    • Reply Erin April 4, 2013 at 11:40 am

      of course you do!

  • Reply April 4, 2013 at 3:02 am

    1. hilarious 2. you are beautiful!

    • Reply Erin April 4, 2013 at 11:44 am

      oh, shucks!

  • Reply annton beate Schmidt April 4, 2013 at 8:57 am

    besides your words; some of them made me laugh so loud, how true they are, you look purely beautiful in the picture.

    • Reply Erin April 4, 2013 at 11:43 am

      thanks, annton!

  • Reply Jennifer Allison April 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    thanks for this… 🙂

    kitchen sink toothbrushing (not a favorite but sometimes necessary) and breaking into the other's solo shower time…we've done them both.

  • Reply S April 4, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    My other half uses the kitchen sink for tooth brushing so he doesn't wake the baby on his way to work (early). Our walls are thin and this place is small!

    I also use the bathroom mirror for self-portraits. It's the only one that doesn't make me look exhausted! Plus, it gets nice light in the evenings 🙂

  • Reply akane April 5, 2013 at 10:08 am

    how I loved reading this. =)

    I'm an only child and I can only imagine what life would have been like if I had three sisters… and this post made me text my mom saying that she should have had given me a sibling. It's too late for that now, but it was only too say that it gave me a wonderful feeling inside.

    On the other hand, I now live with my boyfriend of 10 years…and his younger brother and our french bulldog in a tiny apartment. Even though bathrooms are not an issue, everything else is (a little bit). I just wish I could walk around in just a t-shirt in my own place… and also brush my teeth in the kitchen sink!

    Having said (all of) that, great post! Made me smile. =)

  • Reply Joy April 6, 2013 at 4:55 am

    1, you are so lovely! 2, as the wife of a window cleaner, my windows and mirrors are always the dirtiest since customers' windows and mirrors are more important. 😉 3, even with just the two of us here, sunday mornings do seem to produce the most difficulty in successfully getting ready to leave the house. 🙂

    good tips!

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