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Moving Out … to Move In

Sarah Glazer

How do you manage living in a small house with a big family? Rather than move, Simi Friedman got creative. The ingenious systems she came up with can be implemented in any size house with any size family.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Eight years ago, the Friedmans — with two small children and another on the way — bought a home in St. Louis, Missouri. “I thought we’d only be here for a few years,” says Simi, looking around her house.

Simi is strikingly tall and has a natural grace, a regality in her movements and speech. She’s always composed, even when she’s animated, and she often stops mid-sentence to say, “Wait — is that the right way to put it? Is that the emes?” 

Aside from an unfinished basement downstairs (affectionately called the “dungeon”), there are eight rooms total in Simi’s house — three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a den, and an L-shaped main room that serves as a combination dining room and living room. The house, originally built in 1945, is the perfect size for a family of five, less so for a family of eight. But moving to a larger house to accommodate her growing brood wasn’t an option. Neither was remodeling. So Simi got creative.

“I decided to move out of my home while I was still living in it,” she says, “and then move back in again.” How exactly did she do that?

Room by room, Simi went through the house and evacuated every area. The goal was to reimagine how each space could be utilized by looking at how the area (or the stuff in it) was used.

“Believe me, things got worse before they got better. It was chaos. But fun chaos! Productive chaos!” Simi recalls. “And that’s when I realized, for instance, that two small closets for six kids was not working — unless I wanted to constantly comb through everything to make sure nothing was extraneous. There was no floor space for more plastic drawers, either. So I started asking questions: Was clothing in the children’s closets the only way to go? How important was it to have their clothing in the bedrooms?”

Her final conclusion was simple, yet revolutionary. She decided to transfer all of the clothes (for the six kids and Tatty and Mommy) into the dungeon, near the washer and dryer. Using large, dark-colored storage containers (which contain off-season outfits and clothes the kids have outgrown), Simi built several “walls” in the shape of two large dressing rooms, one for the boys, one for the girls. The socks, undergarments, T-shirts, and the like go in plastic drawers, divided by size. And there are hanging racks for button-down shirts, suits, dresses, coats, and so forth. It’s like entering a large walk-in closet, only you share it with half your family.

“Now there’s no more schlepping clothing upstairs with babies in tow. There’s no more laundry on the couch. No more clothes scattered around the bedroom. There’s less to clean up because it’s all in one centralized location,” Simi says.

So if the clothes are downstairs, what goes in the kids’ closets upstairs? That became personal space for each of the kids’ special things (such as hair accessories or tennis trophies), objects that they want to see or use often. Simi’s bedroom closet became a place to store bedtime books (all of the kids gather on her bed for story time), as well as photo albums, which are viewed on a regular basis. “My parents don’t live close by,” says Simi, “so this is my way of helping the kids feel connected to them.”

The linens were moved to the dungeon, too, so the shelves in the linen closet now house an expansive library of Jewish children’s books. “We read books more often than I change linens,” she says matter-of-factly.


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