How a Big Family Survives in a Home With One Bathroom

Growing up in an old farmhouse, I shared a single, tiny bathroom with my mother, father, and sister. It was actually a converted closet between two bedrooms. You had to wake someone up to use it in the middle of the night. (See also: How Big of a House Do You Really Need?)

Today, I am blessed to have a three-bedroom ranch with a bathroom accessible from the hallway and that’s large enough for everyone to be in at the same time — if need be. With a total of seven in the house (soon to be eight), however, I would be lying if I said that it was an ideal situation. Here are my best tips for coping with a single water closet, even with a large family.

1. Close Off the Toilet

Let’s be honest; the main reason people need a bathroom is to "do their business." While we can have the entire family in the bathroom brushing their teeth, we each need privacy when it comes time for private matters. If you have the ability to add a wall and door between the sink area and the toilet, you can entertain more multitasking without losing decency.

2. Add Another Sink

Our 1960’s style bathroom has a countertop and mirror that goes the entire length of the bathroom. And one tiny sink. Obviously, we will be adding another small sink to the setup, giving the room a "his and hers" option for hygiene matters. (If you’ve ever had to spit your toothbrush water at the same time as a sibling, you understand the value here.)

3. Reward Off-Peak Use

We homeschool, so there isn’t the usual rush to get everyone showered, dressed, and out the door all at once. We still have what we call "peak hours," however, when everyone seems to need to use the bathroom at the same time. If you have some flexibility with when you let kids bathe, encourage them to do so during hours when the bathroom is most likely to be empty. This can be earlier than when other family members wake up, or when the rest of the house is gaming or reading. The reward can be anything from an extra five minutes on the shower clock to access to a fancy body wash to just knowing that there will be enough hot water to see the process through.

4. Remove "Non-Bathroom" Essentials

If you’ve ever held together a bleeding knee gash while you wait impatiently for a child to do their number two, you know how frustrating it can be to have to share a bathroom. Luckily, there’s a common sense way to make sure you are never waiting for a toiletry, towel, or first aid item when the room is occupied. Clear out a small shelf in your kitchen cupboard and designate this as your backup storage for these items. (You could also install a simple hall shelving system between two studs for these items to reside full-time.)

5. Set Up Hygiene Stations Elsewhere

Does it really matter what room your brush your teeth in? How about curling your hair? If you have preteens and teens in the home, they really should be handling most primping activities inside their own rooms, if possible. As far as brushing teeth and washing hands go, keeping a small but clean area for these activities near a utility or kitchen sink can keep the bathroom chaos down significantly.

6. Avoid Creating an "Enjoyable" Bathroom Experience

We all admittedly like to relax a bit when we retreat to the bathroom. As a mom of five, you could lose an eye for telling me I must rush when I get the chance to sneak away for a shower or bathroom break. For children, however, there isn’t as much as a need to create an atmosphere of serenity in the bathroom. Remove reading materials or distractions that could keep them in the potty longer than they need to get the job done.

7. Embrace and Reinforce Manners

I’ve heard of families with one bathroom per child, and they still had issues fighting over them. To me, it’s not always about having enough bathrooms in your home; it’s about learning to get along with others. There are many times in life when you’ll be asked to share real estate: in college, on airplanes, or when you marry, for example. Teaching kids that they aren’t entitled to anything (bathrooms included) will go a long way in helping them to learn to be patient, regardless of the square footage at their disposal.

How many bathrooms did you grow up with? Chances are, it’s far less than what you expect from a modern home today. Even if you didn’t get the home layout of your dreams, you can make the one bathroom scenario work!

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Guest's picture

I was one of three kids sharing a bathroom for a while when I was a kid. We handled it pretty well. We didn't have much choice, and we were little enough that we could all fit in front of the sink and FILL it with toothpaste foam! That and we didn't mind brushing our teeth and using the toilet if someone was in the shower, thanks to opaque curtains. It did get pretty gnarly in there, though - I don't think the "teeth drawer" will ever be rid of dried-on toothpaste, and the youngest is now 19 years old.

The worst thing, though, happened after I moved to a basement bedroom and bathroom: my brother got mono from a friend at school and gave it to our sister because they shared a cup in the bathroom! Bummer there!

Guest's picture

These are all really good tips! I guess I really don't need 3 bathrooms.

Guest's picture

Love this! Big families are rad!

Guest's picture

what a great amount of tips! We have two bathrooms between the four of us and I'll be using a few of your tips - especially the making the trip less enjoyable LOL

Guest's picture

Great ideas!! We have 2 bathrooms for 4 people and even that doesn't feel like enough some times!! Gosh, you really nailed it with the 'reinforce manners' part. I would say 8 out of 10 fights in our home stem from brushing teeth...

Guest's picture

It's one thing with kids, and a totally different situation with adults. Maybe because during the early part of my adult life (age 21-31) I had a whole apartment to myself, one of which had 2 bathrooms. But when my fiancee and I moved in together I insisted on an apartment with 2 bathrooms. And when my husband and I bought a house, same thing. If people ask me the secret to my long marriage, I always say "seperate bathrooms!"