It’s a question many parents are facing – do kids really need their own rooms? It seems to have become a community norm that even very young children will sleep in separate bedrooms unless parents are "forced" to put them together because their home isn’t big enough and they can’t afford something with more bedrooms.
In fact, families upgrading into bigger homes have underpinned much of the market activity in Australia’s capital cities this year. Having sold off their first or second property to an eager first home buyer during last year’s rush to cash in on the Federal Government’s boosted grant, upgraders hit the leafy suburban streets, looking for something bigger and better to house the kids.
The usual profile is of a family that has one child on the ground with another on the way, or recently landed, that wants to get something a bit bigger where each can have their own bedroom. But maybe someone forgot to ask the kids? It seems, given the choice, many young children would prefer to share a bedroom. I found this out recently when I was pondering how to shrink the extended going-to-bed hours of my three-year-old and one-year-old, who were in their own rooms with their own bedtime routines.
Having them in the one bedroom seemed a sensible answer. And when asked for his opinion, my son’s immediate response was "Yes". So how’s it going? No more extended patting to sleep of the one-year-old who is now happy to lay in her cot and listen as I read to her brother. And my three-year-old isn’t feeling so scared to be left alone in his room, either.
It’s a step that’s freed up a spare room, and really broadened our housing options. Granted, given they are a boy and a girl, there will come a time in a few years when it won’t be appropriate for them to share but for the mean time we think we can easily get away with a three bedroom or even two bedroom house for a few years.
It makes you think, do we really need all the space we think we do? We know Australians build the world’s biggest houses, pipping even the US. Along with media rooms, home gyms and offices, we’ve also been adding extra bedrooms. As previously pointed out by CommSec economist Craig James, about 20 years ago only one in every six homes had four or more bedrooms. By 2006 it was one in every 3.5 homes – which seems a little counterintuitive given family sizes have for a long time been shrinking.
Let’s not be too harsh on parents. Going by the many tortured discussions on internet forums about whether parents should put their children in a shared bedroom, parents are not just blindly assuming their ankle biters need privacy from the time they are a month old. And it might not be just about the number of bedrooms.
One of the factors that families who are fleeing two-bedroom homes or units to bigger properties often talk about is the lack of living space, because, like it or not, lounge rooms big enough to accommodate toys, books and kids’ other paraphernalia are generally found in big houses with three or four bedrooms. Not in the cramped conditions offered by two-bedroom semis or terraces. That could start a whole new discussion on housing design, and whether we need to shrink bedrooms and make room for more space that you actually spend time in when you are awake.
Carolyn Boyd is a property journalist and keen follower of Australia’s housing market.