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How one bathroom brings Long Island families together

Dana Beard, center, with her three boys --

Dana Beard, center, with her three boys -- Xavier Beard, Blake Campbell Beard and Amiri Campbell-Beard -- her daughter, Deanna Richardson, and her mother, not pictured, all share a single bathroom in their South Huntington home on Aug. 11. Credit: Anthony J. Causi

Ten minutes. That’s how long members of the Beard family have in the shower before they hear the bang-bang-bang on the door, letting them know that their time in the bathroom is up.

“People will notice if you go longer," says Dana Beard, 40, a stay-at-home mother and the matriarch of the South Huntington home. "And then someone comes to get me and I have to say that’s enough.”

Beard acknowledges that setting time limits on showers might sound a little intense. But with seven people sharing one bathroom, it’s the only way to keep things from dissolving into disarray. And she isn’t alone: Families across Long Island have had to find ways to make it work in homes that have only one bathroom.

Sherina Wiese, 35, a Levittown mother of an 8-, 5- and 3-year-old, describes living in a one-bathroom home as “working chaos.” It’s not unusual to see three people sharing counter space in the bathroom before bedtime, she says, and the kitchen sink serves as a backup for toothbrushing.

While it may cause some inconvenience, homes with one bathroom are usually easier on the wallet, says Jeffrey Jimenez, a Realtor at Exit Realty Island Elite in Port Jefferson Station.

“First-time home buyers are really capitalizing on that,” says Jimenez. “It’s easy for them to find a house in their price range. It’s usually smaller families, or a couple with one kid who are going to wait five or 10 years and then upgrade if their family grows.”

That was the plan for Robin Dieckmann and her husband, Robert, who moved into their one-story ranch home in Hicksville in 1988 with the intention of having only two kids. But five kids later, she says having one bathroom has provided plenty of comic relief.

“For the most part, we found it pretty comical and accepted it for what it was,” says Robin, 58, a site director for SCOPE Education Services, which provided before- and after-school child care. High costs of construction prevented them from adding a bathroom to the home, as did the family’s willingness to make it work. “Would we have liked a second floor? Yeah, but we probably wouldn’t be as close a family as we are. This was all my kids knew, so it was not a big deal for them.”

Dieckmann’s daughter Alyssa Kara, 29, a hairstylist who now lives in Huntington, says having to share the communal space meant trading privacy for flexibility.

“It forced us to communicate in a way you wouldn’t if you had more than one bathroom,” says Kara. “So many times, one of my sisters would be in the shower, but I’d have to go in to brush my teeth or put my makeup on. We just adapted.”

For some families, having one lavatory wasn’t a choice as much as a circumstance. That was the case for Beard, whose main bathroom went out of commission eight months ago. That left her family — which includes her mother and five children, who range in age from 8 to 22 — all using the half-bathroom, which is outfitted with a single sink, shower and toilet.

To keep traffic moving, Beard has enacted house rules. No one is allowed to shower between 7 and 9:30 a.m., electronics aren’t allowed in the bathroom, and as much as possible, business must be kept to a five-minute maximum.

“I know it sounds crazy, but that’s what we have to do to make it work,” says Beard, who often ends up taking a shower at 1 a.m., when the kids are asleep and she can take her time. “We laugh about it to keep it in good spirits, but it’s really challenging.”

Though the master bathroom in Heather Bugalla’s Nesconset home has been an ongoing construction project for five years, she and her family say they have been able to manage with one bathroom by using it strictly for the essentials.

“No one is doing anything except showering or using the facilities,” says Bugalla, 46, who works in the accounting department of a car dealership. “It works for us, because we’re not the type to go in there and do our makeup and those things.”

Another huge help is that her family — which includes her husband, a 25-year-old daughter, 20-year-old twin girls, and an 11-year-old son — all have fluctuating schedules. Though Bugalla says her family is “fairly low-maintenance,” things tend to get hectic when overnight guests enter the equation.

“What works for six people doesn’t work for seven,” Bugalla says. “Anytime you add anybody into the mix that’s not aware of this running schedule, it does generally make things awkward.”

Not only does having one bathroom put a damper on entertaining, but it can also ruin events happening outside of the home, says Beard. Her children have skipped occasions in the past due to the stress of being rushed through their routine or not being able to properly get ready, she says.

“If we have a family function and everyone has to be there at the same time, it becomes very challenging,” says Beard. “My kids, for the most part, don’t require much, but it’s hard to say ‘get out,’ and then I’m banging on the door. Sometimes my kids get so frustrated they just don’t go to the event.”

Having to share one bathroom does have its upsides, families say.

“We have to wait, so we tend to talk more,” says Beard. “In today’s day and age, when everyone is on their phone, it forces us together and brings us closer.” 

And whether they realize it or not, Wiese notes that her children are learning some valuable life skills.

“They’re learning to deal well under pressure,” Wiese says. “Having one bathroom definitely teaches self-control and patience.”

Advice for sharing a bathroom

Successfully sharing a bathroom means more than just putting the toilet seat down. Whether you share a bathroom with one person or a whole houseful, here are some tips on making your restroom a place of relaxation.

Keep it organized

Small containers have been a space saver for the Wiese family of Levittown, with toothbrushes going in Mason jars tucked into the over-the-sink vanity. For her family’s bigger items, Hicksville resident Robin Dieckmann implemented a basket system. “My makeup and hair products had to be on that basket on the side of the sink. If it doesn’t fit, you can’t have it in the bathroom,” said Alyssa Kara, Dieckmann’s daughter.

Organization is key, says Heather Bugalla of Nesconset, who gave her family color-coded towels for Christmas one year.

“We have extra towels, but now everyone has their own two bath, hair and hand towels,” she said.

Keep it clean

More people means more mess. Set up a cleaning schedule and do regular spot cleaning.

“When you have one bathroom, it’s your guest bathroom and your family bathroom. I keep rags under the sink and at the end of the day I wipe down the mirrors and counters so it doesn’t build up as badly,” says Wiese. “That way, if you have a last-minute visitor, it’s not so bad.”

Keep nonessentials out

There are no phones allowed in Dana Beard’s South Huntington bathroom, a rule that helps cut down on unnecessary lingering, while for Bugalla, relegating hair and makeup to other parts of the house has been a huge help.

“I keep all my hair products in the bedroom, and the girls have all their makeup in their bedrooms,” Bugalla says. “You’re strictly showering, using the facilities and brushing your teeth in there. That keeps it workable and keeps everyone sane.”

Mary Cornetta and Margaret Henfling, co-owners of Merrick-based home organization service Sort and Sweet, suggest keeping bulk products, such as toilet paper or hand soap refills, in a nearby linen closet or storage space. They also advise that families getting rid of things they don’t use or need.

“Don’t overbuy or hold onto things you’re not using,” the home organizers say. “Be sure to regularly check expiration dates as well and get rid of anything that looks or smells funky."

1-bathroom homes for sale

A Bellport Village cottage with one bathroom is listed for $389,000. There are two bedrooms in the 1950 home, which is on a 55-by-100-foot lot. Annual property taxes are $5,730. Listing agent: David Rice, Rice Realty Group, 631-624-1200

An East Quogue ranch with one bathroom is listed for $499,000. There are two bedrooms in the 1964 home, which is on a 0.5-acre lot. Annual property taxes are $5,522. Listing agent: Dianne Tupper, Coldwell Banker Trading Places, 631-728-8070

A Holbrook Cape with one bathroom is listed for $299,990. There are three bedrooms in the 1935 home, which is on a 0.27-acre lot. Listing agent: Nicholas Albanese, Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 631-543-9400

Valerie Kellogg

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