our essentials: the kitchen

Perhaps more than any other space in our home, the kitchen has seen the greatest ebb and flow of stuff as we figure out exactly what we need to cook often and host friends. We want to keep our possessions as low as possible, while still functioning well and not making cooking and baking difficult for ourselves.

We bake 2-3 times a week and prepare almost every meal at home. We host friends a few times a month which does sometimes exceed 6 people. If so, we dip into our camping gear for metal plates or we utilize our landlords dishes if we’re hosting with them. For a while I wished for those magazine pictures of matching place settings and gorgeous tablescapes, but that isn’t our reality right now. We have little kids underfoot. We’re often outside or  gathering in the living room to watch a football game. Being together with good food and drinks is the priority and our kitchen supports that.

Our current  kitchen inventory looks something like this. Which is to say, not quite minimalist. Certainly, we could reduce more, we already know what we’d cut immediately to live nomadically, but right now this kitchen serves us well.

eating and knives-1appliances and serving-1
c&b 2-1

cooking and baking -1*I forgot to add the pour over to make coffee and the bottle opener for beer and wine. Where are my priorities?

Some will look at this and see too little, and some will see too much. For those who have more and want to pare back, these were some of the biggest points in our kitchen downsize.

1) appliances – they take up a lot of space and often only serve one function. What do you have that isn’t being used, or whose purpose also exists in another piece of equipment? I bake a fair bit and dropped a stand mixer and hand mixer in favour of a wooden spoon. We put our microwave in storage for several months and while we missed it once, the oven was just fine for heating things up.

2) multiple size dishes – do we really need lunch plates and dinner plates? Pasta bowls and cereal bowls? Dozen of different style drinking glasses? (We still have more glasses than I like, but we have improved a lot.) Even with the same overall number of items, the storage and function of the kitchen is improved if we eliminate multiple sizes.

3) things we hate cleaning – I joke that laziness has largely driven our minimalist journey, but truly if I dread using something because cleaning it is such a pain it isn’t worth the space in my house. This is where a few appliances lost their place as well as really delicate dishes. I need my stuff to work hard and keep my life easy!

I’d love to hear about your kitchen essentials or where you’re at in your journey to own less!

This post was written for inclusion in the November 2018 collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series. And if there is a topic you’d like to see us write about, let us know! 
Small Family Home — “Tiny House Kitchen Pare Down” : How getting rid of a third of our flatware made our kitchen a more pleasant space.
Little Bungalow — Drawers Open: Kitchen Edition: There’s no time like your eighth month of pregnancy to show off your spice cupboard! Moving clockwise around our (weirdly sizeable) kitchen and taking a look in all our drawers and cabinets plus some tips for paring down to kitchen essentials.
Deeper Meaning Travels — “Living Small: In the Kitchen” : Ever wonder how families living in a small space, manage their homes? Living in a small space requires less “stuff.” See how our family of 4 lives ‘small’, in the kitchen.
Tiny Ass Camper– “Bare Necessities: Kitchen” : A peek into our cabin kitchen & what we did differently in our Casita kitchen when we hit the road again this last spring.

Hike September

Smoke cleared, temperatures cooled and we’re back on the trail!

Big White Summit

We fell in love with Big White last winter, spending a few nights on the hill, and getting out in the snow. We planned to go up for a day trip in the summer, but between a busy July and smokey August, we didn’t get there until the last weekend they were open. It was September 1st, forecasted temperatures in the valley were 20+, and we anticipated the hill to be 12-14C. It was 7C when we got to the village and colder when we got to the top of the lift. We did the quick 1km hike to the summit, marvelled at the view – that sun against the grey clouds! – and then headed back down for a warm lunch inside.

Mount Boucherie

This is the first mountain I climbed in the Okanagan, over 8 years ago! I met two new friends shortly after moving here and they invited me for an early morning hike. My east coast upbringing assumed it would be a meandering walk. It was not. I nearly died. I was feeling restless this year, with the start of school and me not working, so I took off up the hill on the first day to just be. It was exactly the workout I needed. I missed my students and co-workers, but the freedom to come and go from work this year is right for our family and it gives me more time for solo hikes like this.

Bear Creek Falls

The other highlight to me not working as much – random days off with Matt! His work ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s gruelling overtime for weeks, but then he’ll have opportunities to take a few days off midweek. When I’m working full time I have absolutely no flexibility in my schedule so we often missed each other on those days home. This time we jumped at the chance to get out and explore a new place while Rhys was at daycare. Bear Creek Falls is a gorgeous loop with crazy views down into the canyon.

Fintry Falls

My only birthday request was a day outside with my boys so we checked two things off the list – hike Fintry Falls and a drive along the scenic Westside Road. The stairs. My legs. Rhys loves stairs so this did not disappoint for him. I had to pause a few times with the excuse off taking pictures. 100% worth it though. We hiked a bit beyond the end of the marked trail, but turned around at the sight of bear scat. No thanks. Not today.

Trepanier off 6th Avenue 

This trail is literally out our backdoor. We need to spend many more evenings out there. Easy trail with amazing views and it gets us outside without much planning. Rhys with those homemade binoculars has my heart. He is developing a passion for being Trail Leader (a.k.a. “The Boss”), but I love following him and hearing him repeat the things he’s learned this summer.

Isobel Lake – Kamloops

Knowing that winter chain up starts October 1st, and seeing that September 29th was sunny in a 3 hour radius, we high-tailed it out of the OKanagan for a day trip to Kamloops. I proposed an adventure toward Revelstoke, but Matt countered with this hike in the backcountry and I couldn’t say no. It was stunning. The sun on the water and the forest blanketed in the colours of fall. It is at the top of our list for camping next summer!


October is already rolling in cold and wet, but have a few more hikes on the list if we can grab some sunny days! After that, we’re switching to snow shoes!

sunlight and SAD

I love living small. I love our location. I love having friend landlords just steps away. I love the extra opportunities this apartment has afforded us.

However, the physical characteristics of our space are… not great. The bathroom is off the living room, directly next to our large glass front door and mere feet from our couch… you can lock the door, but you still have zero privacy. The previous owners who renovated it did not do a great job – sloping floors, walls not straight, studs with non-standard spacing, poor electrical wiring, terrible finishes. Who picks textured white tile for all the main spaces in a house?! The only way we can get that floor clean, especially in the kitchen, is to scrub it on hands and knees with an abrasive sponge. It is a loathsome chore.

But. I would keep all of that if I could gain more natural light. Two sides of our apartment have no windows, the third side is northeast facing  and gets morning light, and the fourth side that is southwest facing and has the biggest windows is shaded by a large covered deck. The lack of natural light, coupled with our notoriously cloudy Okanagan winters makes me a miserable person three months out of the year.

I’ve always been prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but when we lived on the east coast we got enough sunny days in the winter that I managed okay. The west coast isn’t all bad, but the Okanagan Valley has a special charm where clouds settle like a cap on the mountains from November to February. Sunny days are rare and when it is sunny is it usually bitterly cold and often windy (how else would the clouds move out for a bit??). Over the past eight winters, I’ve developed various strategies to cope, but window placement and natural light is the one thing I will not compromise on when we eventually move. Give me a terrible layout, give me ugly finishings, give me crooked walls, but please give me a glass house.

This post was written for inclusion in the September 2018 collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series. And if there is a topic you’d like to see us write about, let us know! 

Tiny Shiny Home–  “If I Could Change One thing” : Of course there are things we would have done differently in our renovation. It’s rare to get something right on the first try, but that doesn’t make us love our home any less.

Little Bungalow–  “The Budget is Broken” : I’ve always felt that one of the big benefits of living small was the ability to renovate on a budget – but our max spend has been reached and we still have projects on the wish list.

Small Home Family–  “Our Biggest Small House Regret” : There is one major oversight we made when choosing our house: not planning well enough for the future.

Tiny Found Us– “Needing a little more space?” : After living small for over a year, I realize we haven’t been living grand enough.

Tiny Ass Camper–  “Bathroom, Bathroom, Bathroom” : We intentionally chose to omit the bathroom from our camper and honestly haven’t missed it much – until we did.

a trail for two

We hiked.

Just the two of us.

Normally I wait for friends to plan something or until the weekend when Matt can join us. I love being outside, I love hiking, but I’m generally a follower. Until today. I decided we could do it. We could pick a new trail and even though I didn’t know exactly what to expect, we would be just fine.

Rhys squealed in delight at every stair case (there were a lot). I groaned internally, then hustled my butt to keep up with him. He politely greeted every fellow hiker along the trail. When one gentleman said “Good morning, Big Guy!” Rhys responded with “Good morning, Mr. Big Fella!” Thankfully Mr. Big Fella had a sense of humour (and a wife who has a delightful new story to tell all their friends).

We took off our shoes and walked in the icy cold water. We sat at the bottom of a canyon, looked up high at the rock walls and talked about flooding and erosion. We had a couple mishaps – two tiny tumbles and a pair of size 4 shorts that needed to be rinsed out in the creek – but we came out perfect. And next time I’ll remember to pack a change of clothes.

conscious consumerism for kids

Matt and I are 4 years deep in continual downsizing, lasting only a few weeks or months after a big clean out before we feel uncomfortable with our possessions again. Rhys, on the other hand, seems to be about four years deep in wanting all the things. He hasn’t met a toy he didn’t love or preschool art that wasn’t a masterpiece.

Until he was 3 years old, I largely controlled what was kept or sold. I monitored the toys that weren’t played with and passed them along. I coordinated his wardrobe and was the gatekeeper of toddler things entering the house.

By 3 and 4, we started intentionally modelling a spirit of generosity and including him in our conversations about cleaning out and letting go. We talked about how some things are very useful for a time and then we pass them on. Sometimes we have interests that change and it’s okay to grow and let things go. We discuss money and how we can’t afford to buy everything we want so we choose to sell things we no longer use to fund new purchases.

So this morning when he started in about wanting new LEGO, I directed him back to his room and asked what he would like to sell. He chose cars characters from the Cars movies. He and I found every single car and dumped them in a pile. (It was a lot!) We set a space limit on how many he could keep and Konmaried our way through the pile. 2/3rds of the collection were sold immediately.

Apparently buoyed by the sale of his cars, he turned to puzzles (3/6 sold!) I pushed a bit harder on his collection of “garbage toys” (my not so subtle name for the kids meal/dentist prize box variety of junk that sneaks in) and we reduced it significantly.

So tomorrow he earns his reward. A trip to the store with with a twenty dollar bill and an agonizing half hour for mom wherein he examines every box of LEGO available for purchase. But I’ll hang in there and help him carefully choose his purchase, considering whether his choices duplicate or compliment what he already owns.

Children, even as young as 3 and 4, are 100% capable of having these conversations and being active participants in their own consumerism! They are capable of deciding they like something just a little bit less so it’s worth letting go to get the thing they like more. They are also resilient little beings who will be just fine if they suddenly miss a toy they already passed on. Start the conversations young, model the behaviour you want to instill.

Practical Points and Confessions…

1) I do sell as much as possible. We try to buy quality items and attempt to keep things in good condition so there is value when we are done with it.

2) I have lied to my (then young 3 year old) child about selling garbage toys just to get them out of the house. I gave him $5 of my own money. Totally worth it.

3) I do not give my 4 year old free reign of all monies earned. He has chosen to sell some valuable items, but he gets $20 max and I save the rest.

4) I might save the rest for him (new clothes, activities fees, etc. ) or I might spend it on things for our family. No shame. A majority of the stuff was bought by me so I’ll happily take a cut now!

5) I forced a new toy famine to make a point. We rarely buy toys outside of special occasions, but when he was begging for new things and refusing to let go of old, I dug in and didn’t allow a single new toy into our house for several months – not from a happy meal, nothing second hand, definitely nothing new. When he relented and chose some items to sell I made a huge deal out it – took him out to breakfast and then shopping. He quickly associated the in/out concept and has acquiesced every time we’ve said “not until something goes”.

6) We model to a ridiculous extent. I buy something from the thrift store and make an exaggerated scene over choosing something to donate back. This isn’t a lifestyle we are forcing on our child, it’s something we live day in and day out. It is a core value we want to pass on.

7) My next step is to teach him to say no to garbage toys before they enter our house. We’re having conversations about where those toys are made, the age and working conditions of the people who make them, and what happens to those items after he is done with them. We focus on activities when rewards are deserved – extra time at a special park, kids choice of music and an all in dance party.

8) Progress over perfection. We are always moving in the direction of owning less, but there are little peaks and valleys on that journey. Christmas and kid birthday are back to back. It’s a very full season of receiving, but we balance out again mid year and find our new low. We want this to be a value he embraces, not a mandate he fights.

Mostly, we are making this up as we go! Following our own convictions and working with the spirited personality of our four year old. I’d love to hear more ideas and connect with other parents working towards conscious consumerism!

when your storage keeps downsizing

Nine years ago we started life together in a generously sized two bedroom apartment. We didn’t fill it completely, but we were never forced to get rid of things we even vaguely liked. A year later we moved to a much smaller one bedroom apartment, but it came with a secret – a huge closet that was as big as any of our rooms. We kept small furniture and decor to swap around, shelves of books, the necessities for several hobbies, seasonal items, garage sale finds that hadn’t yet found a purpose. If we even vaguely thought we might want something someday, we had the space to store it.

Three years later, when we were expecting our son, our landlords offered to renovate that closet into a den so we had more livable space. Their offer was incredibly generous, but it meant we were left with two small closets as our only storage behind doors. Then last summer our landlords offered to install a washer and dryer in our space so we didn’t have to share anymore. We happily accepted (now with seven people in the house it was getting difficult to coordinate laundry), even though we would lose some counter and cupboard space in our already smal kitchen. At times we compensated with storage furniture, but all thats left now is two small dressers and a toy organizer.

Through all of this, we have had to continually downsize our possessions to fit in our new spaces. We no longer have the luxury of keeping things for infrequent use or ‘just in case’.

So what about the things we do want to use occasionally or things that lots of families can easily store for the future?

  • We borrow. We’re lucky that our landlords are fantastic friends and lives 12 steps away. They are happy to lend things if we need them. A crockpot is a once or twice a year use for me, where it used much more frequently by them.
  • We rent. Or perhaps “rent”. Occasionally I want a particular item that can be had readily and inexpensively at nearly any thrift store. I hosted a brunch party for Rhys’ 4th birthday and wanted a decorative pitcher to serve juice and coordinating simple white dishes for waffle toppings. All of these could be had for less than $5 and I donated them back after the party. The “rental fee” to “borrow” them from the thrift store is significantly cheaper than owning all of these items to use twice a year and having a bigger space to store them!
  • We buy and sell. My area has a very active Facebook Marketplace, so I will often purchase items for short term use and resell when I am done. Rhys is still changing sizes so fast that I can buy and sell outerwear and gear within a few months and get back exactly what I paid. When we were undecided about having a second child, I still got rid of items as Rhys outgrew them because I knew I could buy back anything I considered a necessity if we had a second child.
  • We loan things. If I really loved a particular baby item, like my ring slings from the infant days, and wanted to keep the possibility of using it for a second child, I loaned it to friends as they had need so it was out of my house, but would still come back to me. Eventually, all of these items left permanently, but it was practical “storage” for a time of uncertainty.
  • We only own one. If I only have one purse, it is always by the front door and there are no extras to store. We each have one set of outerwear for winter – coat, ski pants, pair of boots, hat, set of gloves. It’s still bulky and still requires being stored for seven months, but it’s significantly less than if we each owned two! We’ve even made the seemingly risky move of only own one set of sheets for each bed – so far we haven’t wished for a spare!

Now as we look forward, we are getting serious about renovating a van and living nomadically for a while. We have agreed to downsize until all of our possessions fit in our vehicle. This will require a new strategy and more sacrifice, but we’ve already begun to look critically at all of our things again. Do I LOVE this? Do I use it every single day? Will it fit in 100 sq/ft? In a year we’ll see what made the final cut!

This post was written for inclusion in the May collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!

Little Bungalow– “Overthinking My Basement” : Why 1,200 square feet of dedicated storage space actually stresses me out.

Tiny Ass Camper– “Storage & Stuff” : Cleaning out our storage unit after 2.5 years of full-time travel.

debt, money, and savings

In November we had $7,900 left on a student loan. We were just done slogging away at it every month so we made a plan to pay it off by June.

Six months.

The plan was realistic with our average income and modestly projected boosts from selling used items and a tax refund.

Still, we put every extra penny towards the debt. Overtime, side jobs, selling more than expected, a three paycheque month. And finally, a tax refund higher than expected.

We paid off nearly $8,000 two months early.

And my reaction? I don’t think I sacrificed anything. We ate well. We ate out. We replaced necessities. We bought a family membership to a rock gym. We took a short trip that included IKEA. We had a lovely Christmas. We saved money. We gave to charities.

So what could we do if we felt deprived?

Let’s be real. We live in Canada. We have two incomes. We will never go without necessities. But we can clearly cut back more. A lot more.

I’ve always been pleasantly happy that we could reach our goals, but I’m beginning to realize that we didn’t dream big enough or try hard enough. If we could accomplish a pretty significant goal without feeling a pinch… we’re just not budgeting right.

So. To dreaming bigger and working harder! I’ve projected our budgets for the next three months. We’ll spend the weekend sorting out our goals. We’ll be back to hit them harder, faster. This time, we’ll sacrifice.