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.
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.
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.
tiny fashion – all second hand or locally made (minus the boots)
Once upon a time, shopping was my primary form of entertainment. I would wander the mall with a twenty dollar bill and see how many items I could purchase just for the thrill of a deal. When I moved to university as a freshmen I owned 30 skirts. I have been a t-shirt and jeans girl since childhood. But I accumulated 30 too good of a deal to pass up skirts and packed them all the way across New England and into Canada. I’m not sure I wore even a third of them before they were donated to a campus clothing swap. I’ve reformed since then into something of an anti-consumer fanatic and now shopping is something that must be endured. (Unless it’s a thrift store. I love a good second hand hunt.)
As we’ve following a meandering path to minimalism, a natural Hierarchy of Acquiring has developed in our house.
When “0. just don’t” doesn’t apply, we move on…
- borrow – If it’s a one time use item or we want to try before purchasing, we first ask friends to borrow it. A close second to this is rent. This winter Matt has both borrowed and rented a snowboard to try two different options. We’re considering how seriously we want to get into the lifestyle in the next few years as Rhys grows and this has given him great information as he looks ahead to potentially buying his own gear.
- shop second hand first – my greatest goal is to take our money out of the first cycle of consumerism. Avoiding new purchases means our dollars are not telling manufactures to make more for a greater demand. It also gives a second life to many cast offs that are still nearly new. As a side benefit, we save a significant amount of money shopping second hand.
- support small businesses – When I’m looking for tangible gifts, my first stop is local small businesses. I look for places that have sustainable, conscientious manufacturing practices and that are contributing to our local economy. This is also our general practice for eating out and purchasing food – support local farmers, drink local beer.
- purchase quality items that will last – Occasionally we do buy new items from big box stores. We research the item and chose a model that will meet all of our needs, even if it means saving up before purchasing.
Other considerations we make when acquiring new items:
- where will the item live in our home? – I have one drawer and approximately 9″ of hanging space for my clothing. If I buy a new item of clothing it is likely that something else has to leave. We don’t necessarily impose a number cap on items, but we do have space limits. Before something new enters our house we choose where it will be stored.
- what does the end of life look like for this item? – Can it be easily recycled? Will it have life left in it when I no longer need it and how will I find it a new home? If it’s dead, what recycling options are available?
Mindful consumerism is a habit we’ve had to work at over time. Running to a store to fill our needs is easy. Pausing, evaluating, and finding other sources is harder. It’s a journey toward a countercultural mindset to say: I have enough and I have a responsibility to live lightly on the earth.
This post was written for inclusion in the March 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– “Questionable Purchases” : I have one habit that helps me avoid buyer’s remorse (most of the time).
Fourth & West– “The Consumption” : Where to go when you have to buy.
A Life Shift– “What We Bring Back to Hong Kong From Canada” : With limited storage space in our Hong Kong flat (and luggage weight limits!) here’s a list of what we try to purchase in North America when we are back for a visit.
Two years ago I wrote about our toy situation and my honest belief that it reflected a minimalist perspective. To be fair “minimalist perspective” is vague as it runs the gamut from cozy minimalism to I only own 100 things. I had just finished a huge purge in our apartment and felt like I had a good handle on the toys of a two year old.
Fast forward to the bedroom of an almost four year old. It has half as many toys, nothing is rotated, everything is loved. Our current toy library consists of three main categories – LEGO, wooden train tracks, and cars. There are several puzzles and games in his closet, a shelf of much loved books, and a small basket of stuffed animals.
As we’ve transitioned from toddler to big kid room, my goal has been to maximize floor space and focus on toys with open ended play. With every phase of reduction, it has allowed more space for imagination and longer play with the toys we kept. Watching the creativity that emerges from this simple space is one of my greatest joys as a mom.
This post was written for inclusion in the February 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– “Two Adults, a Toddler and a Cat Live Here” : There are no playrooms, man caves, personal bathrooms or walk-in closets in our two-bedroom home. Instead, every room has to work for every one.
Fourth & West– “Simple Space for a Big Imagination” : The evolution of less: a new minimalist kid space.
Tiny Ass Camper– “Kid’s Space: Casita vs. Cabin” : Sharing and comparing our kiddo’s space in our rolling vs. stationary home.
Matt and I started dating our second year of university. Twelve months later we were planning our life together. At the age of 20. As if we had realistic expectations about our future.
We thought we would live on the east coast. We thought we’d rent for a couple years then buy a house. We thought we wanted to have four kids.
Oh, but life. We moved to the west coast one month after our first anniversary. We have rented a tiny apartment for seven and a half years. We have an awesome almost four year old and are adamantly done having children.
Our small space/small family choices were never intertwined. We waffled a bit on having a second child after Rhys was born, having ultimately decided two kids was our maximum. Another person could comfortably fit in our current space, especially in their tiniest years, but nothing compelled us to have another.
Recently, we put the final stamp on our family of three status. For nearly four years, we have checked in with each other frequently. We imagined the different paths life might take by adding more children. Then one weekend this fall we both had an experience and realized we are done. Our family is complete. We have found our path, we have our tiny tribe, now we walk.
This post was written for inclusion in the January 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!
A Life Shift– “Hong Kong House Sizes” : A small space in North America is large compared to Hong Kong standards! Learn more about house sizes in Hong Kong and where our space fits in the city’s spectrum of “the norm”.
Shelley Vanderbyl– “The Shuffle -How We Let Our Family Grow While Staying in a Small House” : “Do you think you’ll move to a bigger house?”…this is the question people started asking us not one, but two kids ago.
Fourth & West– “Party of Three” : Following life’s unexpected path.
Tiny Ass Camper– “Upsizing” : How our plan to add to our family impacted our search for a half-time home.
I anticipated my thirtieth birthday for years. Someone told me that thirty is when you put your feet on the ground, own who you are, and live it. The last few years of my twenties were a bit tumultuous between pregnancy, postpartum depression, and a big a career change. I needed a reset and a new decade was the best excuse. Whether a universal truth or just a self fulfilling prophecy, thirty was, without a doubt, my best year.
We kicked it off by booking a hotel in Vancouver so I could stand in the Pacific Ocean on my thirtieth birthday. That was September 2016. It ignited a flame and propelled us into 2017 ready to GO.
We said yes to any opportunity that got us outside or out of town. In February we drove over the still treacherous Coquihalla Highway to spend a wintery weekend with friends at camp. In April we spent our first night away from Rhys and explored more in Vancouver. In June we drove seven hours round trip down to the coast in a single day because the sun was shining and we wanted to get out of the house.
In July Matt took an unexpected trip home to Halifax, while Rhys and I spent three weeks in Pennsylvania with my parents. In August, we planned a last minute trip to Vancouver Island to visit a friend in Victoria. In September we went back to camp. In December we were able to spend a weekend at a local ski hill since a friend graciously allowed us to use their condo.
The weekends we were home we sought out new local adventures – hikes, beaches, farmers markets, restaurants, craft breweries. So much that we always wanted to do, but never prioritized. We are so much richer for the experiences and the people we met along the way.
Tonight we’re happy to wrap up a wonderful year. 2017 has changed us in an incredible way. We’re more confident and ambitious. We’re more grounded and sure of ourselves. We look forward to 2018 and all that it will bring. The adventures we have planned and the experiences we don’t yet know to anticipate. We welcome all of it expecting to be richer and stronger on the other side.
We’re having a merriest Christmas morning. Music on, the perfect coffee, FaceTime with family far away, pausing to play with gifts as they are opened. Later we’ll enjoy dinner and celebrate with our west coast framily, our very best friends.
Simple. Slow. Merry Christmas!