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.

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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.

the consumption

Tiny fashion - all second hand or locally made

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

simple space for a big imagination

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.

party of three

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.