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.
As a little girl, I lived through many years of scarcity. My parents always provided my necessities, but frivolous purchases just couldn’t happen. Except on Christmas morning. They would scrimp and save and find all the deals.
Christmas was magic.
I would patter out of my room, blurry-eyed, to see that tree overflowing with gifts. Granted, a good portion were items needed – socks, underwear, maybe a new winter coat – but to four year old Kaylan it was positively extravagant.
As an adult, especially as a mom, I wanted to continue that magic. The frivolous aspect warred against my minimalist, practical side and as I overbought, I felt like I failed at Christmas. As the presents accumulated under the tree, I hated the precedent I was setting for my son, yet I couldn’t shake that tradition of an extravagant Christmas morning.
I realized this year with a three year old is probably my last chance to start over without him remembering much of the years of abundance. The evidence of over-buying has been erased throughout our house and I don’t want him to question why holidays were directly opposite of our values every other day of the year. Why did we give up simplicity and generosity to absolutely spoil ourselves? Can we not enjoy the gift giving aspect of the holidays without making it the aspect?
So this year we’re focusing on people and on simple traditions. A favourite advent tree with numbered ornaments. Baking together and sharing treats with friends. Shopping for the food bank and talking about how grateful we are for the things we have (although the 3 year old’s take away from “Stuff a Bus” was “the big bus is very, very hungry”… we still have work to do there).
And on Christmas morning there will be gifts under the tree, but they will be few and they will be thoughtful.
When my son is an adult I want him to remember that our holidays were not consumed with shopping and buying. I want him to remember that we thought of other people often. That we were always thankful for what we had. That when we did give gifts they were thoughtful and personal, not given out of obligation. The greatest gift I can give him is to model a life of kindness and generosity, to show him that gifts and things aren’t the focus of our holidays. We’ve intentionally crafted a life of simplicity and I want that to be evident every single day. Even December 25th.
This post was written for inclusion in the December 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!
When we first moved into our apartment we hosted frequently. A few friends for dinner in the evening, a larger gathering on a Saturday night. When the couch was full people sat on the floor or stood in the kitchen. There was food and friends and it was good. Space and formal seating didn’t matter. A month after we moved in, we hosted our first overnight guest who happily made a bed on our couch.
That has been our legacy in a small house. It’s not fancy, but we’ll always give our best to our guests first. Family and friends are always, always welcome. We’ve perfected the shuffling of beds between our room and our son’s so that our overnight guests have the best space to rest. We clear space on our bathroom shelves to make sure our overnight guests have a place to put their necessities.
This past summer we rearranged our deck space to be more accommodating for meals. We’ve tried several arrangements of furniture for casual conversations, but a big farmhouse table to seat 8+ seemed like the winning combination. And it was. We shared so many meals with friends, kids, and babies around that table. It’s now packed away for the winter (no one wants to sit outside with us in Canada in December!), but we are already anticipating it’s return when the weather is warmer.
It seems so cliche to say “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”, but when it comes to hosting in a small space it is true. Our friends who love us for us also love our small space and our slightly quirky choices. They embrace our space with us… because they love us. They want to spend time with us and that is more important than our small living space.
Live your small space. Fancy, casual, whatever represents you. Invite your people to join you. Find your community and don’t apologize!
Before Rhys was born, Matt and I very much lived by the work hard, play hard motto. We both worked jobs with non traditional schedules, put in long hours, and then we crammed in time with friends or quick trips away when we could spare some time from work. We didn’t allow for much space in our days for flexibility or the option to just be. We were always coming or going or planning or working.
A bit unexpectedly, Matt transitioned to a new job with a set schedule that brought a bit of reprieve to our lives. It was still a swing shift, but it was Monday to Friday and far more predictable than his previous career. I stayed at my job while pregnant, endured a rough year long maternity leave overshadowed by postpartum depression, and returned to an even more demanding schedule. We pieced together childcare between exhausted parents and a part time nanny. I lasted exactly six weeks before I started daydreaming about a big change and putting things in motion to make it happen. I desperately needed space in my day to breath. Our family needed margins or we were going to break.
The transition didn’t happen instantly, but every step towards the end goal made things a little easier. I started recognizing other areas where we could create space – our possessions, our budget, our commitments. Our small apartment never let us get too overwhelmed with things, but we realized we could spend our time taking care of stuff or we could just get rid of it. We pared down until household chores weren’t overwhelming. Not owning as much meant not buying either which allowed us to save more and put larger margins in our finances. For a season we said no to all reoccurring commitments and we’re very selective about the individual events to which we said yes.
As my new career took shape, we finally found the balance our family craved. We could be adults with careers and hobbies. We could be a family that traveled and sought new adventures. We can be a family that sits at home on a Friday night or one that invites friends to join in. We have margins. Space in our schedules and in our house so that we can put our relationships first.
This post was written for inclusion in the October 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!
Justice Pirate– “I’m So Spaced Out!” : Learn about experimentation and the importance of having a little more space than the average person might imagine; in fact, use your imagination more and embrace the space!
The Streamlined Life– “Creating Space in a Small Home” : Can you add more space to a small house without increasing the square footage? Let’s just say it’s easier than you think.
Tiny Ass Camper– “Creating Space” : How less physical space has created more space for things that matter.
Fourth & West– “Margins” : Creating space in a busy life.
If one characteristic has punctuated our life in a small home, it is flexibility. It is the one essential quality to make living in a small space possible.
We’ve swapped bedrooms with our son countless times. Most pieces of furniture have been used in multiple rooms for a variety of purposes and if they don’t have that flexibility, we have swapped them out for a more functional model as our needs change. In seven years we’ve had two different dressers, three bed frames, three couches, four kitchen tables, and an untold number of accent chairs. Our needs change, our space evolves. Flexibility is key in making our home function best for us.
We knew moving into this home that we would have to be creative and give up some traditional ideas. Spaces cannot serve just one purpose and we expected each space to evolve as our lifestyle and family changed. One particular nook went from office space to a sewing desk to an entry bench and now has a dedicated shoe cabinet. We needed all of those functions at different times so we found ways to make that twelve square feet live up to its potential.
As we dream of the future in perhaps a smaller home, flexibility will be our motto. We know if we can be creative and live happily in a small apartment for the better part of a decade, we can realistically consider a tiny house, an RV adventure, or perhaps downsizing apartments to live in a different city. We can make anything living arrangement work if we’re flexible with our needs and willing to make the most out of the space we call home.
This post was written for inclusion in the September 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!
Justice Pirate– “7 Simple Living Must-Haves” : When simplicity seems so far away or impossible to embrace, you realize it is the best and easiest way.
600 Sq Ft and a Baby– “Our necessities for small family living” : While I could list the items in our home that make small living possible (ahem, wall bed), it’s really about our commitment to living small and some questions we ask ourselves before we buy anything.
When we moved to this apartment and downsized our square footage by half, we had to be more creative with storage, but less space didn't change our hobbies or hinder our creativity. We lacked dedicated space for a sewing desk or a music room, but as just two adults we could take over a corner of the living room or the kitchen table for a time and it was fine.
The real challenge to fit our hobbies in our small space came when Rhys was born and gained mobility. Guitars on a stand in the living room are fascinating to crawling infants. Fabric, scissors, and sewing scraps are delightful toys to toddlers. Everything had to be put away every time we used it, and for both Matt and I it killed the desire to even attempt doing those hobbies we once loved.
Eventually Matt streamlined his guitar gear and built a pedal board so setting up and cleaning up were much quicker. I found myself growing more and more impatient with fussy hobbies like sewing and crafting and have moved away from them altogether. I far prefer writing or cooking for creative endeavours inside our house, but now with an active three year old I really enjoy just getting outside. Going for a walk, swim in the lake, playing in our yard… anything to tire a kid out!
As Rhys grows and our need for a child friendly home diminishes I know I'll have a chance to try new hobbies. Like everything else, our creative endeavours ebb and flow with the seasons of life. Right now we're in the crazy preschooler, tired parents phase and that doesn't leave a lot of time or space for messy hobbies. A tiny space hasn't limited the desire to be creative, instead it has given me the opportunity to try new things and find new passions.
This post was written for inclusion in the August 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– "Colourful Minimalism" : Sharing my totally made up design style and some images that are inspiring me creatively in my new small home.
A Life Shift– "Do You Need to Be Creative to Live Small?" : Thoughts on whether creativity is the key for this family of three's harmonious life in a tiny Hong Kong apartment, or if there are other "secret ingredients" that make it a successful lifestyle we love.
Family Pedals– "Creativity in the Cold" : So it is the coldest months when the kids have the most pent-up energy and the fewest outdoor options that we have the least square footage. Having limits–limited space, limited toys, limited options–gives our kids the freedom they need to create.
Seven years ago, Matt accepted a job that would move us over 4,000 km. Coming from northern New Brunswick where rentals were spacious, plentiful, and reasonably priced, we were naive, at best, about the rental market in our new city. We struggled immensely to even get a response from a property manager when looking for a place to live in British Columbia. Seemingly at the eleventh hour a connection came through and we signed a lease and mailed off a deposit cheque for a basement apartment after seeing only four pictures. We knew we could endure anything for a year and it would be much easier to search for a bigger, non-basement rental when we were local.
The year came and went. We were happy enough so we didn’t actively look for a new place to live. I was in the process of applying for permanent residency in Canada and couldn’t work so it was nice to have very affordable rent in an otherwise expensive area. Another year passed, my residency was approved, I started working again. We looked at our budget and realized we could afford a bigger apartment or we could save and travel a bit. The small place was starting to grow on us so we decided to stay. Another year passed and our landlord, with whom we had become good friends, got married. I doubt we ever would have sought out an intentional community living lifestyle, but for people who are generally homebodies, it was awesome having best friends fifteen feet away. Then life started coming fast… Matt changed careers, I got pregnant. Every time we considered moving or starting looking at our options, the apartment we already lived in came out the clear winner. With only one bedroom, we didn’t expect to stay long with a baby, but our landlords offered to renovate an unused space on our level to give us a den and huge addition of living space. It was something they would do for themselves eventually anyway and if it allowed us to stay here longer they were happy to do it when we needed it.
Somewhere in all of this our hearts were opening to other ideas, as well. That chasing the dream of bigger maybe wasn’t better. That we have friends and neighbours in our town, our country, our world who are affected by our decisions. That owning a bigger home and more things contributes to a global problem. That consumption and overdevelopment aren’t just things for government organizations to worry about, but that we have a personal responsibility to live lightly on the earth.
As we’ve grown into a family here, I’ve developed new appreciations for a small home. It is easy to keep tidy, and for a person who does not relish time spent cleaning this cannot be overstated! The cheaper rent has been a blessing again, giving us flexibility for our career options and allowing us to make choices that best support our family, not the bills we have each month. It forces us into each other’s space and encourages us to connect more often than two introverts might otherwise seek out. And in this home that chose us, it has given us best friends who live upstairs, people who have become second parents to our son, their children like his siblings.
This home has been everything we have needed, exactly when we needed it. It was ready for us when nothing else was an option. It chose us knowing the people we would become, knowing that it would still be our first choice every time.
This post was written for inclusion in the July 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!
Minimalist Meg– “Our Story Behind Small and Simple Living” : Sometimes living simply and living small doesn’t happen because of a grand event. Sometimes it just happens and it’s not until after that you decide to keep it that way.
Little Bungalow– “Accidental then Intentional” : A visual tour of all the small homes we didn’t buy before we bought our most recent smallish home in beautiful Victoria, BC.
This Lovely Day– “Tiny Transitions” : Follow along with Kate Shaw, a retiring Air Force pilot, as she transitions her family of five from living in a 3200 ft.² century home to a 900 ft.² downtown high rise condo in the city.
Family Pedals– “Finding Abundance in 1500 Square Feet” : In our culture it would be easy for us to view our house as a stepping stone to something bigger, something nicer. For us, the next step we’d like to take is to something smaller, something simpler.