Minimalist Families: Erin’s Story

Erin has been kind enough to share her story – after I asked/begged her to – with us. Fun fact: Erin and I had already met a couple of times as we are both downtown cloth diapering moms who Craigslist (small world!) before we connected here. My blog was linked to somewhere, she followed it, took a closer look and then realized she knew me in-real-life!

Take a read, get inspired and know this: it’s not a life of deprivation. Erin and her beautiful boys are well dressed happy folk. They’ve just made some great decisions and habits that the rest of us can make too.

Thank you, Erin!

“Myself, my husband and my kids are all content with less, and I can’t imagine living any other way.”

When we got married in 2003, the closets in our 500 square foot rental condo were already bursting.  Later the same year, we moved into a brand new condo and brought all of our stuff with us.  Our beautiful new home was just over 800 square feet and had lots of closet space, more than enough room for the two of us.

However, within 2 years of being married and having a baby, we were very quickly becoming a cluttered household.  A lot of it was my doing – I loved the excitement of going shopping for baby clothes, toys and gear for my little one as much as I loved shopping for myself.  Fast forward another two years and we were expecting our second baby and still living in the same small condo, but with even more stuff.

While I was still pregnant, we began to consider moving, because we felt we were outgrowing our space.  While we hadn’t minded living in tiny spaces, we did feel ourselves overloaded with stuff, and the amount of stuff we had was disproportionate to the spaces we were living in.

Our embracing minimalism began in the fall of 2008, within three months of our second child being born, as we decluttered and prepared to put our condo up for sale.

While we tried to clear the clutter from our home, we did not get rid of it entirely.  We sent quite a few car loads of stuff to go live across town at my grandmother’s house.  My granny is a TRUE minimalist – at ninety years old, she was living in her 50 year old family home and the basement was unfinished and empty (so clearly a great place for all our junk).

I’m not really sure how all those trips across town didn’t stun us into the realization that all of that unwanted, unneeded stuff was really unnecessary to our daily lives, but the fact remained that it all went to live there for a whole year without us missing a single item.  Bikes, stereos, tons of kitchen appliances, bed linens, table linens (never mind that we didn’t own a dining table!), and bins and bins full of other superfluous stuff.

Miraculously, when all that stuff disappeared from our home, there wasn’t the same sense of urgency that we needed to get into a bigger place.  We were enjoying our small home, and not feeling pushed out by all our stuff.  We never did end up putting our home on the market, because we had become more content with our home as it was – free of clutter and lots of stuff we weren’t using and enjoying.

However, when my granny decided to sell her home and downsize a year later in the fall of 2009, we were finally forced to deal with that pile of unwanted stuff.  While some of it went to donations, most of the stuff was brought back to live with us.  Trying to force an additional twenty bins of unwanted, unneeded stuff back into our home was the catalyst for the realization that we needed to be rid of it all.

I started donating, selling and tossing it all.  My husband began to look at me like I was a crazy woman when he would come home from work in the evening and I had sold hundreds of dollars worth of baby gear on craigslist since he’d left for work that same morning.  This process went on for months.

We finally got to a place where we had gotten rid of all the unwanted stuff, but then I came to the realization that there was a ton more stuff we were living with that was unneeded.  And this brings us to where we are today – slowly letting go of all of the unneeded items.  This stage of decluttering is a much slower process, because I do still own beautiful, useful things – but unless I am using them on a weekly basis or it is an item that I am truly in love with, they are making their way out of our home.

The benefits of continuing to live minimally have been huge for our family.  Spending less money on stuff we didn’t need resulted in us putting more money toward our mortgage, paying it off in only five years.  Having no mortgage and being conscious of what we were spending our money on resulted in us having a lot lower monthly costs, which in turn enabled me to stay home with my children after my maternity leave was up in 2009.

Staying home with my children has allowed me a lot greater flexibility in my own life as well – I have a great social network of friends in my neighbourhood that I see regularly (if not daily), and being home with my kids has allowed me the time to cultivate those friendships in a more meaningful way.  I have more time to do things I enjoy, like reading, baking, working out, and doing fun stuff with my kids.

In short, my life got better by living simply.  I feel happier, and more content.  I don’t spend time worrying about finding another item of clothing to add to my wardrobe, or buying the latest toy for my kids, or getting the perfect Valentine’s gift for my husband – because we don’t need it.

I am conscious of the fact that purchasing items I don’t need is environmentally insensitive and that’s not the kind of person I want to be.  Because we have less clothes, toys and stuff, I spend less time doing things I consider unpleasant, like laundry, cleaning and organizing.  I enjoy spending my time with the people I care about, rather than trying to make myself happy by acquiring things.

Myself, my husband and my kids are all content with less, and I can’t imagine living any other way.

Erin and her family enjoying the good life.

If you’d like to share your story – born minimalist, in progress or just starting out – drop me an email.

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    • We were so fortunate to buy when we did before the real estate market went really nuts (we bought our condo in 2001). It would be a lot harder to be in the same place financially had we bought in the last few years.

  • Terrific story! Happily, I found your website a few months ago in my search for less stuff and more simplicity in our lives. I am enjoying your posts very much! Thank you!

      • I am, thank you so much! After a terrific week-long purge of items, today I “lost” well over 100 pounds after I dropped off a car load of donations to various organizations. What a lovely feeling! I am certainly not done yet…
        Thank you again for all the inspiration you provide!

  • My pleasure! Your posting our story is so timely, as I completed my 2011 decluttering challenge just yesterday – your posting about loving serving dishes but letting them go got me inspired to take another look at my kitchen, and I donated a bunch more stuff that was lovely, but that I never used. I love hearing about the stories of others who have gone minimalish or are living more simply too. Thanks for letting me contribute! :)

    • Thanks again, Erin. Sometimes it’s hard to actually figure out how to use a ‘how-to’ post in our own life. Real examples have been some of the best inspiration and motivation for me.

  • Yes!
    I live in a condo in downtown Victoria, with my husband and two small boys (ages 1 and 3 1/2). I often find myself longing for a house with more space, more rooms and another bathroom. But then I realize how happy I am, being able to walk to the grocery store, library— and not to mention that my husband walks to work. We are in the process of going through all our stuff, especially clothing and books, so we can live a less cluttered life in a smaller space, and be content with what we have. I love hearing from like-minded moms who aren’t ‘buying’ into the need to purchase news things for their kids all the time. Aren’t we happier when we have the time to spend playing scrabble and drinking a cup of tea, instead of rushing around, buying more stuff, then buying more furniture to store all our stuff. Thanks, Erin, for sharing, and also to Rachel for this blog. It’s an inspiration.

    • Thanks for commenting and sharing your story, Ashley. I lived in Victoria for a few years on and off. My best times there were when I was living in Cook Street Village or close downtown. Loved walking around the inner harbour or James Bay.
      And yes, Scrabble is so much better than working more to buy more stuff. We received a beautiful Scrabble board as a wedding gift (and we kept it during the great declutter). Great night of free entertainment, brain exercise and fun with a game of Scrabble.

    • Awesome! Being able to walk everywhere is one of the main things that has kept us from leaving our current neighbourhood – it is so great to not have to drive to the grocery store or the library. My kids clothing is still a work-in-progress, but it is something I am going to tackle this year as they outgrow things. Good luck!

  • Sooo how DID you get rid of the serving sets? I’m a newbie and have just recently donated/threw out all my 8o’s cassettes and survived by taking a picture of them all for memory. But I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my great aunt’s dish set, even though it’s been in my top cupboard for 8 years untouched. Sigh….

    Thanks for sharing Erin!

    • I got a lot of beautiful dishes when I got married (I had four wedding showers – eek!), so I did have some things that weren’t being used. If they had been used only once or twice in the last 8 years, I let them go. They can go on and live another life in someone else’s home, where hopefully they will get more love than they did here. Even though I got rid of nearly 20 serving dishes, I did still keep one of my grandmother’s china sets – it’s thirty years old and brand new! I had to take it out of the original packaging to put it in my kitchen cupboards :blush: I may part with it in the future, but just don’t feel like now is the right time.

  • Really enjoying these blogs. Erins blog really hit home as to how we are living at the moment and how much happiness I have with this lifestyle. Small place, walking everywhere and finding such happiness in the simplest of things! I would love to meet people on this same journey!

  • I love this story. I love to hear real life stories of others living this lifestyle, because I can’t seem to find any people doing it in real life where I live. Thanks for sharing.

  • My goodness how I’d love to pay off my mortgage in 5 years! Definitely a good reason to become a minimalist!

  • what a great story! I’ve always felt better after cleaning out a closet or two but in the last couple of years me and my husband have really taken a look at all the stuff that we have. We live in a house about 2000 sq ft in Texas and have closets (and sometimes a whole room) just sitting with stuff we don’t even use that much! Decluttering, and simplifying is truly a process of layers. Each time, I re-evaluate and realize that there’s still things I don’t use. Expecting our first baby soon, I now know how you really have to get a handle on all the stuff because with children, it just keeps coming!

    • Sounds like you are on a great track with the decluttering! It’s definitely a slow process, and it can be hard with small people around – we didn’t begin decluttering until our youngest was a few months old, and it gets easier as the kids get older and generous relatives stop buying all those cute little toys/outfits/knick-knacks.

    • I like the layers analogy. We are getting to another layer here and it’s exciting to see how the editing process continues.
      Good luck with the process and congratulations on your pregnancy – exciting!

  • thanks for the really inspirational story- I am currently just starting out on my minimalist path and it’s lovely to hear how other people have done it.
    Emma x

  • What an inspiring story, Erin! I’m another Vancouver mom (currently 8 months pregnant with #2!) living in an 800 sq ft condo. We love our neighbourhood. Being able to walk to the beach, library, park, etc is great. We definitely have some third bedroom envy (especially when the grandparents want to visit and stay overnight), but so far we’re staying put. I love that I’m able to stay home with my kids because our mortgage payments aren’t gigantic. Congrats to you!

    • Sounds like we might live in the same neighbourhood! We’re lucky that we have a guest suite in our building, so when the grandparents come to visit they can stay with us even though we don’t have a third bedroom. For years, my parents have suggested we move into a bigger place, but my mom has finally come around and is now even suggesting we just get a slightly bigger condo in our current neighbourhood. We’ll see what the future brings, but for now, we’re content in our cozy space. :)

  • It’s so nice to hear Vancouver stories! I also live in about 800sq ft with my two kids. We live in a co-op (we, alas, did not get into the real estate market in time) and have decided that we simply can’t comfortably afford to buy a 3 bedroom place. So we, too, work hard to keep things simple here. I find people in most other cities just don’t understand how we can live in our little apartment happily. Suggestions online for living in small spaces assume you have a garage, a basement, or consider 1400sq. ft. small.

    • Thanks for commenting, Pippa. Love hearing from other locals.
      In the past, I have frequented a few blogs of families living in Brooklyn and NYC. Families of 5 living in 700 sq ft. Happy families living in small spaces. Keeping it simple is key.

  • I’m totally interested in the fact that people are giving up their cars when they live in cold climates with kids. I want to know how are you doing this? I would love to see more information shared on this topic. I live in Michigan and with all the snow and cold weather I’m not sure how I would make it without a car (and two young children) – but I’m willing to learn!

    • There is a family that has commented on here before that lives in Ottawa (central Canada, very cold) and they have no car. They walk a lot and use a car co-op. So, not completely car-free (we really aren’t either because we use ZipCar when needed) but car-reduced.
      I’m in Vancouver, Canada and the weather here is usually quite mild.

  • Great blog! I am 4 days in to becoming a minimalist. I have gotten rid of over 700 items in these 4 days. I’ve been married for 9 years and all along my husband has been a minimalist and I didn’t know it. Everything in our home is mine or my 3 kids except his clothes and bike! I am excited to be on the road to a simple less stressful lifestyle. I have an Eco-friendly organic hair salon in my home and this lifestyle is going to fit hand in hand.

  • Hello need some help did declutter alot and am stock now but all the clutter are still working on my nerve……. what needs to be my next step? I did declutter maybe 40%

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