Minimalist-ish Family Series: Ashley

Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
My name is Ashley and I’m writing from Victoria, British Columbia.  My first born was three months old when my husband and I bought a condo.  We had been living with my in laws for two years and prior to that we had rented a basement suite.  At the time of our condo purchase it was all we could afford since Victoria is very expensive.  These days we are happy in the condo, where I home educate our two boys ages 6 and 9.  During the past nine years we have experienced the joys of living a fifteen minute walk from the ocean, downtown, parks, grocery stores, the library and my husband’s office.  We love to walk and be outside.  Cycling is my husband’s favourite mode of transportation, so we are quite fortunate to live in this area.  On the other hand there have been many times when the inconveniences of condo living have brought us frustration and discontentment; shared laundry two floors below our suite (which for many years meant timing laundry at nap time), trying to keep the noise and footsteps on laminate floor to a minimum (very difficult with toddlers!), one tiny bathroom, not enough light in the winter months-I could go on and on.  However, I can honestly say that my husband and I have now started to let go of the unrealistic dream of owning a house in our city, and instead we’ve begun to truly appreciate what we have.
When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?
I first heard about minimalism when I read Rachel’s article in the Globe and Mail, many years ago!  I wasn’t intending to start living a strict minimalist lifestyle, but purging all the stuff that we never use and then being more deliberate about items I purchased, well, that was exciting to me. I started going through the house, finding all sorts of little things (especially in the kitchen) that I never used.  Cleaning out feels good, but realizing that I don’t have to hold onto things in order to feel secure or happy feels like a huge burden lifted.
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What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
I don’t think that I’m deliberating trying to live with less stuff.  I’m not a very good example of a true minimalist.  However, making the decision to stay in our condo for the long term has caused me to shift my thinking.  Instead of saying, “I don’t want us to have lots of stuff’, out of necessity I have to say, “There’s only one small space where I can keep recipe books so I’ll have to decide which ones are worth keeping”.  Or, since we don’t have a garage or basement but only an awkwardly-sized storage locker, we can’t hang onto anything we aren’t using upstairs.  The locker fits our bikes, camping gear, Christmas boxes and a few odds and ends.  There’s no option to hang onto boxes full of pictures or books or old school work. This fact forces my husband and I to constantly make decisions around what to keep and what to donate or recycle or sell.  The downside is that all this decision making can be exhausting!  Especially as my boys get older and are producing more drawings, more projects, more school work, more stuff.  I am running out of creative storage solutions and the momentum needed to keep cleaning out!
What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
Being able to find everything!  Seriously, I can find most items in our home fairly quickly (with the exception of toys or other little knick knacks that the boys collect).  I also have less to tidy and less to clean.  The best example I can give of us living with less stuff is in my bedroom.  We gave the boys the master bedroom a couple of years ago, which was a great move.  Our bedroom now holds a queen sized bed, a small bedside table and then the little closet holds all our clothes.  Since the closet is small we can only have so many clothing items at one time, which keeps us from shopping and hanging onto old clothes that we ‘might wear one day’ but never do.  Most importantly, deciding to make the best of condo living has opened up great relationships with our neighbors in the building.  There are a few people in particular with whom I regularly borrow books, or kitchenware, and in turn I can lend them items I don’t use on a regular basis-hair clippers, a dehydrator or tools.  Sometimes I will offer my boys’ clothes to my neighbors who have younger children.  This has lead to many face to face conversations with the people who live below, beside and above my family.  I feel like our building has become a very special community of all ages (from eighteen months old to ninety-three years!) and what could be a better place to raise my kids.
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Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
Oh yes, I know there will be challenges as the boys get older.  They will get bigger, for one thing.  They will crave more space!  But, I guess I need to keep in mind that life will always have challenges no matter where we live or how we live.  The reality for my family right now is that we don’t have the finances to move, so we will do what we can to make it work as best we can, for as long as we need to.
Thank you Ashley! So lovely to hear from another condo family making the best of their small living situation. If you’d like to share your story of living minimalist-ish family life – any size home or family! – contact me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.
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  • I love Victoria, BC, but I can readily believe it is expensive to live there! Your home looks lovely. You seem to be making excellent use of your home, especially as a homeschooler. It’s really hard to take a minimalist approach to educational materials!

  • Living in a condo and raising children definitely poses its challenge, a good one, none the less. :) Ashley I can relate to all the challenges you mentioned in this post. I, too, have raised three kids in a 800 square feet condo in a nice city. Toward the end of the 17 years living in that place, I have learned contentment and the art of letting go. We are in a house with a big yard now, but I do miss our lives in that small condo every now and then. In the end of the day, it is about people and relationship, not so much the square feet of the dwelling place.

  • Thank you Ashley for your story! I am expecting my first child and we are in Southern California which is also very expensive. I would love to be closer to nature where I can walk with the baby and not worry about traffic and congestion as we are now in the middle of the city. We are looking for a smaller place now and I definitely would like to keep the minimalist approach to raising my child. I worry though about relatives and my husband who would probably shower the baby with gifts, toys and other things which are really not necessary. But again, if we have small space, there won’t be space to store extra things :)

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