Getting Minimalist-ish in 2017

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We’re currently exploring and getting to know a small island about 100 miles from Africa and a two hour ferry ride from Sicily. As I’ve written before, we’re having kind of a weird stretch right now as a family and I’m learning lots about managing life in less than ideal circumstances. With less time to myself and more demands I’m finding keeping things simple to be the only way forward right now!

Happy New Year! I know many of you are setting decluttering goals for the year and I wanted to share some of my favourite resources. As I have said before, there is no one right way to go about reducing your stuff or paring back your commitments. The right way is one that works for you and that you can stick with. It could be using a method from a book, making a bet with a friend, joining in on an Instagram hashtag like the #minsgame, joining an online community, publicly declaring a goal to friends and family or simply throwing a box in the corner of each room of your home and putting things in it as you see that you no longer use them (my favourite method and so easy to start right now). Here are some other ideas to get you started:

Books on Decluttering

The Clutter Cleanse Series

Minimalist Writers I Recommend

Almost too many to include but the following writers have inspired me, shocked me and made me laugh over the years. Of note: I’m not a sell everything and live with no couch kind of minimalist (though I love reading about that kind of radical minimalism) so all of these writers lend themselves to the more moderate style of practical minimalism that we aim for as a family.

  • Brook McAlary on Slow Your Home: her podcast is both fun, irreverent, soulful and informative and her blog is a treasure trove of posts for slowing down and letting go. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming book.
  • Joshua Becker on Becoming Minimalist: powerful posts about our consumption habits, why we all need to live with less and how to do it. Join his newsletter for collections of news on consumption and simplifying.
  • Evelyn on Smallish: I started following Evelyn when she had a few less children and they all lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment. They now live in a 1000 sq ft home as a family of six and I continue to admire her authenticity in sharing life as a homeschooling mom of four in a small home. If you have a gaggle of kids and are feeling defeated by stuff go check out Evelyn’s website!
  • Courtney Carver’s Project 333: for those of you struggling with wardrobes, fast fashion and the fear of having nothing to wear. Courtney’s many devotees share their minimalist wardrobes under the hashtag #project333.

Don’t be discouraged if you find things get worse before they get better. My family has been at this for six years now and we still have to sort kid’s clothes, donate toys, sell something we bought only year ago because we no longer need/use/wear it semi-regularly. Paring down or minimalism or simplifying or whatever you want to call it is not a a destination but a journey. Good luck!

A Minimalist Stroller: The Mountain Buggy Nano

 

For the parents of the young ones and the parents-to-be out there: a never before found on this blog stroller review. I don’t think I have ever reviewed anything besides books here. But today I am sharing a great find for parents that actually fits in with a minimalist parenting lifestyle. A revolutionary stroller designed for travel, urban life and compact living.

As I have said before, no one stroller does it all.

My kids are getting older and with some other life changes I knew it was time to downsize our stroller. Our double had served us well with two kids under two but the double days were, thankfully, behind us. We needed something that folded up easily and compactly for storage at daycare and for some upcoming long haul travel. And, dare to dream, if I could haul it on my cargo bike for big outings that would be a huge bonus. After seven years of stroller life I also really wanted to get back some hall entryway space. Those of you with small homes can probably relate. That spot near the front door where a stroller has sat since my oldest was born was tantalizingly within reach of us reclaiming.

I researched a lot of small strollers this fall. We’d had a second hand Maclaren for a few years in the Isle of Man and it worked well for travel and our horse tram and train trips around the island. But it wasn’t comfortable to push for long distances and at 6’5″ my husband struggled with the low handle height. We needed something that was easy to walk with daily and for a lot of miles. After much searching and querying of parents at the indoor play gym, I found what I was looking for.

The Mountain Buggy Nano is my minimalist stroller.

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The Mountain Buggy Nano fits most of my urban minimalist needs. One handed push, folds easily and compactly and a comfortable seat (my youngest naps in the stroller most afternoons). With an infant car seat for use it can be used from birth and has a carry capacity of 44 lbs. You can even add a Freerider scooter to the rear axle to move your older child along. The wheels are surprisingly smooth for being smaller and not air filled and it, incredibly for its size, has a suspension system. The basket is a decent size for everyday use and it has an excellent canopy with pop out sun shade.

I consider myself a bit of a stroller guru. We’ve had many strollers over the years as we moved countries added children. So far we have at one time owned, bought in new or used condition, an UppaBaby Vista, fixed wheel jogging stroller, BOB Revolution, Phil and Teds Navigator double and a McLaren umbrella stroller. And compared to all of those strollers, the Mountain Buggy Nano is probably my favorite for its versatility, size and price point.

More about the Mountain Buggy Nano:

  • I’ve been asking other parents about their Mountain Buggy Nanos for a few months now. I wanted to know how the stroller held-up over time. One parent I met locally has had her Mountain Buggy Nano for 18 months, has put a lot of miles on her stroller (stay at home parent with no car) and said it is still in great shape. Her one comment was that she might have to replace the wheels in the next six months.
  • you need to pop the stroller over curbs and it has taken me a while to get used to this. Why? Because the stroller otherwise rolls smoothly like a full size premium stroller. Popping front wheels up for a curb was second nature with our rickety umbrella stroller but has not come naturally with this stroller.
  • obviously this stroller won’t work as a two seated double or for running or for large grocery trips. I’ve rolled the stroller on gravel and uneven and broken pavement and it has been okay but if I lived somewhere with rough terrain or out in the country I wouldn’t choose this stroller as an everyday stroller.
  • it’s really really easy to fold and it’s very compact. One reason we wanted this stroller was that our youngest was starting daycare and there is limited stroller storage. The Mountain Buggy Nano is perfect for stowing in small spaces.
  • one of the features I’m very excited about is that it can be stored in overhead bins on a plane. We have some upcoming travel where I am going to test this out. As I will be on my own with three young kids for half of the air travel I am thrilled at this option to make life a little bit easier. (I’ll be sharing more on air travel with the Mountain Buggy Nano on Instagram).
  • in comparison to a premium stroller the Mountain Buggy Nano is a bargain at $349 CDN. But if you compared it to a lightweight umbrella stroller it’s considerably more money. In my opinion the MB Nano is much more than a lightweight umbrella stroller but it can easily fit that need – easy fold, easily portable. It’s more comparable to something like the UPPA Baby G-Luxe but it’s lighter weight and has a more compact fold. And, the big one, it has one handed push which no umbrella style stroller has. So if you just need something small to stash in your car for the occasional trip this would be a hefty investment. But if you want a stroller that’s travel friendly but feels like a premium stroller, this is an amazing option.

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Tip: the weather shield above the head rest can doubles as extra storage for lightweight items like jackets, blankets and teddies.

This is my last stroller and, hurrah!, it’s great for 95% of what we need it for. Sure, I can’t do a huge grocery shop with it but we are mostly using grocery delivery these days, the new fruit and veg place on the corner and the occasional Chefs Plate (highly recommend you Canadians give this a try – link gets you three free plates). And I have a funny system for Costco runs where I use a folding handcart (it totally works). So yeah, this is it. Seven years down the road of stroller usage and I feel like I’ve found my spirit stroller. It’s compact, versatile and travels well. Oh, and my seven year old also finds it easy to push. Win, win, win.

Disclaimer: I received a Mountain Buggy Nano stroller for review. All opinions are honest and my own.

You Can Buy Happiness This Christmas

 

Somewhere around December 29th last year you said, I’m not doing this again. Do you remember?

It was after exchanging a lot of gift cards with relatives, a lot of last minute fluffy throw blankets with the gift receipt stapled to the tag because you knew they would be returned for store credit. Or maybe you said it in the week leading up to Christmas when you scoured the mall for a $40 gift for someone that has all that they need and very little that they want. Perhaps it was the first week of January when the spending hangover really kicked in as you looked at bank accounts and credit card statements or you stuffed your own collection of unneeded and unwanted gifts into a box destined for re-gifting or eventually donation.

“The Christmas we now celebrate grew up at a time when Americans were mostly poor … mostly working with their hands and backs.. if we now feel burdened and unsatisfied by the piles of gifts and overconsuming, it is not because Christmas has changed all that much, it’s because we have.”

– Bill McKibben Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas

Fifteen years ago my family decided we were done with traditional gift giving at Christmas. As my five siblings and I entered adulthood we spent a few years buying each other gifts for Christmas. It became stressful and not very enjoyable. So we decided to do something different. We’d been fortunate to receive help years earlier as a single parent low-income family so it felt natural to now return that help. We sponsored a family in need through a local organization and put the money we would have spent on each other towards that. New winter jackets and warm clothes for kids, some toys and  several things for the mom and lots and lots of groceries to fill the fridge and pantry. The first year we did this kind of giving we all remarked how much more enjoyable the holidays were. No frantic mall shopping the week before Christmas. No stress over if someone liked their gift. And, of course, giving to people in our community that needed help felt great.

Yes you can buy happiness: use your money to help those in need.

Almost every year since we have found an organization that connects us to a family in our community and we find out what they need, what they want and shop for them. A few years because of logistics and distance (many of us live or have lived in far flung places) some of us just donated money to a good cause but we have made it a tradition that we give to those in need at this time of year instead of traditional gift giving.

If you felt overwhelmed last year, if you felt that the focus on gifts and buying and shopping took away from your enjoyment of the holiday season, if the ritual of exchanging gifts has become a burden rather than a joy, I urge you to start a new tradition. You likely already have a group in mind, a circle of family or friends that would appreciate a break from gift giving and a chance to instead pool your resources to help those in your community. And if you have some folks that love to shop well, they will love shopping even more when they know it’s for someone that really needs new shoes, or a family that will sleep better at night knowing the cupboards are full. And if you have people that don’t enjoy shopping – I’m one of those – let me tell you, shopping for a family that truly needs things is quite enjoyable.

Some ideas for how to broach this change in gift giving:

  • be open to no the first time you bring it up. Sometimes you need to plant the seed a year ahead of time.
  • be ready to assume the organizer role. Someone will need to quarterback the project with who will buy what, who will deliver gifts to the organization, etc.
  • start small. Perhaps for year one you move to a Secret Santa style gift exchange with one person you buy a gift for and one person you make a donation in their name.
  • if your gift exchange is your chance to meet up make sure the meet up part still happens.

If you have the means to buy frivolous gifts or gifts for people that already have everything they need and most of the stuff they want, maybe it’s time to do something different. Maybe it’s time to celebrate your friendship, your good fortunes of health and happiness, by giving together.

Anyone have a unique way that you have changed your gift giving traditions to be less focused on stuff? I would love to volunteer together as a family someday once we’re out of the baby/young toddler stage.

The Month I Paid $30/mile to Drive

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It’s feeling like 2011 here all over again. We just returned our cable box – a ‘yeah! North American sports coverage’ purchase for my husband when we moved back to Canada. And, yikes, we just sold the minivan we bought at the same time. No, we’re not in a big old mountain of debt like we were back then. This isn’t a simplify our life and save money plan like it was back then. It’s mostly rooted in common sense.

Cable: my husband is away most of the next year. We won’t get much use from our cable box. Confession: I have on occasion watched some HGTV when up with a sick kid. But that’s certainly not worth $80/month. So we’re back to just the Apple TV which is plenty of at home entertainment.

The car: we paid around $30/mile in the last month to drive. Insurance is $150/month, our parking stall is technically worth $100/month and we had a $453 maintenance bill. I’m not even going to calculate the money we have tied up in our car and what it could be earning us either as an investment or as saved interest if we put it on our mortgage. Our one trip in the last four weeks by car was out to an Air Park for a birthday party. Fun time but $703 for the 40 minute roundtrip drive seems rather steep.

We primarily bought and used the car for the school run last year. And then we got our Yuba Mundo cargo bike in the late spring and the car only did the school run on rainy days. My oldest son moved schools this fall and is now able to walk. So the car wasn’t getting much use. I’m solo parenting most of the time these days and prefer taking the kids places on the bus or skytrain, by bike or just on foot with the older two on scooters and my youngest in a stroller. We don’t need a car for 95% of our life. So it just made sense to sell our car.

Using common sense still feels a bit scary. There is a bias here in North America that families need cars. Even if your day to day needs are met by other transportation modes. What if there’s an emergency? That’s what many people ask. Well, if it’s a true emergency I’m calling an ambulance. Otherwise I call a taxi. A $3o taxi ride or an $80 day rate for a car or $2.75 for the bus – all options that are cheaper than owning a car that you’re not using regularly.

We have LOTS of car share options in Vancouver. There are four car sharing options in my neighborhood: ZipCar, Modo Car Coop, Car2Go and Evo Car Share. Yes, it’s a pain to drag two car seats and a booster to a car and install them before driving. But when you only drive once or twice a month as a family, it’s not so bad. Plus I’ve got my cargo bike, bus, skytrain, scooters and Mobi bike share. So many options for getting around with or without the kids along.

And the money side is compelling. We’ll rent our parking space out for $100 and that plus not paying $150/month in insurance should be a fine transportation budget. So no gas costs, no maintenance or repair and the proceeds from selling the car (substantial – it was a 2012 Honda Odyssey) are now working for us instead of sitting in the car and depreciating.

I’ll admit it’s daunting to go car-free this time around. We have three kids and two of them are still in car seats. Our middle child has a very slim build and I don’t think he will be ready for a booster for quite some time. So I’m coming up with some less painful plans for dragging car seats a few blocks (I like this and this plus the first would be great for Costco runs on foot). The nice thing is that I know others with 3 or more children are also car-free and loving it.

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Minimalist-ish Family Series: Colleen Vales

So many challenges and so many big life changes for this family living in the expensive Bay area. A move to a tiny home and a new baby and long distance parenting and creating a multi-generational family unit by moving into your parent’s backyard. Really interesting and inspiring read here that I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
I’m Colleen, a working mother of a 10-year-old daughter, with a baby due in November. We live in San Jose, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, where I work in communications for a local government agency. My partner lives two hours away with his 14-year-old son, so for a few years, we’re going to be long-distance parenting our baby. 
My daughter and I have a black lab and a cat of unknown origin, and we’re in the middle of downsizing from a 975-square-foot condo to a 270-square-foot tiny home. We want to live more simply and intentionally and not live to pay rent. We’re going to park the tiny home in my parents’ back yard, and I think that’ll be mutually beneficial. They help care for my daughter while I’m at work, and I help them around their house. The tiny home is due shortly after the baby, which has posed a challenge in terms of downsizing, but we’re trying to use baby registries to help guide the gifts that are already arriving for the baby.
Things we love to do, especially now that we’re not spending so much time shopping for needless items, include spending time with family and friends, writing, reading, knitting, riding our bikes around town, hiking in the hills close to our home, and gardening.
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2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?
I first heard about minimalism probably about four years ago when I learned of Bea Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. At that point, I had been trying to reduce my use of plastic and to make more things from scratch and found her blog to be very helpful. Around the same time, I stumbled across Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog. Both encouraged buying less and focusing on experiences, and that resonated with me because I was smack in the middle of struggling to try to find time for my daughter, doing the things I love and working a full-time job. As I read their blogs, I was turned onto more: The Minimalists , Slow Your Home, LifeEdited and others. 
They all talked about not being tied down by your things, which also resonated with me because we have moved a couple of times over the last few years, and each time, my older brother has helped me and commented “Dude. You have too much stuff.” I knew he was right, and I remembered back to my college days when I could fit everything I needed to live in the back of my pickup truck. I also remembered a 7-month trip to Europe I had taken before my daughter was born, where I and my partner started out with a backpack and a suitcase each and whittled our belongings down to a backpack each and one shared small suitcase. I love the idea of being able to pick up and go and not be tied down by stuff. All those thoughts and new information from the blogs came together to help me see that it was time to get rid of some things. 
A year or two later, I discovered tiny houses, which appealed to my desire to live without the shackles of stuff as well as the ability to pick up and go. It didn’t take much — just one video — to convince my daughter that they were really cool and something we should pursue. And now here we are, waiting for our tiny home to get built so we can have a place we can truly call our own, a place where we can live simply, with a smaller environmental footprint, and have the option to just go if we desire. I’m pretty sure it will have some big challenges and take some getting used to, but we are really excited about it.
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3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
One of the biggest challenges I’m having right now is trying to figure out what else to get rid of. Although we’ve been in 200-square-foot tiny homes before, it’s hard to know what amount of stuff will fit in our particular space. I have used the KonMari method twice with great success in getting rid of a lot of things — it has been especially helpful with sentimental items — but I know I have more to go. Furniture will be easy to send off, but beyond that, I don’t know what else should go.
My particular nemesis is the kitchen. While I have pared down considerably, I love to cook and bake, and I use all the tools I have kept. I think I will need to see our new space before I will truly know what to jettison next, and it’s that waiting that I find challenging. I want to get rid of things now.
Another challenge has been not bringing more into our home. While I have cut down on shopping, I still have not totally eliminated desire, and I’m not immune to temptation. So I try to remember that we won’t have room in the tiny house to put the things we buy now, and it’s been helpful in keeping me from buying something that I may have to get rid of in a few months. But with fundraisers at my daughter’s and my partner’s son’s school, plus a baby on the way, keeping down the amount of stuff we bring in has been a little difficult. The baby is due just before our tiny house is due, and we have found ourselves the recipients of more things that we may have trouble finding a place for in the new house. I’m trying to keep it to just what we’ll need, but with baby items, it can be so hard — they’re so cute! I’m a sucker for cute stuff.
4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
There are a few things that I find rewarding about living with less stuff. The first and most important is the time I have that I don’t spend shopping, cleaning, organizing or caring for so many things. That has freed up more time for me to concentrate on writing and spending time with my daughter, and in turn, that — being able to do the things I love — has cut down on my stress.
I also find my home to be much more serene. Without knickknacks and papers and other stuff cluttering up each surface, my home feels more welcoming, easier to breathe in and more conducive to creativity. I’m not distracted by piles of papers or books or things I have to put away. I’ve slowed down, and my home reflects that, but because there isn’t that distraction or waste of time on shopping, I feel like I get so much more done.
Our home is also a lot greener and healthier. When we don’t bring so much stuff in, we generate less trash and our new buying habits require fewer resources for the production, transport and disposal of things. We’ve gotten the amount of trash we generate (from two people, a dog, a cat and guests) down to one 8-gallon trash can that we take out every two to three weeks, and I’m aiming to make that can smaller. By bringing less packaged stuff into our house, I’m also cooking from scratch more, which results in us eating a greater variety of healthier, tastier food.
Lastly, we’ve saved money. By really considering purchases before making them and not shopping as much, I’ve been able to eliminate all my debt, and have tried to train myself to save up for an item that I give myself permission to buy. It’s not easy, and I feel like I’m still learning, but it’s nice each month when my credit card statements arrive via e-mail, and my balance is zero. This frugality is allowing me to take six months of mostly unpaid leave after the baby is born. I’ll get 2/3 of my pay for the first 4 to 6 weeks, but after that, I’ll have to live on savings, so cutting out shopping has been instrumental in my calculations on how to make this work. So has moving into a tiny house, which will cut down on my monthly housing payment by about $1,200 each month, which still isnt even half my rent. (Silicon Valley is extremely expensive).
 

5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
A continued challenge to this lifestyle will be when my partner and I can finally merge our households. He is definitely not a minimalist. While I’ve taken him into consideration in the design of our tiny house, he is also not a person who would ever consider such a living situation for himself and his son. Bringing together two opposite lifestyles could prove to be challenging, but I believe we’ll work to meet somewhere in the middle. We won’t continue living tiny, but we also won’t live huge. There’s a compromise in there, and I believe it involves a cute little house with a big ol’ yard.
While it’s probably a couple of years away still, my partner and I talk about it now. Once the tiny house is done, and my daughter and the baby and I are settled and have gotten used to it, I think we’ll show that simple, minimal living is a pretty good way to go.
Even if living tiny isn’t for everyone, I think everyone can benefit from slowing down and making space in their schedules and their homes for the things they love. Living with less is helping us to do just that, and while we may encounter obstacles here and there along the way, they’re not insurmountable because we’re spending our time and money building relationships instead of building a stash of things. 

 You can read more about

Blog: www.slowsimplelife.com

Facebook:facebook.com/slowsimplelife

Instagram:@colleenvalles
Twitter: @colleenvalles
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