Minimalist-ish Family Series: Shawna Scafe

Another family of five in my series featuring Minimalist-ish families. Happy to feature Shawna and her lovely family – I’ve been following her on Twitter and Instagram where she shares real life snap shots of trying to make things simple with three kids.

1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:

We are a family of five living in small town BC. Our kids are 5,4 and 2 – my husband works shift work and I stay home with the kids then work a couple days when he is home. We are a family that loves kitchen dance parties, picnics at the park, friends over for BBQs, and waffles for breakfast.

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2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?

I first heard about it a few years back. I followed a woman on Instagram who had just read The Joy of Less and she shared some of her thoughts on purging her kitchen. After growing up in a home where there was clutter on every surface, it brought up so many emotions to see someone else saying that ‘it doesn’t have to be what it’s always been’.
Once I saw that instagram post I bought The Joy of Less, read it in two days and then took pictures of my entire home as it was and started the purging process. Like many Canadian women, I had been raised to go to school, to get the good job so you could make the money so you could buy the things. I had also been raised to see ‘things’ take over a space and make it unusable and chaotic. With all the emotions I felt when I first heard about minimalism, they were all centered around feeling hope and freedom.
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3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
The biggest challenge has been keeping it like this. Of course, it is tough with three small kids to keep ‘the creep’ of more toys and books and clothes from coming in. But a level beyond that is keeping myself organized. Once I have purged a room or drawer, it takes discipline to always tidy up before things become a dumping grounds again. I was surprised at how easy it was to purge things, but keeping them in order has been the thing I need to be consistently working on.

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4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?

I could write forever about the benefits. I guess that is why people who start ‘minimalism’ generally continue with it for their lives. I love that we save money, and can actually use the space we have for play and entertaining instead of storage. Most of all, I love that it has given me a satisfaction that I am living a life based on the things I value most, rather than the things that have the most monetary value. I have been paying attention to my heart, we have set goals as a family and we only invest our time, money and space into those things. It’s a lot less pressure, even if it is counter-culture.
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5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
Living with less has really felt like freedom to me and though my husband does it his own way, he is very appreciative of the changes he has seen in our home, my spending, my gratitude and how we spend our days. I don’t foresee challenges for him and me in how we live more simply. I DO see challenges in how my kids will learn to live more simply. When I started minimalism I could purge their toys without hearing a word from them. Now they are old enough to do it themselves. I really hope I can empower them to follow their own values in life with how they use their time and money and space – rather than giving into that cultural pressure to live a lifestyle that can look good on the outside but becomes a monotonous wheel.
Thank you Shana! So many of your reasons for wanting to simplify are the same as mine. Also: the future hurdles! I wonder all the time how we will manage teenagers and their stuff.

What Should You Choose: Money or Time?

 

I think I try to choose time over money in my life. In fact, I think the value of time was one of my bigger takeaways when we started getting into minimalism, decluttering and paying off debt with ‘gazelle like intenstiy’ as the great Dave Ramsey would say. Suddenly I could equate stuff – the cost of time to maintain, the money and the hours of work that money represented, what the space to store that stuff cost us in mortgage, utilities, insurance – with time. As someone in mid-life with young kids time, the passing of it so quickly as years, the often dragging of it so slowly as hours, the dearth of it for my singular use, is on my mind often.

This piece in the New York Times attempts to answer the question what is worth more: money or time. It starts with a question for a parent of a new baby. Should the parent take the extra weekend of work, increasing their income, or stay home to have more time with their 12 week old baby. What will make them happier? The extra money in the bank or the extra hours with their new baby.

Of course, for many people there is simply no question to answer. They need the money for basic living costs. But this article examines the question for people that do have a choice. And if you’re a minimalist wannabe like me, the answer will affirm your choice to value time over money.

when it is a choice, the likelihood of choosing more time over more money — despite the widespread tendency to do the opposite — is a good sign you’ll enjoy the happiness you seek.

Reading this article made me think of our current lifestyle and from a few angles it looks and feels like we’re seriously undervaluing time. My husband is away from us 2-3 weeks a month. That’s a lot of time to give up. And although it’s not forever, at most we think it will be ten months, it feels pretty long. Why have we given up so much time so willingly?

We’re hoping to give up this time now to gain more in the future. We’ve always hoped that my husband could take a year, or even – dream scenario – be mostly retired, and while the kids were still in school. This venture my husband is working on now might make that possible down the road. Plainly speaking I make considerably less money than him so for this to happen we would have to hit a financial milepost like have our mortgage paid off to make it work. So we’re hoping that sacrificing time in the short term brings us more time later. Also, we know it’s just ten months and if it becomes truly unbearable we can always just move me and the kids over to where my husband is.

Is it the right choice? I can’t say. I think about if something were to happen, like one of us became critically ill, and would I wish we’d done things differently. Then I remember that I can’t predict the future. So right now, this ultra-long distance commute makes sense for us for a number of reasons (some that I don’t share here because they’re not mine to share).

Funny how my answer to this question has changed over the years. I clearly remember talking to a coworker at one of my first post-university jobs and asking him if the was applying for the new manager position. I assumed he would: he was smart and had been there for a few years. When he said no I was shocked. Why? He didn’t want the extra stress and responsibility and hours. He didn’t want to check email at night or have to stay late for meetings. He had a new baby at home and he said his priority was his family. And, he added, his current salary was enough for him. Totally baffling answer to me, at the time a 22 year old, debt riddled singleton but now? Sounds reasonable.

I find the question of choosing time or money endlessly fascinating. There isn’t a wrong answer here. Sometimes prioritizing income over time is the right answer in the short term for many reasons: early retirement, finite work available, paying for large unexpected expenses, trying to make a big purchase like a house without assuming a lot of debt, etc.

Are you someone that has the luxury of deciding to work more, or less, or make career choices based on giving yourself more time rather than more money? Do you actively choose to spend less on big and small things so that you don’t have to work more? Is money more important to you right now than time?

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Kendal Gerard

Another post in the Minimalist-ish Family Series and this time it’s a young family deciding to love the space they’re in right now… even if it’s a lot smaller than they planned for.
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1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:

We’re a new family of three — our baby girl is just seven months old — and we all share a 750 sq. ft. wartime bungalow in the East York-Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada. We bought the property about six years ago after renting nearby. I love coffee, running, red wine, reading, country music, flea markets, and our fluffy ginger cat, Archie. I’m currently on maternity leave with our daughter, but I’ll eventually go back to work in children’s book publishing and my husband is a geologist. His career will see us move to Victoria, British Columbia, in the spring, so we’ll soon call a new address home for a little while.   

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2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?

 Soon after we got married, I got the house hunting itch bad. I desperately wanted out of our “too small” apartment and into a home of our own. We walked through our house three times before we made a bid — it was definitely too small (about 100 sq. ft. bigger than our one bedroom apartment and we knew we’d want a child one day), but something about it kept drawing us back. We decided we’d make a radical lifestyle change in order to own it and live in it comfortably — I decided I wanted a little house near the beach more than I wanted a bed frame (yep, our bedroom is only big enough for a mattress on the floor). I don’t know if I’d heard the term “minimalism” by that point or if that came later, but my reaction is kind of, “aah, my people.” I’m a big time convert.    
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3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?

I like to switch things up at home and the commitment to owning less stuff (one set of bedsheets, for example) makes it difficult to do a simple refresh by cycling in your spare set. When I do purchase something new for the house (like a throw pillow, mirror, vase, etc.), I have to donate/gift/sell/repurpose whatever it’s replacing — there’s no high shelf in a closet (literally, my house has no closets) where I can stick the pillow I was tired of looking at. That can feel wasteful because there’s usually nothing wrong with or damaged about the older item. Also, one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday is at a flea market or jumble shop — I love the thrill of the find. Of course, I most often leave empty handed because we really don’t have space for that perfect vintage school desk, which is cost effective — but can be a bit of a bummer.   

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4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
I believe we draw a lot from our surroundings and that living in a simple, clutter free environment, surrounded only by things that are beautiful to look at or otherwise make you happy, is just plain good for the soul. It’s maybe too early to say for sure, but my daughter is just the happiest, calmest baby — I’d like to think that has something to do with the absence of a million toys and outfits. Living with less has also been a boon financially — we’ve been able to travel all over (we’re about to take our third vacation with our seven month old) and we’ll be able to keep our Toronto property as a rental and purchase a new (small!) home in Victoria this winter. Neither of these things would have been possible if I’d been making weekly Target runs for crap we don’t actually need.   
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5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
 My husband and I act as gatekeepers right now. The influx of stuff (grandparents, oi vey) for our daughter has been relentless since she was born, but any outfits, toys, and books that don’t meet our standards are promptly donated, returned, regifted, or sold and she’s none the wiser. Pretty soon she’s going to be aware of all her presents and probably want to keep more than she can possibly play with or wear. So that’s a challenge. The other challenge is really specific to this house and not to a minimalist lifestyle generally — her bedroom is 54 sq. ft., won’t fit a single bed, and we all share one itty bitty bathroom. This might be a problem down the line, when we move back to this house from Victoria with a pre-teen or teenager.
Instagram: @little.bungalow

Thank you Kendal! Lovely to see how you make your small home work and your no-nonsense strategy on gifts is right up my alley. And good luck with your big move.

Are you living a Minimalist-ish life? I’m sharing stories from families that have implemented minimalism to small or big degrees and what that looks like in their home and with their family. If you would like to be featured email me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com (all together). 

The Only Constant is Change

As I told Brooke on her podcast, we seem to like regular big changes in our life yet, I wouldn’t say my husband or I are great at adapting quickly to new places and routines. Our move and transition back to Canada from the Isle of Man last year left me feeling like a bag of hammers. It took me quite a few months to feel settled and not so drag my ass tired. Yes, that’s my truth about big life moves with three kids: I find them exciting but also incredibly draining and tiring. Of course, now that we’re settled in Vancouver and in a routine, we’re blowing it all up again.

My husband is starting a new venture overseas and will commute back and forth for the foreseeable future. I’m using the term commute because we will see him at least a week every month. Also I can’t really admit that he’s living so far away from us. We’ll be FaceTime-ing at breakfast and making the most of the 7-10 days a month he’s home. To add to our love of change, my oldest son is starting at a new school this fall and our younger two are starting part-time daycare. And you know just to throw a little more on us our amazing babysitter is moving away (do you know how hard it is to find a babysitter that can handle three kids six and under with grace and skill and fun?).

So, I’m practicing what I preach here on the blog and in my books and planning a quiet year work wise, asking for help from family and friends when I need it and trying to keep things really simple. My oldest isn’t doing outdoor soccer league this year. Dragging all of us out to an evening practice and Saturday morning outdoor game all winter – something my husband did most of the shuttling and standing in the rain for last year – felt like a recipe for making me frazzled x 10. Instead our oldest is trying out a casual once a week afterschool soccer lesson that’s walking distance from us. The commitment is only seven weeks at a time so if he loves it and it works for our schedule we will keep going. If not, we just won’t sign up for another term.

My super awesome kids are also often super exhausting. Not having a partner to spell off can be tough. I’m feeling full of commitment right now for the things I know will help: sleep, more sleep, less screen time, time outside, sleep and eating well. Oh and sleep. Yes, one thing that keeps smacking me in the face with its truth is that I am a better and happier person when I’m getting plentiful and regular sleep. Put the computer away, don’t start a home project after the kids are in bed, don’t tell yourself ‘just one more chapter’, put the book down and just get thee to bed.

Simplifying Back-t0-School

I’m not having a back-to-school freak out because I knew a month in advance that all three kids would be doing something new, that the supply lists for daycare and the new school were long and that I am TERRIBLE at doing it all the week before. So I’ve been picking off jobs like completing the daycare emergency kits (foil blanket, family photo, emergency contact list for out of town family, garbage bag with arm and neck holes cut out and child’s full name across front), ordering five 4×6 photos each of the two in daycare and collecting the ‘two boxes of kleenex, two packs of disinfectant wipes, labelled water bottle’ for school since early August. Know yourself. I would be staying up until the wee hours packing and sorting all this stuff, freaking out – and not getting the sleep I need – if I didn’t admit to myself that I’m just not that good at checking off long lists of small tasks in a short period of time.

Me on a podcast and Kiwi radio!

In case you missed it, I’ve been on a few podcasts and radio shows lately. Chris and Alain have an interesting and inspiring podcast called Everyday Revolutions and they asked me on to discuss minimalism, how to get started and what my new book is all about. Some great questions from these guys and if you’re new to simplifying, or feeling stuck after a few attempts, have a listen. And just yesterday I was on a New Zealand radio program talking about families and minimalism. I had a total nerd out that I was on a program in the future: it was afternoon for me on a Wednesday and it was Thursday morning for the radio hosts.

Happy September to you!

The Liebster Award and a Cringe Worthy Expat Faux Pas

The Luxpats nominated me for a Liebster award a while back (winners answer a series of questions about travel) and I took the challenge! I think this may be a first for me – I’m terrible about getting tagged in these types of things – but I loved the questions for this. Plus mining through travel photos and memories was fun and now I have the travel itch.

1. What was your first travel experience and what did you take away from it? 

Probably my first big travel experience was a college recruiting trip to the Northeastern US when I was 16. My sister and I visited three universities on our own with multiple connecting flights. I still can’t believe everyone was comfortable sending us on our own – we’d only been on one flight before that and it was less than an hour to Seattle for another recruiting trip. It was quite an adventure with travel snafus and sleeping on dorm floors. I loved that feeling of independence and not knowing what to expect or what was next. This was pre-Internet so we were really going in blind to the visits and what the colleges would look like.

2. What is the best food item / dish you have tried, and where was it?

My husband and I had an incredible meal on Capri at a beachfront restaurant back in 2009. The meal was so good, pasta with pumpkin, but the story of getting there and the ‘pinch me is this real’ view really elevated the experience. We decided to go to Capri from Sorrento with no real plan. On arrival I was nonplussed with the heavy throngs of tourists and didn’t see what the fuss was about. We hiked the hillside and then hiked down the other side and stumbled upon this gorgeous restaurant on the water.
While I enjoy researching for trips there is something special about happening upon something with no guidance from Yelp reviews or TripAdvisor’s top ten list.

3. What is the best advice you’ve received?

One of my sisters told me years ago that she highly recommended paying for walking tours. She had just returned from a European vacation where she hit up some big cities and she said having someone guide her through a city really allowed her to soak it in and appreciate it instead of staring at a map or guide book on repeat. So we always sign up for a tour of a new city on the first day there to get a feel of where things are and to learn more about the city. Once we’ve had a tour we pick a few things that we want to see more of and head to them on our own.

4. What is your ideal setting for travel/vacationing and for work?

Right now we are partial to all-inclusives that offer childcare though we haven’t really been on a big vacation in quite a while. Depressing, right? But I’ve found over the years that for us travel with younger children in the mobile baby to 2.5 year old age is exhausting. Particularly now that we have three kids. First rule of making travel and vacationing enjoyable: know what you like! Luckily our youngest should be a bit easier to travel with in the next year or so and that should open things up for where we can go.

My husband and I both loathe driving for ‘regular’ life but love road trips. We did a road trip through Italy pre-kids and it was fantastic. Many people told us we were making a mistake driving, that we should do it all by train, but even with a broken GPS and getting lost multiple times, I would do it all again. I would love to be able to do a road trip through Scandinavia when the kids are a bit older. Like most families we are partial to renting apartments and homes through websites like AirBnBs rather than staying in a hotel. It just makes sense for us financially and I don’t like spending my evenings reading with a flashlight while the kids sleep!

As far as work setting, anywhere? I work from home, cafes and sometimes an office space. The nice thing about my job is how portable it has been. I remember working on something while on vacation in the Dominican Republic and thinking, this is the best! I know other people would be unhappy to have to do a bit of work on vacation but I was thrilled.  Flexible and portable work is ideal for my family right now as we have young kids and we seem to move every few years.

5. What is your least favorite place you have been/visited/lived?

Morocco. We really did not have a good experience there. I blame some of it on me being pregnant at the time but we also got lost in the Medina and were in the non-tourist side and people spat at us. I’m also not a great haggler and so the swarms of people trying to get your taxi fare was stressful. That said, I would love to go back some day. I know quite a few people that loved Morocco so I know my experience was just one experience.

6.  What is the weirdest job you’ve ever taken on?

This could get long. I got up super early and got in line at the passport office and sold my spot for a few weeks. This was when I was really low on money. I was a full-time athlete from 2001-2004. I demonstrated digital cameras, photo printers and vacuums in stores. After my freshman year at university I painted school classrooms for a summer.

7. What made you want to start a blog?

So much clutter. I was really frustrated with all of our stuff and got excited about the minimalist movement. I started a blog to keep myself accountable as I decluttered. I could never have imagined that six years later it would still be going, I would publish a second book and that the blog would spawn a big online community of people trying to live with less stuff.

8. Name a book that changed the way you see the world.

These questions are so hard! But off the top of my head: Bonfire of the Vanities. I read it in high school, living in an ethnically diverse and fairly affluent (but we were not) suburb. Every character in the book was described by their race and religion and I was floored at that. Most of the families where I lived were first generation Canadians – including mine – and kids never really talked about our differences. I never thought of my parents immigration to Canada as noteworthy because most of my friend’s parents had also moved to Vancouver from Iran, South Africa, the Czech Republic, England, etc.

9. What has been the biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it? 

Making a full-time income as a self-employed writer. Still working on that!
I kind of fell into being a nonfiction writer after having my first baby in 2009. Prior to that I worked in sponsorship and marketing for a bank. I’ve always wanted to be a writer but being a blogger and author wasn’t on my radar. I did my undergrad in English Literature and creative writing and later did a year of film school for screenwriting. Having a successful blog and writing books has been a happy accident.

10. What mark do you hope to leave on the world? 

What a big question. I hope that I helped people – be they my children, partner, family, blog readers – live more freely and with less stress.

11. Do you have any funny/awkward cultural faux pas to share? 

It took me a long time to understand that in the UK if you invite a person over to your house or they drop by, you MUST offer them tea. And if they are Irish they will say “I don’t want to bother you” which actually means “yes, of course I want a cuppa” so you keep asking until they say yes or insist that you were going to make tea for yourself anyways.

Also, pants are underpants in the United Kingdom. That’s an important one in my experience.

So much fun Luxpats! Thanks for nominating me.

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