Minimalist-ish Family Series: Adrian Crook

Happy to share an interview with Adrian of 5Kids1Condo.com, a single dad of five living in 1000 sq ft condo, with you today. Great thoughts here on how living with less impacts kids and family life. Also: those sweet IKEA hacked bunks we have were originally his!
1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
I am Adrian Crook, single dad of five kids (ages 10,9,8,7, and 5). We live in a 1,000 square foot condo in Yaletown, a neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver, BC. We don’t own a car, so one of the things we love doing is walking, riding bikes and taking transit. Our favourite pastime is exploring the city we live in, which we do daily. I work for myself, so I have the time flexibility to spend a lot of time with the kids, which all of us love.
Kids birthday party
2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?

Minimalism, for me, is less about the dogmatic Dwell magazine interpretation – i.e. fashion – than it is about the sustainability and mental clarity. So to that end, I didn’t hear about minimalism as much as I just did it, then discovered other people referred to me as a minimalist. Life with five kids means that if I was focused on making my house fashionable, I’d be worried about my kids breaking things. Which to me is the opposite of the goals of minimalism, which are to free you up from worry and maintenance so you can focus on life, family, and relationships. I don’t want to be admonishing the kids for getting my fancy modular sofa dirty, for instance, so instead I have a Craigslist couch.

3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?

Probably constantly re-organizing. When you have more space and more stuff, you can just bury it in the garage or the attic or big closets and forever put off having to organize it. But we have so little storage space that even our in-suite storage unit – or only storage in the world – has been converted to an art room. As a result, we have to think really critically about everything we bring into our house, which I love. Too often we’re tempted to buy useless quick-fix items in our consumption-oriented society, and being a minimalist simply forcing me to think twice before mindlessly buying something.

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

How much time do you spend maintaining your car, your yard, your house, myriad possessions that break or need replacement and so forth? It’s almost incalculable. I don’t have most of those things, and as a result the time I spend maintaining, cleaning, worrying, fixing, replacing and so forth is drastically less than the average person. The result is a far higher quality of life and a level of simplicity that rivals that of a kid-less 20-something, versus a single dad of five. Life doesn’t have to get more complex the older you get, we just choose to burden ourselves with extraneous things, believing we “need” them.

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR1051.

5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?

Kids are highly adaptable and will treat as “normal” whatever it is they’re raised in. My goal in raising them this way is to normalize small living, condo family life, car-free active transportation and a low-consumption lifestyle. Our way of life is objectively better for the environment and for their health than living in a house in a car-centric suburb. That’s a great quality of life. But the other factor, “standard of living” has been declining since it peaked with our parents generation. My generation is the first to have a lower standard of living (measured in what we earn and can afford) than our parents. And if you understand anything about late stage capitalism, our kids standard of living will be worse than ours. They won’t be able to afford detached houses or fancy cars. My goal with our current lifestyle is essentially to show my kids how to have a high quality of life in a world where they’ll have a lower standard of living than I do. It’s possible, we’re doing it now.
Blog: www.5kids1condo.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/5kids1condo
Instagram: @adriancrook
Twitter: @5kids1condo

Storing (Less) Kid’s Clothing

 

It’s been a while since I talked about kid’s clothing and how we try and keep things minimalist-ish with three young kids. So I thought I would give an update on what we’re doing now, how things are changing as our kids get older (and bigger) and share some of my favourite strategies that work for our family for keeping clothing under control.

Above is what we have stored for our three kids. The top box is shoes and rain boots. The bottom box is summer clothing and hand-me-downs. My kids are now 7, 4 and 2 and our family is complete as they say/ we’re done with babies!! There is a three size gap between the seven year-old and four year-old and a one or no size gap between the four year-old and two year-old. We have cool to cold winters with a lot of rain and the occasional snow day and our summers can go as high as 30C.

Strategies for Small Kid Wardrobes

We’ve made it the last year and a half with two IKEA Antonius units storing all the kids clothes and diapers. It’s getting tight. The culprit: our oldest is wearing a school uniform this year (and they have TWO different uniforms) plus his clothing is getting bigger, just likehim. Luckily the school uniform will be gone at the end of June and we’ll get back 25% of the space once our youngest potty trains in a year and we’re out of diapers. In general I think we do a good job of keeping the kid’s wardrobes modest while still keeping them appropriately clothed. Things we do that help us have less clothing:

  • we don’t buy/accept a lot of clothing – simple but it helps immensely
  • we regularly cull the kids wardrobes for things that aren’t being worn or no longer fit
  • we think holes in the knees of jeans are cool. Someone asked me if we put holes in the knees of the youngest jeans ourselves, like as an ode to distressed jean fashion. I laughed. Nope. He’s just the third kid to wear those size 2T jeans.
  • if the outfit was clean at the end of the day (exception: underwear) it gets worn the next day
  • we try to invest in durable brands for our oldest son that will last through another kid or two. Especially in outerwear and rain boots.
  • we try and wear out items. I won’t send my kids out in torn (besides knees on jeans) clothing or items with big stains on them, but fading or some fraying from lots of use, that makes me happy. So we don’t replace things simply because they look old.

I’m not very particular about what my kids wear and so far they aren’t very particular about what they wear either. I know we are really lucky on this front. There aren’t fights about what to wear in the morning and, THANKFULLY, no one is asking me to go the mall and buy them the latest on trend piece from H&M. We do laundry frequently so at most my kids need a week’s worth of clothes. We try to wash clothing after it’s been worn two or even three times if possible and this increases the longevity of the clothing.

We don’t store a lot of hand-me downs

One thing I am seeing as my kids get bigger: the clothes are wearing out faster. We don’t have as many hand-me-downs to store as you might expect. Sometimes the middle child will be the last to wear something that was originally the oldest. Usually it’s because both of them wore that size for 2+ years so, combined with wearing things more frequently than a lot of North Americans do, the t-shirt is ready to be cut into rags or the jeans are ready to be made into jean shorts or sent to textile recycling.

I *never* buy ahead in sizes during sale season

My oldest did not grow in a steady pattern at all so I decided early on not to buy ahead at end of season sales. It’s just not worth it to me to spend money and take up our limited storage with things that may, or may not, fit one of my kids next year. A lot of our winter and fall clothing comes from Grandmas at birthdays and Christmas and if they have bought in a generous size I’ll store those items for next year. But that’s it. If buying ahead works for you, awesome. But my kids are all over the growth chart and we have very little storage so we get things in season as we need them most of the time.

I let my kids grow into and out of things

I let the t-shirts get a bit short in the body before going to the next size and that oversize sweatshirt gets to be a fitted style before it’s passed down. My oldest just passed down a zip up sweatshirt he has been wearing for over three years. We have adjustable waistbands on EVERYTHING. We roll up cuffs and sleeves for a few months while a child grows into things.

We keep shoes to a minimum

Our oldest is the shoe-a-holic out of the kids. He has four pairs: rain boots, athletic shoes, formal school shoes, pair of Converse. The other two kids have rain boots and a pair of running shoes. They each have a pair of slip-on style summer sandals that we keep out in the winter to wear to the condo pool downstairs.

Of course, I know we could be more minimalist. We spent a month overseas and the kids took about 2/3rds of their wardrobe and with frequent laundry going we did just fine. I’m all about finding the sweet spot between making life comfortable and having less stuff. Right now this is what works for us.

For parents of many, how do you manage storing hand-me-downs? I would love to hear from those of you with big families, those of you that are the buy ahead type and anyone with an more elaborate or more stream lined system than mine.

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.

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