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.
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.
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


Twitter: @colleenvalles

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.


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.
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.


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.
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.
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.   


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.    

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.   

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.   
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!

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