Minimalist-ish Family Series: Ashley

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

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Adrian Crook

Happy to share an interview with Adrian of, 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.


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.
Instagram: @adriancrook
Twitter: @5kids1condo

Families in Small Homes: 880 square feet for Kathryn’s Family of 5

This is the fourth in a series on families living a bit smaller in home size and/or possessions. You can read about Britt and her RV quest for the a new hometown for her family of four here and about Jules’s choice to have only have items with a purpose or memory in her home here. Last week Australian Brooke shared her beautiful home and story here
Want to share your story of downsizing or right-sizing with us? Email me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.
Today: Kathryn tells us about living in 880 square feet with her husband and three daughters on their urban homestead. Kathryn blogs about self-sufficiency and living a bit smaller at Farming My Backyard. P.S. Yes, these photos make me want to raise chickens too!

Tell us about your home and the family that lives there.

My husband and I live in Portland, Oregon with our three daughters, Libby (5), Julianna (3), and Éowyn (15 months).  We have an 880 square foot home with three bedrooms, and one bath on a 5,000 square foot lot.  We are also graced by the presence of two cats, a dog, eight chickens, and two goats.  Our oldest daughter loves to dance and bounce on her yoga ball and draw.  Julianna loves the animals and playing with her friends, and Éowyn loves playing with her sisters, especially if they are playing ball.  I try to keep our home spacious to accommodate their interests and physical needs, yet also make sure it’s vibrant and full of life and learning.  One of the ways I do this is downsizing my own personal possessions and choosing only to keep the most important things.

When we purchased our home it needed a lot of work and little by little we’ve been able to fix it up and plant the yard with edible landscaping and gardens.  It’s not a large home and it’s not fancy but everytime I see the things we’ve fixed or planted it makes me smile because it’s our handmade home where we’ve been learning to fix things ourselves.

You’re home is small but you are developing an urban homestead and rearing animals for self sufficiency. How does urban homesteading make your life simpler and how does it make it more challenging?

We are attempting to build a self sufficient (or at least as close as possible) urban homestead on our property.   We have chickens and goats and are working to increase our garden production using intensive methods, and are planning to add rabbits this year.   Some of the great things about this is we have a lot of our needs taken care of right on our own property.   Sometimes it’s like grocery shopping in the backyard.  We’ve been able to reduce our financial needs and our dependence on the car, which frees up more time to enjoy together.

The downside is it can be a lot of work and sometimes it takes some balancing on my part to make sure the animals and the kids all get their needs filled.  Sometimes it feels like everyone wants to eat at the same time.  Other days I feel like all I do is clean up poop.  I do really love it though, so for me getting out to the animals and the garden is worth adding extra things to feed and clean.

Three children at home full-time and your husband and yourself both work from home. Your house has so many functions and needs – how do you manage all of them without accumulating lots of things? Do you have a process for deciding what comes into your home?

I am ruthless about getting rid of things.  About once a month I go through the entire house and evaluate if we’ve used things enough to make storing them worth it, check for broken things or things we have duplicates of.  I try to only keep things that are beautiful or useful, but I prefer to make my useful things beautiful and cut down the only beautiful clutter.  I always have a box or bag in our shoe closet for give away stuff so it’s easy to drop things into it throughout the day.  Even the furniture and appliances get a critical eye if we don’t use them frequently!

If I have to replace something I try to make it as multipurpose as possible.  I also try not to go shopping in stores if at all possible.  When we go to the grocery store and thrift store we stick to the list, but I try to buy as much as I can online.  It’s harder for me to impulse buy when I jump online quickly to order something specific than if I am wandering through a physical store.

Right now my middle daughter is not okay with giving up any toys, but I feel very strongly that too many toys is upsetting for them and it takes my time away from them so we’ve compromised.  Four times a year I box up any toys they haven’t used over the past few months and put them in the garage attic.  The kids like to go shopping for “new” toys in the boxes that I pull down and it keeps the picking up and the putting away manageable.  I hope eventually she will be okay with my giving away some of the unused toys but until then I think a trusting relationship is more important than my personal ideals.

Name three things that make you happy.

My family, (including the furry and feathered members)

Reading fantasy books

Ice cream!

Families in Small Homes: Brooke from Slow Your Home

This is the third in a series on families living a bit smaller in home size and/or possessions. You can read about Britt and her RV quest for the a new hometown for her family of four here and about Jules’s choice to have only have items with a purpose or memory in her home here. Want to share your story of downsizing or right-sizing with us? Email me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.
Today: Brooke from Slow Your Home. In Brooke’s words she’s an: Aspiring Minimalist. Blissful Gardener. Frequent Swearer. Passionate Writer. Inappropriate Laugher. Shit-Hot Dancer. Sometimes Exaggerator. Gin Drinker. On a Mission: To slow the hell down.

Tell us about your home and the people that live there.

I live in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney, Australia. Home is a renovated cottage in the suburbs shared with my husband, Ben, and our two kids – Isla, 3 and Toby, 2. We also have a dog and three chickens.
The house itself is a 4-bedder, with en-suite and main bath, family room and a combined living/dining/kitchen space. It’s by no means small but it allows us to entertain (which we do a lot of) and means the kids have options when the weather is either excessively hot or cold and wet.  Plus, I can still vacuum the majority of the house while using just one power outlet – so it’s definitely not enormous!

I read that you decided to renovate and expand your home when you got pregnant with your second child. Now that you’ve pared down your possessions do you look at that decision differently?

You know, I was terrified of this question when I first read it. I was scared of what my answer may reveal – that we over-capitalised, that we fell for the myth of ‘bigger is better’, that we have more space than we need.
But the truth was the original house was too small for a family of four. It had two tiny bedrooms, no space for the kids to play, was poorly insulated and uncomfortable in both summer and winter. But we bought it because it was in a suburb we loved, close to family, close to good schools and close enough to the railway station that we could avoid buying a second car. So extending was the only option if we wanted to stay in the same place.
If it was up to me now, we would still make the same changes. The only difference is – since paring back and embracing a simpler life – we now have much more white space. Things feel calm, everything has its place and it feels like the haven we had hoped for.
What’s next for your family? I know you have ambitions to do some long term slow travel. 

Ben and I traveled a lot before we were married and we’re in the midst of plotting out our long-term travel plans right now. We definitely would like to live abroad in a few different places – taking time to live like locals and soak up the culture. We’re thinking a six-month stint in a few different places will be the way to go – namely Canada (the Rockies specifically), Thailand and Spain.
But it’s a delicate balance to strike between going while the kids are young and avoiding the complications of school transfers etc, but them being old enough to benefit from it. Plus there’s the issue of, you know, earning a living.
Most likely we will take a few shorter trips over the next year or two and then head off into the world come 2015/16.
Name three things that make you happy.
Just three?! I’ll give it a shot…
Gardening. Having my hands in the soil, coaxing seeds into plants, soaking up the sunshine and showing our kids where their food actually comes from brings me so much pleasure. It’s the ultimate exercise in mindfulness and a wonderful escape.
Snow. Growing up in Australia I didn’t see snow until I was 22 and working in Canada. Even after six months I marveled at it every day.
Curling up at the end of a long day, having a red wine with Ben or reading a good book.

Families in Small Homes: Jules from Pancakes & French Fries

As part of the Families in Small Home Series I asked Jules from Pancakes & French Fries to tell us about her reasons for simplifying and her William Morris Project. While Jules and her family don’t technically live in a small home, she’s done a lot of simplifying and pairing down. Lots to learn from her journey. Enjoy and thanks again Jules.

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose.

Tell us a bit about the William Morris Project. I know you started it after helping a friend go through her parents possessions.

I did. My friend’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom heard the news and took to her bed. She stopped eating and drinking, and about 10 days later she passed away. Two weeks after that, my friend’s father died. June of 2011 was a nightmare. Going through her parents’ belongings was unbelievably disturbing. I remember standing in front of her mother’s vanity table and looking at the makeup, perfume, daily vitamin. It was all so normal! I felt like that character in a movie that stumbles into a city where everyone has suddenly left. I looked at her makeup and thought that if someone were to go through my makeup drawer, they would wonder why a girl who never wears makeup has two different green eyeshadows and 12 lip glosses in various shades of plum.

I decided right then that if anyone were to go through my possessions, they would touch each one without wondering what the heck I was thinking. “Oh, look! She loved these shoes.” “Do you remember how long it took her to find this perfume tray?” “She bought the fox lamp because her oldest son’s favorite movie was Fantastic Mr. Fox. It reminded her of him.”

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose. (Sometimes a lemon reamer is just a lemon reamer.) I have no desire to be a minimalist, but it goes part and parcel with creating an intentional home. It’s hard to consider yourself thoughtful when you have a drawer full of old t-shirts! 


Has this ongoing project to ‘have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful’ changed how you shop/consume/buy things?

Absolutely. Limitations can be freeing, and so is knowing where everything goes in your home. I can see a pretty candle on a store shelf and want to buy it, but I know the cabinet where I store candles can only hold two, at most. Back goes the candle on the shelf.

You are a fan of Simplicity Parenting (me too!) and purge toys without input from your sons. Have you had any regrets over toys you donated? Do you see this style of decluttering for your children changing as they get older?

I have zero regrets. If I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t purge more and that I didn’t donate the toys immediately. I saved them for a mythical garage sale we were “going to have.” I finally admitted to myself a couple of weeks ago that we will never have a garage sale.

I imagine (hope) that as they get older, the boys will have fewer unreasonable attachments to broken toys and stuffed animals they ignored until they hit the donate pile. I once made the mistake of going to Goodwill for a drop off after I picked them up from school. They saw, through a white trash bag, mind you, a red and black buffalo check shirt with fleece lining. It was a great shirt that they both wore until they couldn’t wear it any longer. It was two sizes too small and they hadn’t worn it in over a year, but they cried as if I was giving away the family dog. 

They’ll also have fewer, but more expensive toys as they get older. iPods, iPads, Kindles–those are all items that contain data, and I’m not so crazy that’d I’d toss out an entire book and music library for the sake of more shelf space.

Finally, I would love to know more about your choice to leave your law career. What was the biggest factor for changing jobs? Yes, I consider home manager/blogger/everything else you do a job choice :)

I wrote about that at length here, but the short of it is that I was a research attorney for a family and criminal law practice. I was in the office on a Saturday preparing an argument for a man to have more visitation with his children–he only wanted it to reduce his support payments–when it hit me that I was taking time away from my son to win more time for a man who treated his children like pawns in a game of chess. I guess that means the biggest factor for changing jobs was cognitive dissonance. Or, to put it in internet speak, “What is seen…cannot be unseen.”

Name three things that make you happy.

A good book.

My family.

Chocolate ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mixed in.

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