Minimalist-ish Family Series: Cassandra and her boys

Another post in the Minimalist-ish Family Series, this time from a single mum of two young boys. These stories always give me something to think about and I know they inspire a lot of you. If you’d like to share your story of simplifying – doesn’t matter if you live in a tiny house or a sprawling six bedroom home – we want to hear about it. Email me at: the minimalist mom at gmail dot com. 

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

My family is a triangle. I wish I could brag about being a perfect equilateral, but in truth we are more like an acute scalene.  At the base of the triangle you have Me: the highly analytical domestically challenged single mother. Left side is Son 1: the 5-year old Bruce Banner in training. Right side is Son 2: the 3-year old Hulk in training. The Pacific Northwest is where we currently reside and we have all fallen in love with area. There is always some forest trail waiting to be explored or some great quest waiting to be conquered (like the 100-hour reading challenge at our local library). We are also unique in that the boys are half-Mongolian and we try to incorporate that part of their heritage into our family culture, which works well with minimalism since the Nomadic Mongols have been minimalists by necessity for centuries!

rb2ua29kdjflhrpcd5cqifxxt3bvc6hz_lg

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

I came to be a minimalist in an organic way rather than making a conscious decision. Life as a nomadic Navy Brat set the foundation for my minimalism but it was when I joined the Peace Corps and lived in a tent in Mongolia that I really embraced life with less. It was actually on a parenting website when I was pregnant with my first son that I came across the concept of actually self-identifying as a minimalist, and that you could still be one even if you are not a fan of the monochromatic minimalism that most people imagine. It was amazing to find that community (which actually lead me to the Minimalist Mom blog)!

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

Kitchen gadgets. I have always been a sucker for infomercials, especially when it comes to kitchen gadgets. Do I really need the electric egg boiler? No. But it gets used twice a week on average and I always have perfectly easy to peel eggs with zero effort!  I’m fully recognize that I am a bit lazy and not the best house mom so anything that can make my life easier when it comes to cooking at home is awesome. Sometimes minimizing stress takes precedence over minimizing stuff, and I’m okay with that.

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

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and too much stuff will literally put me in super stress mode if I’m having a difficult day. I love that I never have to worry about what to wear. I love that my boys can pull out every toy they own and destroy their room and it is cleaned in less than 30 minutes. I love that I don’t feel guilty when I do decide to splurge on something nice or expensive because it is a rare treat that also serves a need (like the hydration hiking backpacks for the boys)!

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

I’ve been looking at homes and hope to purchase in the next year and it is next to impossible to find a house that is as small as I would like in the school districts I like. People look at me like I’m a bit crazy when I say I want something under 1500 sqft. I also have no clue if my boys will be as naturally drawn to minimalism as I am. When they are young it is easy for me to control, but I definitely get anxious imagining the hoard that two teenage boys could accumulate!

Cassandra just sent me this update: since my last email I’ve moved and we now live in less than 800 sqft. Got rid of our couch, dressers, guest bed, and my “office” desk (since the kitchen table works just as well with a laptop)! Yeah Cassandra and her boys!

Where to Move to When You Can Go Anywhere

WE LEFT THE CITY.

It happened. We did it. We moved to a small town from downtown Vancouver, a metropolitan area with a population of almost 2.5 million. Yes this city-loving condo dweller now lives in a house in a neighbourhood that deer frequently roam through.

While some of our friends and family were surprised at the suddenness of our move, my husband and I researched alternatives to living in Vancouver for two years before making the leap. We took short one night getaways to Vancouver Island, Easter weekend jaunts to the Sunshine Coast and day trips to the Fraser Valley, not just as fun travel but as research for where to move to next. These trips really helped us refine what we were looking for as an alternative to living in a big city.

Since sharing our news about leaving Vancouver, I’ve had quite a few people either share their own big move story or tell me they were planning one themselves. I wanted to share our process of scouting cities and why we chose the one we chose to move to. If you could move almost anywhere how do you decide where to go?

Our Wish List

  • not more than a day’s drive to Vancouver. We’d like to visit the city a couple of times a year to see family and give the kids some city experiences.
  • walkable. Top of the list was being able to walk the kids to school. A grocery store, library, a few parks and a swimming pool/recreation centre that are walkable would be great too.
  • medical and health services. Dentist, small hospital, availability of family doctors.
  • diversity. We hoped to find a town with some cultural and ethnic diversity.
  • affordability. Vancouver single family home prices are well over a million dollars. We wanted a city or small town where you could buy a modest home for a lot less than that.

Initially I felt strongly that we wanted to live in a city with a minimum population of 20,000 people. Don’t laugh/hate on me but I wanted to be in a city that was big enough to have a Starbucks and a Crossfit gym. This seemed like the right barometer for services and amenities. There would be a hospital and a sushi restaurant and maybe even a Mexican restaurant. There would be a good sized library, multiple parks and hopefully bike paths. A multiplex movie theatre would have been nice too and proximity to an airport with flights to Vancouver and Calgary.

Where we looked for a new home:

  • Nanaimo. A bigger 90,000 person coastal city on Vancouver Island with a direct ferry to Vancouver.
  • Courtney/Comox. Two smaller cities right next to each other in the northern Vancouver Island area.
  • Parksville & Qualicum Beach. Smaller seaside towns along the coast of Vancouver Island.
  • Gibsons & Sechelt. Small towns on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, just a short ferry ride from Vancouver.
  • Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley. An hour to two hour (or more depending on traffic) drive east of Vancouver’s downtown. Fast growing area that used to be mostly rural.
  • Kamloops. A 90,000 person city in the southern interior region of British Columbia.
  • Vernon. A 40,000 person city outside of Kelowna in the Okanagan region.
  • Smaller towns in the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia.

Apparently we’re pretty picky. 

As we toured through cities looking for that right mix of walkable and convenient we were continually stumped/disappointed by the familiar pattern of seeing a historic downtown that’s fallen into some disrepair/under use, with beautiful character homes nearby (also usually in disrepair) mixed in with some mid-rise density. What looked like an ideal place to live – convenient, walkable – had lost a good portion of its residents.

Outside the historic city centre subdivisions and big box retailer/mall areas had formed. The ‘new’ area of the city was filled with families, schools and amenities and none of it was walkable. Sure you could live in the historic area of the city but the local elementary school may have closed down and the empty shops downtown meant you’d have to get in your car and drive out to a strip mall for some services. A lack of families in the area meant that the playgrounds were also being underused and not being maintained or updated. We saw this same scenario repeated again and again as we visited small cities and moderately sized cities across British Columbia.

We also visited places that ‘could’ be walkable but that no one walked in. Abbotsford was one of them. We tested out walking from the downtown area to a park and we felt invisible to cars. We had a few instances where drivers pulled into us when we were in crosswalks. Sure, Google maps may tell you it’s a twenty minute walk but it’s twenty minutes on busy streets where you’re the only pedestrian you see for the whole walk.

Contenders

There were exceptions. We really liked the West End neighbourhood in Kamloops. It was just a few blocks of older houses but it was right next to the downtown and close to the river. There were two schools within walking distance and all of the downtown’s amenities. The other contender was the Easthill neighbourhood in Vernon. Again, it was an older neighbourhood right next to the downtown area. Both of these cities still had vibrant and in use historic downtowns. The kind of downtown that is pedestrian friendly and has mostly local retailers.

Other BC cities we liked were Sechelt and Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast and Parksville and Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. Being on the coast was very appealing. But housing costs were still relatively high with the proximity to Vancouver. We also started to come around to the idea that if we were going to uproot ourselves and move somewhere for more time and a lower cost of living, why not make that cost of living a lot lower than Vancouver. And maybe that meant not only moving much farther away but also somewhere with fewer places to spend money.

A Surprising Front Runner

Early in the summer we had a trip lined up to visit family in a small town in the Kootenays, a region in southeastern British Columbia that borders the US. We decided to take the trip as an opportunity to check out Kamloops and Vernon. I wasn’t hopeful about those towns because I have always viewed myself as being a coastal person. But I surprised myself. We liked Kamloops and its riverfront and the charm of Vernon and all the lakes nearby.

And then we visited my brother in his small town and… we really liked it. We were having a big family gathering there and a birthday celebration. We met a lot of locals and asked them about their experience living there. Everyone we talked to loved the lifestyle of living in a small town though most of them had been raised in big cities. The comments just kept coming back that the slower pace and quality of life – lots of outdoor opportunities like affordable golf and skiing, great hiking, cycling, etc – and the affordability made for a great lifestyle. Add in stunning scenery and, oh yes, my brother lives there, and this small town had a lot going for it. We spent an afternoon floating the local river and I think that’s when Chris was sold on the place.

Making the Move

Six weeks after visiting the town for a family gathering we returned and put an offer on a house. A week later we listed our condo and it sold the following week. Three months after visiting this small town for a family gathering we moved here.

This town is small. Under 5000 people. There is no Crossfit. There is no Starbucks. There is no multiplex movie theatre. But it’s very walkable and easy to get around on by bike. It’s beautiful. And, the big one, we have family here. Not only do our kids have cousins just a few blocks away but we have my brother and sister-in-law. We already know some of the challenges of moving to a new city from living overseas. As we thought more about making a move to something quite different from Vancouver the chance to move where we already had family started to make more and more sense. We’d have a social network as soon as we moved there. Other family already visited this town to see my brother and now it would be a two for one deal.

Change is scary. And stressful.

We’ve talked and planned all this through many times over but, you know, life happens. I can’t say for sure this will be our forever home. I can’t predict the future. But I do remind myself often of that parable about the two travellers. The first one asks a farmer/monk about the village he is heading toward and if he will like it. The farmer/monk asks him about the place he has come from and the traveller says it was terrible, rude people, worse food and terrible weather. The farmer/monk tells him he will find the next village much the same. Another traveller comes along and asks the farmer/monk about the village ahead and if he will like it. The farmer/monk asks him about the village he has come from. The second traveller says the village was delightful, the people welcoming, the food excellent and the weather invigorating. The monk/farmer says he will find that the next village is much the same.

Anywhere can be home if you want it to be. I’ll be leaning on that parable about the two travellers and the monk/farmer as we enter into our first snowy winter and face the usual pains of adjusting to a new place.

*This town is so small that for now I’ll just be referring to it as our small town or if I think of something fun, a pseudonym. As my children get older I feel a need to keep some things private. 

If you had a choice in where to live, how did you make the decision? Was it solely about where jobs were or lifestyle or family?

You’ve Won the Lottery (But There’s a Catch…)

You’ve won the lottery. But there’s a catch.

It’s not millions but enough say to buy yourself a home outright in a small town.

Here’s the catch: if you accept the winnings you have to move far away from your hometown and family. Not just a few suburbs away but a good six to twelve hour drive away and to a town a fraction of the size you’ve been living in. You likely won’t ever be able to move back to your hometown: once out of the explosive real estate market you would have great difficulty getting back in as home owners (and rents are very high).

You really love your hometown. Most of your family is here. It’s rated one of the most livable cities in the world and it’s beautiful. It has a lot of great things: beaches, a lovely seawall, ethnic and cultural diversity, an amazing public library, multi-modal transportation in the form of walking and bike paths, car sharing and bike sharing, really good and really inexpensive sushi. There are so many great parks for your kids and they’ve really started to enjoy the beach (and they’re all now out of the sand eating stage). You have friends here and a community. It’s not easy to leave.

Of course, the city you love isn’t perfect (no place is). The downsides are many. It’s expensive. Very expensive. Your family earns a good income but that income comes with long hours and a spouse that’s away a lot. Taking a local job would mean both parents would need to work outside the home and the hours in their industries are long. And what about the kids? You’ll never have enough money to help them get into the housing market and rents are incredibly high – what will they do here? Again, the work hours required to live here edge in on other parts of life like volunteering, family time, self-care, etc, etc. And people are leaving. Lots of people. They’re finding it too expensive or they’re lottery winners too and finally decided, hey, why am I working so much when I could just cash in and live somewhere else with a lot less financial and job stress?

Also, some of the upsides to your city are lost on you. You’re not cool (and never pretended to be). When you’re outside at nine o’clock in the evening – a rarity – you marvel at all the hip folk walking your neighbourhood visiting bars and restaurants. Sure you’re happy to get out for cheap tickets to the occasional Beck show and maybe once a year go to a cool new restaurant but it certainly isn’t part of your everyday or even occasional life. Besides, that stuff is really expensive! Nice coffees, $20 sushi for two and your Mobi membership are your splurges.

You also increasingly see that the biggest want in your life is time. One of your kids really needs a lot from you. You want to give him as much as you can while also being able to care for yourself and your other kids. That’s a hard thing for you to do with a spouse away most of the time. You want time to patiently teach your kids how to clean a bathroom or to spur of the moment go for a hike or to consistently tutor them in a literacy method that you took an intense two week course on. You want to NaNoWriMo before you turn 40 this year. Those things can’t happen (or happen consistently) with your current family dynamic of a spouse away three weeks of the month.

Do you take the money and the time or do you stay in that beautiful city that gets more expensive every day and that your children likely won’t be able to afford to live in?

We’ve been wrestling with this question for the last two years and recently decided it’s time for us to go. Packing (and culling) and preparing for the next adventure right now.

Embracing minimalism eight years ago, trying to live with less stuff and fewer wants, has lead us to another chapter and change: seeking more time for ourselves and our kids and to give to our community. More about the move, how the book I wrote this spring gave me more motivation to take this huge step, and what/where we are moving into/to in the coming weeks.

Thank you to all of you that have followed us on this ever changing journey to less stuff through all of our moves and growing our family. Your comments, advice and encouragement have been more helpful than you could possibly know. We’re often the weirdos: many years with no car, no gift birthday parties, happily living in small homes and completely out of touch with what the latest toy/clothing/gadgets are. Your stories of making the best choices for yourself – even if they defy conventional practices – have given me a community that I cherish. Thank you.

Tell me, has anyone else made a radical lifestyle change in the name of getting more time? Left a job? Moved somewhere with a lower cost of living so you could work less? Downsized home/lifestyle/stuff to reduce your costs and move closer to retirement?

Home Tour: Living with 3 Teenagers in a 2 bedroom Apartment

Sharing our home in a series of posts on the blog the last few weeks. Not included in the tour: our kitchen and bathrooms – they are straight up boring but you can see our super tiny kitchen here. The final installment: but what about the teen years?

The oft heard phrase I hear when people find out we have three children and live in a two bedroom apartment and that we hope to stay in this space is: just wait until they are teenagers! In fact there were some funny and informative comments of that exact nature in a few posts in this series. Carmen told me I may want to move out when the boys hit the teen years because of the smell. Maybe that is the solution? I rent a small apartment in my building during their teens years? Strangely enough there is a family in our building with that exact set up. Parents have one apartment and the teen/early college boys have another.

Don’t worry, we are both scared and daunted by the idea of our three boys – likely to be in the very tall range – living in this small-ish space with us. Scared but also aware that we have some choices.

One choice would be to rent a townhouse or upper portion of a house for three to five of the high school years. I think this is becoming a very acceptable idea in Vancouver’s crazy real estate market. Buy a home that works for most of your life, rent somewhere for the relatively small window where it doesn’t work. This would also give us more options for choosing a high school that has programs our children are interested in and a neighborhood that is walkable and has all the amenities we need and enjoy. I like this idea and I think it could work very well. The downside of course would be the hassle of moving and the increased cost. Plus, renting has some drawbacks in that you could lose your lease or the owner could sell and then you are stuck with the expense and hassle of moving again. We’d also pay tax on the rental income from renting out our home plus continue to pay condo strata fees each month and of course any repairs to our home. A townhouse or part of a house would also rent for more than what our apartment would rent for. This choice would significantly increase our cost of living for the duration.

Another choice, one that I also like very much, is to invest in some space saving furniture and renovations to create more space and privacy for teens and parents. Our space usage is terribly inefficient right now: our kids go to bed early and are small. We haven’t needed to increase our efficiency and make rooms multi-purpose because right now it works. Besides the baby sleeping in a portable crib in the office each night, most of our rooms are single purpose. But I can see that older bigger children will want more privacy and our small second bedroom won’t be a comfortable space for three teen boys.

And as someone who experienced having her own bedroom for the first time my sophomore year of college, I would like to give them their own space for some of their teen years. The great thing is, we can actually do that even in our small space. It will take some work and some money but investing in furniture and some small renovations is cheaper than moving and renting a bigger home for three to five years or selling and buying a bigger home.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for making our two bedroom apartment work for a family of five that includes three teenage boys.

renovatingourspace2

Master bedroom becomes younger children’s bedroom and parents take the smaller second bedroom. Our master bedroom is large for a condominium and fits a king sized bed. We could move all the kids in there in the next two or three years and then our oldest could have the den/office as his own room later on. Double wall bunk beds would greatly increase the floor space – I’ve linked to a few options below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.08.47 AM
Photo credit Resource Furniture

 

Second bedroom becomes the parent’s room. We move down to a queen sized bed and perhaps even a fold down queen size bed with a desk. When our oldest moves into the office the second bedroom works nights as parents room and days as a home office. 5kids1condo has this set-up with a fold down bed that is a desk during the day and it means his master bedroom can be used 24 hours a day instead of the usual 8-9.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.53.50 AM
Photo credit Costco.ca

Our little office/den becomes the oldest child’s room. Technically this room is an enclosed balcony per city building codes. Semantics really but it doesn’t have a closet and has a glass wall and door that faces into our living room. Because of building codes and rules we will likely never be able to pull the glass wall out and enclose it though we could remove the wall and leave it open (maybe the plan once the kids leave the next!). It’s a very small room but it can fit a twin bed and maybe a small dresser if we were able change the door to swing out instead of in. From memories of my teen years I know that getting your own space is worth it even if it’s a very small space. When the oldest moves out the next in line gets it, we move back into the master bedroom and then the two children still at home each have their own room.

The closets in our home are very small but I recently saw a smart idea from fellow Vancouverite Alison who writes at 600sqft.com (lovely blog! go check it out) about a small renovation that increased their closet storage space. A light went on for me – we could do this with our few and small closets too. So to keep up with the increasing size of the kid’s clothes we could knock the headers of the closets out and have more usable space. If we can keep all or most of the clothing in the closets we can have fewer dressers and more floor space. Which will be needed with five people in the 6ft to 6’5″ or taller range sharing 1100 square feet.

Our beloved IKEA Stockholm sofa could be traded in for a sectional. Not a chance it can seat what will be five adults. We’ll get something larger, give up our side table and maybe I will finally have a coffee table once there are no crazy toddlers in the house. I’d also love to get an Oriental or Persian rug, something luxurious on our feet, to replace our thin woven rug once the kids are out of the smearing banana on rugs phase. The dining room table that now sits in a four person configuration will expand to it’s six person configuration permanently.

We put up a sliding barn door or put a wall with door up to divide our living room from the two bedrooms. This would create a better sound barrier between the living room and more privacy for our main bathroom.

Another way to create more privacy: spend less time at home. I know this sounds a bit strange but hear me out. I’m hoping my teens are fairly independent and that due to our proximity to so many things, including transit, they can manage their own lives and schedules without mom and dad chauffeuring them around. With so much at their door step I expect they will spend some evenings studying at the Vancouver Public Library a few blocks away, playing pick up basketball at the local outdoor courts or at the Community Centre, swimming in our condo pool downstairs or at evening band practice at the high school that’s a 20 minute walk or eight minute bus ride away. Or working their part-time evening and weekends job at a local coffee shop. Yes, this is a small space for two adults and three teenagers but one of the reasons we live down here is that we have a lot of public space and amenities close by. Our living room is limitless if we think of all the options in a few blocks radius to us to study, meet up with friends, read a book or listen to music.

Are you living in your ‘forever’ home or will you need to upsize or downsize as you age or your family grows/shrinks?

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.
IMG_6288
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.   

IMG_5644

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.    
  Nursery

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.   

  IMG_6320
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.   
  IMG_5685
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). 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...