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.
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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.
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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 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.
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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.

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Shawna Scafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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