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!

Simplifying Childhood is Making Your Kid Bored….. and That is a Very Good Thing

So so happy to bring you a post from ScreenFreeMom who writes at ScreenFreenParenting.com. You can read more about her credentials and work at the end of this post. I know summer can be a tough time for managing screen access/hours with school being out so when ScreenFreeMom asked me if she could share a post with Minimalist Mom readers I was thrilled. Here it is…

As a kid, I was bored a lot.  I had a good friend who was often bored with me.  We were not put in summer camps and we did not have a ton of different “activities.” I am not a gymnast, black-belt holder, or musician; but I think I am a pretty well-rounded adult nonetheless.  We also didn’t have an Ipad with a myriad of games and programs to choose from. Our childhood was filled with boredom.

Boredom had a big effect on us.  Our neighborhood was a new development.  My house was one of the first ten built and by the time we moved out, when I was teenager, there were over 40 houses in the neighborhood.  This meant that there was a lot of construction going on in the neighborhood throughout my childhood.  My friend and I often found ourselves watching the construction, sometimes “touring” the sites, and often digging through the treasure chest of discarded materials when the building was done.  Soon, my backyard had scraps of lumber, unused roofing tiles, and leftover drywall.  We quickly decided we would build a fort. We constructed a chicken-co0p like structure – permanently half-finished but, boy, were we proud.

Also motivated by our boredom, we wrote a soap opera, built a town out of boxes, and founded “The Explorers Club,” a group dedicated to maintaining the woods behind our houses.   Reminiscing about childhood is an enjoyable activity in and of itself.  We had a fun childhood.  We also learned a great deal through our play.  Given the freedom, we created worlds with social order, wrote long narratives, and built a semi-useful structure. I would argue that we learned a great deal more through these activities than we could have through structured academic activities or organized sports.  And, we certainly learned more than we could have through educational applications and television programming.

But, when I compare my childhood to the overscheduled busy childhoods of today, I see one big difference. Children, today, do not seem to have enough opportunity to be bored.  There is a frenzy, in fact, to protect them from boredom (and often all negative emotions).  However, boredom is a very good thing for children (and adults).

Here are four reasons to encourage boredom in childhood today:

  1. Creativity

Boredom is related to creativity.  Boredom leads to daydreaming which often leads to creative insights.  As a writer, I know this, as I often go for long runs before writing.  My mind wanders and in that semi-conscious space, the ideas start to flow.  I am not alone in this as many writers have discussed how boredom is essential to their process.  Parents of young children know this as well.  If able to tolerate the whining that may come with the initial feeling of boredom, they get to witness their children creating very inventive and enthralling games.

  1. Relaxation

Constant on-the-go-ness is exhausting. It is exhausting for parents, but it is even more exhausting for children.  For children, every experience offers some novelty and therefore their brains have to work harder at observing, deconstructing, and encoding all that they are taking in.  Downtime, which may seem boring at first, is essential to allow children the opportunity to replenish their energy and give their brains a break.

  1. Sleep

Relaxation and sleep are related.  Your child should not immediately pass out when their little heads hit the pillow. If they do, they are overtired.  So, if they don’t pass out immediately, what do they do?  They process their day.  This is important work.  They also may experience boredom before falling asleep.  If they are not permitted to experience boredom throughout their day, this emotion will be intolerable for them and they will have difficulty falling asleep.  However, if they are accustomed to boredom and the daydreaming that accompanies it, it will offer a seamless passage from wakefulness into sleep.

  1. Tolerance and Insight Into (all) Emotions

John Gottman has done some great research into emotional intelligence.  He’s taken it a step further to analyze what parents of emotionally-intelligent children do.  His research has found that they tolerate and even encourage all emotions in their children.  The parents also help the children by “coaching” some tough emotions via labeling and searching for solutions.  But, a big key is that the child is allowed to experience emotions, including ones we might consider negative.  Emotion-coaching parents do not inhibit their child from experiencing sadness, anger, frustration, or boredom.  Rather, they accept these feelings as an important part of the human experience.  These children grow into adults who can accept and cope with their emotions and tolerate them.

Conclusion: Embrace the Boredom  

So, when your child is bored, give them space.  Don’t see their boredom as a “problem” you need to solve.  Be supportive and have confidence in their ability to learn to cope with all emotions.  Praise them when they are able to use their boredom to create something great for themselves.

How about you? What creative thing did you dream in your boring childhood? Or what sort of inventiveness have you seen in your children when they are given the opportunity to be bored?

Screen-Free Mom is a psychologist, writer and a university psychology instructor. She has her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Miami and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. She is happily raising her two kids sans screens.  She runs a website: www.screenfreeparenting.com where she writes about tech-wise parenting and provides tons of screen-free activities.  She has developed psychologically-based system to help organize the activities young children learn and grow from: the S.P.O.I.L. system.  Before you turn on the screen, she asks, “Have you S.P.O.I.L.-ed your child yet today?

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