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.

A Different Clock

Wil arrived a week ago.

The Coles notes version is an ‘easy’ labour: we arrived at the hospital at 8am, I was in the labor pool at 9am and I pulled Wil out of the water and onto my chest at 9:54am.

I’ll save you from the longer version that starts at noon the previous day and involves a lot of lunges and watching Vampire Diaries on Netflix for three hours in the middle of the night through strong but very far apart contractions.

We are officially on baby time here. Early to bed and it takes up to an hour to get ready to leave the house with feedings and diaper changes.

Our home also has the new baby look to it. The living room is ‘decorated’ with my breastfeeding pillow, a basket of cloth diapers and a stack of very small onesies and sleepers.

I love it.

All of it.

I’m tired but the floppy newborn snuggles and 4am rounds of wakeful eye contact from a five day old boy more than make up for it.

Random thoughts on keeping it simple from this first week:

  • Little socks work well as scratch mittens and to keep a winter baby’s hands warm.
  • If your mother is there to help, let her. Even when I say, oh don’t bother with that, she does it and I have to say, it’s nice. Our dishwasher is emptied before I can get to it and the laundry has been magically hung to dry before I remember to check if a load is done.
  • Every meal cooked from scratch is a victory.

Thanks for the well wishes and the understanding with the long stretch of quiet on this blog. I’ll be posting more regularly in the coming weeks with interviews I’ve been saving and guest posts.

For now, check out this article from a mom who is vowing to spend nothing on her two year old for the next year.

This “minimalist mom” says she will buy second hand clothes, no new toys and stop buying prepackaged toddler snacks.

Is that extreme?

We already buy less and buy second hand most of the time. I rarely buy prepackaged snacks and we shop second hand for a lot of things. Santa sourced Brio train pieces off of Ebay last year and I bought new to us Clark shoes (retailed for $60, bought for $5) when Henry went through a growth spurt. Our snacks on the go are sliced cheese, raisins and pieces of fruit that I cut up or dole out into containers for portability.

Is that minimalism or just common sense ways to save a few dollars and be kinder to the earth?

Alone Together

Source: amzn.to via Rachel on Pinterest

 

Have you ever had your laptop slammed shut by a toddler?

My son did that to me a while back. I was writing an email to a friend and he came over and flipped the screen down. He wanted me to come and play with him and it was the easiest way for him to get my attention.

It worked.

I was thinking about the incident when I listened to this NPR interview with Sherry Turkel, the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Text message, email, Facebook and a constant feed of information from electronics is changing the way we parent, the way we operate as families and how our children develop. Much of it to our and their detriment.

What’s a parent to do with all of this growing data about the perils of technology?

Sherry has some good suggestions in her interview. Have a basket in the living room and dining room to hold electronic devices and designate screen and cell phone free hours. Make sure the dinner hour is one of them so you can have better face to face discussion.

That’s another thing Turkel has identified from her research: people are avoiding face to face communication because they feel they don’t have control over it. Unlike email and text message where there is time to compose an answer, an in-person discussion requires immediate responses. We’re losing the art of conversation and the learning from a hot discussion, because of email and text messaging.

Another change in how we parent now is that children are in constant communication with their parents.

Children are getting these phones earlier and earlier. These are years when children need to develop this capacity for solitude, this capacity to feel complete playing alone. If you don’t have a capacity for solitude, you will always be lonely, and my concern is that the tethered child never really feels that sense that they are sort of OK unto themselves; and I talk to college students who’ve grown up with the habit of being in touch with their parents five, 10, 15 times a day. And it’s no longer Huckleberry Finn as a model of adolescence, you know, sailing down the Mississippi alone — we’ve developed a model of adolescence and childhood where we sail down the Mississippi together with our families in tow. – Sherry Turkel

More for me to think about as Henry grows up.

While Sherry discussed her research on how technology is affecting how we parent, something I think about a lot, she also talked about how technology is affecting youth

… this sense of the Facebook identity as something that follows you all your life is something that many adolescents feel is a burden.     – Sherry Turkel

I’ve heard the term digital identity used before and my first reaction was, honestly, an eye roll.

Of course, it was writers and social media types talking about their own digital identity and branding and what not. The concept of a digital identity for my child, one that I was already creating and that they would take on as an adolescent (or younger) hadn’t been at the front of my mind.

But I’m sure thinking about it now.

If Facebook and digital photography had been around during my high school and college years I’d have a different digital identity.

They weren’t crazy years but I’m glad that my growing up wasn’t documented online. I experimented with outfits and Sun-In and music in the relative privacy of my circle of friends. And when I went away to university I was easily able to leave my high school angst behind. Something Turkel says teens can’t do these days. As one teen told Turkel, Facebook doesn’t allow them to ever have a fresh start.

Ameena is a blogger that recently posted about why she hasn’t shared a photo of her daughter’s face online. After she published this post several families that shared stories of their out of country pregnancy and birth experiences on Ameena’s blog have since asked her to change or take down the accompanying photo of their child from their story post.

I’m thinking more about Henry’s digital identity after reading these pieces.

Recently I decided not to share some things about his development and milestones when I thought about having it cached away here on a blog, waiting for him or his friends to discover it years from now. I’m also ruminating on Ameena’s post and thinking about only publicly sharing photos of him that don’t show his face. While I think the photos I have shared of him are things to be proud of – he’s a healthy child that smiles a lot – I think more will be kept private until he is ready to share them himself.

Finding more role models for technology lite family living.

I was searching for compostable and not too crafty decorations for our first live Christmas tree last week and came across Unplug Your Kids. This Montessori teacher and mother of three has been raising her children tech and screen lite from the beginning (they’re now 12, 10 and 6).

It was refreshing to read about how her children don’t mind, or ask why, they don’t have cable television or video games to play. The family has one computer in a high traffic area and the children are supervised whenever they use it. More about their model of unplugged kids here.

Unplug Your Kids is in a quiet season right now, the author has taken a new job and is pursuing more education, but there are a lot of great posts in the archive.

So, it can be done.

I think technology is wonderful.

The ability to see and hear family face to face while we are thousands of miles apart still excites me. When my husband can send me a text message telling me where he and my son have ended up on their morning adventure so that I can meet up with them, I am thankful. And I am grateful, so very grateful, for blogs. We wouldn’t have made so many life changes like paying off a huge amount of debt or getting rid of our car, if I hadn’t been encouraged and guided by the advice of writers I found online.

But as Uncle Ben told Spiderman, with greatness comes great responsibility. I am trying to use the greatness of technology wisely.

Eating My Hat: Living In A Small Town

 

When you live in a 598 square foot condo in an urban area and are expecting your first child, many, many people tell you to move out of the city. They tell you it may not happen now but eventually you’ll want to leave the big smoke for the greener pastures of the suburbs: a bigger house and safer streets.

I scoffed at them.

We loved living in downtown Vancouver.

When our son arrived we loved it even more.

Community centers, the sea wall, parks and libraries were mere blocks away. I met a great group of women with children around my son’s age and my first year as a mom was filled with play dates, mom and baby bootcamp and long walks with other new moms that were just as tired, elated and confused by motherhood as I was.

I firmly thought I would never live in the suburbs or a small town for that matter.

Three years later we’re living in a small (for us) town on an island. No Starbucks. No skating rink. Nowhere near the amenities or conveniences of our old life in a big city.

The biggest surprise for me: I love living in a small town. So does my husband. We like the quiet. We like how slow it is. There are frustrations for sure but right now we’re enjoying all the perks of this quiet life and this small place.

I can say now that I was wrong. I thought the suburbs and small towns were boring and limiting. I identified what we valued with the area we lived in.

As many of you can tell me, and as I can see clearly now, it’s now where you live or what you have available to you there that defines your lifestyle and values. It’s how you live that matters most.

Many of your are living well, and simply, in big homes or small homes in the city or suburbs or off a windy country road in a rural area. The small urban home isn’t a necessity for simplifying.

Being in this small town is tied to my husband’s job so we don’t know how long we’ll be here. I do know that this experience has expanded the possibility of where we could live in the future. Big urban center is not a necessity anymore. We’re much more flexible on where we could live.

Do you think simplifying, living with less or slowing down is harder because of where you live?

 

The $10 Worth Of Toys That Replaces $15,000

If you’re interested in Minimalism and other bloggers/writers check out this piece in Wandr’y magazine profiling a half dozen people that have made the move to less. Interesting to see how a lot of us writing about living with less were inspired by each other. Chris, Henry and I get a little shout out in there too.

Have you ever had a desire to just throw all the toys away?

Maybe it came when you were moving house and boxed up the third round of stuffed animals that sit on shelves, looked at but not loved.

Or perhaps you had a painful run in with a small piece of Lego in the early morning.

Or, for the 873rd time, you picked up all the toys in the living room and dumped them back in the kid’s rooms.

You can do it. You can get rid of all the toys and guess what? It might actually be better for your kids.

It’s estimated that parents will spend roughly $15,000 on toys and electronics for each child. Yikes. I can hear parents ripping their kid’s holiday gift list in half right now.

Even more motivating: we can spend less than the cost of two very fancy coffees to keep our children entertained, engaged and help them develop play based skills.

The ‘pocket playground’ is $10 worth of materials and toys that can supposedly replace all the iPad games, Polly Pockets and Playmobil sets. It contains eight low cost items like coloured pencils, embroidery thread and Plasticine beads and can be adapted for 50 activities.

The simple toys in the pocket playground support exploratory play and develop problem-solving skills, spatial awareness, dexterity and creativity – something modern toys and screen based activities aren’t doing.

You can read an article about the study here.

Growing up without a lot of money and not a lot of toys was great for my imagination.

My sisters and I had a little doll clothing store made from things we found around the house. The front counter was an After Eights Mints box. My older sister sewed little garments by hand and we used empty After Eight Mint sleeves as the store bags.

When I think back to my childhood the best fun and games were never attached to a toy or something bought at the store. Our fun was based on make believe or around a neighborhood wide game of Becker Becker (similar to hide and seek). We climbed a lot of trees and built a lot of indoor forts out of chairs and blankets.

Is going toy-less practical for most of us?

While I enjoyed reading about this mom’s experience of a week with no modern toys and screens, and I may even give our home a brief toy sabbatical in the future, I can’t see us down-sizing to the pocket playground long term.

Our train set gets a lot of use and after a week away from it our son was asking about his trains. It gives us hours of fun play each week. A lot of that play is independent which helps me get a few things done around the house. Looking forward to that time even more when we have a new baby in the house.

Also, from comments here on the blog and in discussion with parents of older children, I know we’re at an easy age to have fewer toys at home. Our son isn’t asking for the toys his friends have yet or comparing what he has to what other children have. Sigh. Ignorance is bliss.

Going toy-less and screen-less with older children would be a huge challenge if they attend school outside the home or socialize with other children that have modern toys.

While I think the pocket playground is great, I know it’s an almost impossible feat to get rid of all the toys for most families.

Practical ways to use the pocket playground or go toy-less:

There are some moderate ways to use the pocket playground or toy-less time to reduce toy clutter and foster more imaginative play.

  • Travel: before our next trans-Atlantic flight I’m going to put together a pocket playground to take on the road. It’s small, inexpensive and would be great for long flights. Also a nice idea for when you’re away from home for an extended period of time.
  • Toy-Free Days or Weeks: replace some or all of your toys with the pocket playground for a short period of time. I’m imagining all the reasons you can give your four year-old for why their toys need a rest…
  • Use More Household Items for Play: Henry did a great job turning just about anything, like a fork, cup or a sugar packet at a coffee shop, into a train track or a train when we were on holiday. It was a good reminder to allow him to explore our kitchen cupboards and other areas of our home for non-toys that are safe to use for play.

Has anyone tried a toy-sabbatical or reduced the toy collection and focused on more play with household items? How did your children adapt to fewer toys? Did it take them long to start playing with household items?

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