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.


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.
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.


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.
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.

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.
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.   


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.    

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.   

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.   
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). 

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: 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.

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