The Liebster Award and a Cringe Worthy Expat Faux Pas

The Luxpats nominated me for a Liebster award a while back (winners answer a series of questions about travel) and I took the challenge! I think this may be a first for me – I’m terrible about getting tagged in these types of things – but I loved the questions for this. Plus mining through travel photos and memories was fun and now I have the travel itch.

1. What was your first travel experience and what did you take away from it? 

Probably my first big travel experience was a college recruiting trip to the Northeastern US when I was 16. My sister and I visited three universities on our own with multiple connecting flights. I still can’t believe everyone was comfortable sending us on our own – we’d only been on one flight before that and it was less than an hour to Seattle for another recruiting trip. It was quite an adventure with travel snafus and sleeping on dorm floors. I loved that feeling of independence and not knowing what to expect or what was next. This was pre-Internet so we were really going in blind to the visits and what the colleges would look like.

2. What is the best food item / dish you have tried, and where was it?

My husband and I had an incredible meal on Capri at a beachfront restaurant back in 2009. The meal was so good, pasta with pumpkin, but the story of getting there and the ‘pinch me is this real’ view really elevated the experience. We decided to go to Capri from Sorrento with no real plan. On arrival I was nonplussed with the heavy throngs of tourists and didn’t see what the fuss was about. We hiked the hillside and then hiked down the other side and stumbled upon this gorgeous restaurant on the water.
While I enjoy researching for trips there is something special about happening upon something with no guidance from Yelp reviews or TripAdvisor’s top ten list.

3. What is the best advice you’ve received?

One of my sisters told me years ago that she highly recommended paying for walking tours. She had just returned from a European vacation where she hit up some big cities and she said having someone guide her through a city really allowed her to soak it in and appreciate it instead of staring at a map or guide book on repeat. So we always sign up for a tour of a new city on the first day there to get a feel of where things are and to learn more about the city. Once we’ve had a tour we pick a few things that we want to see more of and head to them on our own.

4. What is your ideal setting for travel/vacationing and for work?

Right now we are partial to all-inclusives that offer childcare though we haven’t really been on a big vacation in quite a while. Depressing, right? But I’ve found over the years that for us travel with younger children in the mobile baby to 2.5 year old age is exhausting. Particularly now that we have three kids. First rule of making travel and vacationing enjoyable: know what you like! Luckily our youngest should be a bit easier to travel with in the next year or so and that should open things up for where we can go.

My husband and I both loathe driving for ‘regular’ life but love road trips. We did a road trip through Italy pre-kids and it was fantastic. Many people told us we were making a mistake driving, that we should do it all by train, but even with a broken GPS and getting lost multiple times, I would do it all again. I would love to be able to do a road trip through Scandinavia when the kids are a bit older. Like most families we are partial to renting apartments and homes through websites like AirBnBs rather than staying in a hotel. It just makes sense for us financially and I don’t like spending my evenings reading with a flashlight while the kids sleep!

As far as work setting, anywhere? I work from home, cafes and sometimes an office space. The nice thing about my job is how portable it has been. I remember working on something while on vacation in the Dominican Republic and thinking, this is the best! I know other people would be unhappy to have to do a bit of work on vacation but I was thrilled.  Flexible and portable work is ideal for my family right now as we have young kids and we seem to move every few years.

5. What is your least favorite place you have been/visited/lived?

Morocco. We really did not have a good experience there. I blame some of it on me being pregnant at the time but we also got lost in the Medina and were in the non-tourist side and people spat at us. I’m also not a great haggler and so the swarms of people trying to get your taxi fare was stressful. That said, I would love to go back some day. I know quite a few people that loved Morocco so I know my experience was just one experience.

6.  What is the weirdest job you’ve ever taken on?

This could get long. I got up super early and got in line at the passport office and sold my spot for a few weeks. This was when I was really low on money. I was a full-time athlete from 2001-2004. I demonstrated digital cameras, photo printers and vacuums in stores. After my freshman year at university I painted school classrooms for a summer.

7. What made you want to start a blog?

So much clutter. I was really frustrated with all of our stuff and got excited about the minimalist movement. I started a blog to keep myself accountable as I decluttered. I could never have imagined that six years later it would still be going, I would publish a second book and that the blog would spawn a big online community of people trying to live with less stuff.

8. Name a book that changed the way you see the world.

These questions are so hard! But off the top of my head: Bonfire of the Vanities. I read it in high school, living in an ethnically diverse and fairly affluent (but we were not) suburb. Every character in the book was described by their race and religion and I was floored at that. Most of the families where I lived were first generation Canadians – including mine – and kids never really talked about our differences. I never thought of my parents immigration to Canada as noteworthy because most of my friend’s parents had also moved to Vancouver from Iran, South Africa, the Czech Republic, England, etc.

9. What has been the biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it? 

Making a full-time income as a self-employed writer. Still working on that!
I kind of fell into being a nonfiction writer after having my first baby in 2009. Prior to that I worked in sponsorship and marketing for a bank. I’ve always wanted to be a writer but being a blogger and author wasn’t on my radar. I did my undergrad in English Literature and creative writing and later did a year of film school for screenwriting. Having a successful blog and writing books has been a happy accident.

10. What mark do you hope to leave on the world? 

What a big question. I hope that I helped people – be they my children, partner, family, blog readers – live more freely and with less stress.

11. Do you have any funny/awkward cultural faux pas to share? 

It took me a long time to understand that in the UK if you invite a person over to your house or they drop by, you MUST offer them tea. And if they are Irish they will say “I don’t want to bother you” which actually means “yes, of course I want a cuppa” so you keep asking until they say yes or insist that you were going to make tea for yourself anyways.

Also, pants are underpants in the United Kingdom. That’s an important one in my experience.

So much fun Luxpats! Thanks for nominating me.

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Dawn from At Home in a Nutshell

Starting a new series on the blog! I get so many questions about how people implement minimalism with kids, in small homes and big homes, rural or city, many kids or just one. So, I thought I would start sharing other families stories. What inspired them to live with less and how they make it work with kids. I love reading about how families make minimalism work in scenarios much different than mine and I hope you will too. First up: Dawn!
1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
My husband and I both worked in education. I was an English teacher and he taught for quite a few years as well. A few years ago he went into technology support and technology teacher education and still works for the schools. He is the tech specialist at a local elementary school. I’m at home with our three boys. We love baseball. We love teaching our kids and playing with them and reading to them. I love to write. He loves to coach baseball.
We bought a two bedroom condo about a year and a half after we got married. One of our big considerations in finding a home was to find a walkable area because I don’t drive. I have epilepsy, and even though I average only one or two seizures per year I am not willing to risk driving.
We found a great little condo community in the growing town of Reston, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C. Eight months after moving into our new place we found out I was pregnant with twins. Surprise! We sold our Jeep Cherokee and bought a mini van and quickly the cute little guest room/office turned into a cute little nursery for two baby boys. It was an exciting time with a lot of change.
That was eight years ago. Since then we have added another little boy into the mix, and have stayed in our little condo. We have elected to stay for various reasons: It was important to both of us that if financially possible I stay home from work with the boys while they were young. A bigger mortgage for a bigger place would mean I would be back at work to cover the difference. A bigger place would also mean that we would most likely be farther away from things like the metro train into DC and the buses, and finding a walkable place would be more difficult. So we have done we have to do to make it work in our spot. I plan to be back at work again soon, but we’re now more intent on paying off our mortgage than on finding a bigger place. We’ve learned to live with less space and fewer possessions.
Along the way we have learned many things, and one of them is that owning less stuff is not only practical for our living situation, but incredibly freeing. We also love to see how our kids have developed their creativity and values due at least in part to how we live with fewer things and space than other families.

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

Minimalism is something I’ve read about for years and I have gotten good ideas from minimalists for how to manage in our space. I love the idea of not being attached to things, but to live more for experiences than stuff. I suppose my initial reaction to minimalism was to envision a basically empty, well-kept cabin in the woods somewhere, but I’ve learned it is much more than that.

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

The two most challenging things about living with less stuff is that we have to be getting rid of things constantly or stuff accumulates– we cannot let up or we’ll be swallowed alive– and the second is that it can come off as rude at times when I don’t want things from others. The kids bring so much home from school and from birthday parties that I struggle to stay on top of it all. One thing I do instead of saving most of the kids’ school work in a box somewhere, is I take pictures of it. The most important people in my life have been amazing at thinking up creative gift ideas for our family that involve experiences rather than objects, because they know our situation, but sometimes there are things people give me that I just don’t want and I can’t keep. I always feel rude, but I have to get rid of them to maintain my sanity. I try to be discreet about it, but I’m sure some people have figured out that what they gave me is no longer in my house.

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

The most rewarding part is that I usually know exactly what I have and exactly where it is. I can also say that if anyone breaks into our home they will not be rewarded with much more than an awesome new blender. If they took my laptop they’d toss it when they saw how old it is. We don’t own much of monetary value.

5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future? 
YES. Huge challenges as the boys get bigger. We do hope to move to a bigger space before long, since they will eventually become teenagers, after all, but we want to still live a more minimalist life, with fewer things than the average three-child suburban family. The kids will see their friends getting all sorts of things and want to get them too, and we obviously don’t want to deny them everything, but we want them to see the value in the minimalist attitude. But since they’ve grown up this way so far, they already understand that we place more value on experiences than on stuff, and they are becoming that way also. A perfect example is that they play ice hockey. That is a huge expense, but they love it and we love that they love it. When they talk about wanting something we often say, would you rather have [insert thing] or play hockey? They always choose hockey, of course. But one day that might change.
I started a blog this spring called At Home in A Nutshell, where I share tips about living in a small space with a family. I have a lot of pictures of things we’ve done to make our home more comfortable and practical for family life.
“If you want to see what children can do, stop giving them things.” -Norman Douglas
Thank you Dawn. I loved reading about how you deal with the challenges of trying to have less stuff and your reasons for living in a smaller home. So much that I can relate to in this (three boys in a condo!).
If you’d like to share your minimalist-ish home and journey with readers send me an email! You don’t need to be a blogger or live in a tiny home. I’m looking for stories and photos from families living a minimalist life in any way shape and form. Email me: the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.

Side Hustle Income Idea: Rent Your Car Out with Turo


Side hustles – small jobs or occasional income – are a constant source of fascination and inspiration to me. When I meet someone who tells me they do something “on the side” like dog training, teaching a course through a community center or flipping mid-century modern furniture, I’m always asking for the story of how they got started. Side hustles helped us pay off over $80,000 in debt, continue to help us save a bit extra each year and will likely be part of our retirement plan. Today I’m talking about a side hustle that most of us could easily start earning from today and that requires no special skills or start up money: renting your car out with Turo.

Turo is an on demand peer-to-peer car rental company. Thinks AirBnB but for cars. You might be going away on vacation and instead of having your car sitting in the driveway for a week, you rent it out and cover some of your vacation cost. Or maybe you have a second vehicle that really only gets used during the school year. Rent it out over the holidays and summer to make some extra money. Or maybe, like me, you don’t drive a lot. With my new cargo bike as part of the family transportation plan I’m driving even less. It would be great for our family to have some extra income and have it be something easy that I can do without hiring a babysitter. Renting our car out with Turo would be the ideal fit for me.


How does Turo work?

Car owners sign up and list their vehicle. You’ll need to enter:

  • your country (Turo is available in the US and several Canadian provinces)
  • make, model and year of your car
  • miles/kms on the odometer
  • if the transmission is automatic or manual

Next you need to verify your identity with SSN/SIN, drivers license, address history etc. The process is similar to filling out a residential rental application. A few more steps to set where your vehicle is located, license plate number, upload some photos and you’re almost done. Lastly you can enter when the car is available and set your price.

How much will I earn renting my car out with Turo?

You’ll earn around 75% of the rental price with Turo. Turo helps you determine your rental price based on model, year of car and location. In general higher end luxury models in bigger cities rent for the highest prices. You’ll find out what Turo suggests for a rental price once you sign up.

What about insurance and safety? Turo offers the car owners three different levels of insurance. The lower the coverage you choose the higher your earnings. The driver also selects a level of insurance. Turo screens drivers and you can look at a driver’s profile and approve or reject the rental request.

Turo isn’t available yet in my province but as soon as it is, I’m signing up. We need our car less and less these days but don’t want to go car-free until our middle child is in a lighter car seat: a few years and 20 lbs away. But it seems pretty extravagant to have our own vehicle when we only use it occasionally. Renting out it with Turo would be a great option to earn some extra income. I love that it’s extra income I can choose the when and where of and that doesn’t require me to find and pay for a babysitter to do.

Would I use Turo to rent a car myself? Absolutely.

Turo is available in the US and several Canadian provinces right now and I would definitely use it on a trip.  One of the big advantage for us is that with Turo we would know the exact make and model of the vehicle we were renting. Car rental agencies only guarantee you a class of vehicle with some suggestions, not guarantees, what make and model it could be.

If you’ve ever booked a car rental for a family of five that has three car seats and ‘international move’ quantity luggage plus a stroller then you know how frustrating it is to not know what vehicle you will receive. Our experience has been pretty terrible with getting a vehicle that fits three car seats and fits a rear facing car seat with tall drivers and passengers. So frustrating to come off a long flight, wait in a long car rental line and then find out your car seats don’t fit in the vehicle they selected for you. With Turo I could look up car models that I know would fit our tall car seat-ed family with room for a stroller and bags. Plus, I love that I would meet the owner before driving the vehicle. Car rental agencies never give you tips about the vehicle you’re getting like if the gas tank release lever is in an unusual spot, how to move the seats to a different configuration and local driving tips but car owners do.

You can sign up to rent your car out with Turo here. It’s free and once you’ve completed the sign up process Turo can tell you exactly how much money you’ll earn renting your car out.

So, would you rent your car out?

P.S This isn’t a sponsored post (I just love this idea!) but I have included affiliate links. If you sign up through the links in this post I will receive a small affiliate commission.

Week 6: The Only Thing You Can’t Replace


Last post in the Clutter Cleanse for 2016. Thank you for joining in, sharing your wins on Facebook and Instagram and celebrating living a bit smaller so you can enjoy more of life.

I started this blog to motivate myself to have less stuff. It felt like the walls of our condo were closing in after a stretch at home on maternity leave and the addition of a lot of stuff I thought we needed for the baby. So I started giving away, selling and donating things we weren’t using. It felt good. Things snowballed. Suddenly we were spending less money and were on the fast track to paying off some serious debt. 

We’ve been trying to live with less for almost five years now. And my biggest takeaway from trying to get a bit minimalist-ish is that I have to align what I give my time and space to with what I value. And one of the things I value most is time.

Time is my most precious and finite resource: that feels even more clear and urgent right now as I near forty and the gong of mid-life is ringing. Who and what do I want to give my time to?

Time is one of the reasons I am so passionate about not having a long commute and living in a walkable neighborhood. Sure there are some downsides to not having a backyard but the time positive to being so close to so many amenities, parks, the sea wall, library and so much more is worth it to me. I love a road trip but my husband and I will and have done a lot to make most of our day-to-day lives function on foot.

Still, it’s not always perfect. We mostly drive our son to school right now. After a lot of hand wringing and searching for alternate modes of transport and even mulling over moving neighborhoods, we accepted that we couldn’t ‘have it all’ right now with a school in walking distance. It’s not forever, there should be a school to walk to within the year, but for now we drive more than I like. It’s been a good reminder: I don’t like driving. I don’t like packing my kids up in the car. The time feels wasted. I also know that this dislike of driving isn’t universal. I’ve met many happy well adjusted folk with fantastic lifestyles that enjoy kicking back in their car for thirty minutes twice a day to listen to audio books or the radio or to just be in a car alone with no one asking anything of them. I get it.

So, after weeks of getting rid of things, what is it that you want more of in your life? Is it time, a person, laughter, home cooked meals, sleep, education, love or premium? There is no wrong answer. But there should be some answer. Even if you already knew it before you started hauling stuff to Goodwill. You should know that there is something you want more of in your life. If you already have it you should be guarding it. Don’t let stuff or misuse of time steal any of it from you.


For Anyone Wanting Reasons to Slash Your Commute

This is a hot and beloved topic for me. As a time junkie I am fascinated at how we can essentially do the unthinkable, make more time, by changing where we live, work and get around. So read on if you want more ammo for cutting your drive time. Or close this email/browser window right now if your fine with your driving or feeling crushed by your commute that you cannot get out of right now.

It is ridiculous to commute by car to work if you realize how expensive it is to drive, and if you value your time at anything close to what you get paid. – Mr Money Mustache

If you can, go read this article in The Guardian titled The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Cities. If you have a bit more time go check out this post on the personal finance blog Mr. Money Mustache The True Cost of Commuting.

Now, read the following statistics taken from The Guardian article which is an excerpt from the book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

  • A person with a 1 hour commute has to earn 40% more to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.
  • People who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce.
  • People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.

Need a few more shockers to help shake you out of the commuter mindset? From Mr Money Mustache:

  • The 40 minute car commute for a couple driving separate cars is conservatively costing them $125,000 over 10 years and 1.3 years of worth of working time each.
  • Think it’s too expensive to own a home closer to work? MMM says each mile closer to work saves you enough money to take out $15,900 more of mortgage.

Look, I know it can’t be perfect. We can’t ‘have it all’ where we live either. But we can come pretty close by deciding to live without a few things – yard, a bedroom for each kid – so that we have a few more hours a week to do with as we please.

What do you want more of in your life? Has decluttering helped you put more of those loved activities/people in your life?

Week 6: Happiness is…


How’s your home looking? More importantly, how are you feeling about stuff, your attachment to it and what those small buying choices ad up to after a few years?

This is the week to stop selling DVDs on Amazon or getting rid of those cute on the hangar but painful in-person bras. This week is about the bigger picture. What could having less and living a bit smaller give you and others?



Forget all of your “but I can’t because ____ ” for a moment and just consider some of these ideas. Disregard that you just refinanced your mortgage, or moved to a bigger home, or bought a second car or got an awesome job that doubled your commute. You’re not selling or buying or changing anything when you suspend your reality for a second and daydream.

If I lived closer to work/school/amenities I could:

  • walk to work
  • get rid of our second car
  • spend more time with my spouse/friends/kids
  • spend more time on myself

If I moved into a smaller home I could:

  • spend less time cleaning
  • lower my mortgage or pay less rent
  • spend less time on tidying/moving the lawn/home repair

If I quit some of my/my kids /evening/weekend activities/classes/commitments I could:

  • go to bed earlier and get more sleep
  • find the time for health/creative/work goals that I really want to invest myself in
  • save more money to retire earlier or give more to charity or travel more
  • feel less rushed
  • spend more time with the ones I love

These won’t be easy things to think about. Some of you may just say it’s not the time for you to open this can of worms. I get it. I truly do.

However, if you’re interested in seeing how the ideas and practices behind this modern minimalist movement can benefit you in a bigger way than a closet full of clothing that you actually wear and fewer impulsive home ware buys – this is it.

This is the stuff that really excites me. One day you’re cutting the cable which feels pretty radical and a few months later you’re trying your hand at living without a car. You started this journey just hoping to finally clear the basement so you could put a second television down there for the kids or finally renovate for a guest room but then the basement is empty and you’re thinking, why do I need this extra room? The kids are finally playing in their rooms because they can find their toys and my reading chair is no longer piled with clothing so I have my quiet spot to finish The Goldfinch. Could we live in something smaller?

It doesn’t mean you have to act on these thoughts or opportunities. Simply coming to the realization that you maybe don’t need as much as you once thought you did is a huge win. Because if you can see that what you once thought of as a need is really a want, you’ll feel much more content with what you do have.

So… think about it. I’ll have a few more posts up this week and a wrap up for the Clutter Cleanse with more resources for those of you still feeling the weight of your stuff.

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