500 to 1300 sq ft. Keeping the Minimalist philosophy

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We moved. It’s a house, it’s bigger and most importantly it’s in our dream neighbourhood still close to downtown, within walking distance to all our favourite places.

Am I now a minimalist hypocrite? Sure, we moved into a bigger space but as I’ve said before, it is all about making room for life and our life legitimately required more room. Our son now has his own room and a small yard to play in. We are able to entertain family and friends which is very important to us. Do I have more than one bathroom? No. Large closets? No. A double car garage? No. But I’ve got plenty of space to do the things I love. Have a little garden, store canning, take walks along the river, work, entertain, raise children…and continue my own version of a minimalist lifestyle. Just because I have a basement that has room to “store” things, doesn’t mean it has to be stuffed full. Closets so far are by and large empty and the built in bookshelves flanking the fireplace are, well, a little sparse as i’m thankfully short on nic nacks. But we have room enough to grow our family and as long as we don’t get sucked into buying mode, we will be alright.

Minimalism is a thought process, a continual renewing of ones commitment to a certain world view and so though my square footage has more than doubled, I maintain the importance of making room in life for the things that really matter and so stay committed to not cluttering it up simply for the love of stuff.

I sincerely hope I can keep it up, as having more space means it will certainly be more challenging. It is my home though and any home can be lived in simply so I pledge to continue to do so.

Julene

500 sq ft Plus Baby

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Here I am, about 7 weeks into life as a mother. I hardly know where to begin. After a long and somewhat horrific birth I took a little human home with not a clue as to what to do with him. But, like every new mother, I just did it. Sleep deprived I figured out breast feeding, how to get him to sleep, how to change him without getting peed on and how to accept offers of help. While I’ve by no means got it all sorted, baby and I know each other well enough to get through each day and night without completely losing it. I now feel like somewhat of a success, at least for the moment. I have after all kept him alive and myself reasonably sane (thanks mostly to my mom and sister) so I count that as success.

The real question is, how have I managed in my 500 sq ft with this new addition. Reasonably well I have to say. Of course being a little bit too much of a minimalist I did purchase a few items that I previously thought I could live without, namely a glider, bouncy chair, nursing tank, stroller and soother clip, all of which have been complete life savers! Despite the addition of a few items that take up space, 500 sq ft has proven to be enough space for the 2 of us plus a newborn though I don’t know it would have been had my in laws not graciously offered to take our dog…thank goodness. I can see however that at some point more space is going to be necessary but for now I love that he shares an intimate space with us.

The small space has been an advantage in some ways. Specifically, my husband has not had any space to escape to so he has been forced to take an active role. As well not having much space to clean has been nice! I have however found it important to routinely go through clothes and keep things organized to avoid chaos as storage is at a premium and we are both changing sizes. So, 500 sq ft is fine…for now. I am slowly beginning to look forward to a little larger space as it actually becomes necessary. In the mean time it is important for me to simply be content with where we are at and focus on what really matters, not the square footage but the love of the new little life I’ve been given the task of caring for.

Julene

“[motherhood] is still the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary – it’s an act of infinite optimism”
– Gilda Radner, comedian and actor

“[motherhood is] a choice you make every day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong” – Donna Ball, novelist

Ready or Not, Here He Comes…

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Though I have not quite reached my actual due date, already over a week ago my doctor advised me to be ready as my baby could come at anytime. Ready? What does he mean by ready? Do I have diapers and clothes, a crib and all the other things that are on the must have lists? Is my hospital bag packed? Am I mentally prepared to give birth? Have I read enough books, is my marriage ready, is my body, indeed my life, ready to be forever altered?

Yikes. I’m not sure how he could think anyone can be truly ready for the birth of a first child. I mean despite spending countless hours reading and researching, I still really have no idea what I’m getting into.

As for stuff, I ignored the lists and just got what I thought was important, which probably varies by person. I’ve got a place for him to sleep, a dresser to house diapers, clothes and blankets. I’ve got diapers (going with Gdiapers so I won’t contribute to the landfills for his diapering years) and the home made coconut oil wipes are ready to go. I have some clothes but not a ton as i want to wait and see how big he is. We have a carseat and a baby bath for the kitchen sink and a Girasol wrap to carry him around in. I’m prepared with cloth nursing pads, frozen herbal sitz bath pads for postpartum recovery and nursing bras. I’ve put some baking in my freezer and prepped my husband that he will probably have to take over the grocery shopping and cooking for awhile. (This is not at all daunting to him as he does it half the time anyway.)

My hospital bag isn’t packed because I still need things that I would put in it. I don’t have a stroller because we are going to try wearing him and see how that goes first. I don’t have a special chair to rock him in as I’m going to try a friends first after he is born to see if he even likes it and then pick one up off of kijiji if necessary. I don’t have a change table as I’ve decided to just use the bed, couch or wherever as that seems just as easy (I’ll put something under him to change him of course.). I don’t have a mobile, any bouncy chairs, swings or play mats as I figure if I find it necessary I’ll go get it then. I haven’t written a birth plan though I’ve thought about and discussed our flexible “plan” with my birthing advocate as well as my husband and feel good about it.

I didn’t read any books on pregnancy as they simply didn’t interest me and I thought they would only create more for me to worry about. I did read several books on birth however, as well as some on parenting as those topics were of more interest to me. I feel mentally prepared enough to not be completely naive but also to know that I cannot ever be truly be prepared for something that is going to blow my mind.

So am I ready? Sure, bring it on. After all I’ll never know how strong I can be until my strength and character is tested and I have a feeling that this impending birth and following months will test me beyond the scope of my life experience thus far!

Julene

Small space, small projects, big impact

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Sometimes I have been hesitant to do to much in our small space for fear of overwhelming the space, however so far any changes I have made have really added to the space! Though all my walls are still white I’ve added a few touches of paint to other surfaces.

The door to our little condo is simply a flat panel door that was painted white (of course!) rather than go to a whole lot of work and try to add wood trim to give it depth and make it match the rest of the interior doors, I simply took a small can of black paint and some painting tape and only left a square of white showing. Here is how it turned out!

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The second project I did was simply add a little paint to an old (1800’s) dresser my parents had sitting in their basement. It is going to be used as a change table for the new baby as well as store basically everything of his. I simply applied 2 coats of turquoise paint then took some sand paper to it. I have a little bit of a fox theme going so I added brass fox hardware from Anthropologie.com This is how it turned out!

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Julene

A New York City Inspired Prairie Girl

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Though I won’t apologize for it, I will acknowledge that it has been a LONG time since I last did some writing. My last post was in December of 2012 which happens to coincide with when I found out I was pregnant. Was this great news? Absolutely! Did I immediately fear for our minimalistic lifestyle? Yes! Was an extra human going to mean the end of my beloved 500 sqft as the huge plastic toys and Wal-Mart onsies took over? While at first I feared we might have to buy a house, after a great deal of research I came to the resounding conclusion that we could live quite well in our 1 bedroom condo for a couple more years, even with another human, albeit a small one. My inspiration? New York City! While I have yet to actually visit I cannot help but admire, even idealize the way in which many New Yorkers adapt to becoming new parents. They turn hallways, closets, whatever space they can find into baby space and continue to live in the neighborhoods they love. Why can’t I do the same?

What changes are we going to make? Well first off we are not going to change our attitude towards minimalism, baby or no baby. Huge plastic toys and Wal-Mart onsies are out of the question for us (consignment stores are amazing for great quality used baby clothing!!!) Yes I know, they need “lots” of stuff. But what I have realized is that while they do need some things, much of the “stuff” that is accumulated in order to have a baby is fairly unnecessary or at the very least a luxury. So, over 6 months into my pregnancy I have done mostly research and very little buying as we carefully think through what we really NEED. The one large purchase we have made is a used vehicle. While this is admitted with a healthy dose of sadness, in our particular situation where our family lives out of the city or province it seemed to be a wise choice. Though we are no longer a carless couple, we certainly cherish our experience without a vehicle and have pledged to try to use our vehicle only when it is truly necessary (like seeing Grandparents or on very cold prairie days) and keep walking, cycling or using public transport on a regular basis even once our new little man has arrived.

I have had to think through a lot of the norms of Canadian parenting as far as all the gear and conveniences are concerned. I promise to write another post on what I have decided to live without in order to accommodate small space living with a baby. I am so excited about breaking a few norms and doing things our own beautiful, minimalistic, sustainable way and here is to hoping some of it will rub off on the next generation!

Suffice to say, we are very at peace with not changing our location (close to bakeries, cafe’s, walking and cycling paths etc.) nor changing the size of our living space. While the day will probably come when a change of some kind is necessary, today is not that day!

Julene

Stretching Your Wardrobe

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How many times have you opened your closet, full of clothes, and thought “I have nothing to wear!” When trying to live with fewer clothes, this is a thought that has the potential to make you think that you can’t be fashionable as you are forced to stick with the basics. I hope to offer a little hope as often even with just the basics, the options are many if only you think creatively and use accessories to trick everyone into thinking you have on a completely different outfit when really it is only slightly different.

Below are 6 basic wardrobe pieces and 3 accessories worn in many different ways. These pictures are to illustrate how with a little creativity and the right basic pieces, your wardrobe can literally expand right before your eyes. You may think of even more options than I have!

1) dark jeans (by Guess)
2) black skirt (from Aritzia)
3) black dress (by BCBG, Max Azria)
4) black blazer (by Calvin Klein)
5) stripped 3/4 sleeve shirt (from Club Monaco)
6) lace tank top (from Aritzia)

1) brown skinny leather belt (from The Gap)
2) brown leather wrap around belt (by Stephanel)
3) silk and sequinned faux collar (by Stephanel)

A special thank you to my little sister for being such a fabulous model!

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Julene

Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity

~ Plato

A Reflection on Christmas

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Christmas is a tough time of year for those who try to live simply. In so many ways the modern Christmas tradition is based around excessive consumerism. I was attracted to the ideals of simpler living because of the time, energy, money and space it opens up in so many aspects of our lives. While I am by no means any kind of authority on the subject, it seems to me that Christmas usually involves spending a lot of time rushing around, shopping, cooking, cleaning and decorating. Not that any of those things are inherently bad but obsessing about the tree, the lights and the perfect gift tends to take up a lot of time and money, never mind facing exhaustion from bracing crowds, lineups and traffic. No tree for me and my Christmas shopping was a one day affair. Slowly I’m finding some balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Christmas hater. I highly value a holiday that encourages family time, generosity and celebrating the birth of a saviour. I don’t however really value a holiday that encourages giving/receiving “stuff” we don’t need, high credit card bills and hours spent decorating using decor items stored all year round for use once a year. I just like the Christmas that says “peace on earth” (outward focus) that encourages us to help others in need instead of the Christmas that says “I’d like a new gaming system or Louis Vuitton bag” (inward focus.)

All I want for Christmas is a little less hustle and bustle and a little more simplicity. Watch the snow fall (if you live in the north like I do), eat and drink with your family and friends, share your time and a little generosity with them and celebrate that baby in a manger. Easy on the excess and a have a Merry Christmas!

Julene

“Oh for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money” – author unknown

“Probably the reason we all go haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we often don’t quite know how to put our love into words” – Harlan Miller, writer

The Carless Couple

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We parked our car for the winter.  Why?  Well, when we stopped to think about it, our present vehicle on winter roads felt like a hazard and trying to dig out our car after each snowfall was strenuous and exasperating.  So, we decided doing a little walking and hopping on a bus now and then might not be such a bad idea.  We parked the car at a relatives and bid adieu to a symbol of North American independence, freedom and prosperity.

What can I say?  So far so good.  Generally getting around on the bus is quite easy, especially since we don’t have children and live quite centrally.  There are a few locations that have been a bit of an inconvenience, but so was digging, indeed sometimes pushing, the car out of a snow bank.  Another benefit is that it forces us to plan our time a little differently.  Our immediate neighbourhood has become even more important as walkable access to amenities has been key.  We have saved money on fuel and entertainment as we don’t just jump in the car, head clear across the city to some restaurant.  Instead we think a little more critically about how much time it will take and if it is worth it, often opting to cook a nice dinner at home or explore places nearby.  We have saved time, money and our lives have become less hurried, not to mention the obvious “green” benefits.

The Problem?  Getting outside the city.  Some of our family members live outside the city limits which makes seeing them considerably more difficult.  There is not one train, tram, bus or collective transportation option of any kind available to us to get outside the city, which is a real shame; a flaw in the Canadian transportation system to be sure.  Instead we are left politely asking pitying relatives to lend us a ride which leaves us feeling apologetic.  At the same time it leaves us feeling shafted by the North American system which forces us to rely on individual vehicles.  It was never a problem getting out of the city anywhere in Europe, a train was always ready to take us almost anywhere, even small obscure towns.  Here in Canada however, the reality is altogether more saddening.

Solutions?  Build an affordable train system, efficient enough for daily use by both commuters and visitors.  Until that happens however, perhaps we will have to look into the car sharing system I have heard rumours about.  Any helpful suggestions are welcome.

Julene

Fashion Judgement

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I had heard that European fashion was a couple of years ahead of us North Americans. However, with how small the world is these days I thought there had to be something more to it then how slow North Americans are to catch on to new styles.  So, when it was my turn to head over the ocean, I landed in Paris ready to judge every Parisian I saw on their fashion competence.  I wanted to believe that there was a simple reason why only an ocean separated the sweat pant, sneaker wearing, baggy t-shirt and jeans donned average American, from countries filled with beautifully clad people that emerge every day as if a fashion fairy had dressed them.   I wanted to find out how to garner a little of that European finesse and bring it back home.  Eight countries and five weeks later I left the beautiful land of Italia with some ideas about why things are the way they are. (Please understand these are broad generalizations.)

  1. Lack of closet space lends itself to a curated wardrobe.  We stayed in apartments in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Athens and Rome (and stayed in Hotels in the rest of the cities.)  These stays consistently proved that closet space is scarce.  Many of the buildings were built at a time when closet space was not a priority as people generally owned far less clothing.  As the size of these apartments is in many cases very small, finding room for a closet never mind a shower or dining table is a challenge.  This reality creates the need to only have what you really love or need.  I so appreciated this about our European apartment staying experience because it exemplified the contrast to the average North American home.  If these apartments were transported back to North America, it would force the large majority of us to get rid of probably 50-75% of our wardrobe.  With this in mind, shopping patterns adapt to the amount of space you have to store them as clothing must be more versatile and you really must love it to buy it as the item will be taking up prime real estate back in your closet.  No space to store clothes or shoes that you rarely wear.
  2. Chain stores have not yet completely taken over.  Though the propensity to shop at places like H & M or Zara is certainly starting to have it’s affect, independently owned and unique fashion boutiques are much more popular to shop at then in North America.  North Americans have malls filled with chain stores designed to make everyone look uniquely alike while Europeans have winding cobblestone streets lined with small, narrow shops carrying a myriad of designers from up and coming to well known.  While these little shops do exist in most North American cities, the difference is in the shopping culture.  The western European culture still looks to these small shops as legitimate places to shop and don’t simply head to the mall for an easy, cheap, one stop shop.  As a side note, the exception is in cities like Bucharest and Sofia in Eastern Europe where the big chains have quite literally taken over, covering large parts of rundown, soviet built apartment buildings with advertising banners; quite a contrast from Western Europe.
  3. Europeans are consistent.  No matter the day of the week or the destination, Europeans seem to dress well.  Contrast this with North Americans who actually have the ability to dress well, however simply don’t unless they have an occasion to do so.  This is one of the main differences that I observed.  Dressing with a style conscious eye is a way of life, intertwined into the fabric of European culture.  While North Americans are largely fashion obsessed, they fail to live it out on the street even if they have the clothing items in their ever burgeoning walk in closets.  Suffice to say Europeans do not seem to be afraid of “over dressing”, perhaps that is not even a term they use.
  4. Men dress differently.  By far the biggest contrast was the way in which the men dressed, especially in Paris.  North American women tend to try to keep up with current trends or dress classically and take care of themselves and so I didn’t find a huge difference between European and North American women.  The men however were a different story.  They were classic, current, practical yet elegantly masculine.  Men in Europe are not afraid of fashion where as North American men seem to be.  Now I know that I am painting with a very broad stroke and I do know many men here at home that dress well.  However, on this side of the ocean there seems to be this prevalent thought that only gay men dress well, and the thought process gets stuck there.  Men need to seriously get over this.  A well dressed man is very attractive to a woman and it shows self confidence.  Now I’m not saying you all should run out and buy new wardrobes, men have different lifestyles requiring different types of clothing and not everyone needs a wardrobe worthy of James Bond.  Instead, it is the attitude behind the clothes you wear that I suggest be reevaluated.

Well, you may have found this post a little judgemental but honestly I find comparing North American and European dressing culture quite fascinating and these are simply my observations from my first trip across the ocean.

Oh, and as for actual fashion trends?  Well women, stock up on pantyhose to wear under short skirts or pleated shorts, wear with a blazer or oversized chunky sweater and finish off with a flat or chuncky heeled pair of black, just above the ankle boots and you are good to go.  Men, wear well fitting jeans in burgundy, pair with a heavy subtle patterned blazer over a wool cardigan, add a scarf and nice pair of suede or leather lace up boots and you too are also good to go.

Julene

“The only real elegance is in the mind; if you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it.” — Diana Vreeland

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the w
ay we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel

The most important thing to remember is that you can wear all the greatest clothes and all the greatest shoes, but you’ve got to have a good spirit on the inside. That’s what’s really going to make you look like you’re ready to rock the world.” — Alicia Keys