I’ve been hearing that word more and more each day. I use it a fair bit too.
In paying more attention to the ways minimalism is used and to my own use of the term, it reinforced for me that there are many meanings and interpretations of the word. For me, minimalism is about reducing quantity and increasing quality, whether this applies to the things we own, the responsibilities we have, or the friends we keep. My minimalism is motivated by environmental concerns and interest in living a sustainable lifestyle, and by my affinity with simplicity — living a simple life, clear of mental and physical clutter. For others, minimalism is grounded more in, for example, design movements or the idea of living small. While minimalism might not be exactly one thing, I do think there are underlying ideas that connect its different iterations.
Wondering about what connects or if there is a common thread through the ways minimalism is lived, made me want to hear from others about what minimalism means to them and how it informs their lives. So (big surprise, I know), I decided to interview minimalists to explore the concept and to hear from others about the benefits and challenges of living a minimalist lifestyle.
Today, you will meet Alison, who lives in a 600 square foot space with her husband and son. In her interview Alison shares practical insights for living small and the benefits it has on quality of life. I hope you enjoy the read.
Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What are you passionate about? How do you like to spend your time?
I am Alison, a wife (4 years married, but almost 14 years together), I am a mother of one and work in design project management. When my kid falls asleep I try to share how we live in our small space on my blog 600sqftandababy and @600sqftandababy. Most of all I love spending time with my two guys. I have a great love for design and beautiful spaces, good coffee, travel, wine and dinner with friends, which reads like every other short bio you have ever read! Apologies, but I truly do love wine, coffee and travel!
How many children do you have and what are they like?
I still consider myself a new mom, our son Theo is 22 months now so I probably have to stop saying that soon. Not sure how I sum up my boy in a few sentences, but he is full of energy, loves to laugh, loves being outside on his run bike or running with a ball, and loves new experiences and people. We are constantly laughing at the crazy things he says and does. He is also a monkey with a stubborn streak who keeps us constantly on our toes.
What is your blog about?
600sqftandababy is about our efforts to live in our small space in the city with our toddler. We try to live with less “things,” be thoughtful with our purchases and get outside as much as possible, whether for a walk to a local park (coffee in hand) or travelling with our little one.
I think there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you?
I don’t know if I would define myself as a minimalist as I don’t think we are perfect at it. In a way it was a reaction to the outrageous real estate market here in Vancouver and despite the housing situation we wanted to stay in the city and keep our walkable lifestyle. Minimalism for us was one big decision to live small and a million tiny choices everyday to make it possible.
What drew you to minimalism or what motivated you to become a minimalist?
I must confess that I am a shopper or at least I was. My ideal day before Theo was spent wandering the shops and stopping for coffee and a great lunch. Choosing to live in our small space forced minimalism on me but I have come to love it. When I go shopping now I have to think really hard about what I currently have in my house and if I REALLY need a new shirt or shoes and what am I willing to lose to make room for this new thing. Usually this thought process makes me so tired that I end up walking away from the item, ha! And it turns out all the fun is in the doing, not the having.
Are there schools of thought or people you look to as minimalist role models?
I really admire Scandinavian design, their spaces are so minimalist and beautiful. They seem to have so little in their space, every item is carefully chosen and impossibly beautiful and minimalist. I wish our space looked like these ones!
Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?
Some websites and blogs I really like are A Merry Mishap, Nordic Days, and Trendenser. Life Edited has also been a huge inspiration for me. I am really drawn to the Nomad movement and Tiny Homes movement. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by our small space I look up people who live in camper vans or on a boat or in container homes and I realize we have more than enough space. It’s all relative.
I love this word ‘fewerthings’ that you use. Where did it come from and what is meant by it?
Our friends and fellow small dwellers @maryandthejoel came up with it on trip to Tofino, when we packed 4 adults, a toddler, pack and play, stroller and 2 surfboards into a Honda Fit and shared a hotel room. (We consider ourselves certified small spacers at this point, so not much phases us.) We are always comparing stories and tips on how to make our spaces more functional and multipurpose. We hoped that by sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of what we need to give up, donate, sell or trash to keep living small it might encourage others to live with less. So, please use the hashtag and share your efforts to live with less and have #fewerthings. Looking through the #fewerthings posts can also be a great laugh or maybe you will learn a new or better way to recycle or reuse?
In what ways do you struggle with maintaining your minimalist goals? What is your weakness?
My natural inclination is to be buying clothes for myself and Theo all the time! So I am constantly having an internal battle with myself over whether or not we can add another shirt or dress to our space (the answer is usually no). But this does leave more money for my soy cappuccino habit…
Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?
With my husband, Trevor, there is always a struggle of his stuff versus mine. It’s so much easier to tell you partner to live with less than to look at your own things. I am forever frustrated by the amount of sporting equipment he buys and keeps, our small storage locker is full of it. And he doesn’t understand my need to buy pillows and rugs. Theo has no concept of #fewerthings or living with less but he does think our entire home is playroom… we are working on this.
Have you had any positive, constructive or negative experiences with friends or family related to minimalism that you could share?
I find we often get negative feedback about living small when it comes to our kid. Often people will ask, “where does he play?” Or, “he doesn’t have a yard?” “He must not have many toys?” “Are they all wooden toys?” But these comments are usually from people who don’t see our everyday life. All the local parks are his backyard, every walk up the street is an adventure and he has plenty of toys. We know our choice is not conventional, but maybe it will become a new normal as priorities shift across North America.
What have been some unexpected experiences you’ve had with pursuing minimalism?
I think the most unexpected thing has been that decisions that seemed so risky and overwhelming at the time, like losing our bedroom and losing our kitchen island have become such an easy transition and brought so much more to our life. We gained our living space back in the evenings and we gained a table to sit down to meals together with family and friends. Also with buying and owning less things I have found the things we do own or buy we love more and can often afford better quality.
What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?
I don’t want to tell someone how to live their life, as Amy Poehler says, “Good for her, not for me.” But I have found that living with less is a process and sometimes it takes time to wrap your head around it. It also takes time to let go of “things.” I find asking myself these questions helps: Do I love this item and find it to be beautiful? Is it useful and how often have I used it in the past 6 months? Obviously you need to allow for seasons (especially in Canada!)
Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?
Our goal is just to take this one day at a time, that’s what got us to this point (I am a planner and a project manager for work, so I can promise you that living in the moment does not come naturally to me!). Trevor and I check in with each other regularly, what is working, what’s not working and what we’re going to do about it. We have a few ideas running around in our heads right now like travelling more and reconsidering our car for something more equipped for quick weekend getaways and camping. Longterm we would like to attempt to stay in our small space when/if we have second child and all the logistics and creative planning that goes along with it.
Please leave a comment to share your thoughts on minimalism and the names of other interesting minimalists or just to say ‘hello’!
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