There is so much goodness in this interview that I just don’t know where to start. Carina, who I’ve interviewed before for my Inspiring Mothers series, is a minimalist and mother of two. She is an artist who paints and illustrates, and also works in arts outreach. Her story is particularly inspiring because it was a significant life event that brought about an “aha” moment. In that moment all that was truly important to her became crystal clear. I love that while years have passed since her epiphany it’s effect hasn’t grown dim. She has managed to continue to draw from this experience in order to cultivate a life of purpose, enjoyment, adventure, and fun. A life filled to the brim with moments and memories. There are so many nuggets of wisdom packed into her answers, read slowly and enjoy!
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?
My name is Carina. I am passionate about the arts and the outdoors, and making memories around these two things with my family. I am a big advocate for accessible art experiences, supporting local creatives and businesses, and connecting communities. I adore painting and illustration, and encouraging my kids’ love of art, stories, and adventure. We are lucky to live so close to the ocean, the mountains, and everything in between. We all love camping, my husband fly fishes, and my kids and I are crazy about surfing. I’m also passionate about the community of rad women that my bestie Bree and I have connected with through our west coast lifestyle site www.peaksandharbours.com.
How many children do you have and what are they like?
I have two children, and they are so wonderfully different from each other.
My daughter Finn is 9 years old, with a blanket of long dark hair, usually under a wide-brimmed hat and framed by long feather earrings. She is a fast-friend-maker, an incredibly observant girl, and can often be found blissfully reading and writing stories. Appropriately, she wants to be both a published author and an actor (“they don’t call them actresses anymore mom”).
My son Augustus (Gus) is a cheerful, golden-haired sweetheart. He loves to choreograph dance videos, and is happily curious about everything from how the body works, to the life-cycle of plants and animals. He is a cuddler, and feels things deeply, especially when he thinks that a friend has been wronged – he will always come to your rescue! He adores his sister Finn. And when she gives him the time of day, he is on cloud nine.
What part of the world do you live in?
I live in Vancouver, in an area of the city called Mount Pleasant – very aptly named. It’s an idyllic little urban community, where I also work, where my children go to school, and where we spend time with friends. I love that we are able to be so local and connected in a big city. I grew up in a very tiny town, and it reminds me of that way of life – minus the horses tethered to the school fence and the tractors parked in driveways.
Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?
“There is no certainty; there is only adventure.” – Roberto Assagioli
Change is constant, and once you realize that it’s exciting, not scary, you can embrace it once it happens, and enjoy the ride – or least see the importance of some of those journeys of learning.
“Good for her, not for me.” – Amy Poehler, Yes Please
Everyone has their own way of doing things that work for them, and that’s wonderful. It doesn’t mean that we have to feel bad if it doesn’t work for us.
You are an artist, what inspires your work? Do you have issues with keeping the amount of art supplies you have in check?
That is a tough one! My art has changed so much over the years. When I was doing my first degree years ago, I was working in photography, and soundscapes with video and audio installations. Yes, super avant garde stuff – ha! I really felt like I needed to be loud and cinematic so people could hear what I was trying to say, which had a lot to do with being a new mother, and trying to define who this new person was that I had become. I realize now that I can be a mother, and also be an individual at the same time, and that being ambitious doesn’t mean that I am a bad parent.
Currently, I am back to the drawing and painting I fell in love with as a child, but with more experience (both in years and technique). I love the ‘low-fi” – ness of it. I don’t need a large desk of technical equipment to create a painting or illustration.
In terms of my own art supplies, my style is quite minimal (how appropriate!), and I do keep my art supplies minimal as well. I will not buy another palette of watercolours until something has actually run out, and I won’t stock up on ten versions of a similar paintbrush; because I just don’t need it. I do find it hard when I’m actually in an art supply store – I always get that surge of excitement of all the possibilities. However, I have enough experience to now know that if I surround myself with too much, I get overwhelmed with choices, and will not allow myself to fully commit to one project. This rings true for me in finishing a painting, and also in other areas of my life.
I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you?
I would say that minimalism is a way of life for me. It’s not just about living materially small in our 750 square foot apartment, but also how our little family approaches life. Maybe a few examples might be the best way to answer:
- When I find myself feeling anxious about the week’s tasks, errands, etc. I start to look for the path of least resistance. I am working on saying “no” more often and accepting that when I am stressed out at all the things I need to do, it’s because I chose to do them. So if I can cancel some unnecessary meetings downtown, or find gymnastics classes for Gus closer to home so we’re not driving across town three times a week after work, that keeps things simpler and less stressful.
- I rarely bring in something new into our home unless it is really going to make us smile – like a local artist’s work, or a carefully curated collection of shells the kids have found at the beach. I try to buy local and sustainable as much as possible, and I pare down anything that has too many multiples. I take things to consign or to the thrift store at least once each season. There’s no need to have more than four towels in our tiny linen closet, and the kids don’t need 16 pairs of socks each.
- When thinking about how to spend our money, after all the bills are paid, we always look to what experiences we want to have, not what things we want to buy. Cyrus ties his own flies for fishing, and will update a rod or reel. I recently was able to get my own wetsuit for surfing, and one day hope to have my own board. The kids really want to go to Playland this summer, and have a goal to do that at the end of August. More traditional activities can be expensive in Vancouver, so when we’re all on board with saving money to achieve these goals, it makes it exciting to have something to look forward to and more meaningful when you get there.
What is your story? How did you get started on a minimalist path? What drew you to minimalism or what motivated you to become a minimalist?
I have always been a fan of simple living, but my two big leaps into minimalism were when my husband and I separated, and when I took a trip to India.
When I finished my Master’s Degree in 2011, my husband and I separated for 2 ½ years. It was hard and painful, but also a really powerful experience. When we split our things, I realized that the only thing I wanted were the pictures of the kids, and the only thing I needed was a home to raise my kids in. Nothing else mattered. What I also quickly discovered though was how much I needed my friends and my family. I have always been a fast-friend-maker (like Finn), but I was floored by how the good people around me rallied without judgement, helped dry my tears, fill my cupboards, and made me feel whole again. That was an important time in my life for sure. I learned how resilient I was, how everyone has a story, and how love truly is all you need. Happily, we are all together again, and we both had similar epiphanies about how we wanted to live as a family – and we haven’t looked back!
In 2012, I took a trip to India to do research on art and architecture there for my PhD. When I got there, all the naivety I had about being a worldly traveller went right out the window and I went into full culture shock. It is a country that continuously saturates every sense to a dizzying level. I saw very small children, barely clothed and dirty, that were so hungry they were peeling paint off buildings to eat. You quickly realize just how fortunate you are by accident of where you are born. I also saw a lot of happiness in India, from children who had almost nothing. Their delight in finding a bridge to jump off into cooling waters filled the air with laughter and joy. It is easy to see in such a place of contrast how unnecessary all our extra things are, and how fortunate we are to have access to simple amenities and health care.
Are there people you look to as minimalist role models?
I think that I inherited some of that Scandinavian minimalism from my Swedish father. He was always big on saving for our trips to Sweden to visit family, and we went on many camping and road trips as a family. My childhood was filled with amazing adventures, and I am so thankful for that. I’ve also been influenced by my thoughtful Italian mother, who always emphasizes keeping things that bring you joy, and discarding things that do not – especially when those things are attached to a past you need to get rid of.
Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?
I have read The Minimalists, and The Japanese Art of Tidying, both interesting books but I am still waiting for someone to come out with a book that addresses how to be minimalist with children, and without a huge cash reserve that allows you to immediately drop your daytime job without worrying about putting food on the table.
I love Alison Mazurek, who lives right here in Vancouver with her adorable little boy in a 600 square foot apartment about 4 blocks away from me! She has her own blog www.600sqft.com and is also a contributor to Peaks & Harbours. She has a similar mindset in that she takes to the outdoors when things feel small, and focuses on quality local goods over a quantity of “things.”
In what ways/areas do you struggle with maintaining your minimalist goals/values? What is your weakness?
Books! Both for myself and for the kids. I’m trying to be better at going to the library for my reading fix, and encouraging the kids to do the same. It’s a work-in-progress!
Does your household abide by minimalism or is this more a focus for yourself? Why?
I think we all abide by minimalism. We do not purchase toys or extra gadgets for our kids unless it’s a birthday, or Christmas, etc. Pokemon was a big craze for them a few months ago, and they saved their money and bought all their Pokemon card packs and binders themselves. Of course, we will help them here and there with allowance money. When Gus decided he was not interested anymore in his Thomas the Tank Engine set a couple of years ago, he took pictures of them all lined up, put them on Craigslist, boxed them up, and handed them over to the guy that bought them (He was four!). He beamed with pride, and took that money to get his first Star Wars Lego kit. I do find that they are less and less interested in amassing the newest trendy toy. I think Gus has more money saved in his piggy bank than I do! Because he’s not sure what he wants to spend it on, and so he doesn’t. Finn will always buy more books, but we will also go to the library, because her piggy bank just can’t keep up with her insatiable appetite for more stories.
Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?
Honestly, it’s been such a positive experience that I can’t think of any time that we’ve come into conflict about it. Once and a while, the kids briefly lament that other parents have bought their kids an entire American Doll set complete with a giant wardrobe, and I say how nice that is, and how if it’s that important we can work towards it. More often than not, the novelty quickly wears off and they forget they ever asked for it.
Have you had any positive or constructive (or negative) experiences with friends or family related to minimalism?
I have had nothing but positive experiences! When people come over, if they are parents I usually find them peeking into a doorway wondering if I’ve hid the kids’ toys there – ha! They are amazed, and then excited, that our small apartment is so light and welcoming, without it wanting anything.
In what ways has minimalism improved your life?
I think that when you pare down the extraneous things, you live your life more honestly and genuinely. An example I would give is when I finally gave away all my textbooks from university that I knew I was only keeping to be impressive. I had so many books that I had on display because I felt like they represented all my years of hard work, and would show visitors how educated I was. I think it was really me feeling unsure of myself. When I finally admitted that I was probably never again going to pick up that 1000 page book on psychoanalytical theories, or the multi-volume text on Ancient Greek political systems, what was left was a real representation of who I was and what I actually found interesting. Books on art, funny stories, and beautiful illustrations. It feels amazing, and I don’t mind whether visitors notice that or not.
What have been some unexpected experiences you’ve had with minimalism?
I am a less anxious person after really embracing minimalism. I used to struggle with anxiety in my early to late twenties. When things become pared down at home, and I focused on positive relationships, I became more confident in myself and the anxiety just melted away. It’s an ongoing process for sure, but I can definitely say that myself and my children, we are all much more chill and content living this way.
What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?
If you haven’t used something in a year, chances are you’re never going to use it. When I’ve felt overwhelmed with picking through the kids’ things (especially the bits of impossibly tiny accessories for toys), I will dump an entire drawer that they haven’t opened in a while, into a tupperware bin with a lid, and stow it away for a few months. They never ask where those things have gone. And when I feel like it’s been long enough, I organize things out into thrift store and consignment store, and they will get the money from their toys.
Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?
My big goal that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now – but am finally in a place to attack it, is creating albums out of pictures of the kids’ artwork. When you live in a small space, it’s tough to store pieces of different sizes without crushing and damaging them, and it’s hard to pull out an enormous box and go through it in a way that doesn’t create a giant mess. My goal is to take pictures of their favourites, and make them into a book. This way they can look at them easily, show them to friends, and be proud of their work for years to come.
Thank you Carina! Readers: you can find Carina on Instagram @carinamarienilsson; on her outstanding lifestyle site www.peaksandharbours.com; or her personal site www.carinamarienilsson.com.
You might also like my post:
Ecominimalism: Minimalism and Sustainability
13 Ways to Simplify Your Wardrobe
Interview with a Minimalist: Alison
Malas and Human Connection
Summer Lists: Sun, Sand and Strawberries
Want to find me in other places?