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It’s a small, small, smaller world

About a month ago, you might have seen a line-up of people waiting impatiently for an office to open in a local suburb.  No, not to snatch the Apple watch.  Not to put their names down for the Google self-driving car.  This crowd of near-rabid buyers was after their own piece of Metro area real estate — a condo in the new Evolve development– for less than $100,000.  This post is not going to be about how to get that space, it was gone within minutes of the doors opening to the sales office.

No, we’re going to talk about how a studio apartment can be big enough for one, or even two. Yes!  You can do it. Don’t listen to the people on TV who roll their eyes as they spout nonsense about how NO ONE should have to live in these eensy spaces.  For one thing, they’ve obviously never done it or they’d know it can be done — easily.  And also they are probably making a lot of money because, hey, they are TV stars, so can afford to live any way they want.

For those of us who choose to live in an exciting, busy, space-challenged city a small space is just what we need.  And want.

Now I could get into how you can design and build a super-duper space within the confines of a studio — and I will — but right now let’s look at this super-sweet 400 square foot space from Apartment Therapy to see how one woman manages to get the most out of every square inch without lifting a hammer or wielding a T-square. And, if it’s a rental, she can move out without leaving a mark to show she was there — a little patch and paint and she’s set to go.

Kay Rozynski is already lucky, because although her New York City apartment is only 400 square feet it is open and bright.  The living (i.e. non-bathroom) area is basically a large box with a very sunny balcony. Kay says she didn’t want to erect dividers because she wanted to maintain that airy flow.

StudioMay1

 

And the sun just pours in!  Kay has taken advantage of this brightness by keeping her walls a warm taupe — neutral but not boring.  Plus she has lots of reflective surfaces, mirrors, windows, stainless steel appliances, the white wardrobe, even the TV screen.  Everything bounces that lovely light around.

StudioMay2

And her major furnishings are all the same tone — a mid-range of greys and browns.  Nothing to make the eye stop as you scan the area.  Once again, a neutral backdrop to the accessories.

When Kay introduces colour, she keeps it to a couple of shades — yellow and orange, in the kitchen, blue/green by the bed, with the throw at the end of the bed matching the chair in the dining area and the one pillow on the sofa.  That watery aqua colour is repeated in a cushion and the throw on the sofa.  Your eye goes naturally from the aqua cushion on the sofa to the ones on the bed then up to the Moby Dick poster on the wall — also in ocean blue.  Very natural and soothing.

Kay has used area rugs in the same greys and taupes to separate the “bedroom” part of the suite from the “living room”

 

StudioMay3

 

In the Lilliputian kitchen area, Kay has painted one wall with chalkboard paint.  This gives her something to write on, of course, but it also visibly moves the wall back.  And check out those accessories — once again she keeps to ocean blue and yellow.

 

StudioMay4

To add a little rustic touch Kay has hung a yoke on the bulkhead that separates the kitchen from the rest of the living area, but once again it’s tonally in harmony with the cupboard and the butcher block counter, so it’s not jarring at all.  And it’s a clever contrast to the Eames chairs at her table.

StudioMay5

What are the lessons this little home has taught us?

  1. If you’ve got light, keep your windows as bare as possible so that it can flood in.
  2. Co-ordinate your colours so that the eye travels in a natural way from one part of the space to another.
  3. Unframed, graphically simple artwork can introduce the accessory colours without visual clutter
  4. Simple white lamp shades disappear into the wall — once again, no visual clutter
  5. You can use a lot of white in different textures to keep it light without bringing in the boring.

Check out the original post in Apartment Therapy.  What other features do you see in Kay’s apartment that you could borrow for yours?

Five things I’ve learned in our first year of laneway living

The beginning of December marked our first full year of laneway living.  We have completely settled in, are thrilled to be living so close to our kids, and are looking forward to the coming new year of life on the lane.

Our house is a very, very, very nice house

Our house is a very, very, very nice house

During this time we have learned some very important lessons — hard won sometimes — that I want to share:

1. We did not need all the stuff we had.

Ergo: You do not need all the stuff you have. This is the hardest lesson to learn and you will never really learn it until you downsize.  Because……..

2. You will never get rid of your extra stuff until you have to

Maybe you are looking around you now and thinking that you have too much stuff.  Nah, just kidding, you are not thinking that at all.  You’ve just ditched the Christmas decorations and your place has a nice, stripped down look.  No way could you ever live with less.  There’s a reason you bought everything you own, just as there’s a reason why people gave you stuff.

Gradually you will stop using that gadget, stop wearing those clothes, but YOU DON’T GET RID OF THEM.  Because you have the space to put them.  And you tell yourself (those fatal words), “I might need that”. And into the closet or the storage room they go – to be forgotten.

So you will never realize how little you can live with until you get rid of everything (or nearly so) and start afresh.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to do.  Please don’t think I’m going to get all obnoxious on you because we are still getting rid of stuff.  We have a storage locker full of stuff we don’t use.  How do I know we won’t need it in the future?  Because we haven’t needed it in the past year.  When I was unpacking kitchen boxes at move-in I put a large salad bowl and some platters into some of our precious, precious kitchen cupboard space. And there they sit, unused this whole year.  I have to get rid of them.  But I haven’t.  Because I don’t have to.

But now I want to unpack some of  our storage space stuff and will have to have room for that, and those unused items will have to go, go, go.

Baby steps, my friend, baby steps.

3. Design trumps size

Up at the DD and DSIL’s big house BIG plans are afoot.  The kitchen and bath are being stripped back to the studs and rebuilt, fixing many problems (more on this later).  The rooms will not be any larger, but will be much, much more efficient.  Because DESIGN.

Ask anyone who lives in a mobile home or a houseboat — or even a small condo.  You can find storage room that you never dreamed of. Space for your shoes in your staircase. A lift-up bed for linens and more.  A half-height mechanical room off the deck with room for our Christmas decorations.

So if you are thinking living in a small house is just taking your current space and shrinking it, disavow yourself of this notion.  You can get your designer and builder to put in much more storage per square foot than you currently have.

4. Living outside of your house has its rewards

We used to spend a lot of time cleaning and primping our former place.  Two full bedrooms, two baths, plus a living room and two halls to vacuum.  Lots of open shelving to dust.

But now we have lots of time to spare after our clean-up routines.  Time to take walks.  Get on the Skytrain and go. Get out to the gym.  We are looking forward to some travel this year.  We’re getting lots of exercise and having fun.

5. A small home IS all you need

While the laneway was being built we used to drop by and watch the progress.  At every step, from the concrete pour for the foundation to the finishing touches on the moulding, we told ourselves that the place was going to be soooooo small.  It was too late to turn back, but we were worried that our home would be constricting and claustrophobic.

But we were wrong.

It’s cozy.  It’s comfortable.  It’s bright and cheery. When the rainy weather stops us from go out for a walk we are happy spending the day indoors — there’s space where we can each hideaway and do our own thing.

PS: The financial situation is pretty good, too

We consider ourselves pretty lucky that we found the laneway solution to living in a too-expensive home too far from family.  Every month we are just a little bit farther ahead financially, rather than the other way around.  We save on power, water, gas living in such a small, energy efficient home.  We buy fewer things (that we would end up not using anyway) because everything we bring into the place has to earn its space.

It’s win all the way.

I’ll have a small Christmas, thanks.

Holiday-Cartoon-Slideshow03-690

 

Thank you, New Yorker magazine!

The word came down from on high this year:  just one small gift is expected for our granddaughter.  And keep away from anything pink and plastic.  (“On high” is the main house where our little darling resides, and her mother gave us the word).

Speaking as a grandparent, it’s easy and fun for us to stroll the aisles at the toy store, picking out expensive and adorable toys to give DGD.  And it’s wonderful to watch her little face light up as she rips off the wrapping.

But then what?

We’ve seen it many times.  Scenes around the Christmas tree where the parents (or more usually, the grandparents) have bought out the store, wrapped them up and given a mountain of gifts to children barely able to say their address. The tykes are overwhelmed with the amount of toys.  They don’t know which they want to play with first, and which will be discarded or broken within a month.

I’ve heard the excuses “We don’t have the chance to spend more time with the kids so we want to make sure they remember us.” “I never had a lot of toys when I was a kid, and my grand-kids will never want for any!” Or the ridiculous “But all their friends have them, I don’t want them to feel deprived!”

No, no, no, and no.

You may be giving objects, but you are teaching them all the wrong lessons.

It’s hard to find data on the effect of too many Christmas presents on the young mind.  Not a lot of parents want to sign up for lab tests to determine that they are, indeed, ruining their children’s lives.  All we can do is look back on the presents we received when we were children.

Remember them?  I bet you don’t.  Oh, maybe that one year you got the exact present you wanted.  But all the other Christmases?  I’m betting you remember that game of snap you played with your grandmother; building a tower with your Dad with that Erector set; singing the old songs with the old folks, someone at the piano and the rest gathered around. I remember the smell of new books, not the books themselves. (I love books.)

We recall those goofy traditions, like everyone sitting around the tree in their pyjamas (no opening presents until Mom and Dad have their coffees in their hands) or taking a walk around the neighbourhood while the turkey roasts.

Build your own traditions.   Make your own memories.  The nicest things we get at Christmas don’t come from stores.

If less is more, is more less?

This week everyone is crazeeeee about the whole “Black Friday” thing.  Every time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper, the advertising is exhorting me to buy, Buy, BUY!  Stock up for Christmas, get a great deal of a new piece of equipment, spoil myself and my loved ones.

XmasSale

 

Some people even cross the border to bring back loot.  (BTW, this article says that many retailers actually put up their regular prices before the end of November so they can drop them for Black Friday.  Be diligent, check and compare.)

Living in a little house has completely turned this season around for us.  Not only do we not want anything, we have no where to put it if we got it.  So don’t give us a new TV, or even a new remote.  We have too much stuff as it is.  Last year we didn’t exchange gifts between the adults of the family, and we’ll do the same thing again this year.  Instead we’ll get together with loved ones, have a nice Christmas dinner, and we’ll visit back and forth during the holidays.  It’s low-key.  We’ll decorate our homes, bake some cookies.  Take a little time to unwind and appreciate what we have.

So before you buy into the whole “buying” thing, think about what you really need and what makes you happy.  It’s not stuff, I’ll wager.  You’d probably be just as happy if you took the money you use to buy gifts and just gave it away to charity.  Happier, even.

Remember, you probably don’t need more of anything.  In his book, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust by Darrell M. West  , he points out that rich people aren’t happier than poor people, they are often more miserable. Because what they really want is “more”.

In this review of the book, Michael Lewis says

Not long ago an enterprising professor at the Harvard Business School named Mike Norton persuaded a big investment bank to let him survey the bank’s rich clients….In a forthcoming paper, Norton and his colleagues track the effects of getting money on the happiness of people who already have a lot of it: a rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness.

And Lewis goes on to say

something in the world has changed—or is changing. And I think it is: there is a growing awareness that the yawning gap between rich and poor is no longer a matter of simple justice but also the enemy of economic success and human happiness. It’s not just bad for the poor. It’s also bad for the rich. It’s funny, when you think about it, how many rich people don’t know this.

So don`t look for happiness in the next gadget or knickknack or fooforall.  You probably have more than enough.  (I know I“m chockablock with fooforalls.)

This is the time to say no to more consumerism.

There’s been some backlash to the blatant mass consumerism of the Black Friday event. Adbusters, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit magazine, often promotes their “Buy Nothing Day” on the same day as Black Friday, said Katherine White, a Sauder School of Business professor in consumer insights, prosocial consumption, and sustainability

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Retailers+often+inflate+prices+before+Black+Friday+discounts+Vancity+report/10409658/story.html#ixzz3K7TQBZgu

(Less) Power to the people!

I chatted with Ian and Steve at the Home Discovery Show  on CKNW about the difference in the amount of energy we use here at the laneway house.  It really hit me this week when I signed up for BC Hydro’s Equal Billing.  We are paying $35 a month for our electricity now, back at the condo we paid $64 a month.  That’s a huge difference because even though our new home is about half the size of our old one, our condo was on the second floor of a three-storey building, so we only had two exterior walls.  Now we have four exterior walls over 1.5 floors, plus a roof and deck over the entire footprint.

But we don’t have to depend on lower energy bills to know our laneway is energy-efficient. Our house received an EnerGuide rating of 83 from BC Hydro.

Developed by Natural Resources Canada, an EnerGuide rating is a standard measure of a home’s energy performance. A rating of 0 represents a home with major air leakage, no insulation and extremely high energy consumption. A rating of 100 represents an airtight, well insulated, sufficiently-ventilated home that requires no purchased energy.

Power Smart new homes are required to achieve at least ENERGUIDE 80, higher than what’s required by the B.C. Building Code.

That rating put us in the “highly energy-efficient new house” category in their rating system.

This is “Offtober” at BC Hydro.  Visit their site to see how you can save on special deals from retailers; PowerSmart Programs; and play contests.

EnergyStar

If you want to make some changes to your home you can take advantage of rebates and other incentives from the City of Vancouver, BC Hydro, and Fortis.   Find out more about that here.

If you are a low-income household you can take advantage of BC Hydro’s Energy Conservation Assistance Program.  Find out more about this here.

And if you just want to get started living a more sustainable life, pick up some hints here .

What does all this energy efficiency mean to us?  It means lower Fortis bills for a start.  We pay about $25 a month for natural gas for our heating and cooking (including our barbecue).  But it also means getting out of bed on a winter morning and feeling that radiant heat.  It means no cold corners, no nasty drafts.  It means comfort, as much as sustainability.

 

 

A long, hard slog, another moving experience

The good news is that our parents’ condo in Nelson has been sold.  The subjects have been removed and in mid-October a new owner will be moving in.

The bad news, of course, is that they want to move into an empty condo.  Everything had to be removed, all the furniture, all the boxes, all the pictures, everything.

Happily my sister had gone through the place in the Spring, tossing and re-packing, and had handled most of the heavy lifting.  But there was still a lot to do, so last weekend she and I climbed into a big, honking rented SUV filled with empty boxes and drove up to Nelson from Vancouver and we started sorting.  Everything that we put into our hands had to be either given away, thrown away, or packed to be brought back to our place. All I wanted were the photos, a quilt, an afghan, and the cutlery.  My son and his wife wanted a chair and ottoman.  A local charity was taking the rest of the furniture.

I don’t have to tell you how horrible it is to move.  Tossing away boxes and boxes of opened food, half-full bottles of cleaning supplies.  Added to that there was the mental strain of decision fatigue.  The emotional wrench every time we ran across a piece of paper with our mother’s writing, a card signed by our father.  We fell into our beds, exhausted, every night.  And rose to face it all again, chaos and mess and piles of things.

To save our sanity we took time for walks around town and even had facials.  To prevent the foolish choices that come from decision fatigue we quit at supper time, and spent the evenings relaxing as much as we could before early bed-times (we were pretty pooped after shifting boxes and bags all day, neither of us is in our first bloom of youth).

When we left after a last farewell tour of the now-empty condo we were relieved, but not comforted.  We were so fortunate that we could do it together, my sister lives on the other side of the country and it was just luck that she was on the West Coast to attend a course and could take some holidays, because it would be exponentially more difficult for one person (hauling a huge old TV to the recyclers was definitely a two-person job). And we could help each other winnow through the collections of chotchkes.

One job I will be undertaking right now! is the labelling of the photos and slides I brought home.  I have to identify all the faces I recognise and scan and email the ones I don’t to relatives (while they are still around) so we can catalogue them all.  Note:  pencilling “Dad” on the back of a photo with no date is not going to help someone trying to identify it 70 years later.

So it’s good-bye to Nelson, a beautiful city but one that we have seen frequently over the past 40 years.  Now we will take trips to other equally-lovely corners of this fantastic province.

Decluttering — the journey begins

clutter2

So you know you have to declutter.  Your place may not look as bad as the photo — YMMV — but you want to downsize and declutter.  Where to begin?  With a list!

No, don’t grab yet another piece of paper and start writing — the nice people at Life Edited have made a list for you already.

When do you begin the process of decluttering?  Now.

1. Don’t wait for a good time to start.

We’ve all been done in by those “tomorrow” promises.  Start now.  Throw one piece of paper into the recycling bin.  Clean out the bottom of your purse — or the fridge — or your top drawer.  You’re starting a new way of life.  You can ease into it.  But start now.

2. Get rid of stuff you are very attached to, but don’t worry, it gets easy with practice.

No matter where you begin, sooner or later you will run across something that has value to you — even though you don’t need it.  I remember a lovely old chair we had.  Naturally, it had been given to us by a friend.  I hated getting rid of it, so I persuaded my daughter to take it.  Now when I see it in her basement I cringe.  I should have just given it away to a charity.  I am used to giving those things away now.  It still bothers me, but less and less.  And once it’s gone, believe me, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” — you won’t even think about it any more until you see a picture of it — if it was important to you it will be in the pictures you have of your home.

3. Don’t wait for the right home to start downsizing.

I should have started de-cluttering months, even years, before I did.  But I had the room for all the stuff, in the corner of a closet, in the storage room, in the junk drawer.  It would have improved my life, but only one thing got me to part with all that crap stuff.

4. Moving is the best way of getting rid of stuff.

There is nothing, NOTHING, like moving into a space less than half the size you are currently inhabiting to make you start decluttering.  As you start to pack up your belongings you realize how ridiculous it is to move a box of magazines you never even looked at.  Or an old, cheap, broken camera.  It’s not something you can do all the time, but moving is a great motivator.

5. Don’t wait for the support of friends and family to start making changes.

I remember visiting a little summer house of a friend.  It was absolutely packed with photos, knick knacks, doo-dads, thingamajigs.  It looked charming, she really had a knack of editing and curating.  I do not have a knack.  A room packed with my stuff looks like a room packed with crap — no matter how much it cost.  And I’ve visited houses that looked like that — with too many things crowding the shelves.  The people who live in those houses are not going to be supportive of you giving away your pictures and ornaments.  “You can keep that!”  they’ll say.  “You don’t have too many (insert item).”  So don’t announce to those people that you are downsizing.  Just do it.

Do it one step at a time, one item at a time.  But do it.

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