Archive for the ‘living small’ Category


sweet summer

August 4, 2013

After a pathetic start to the summer season (lots of rain, and three weeks of illness) things have turned around and there are still a few weeks of summer to go!

In addition to the usual, we’ve been busy with building a new house; harvesting our first crops of potatoes, onions and garlic; enjoying summer visitors from out of town. I’ve also been getting into canning and sewing for me (rather than just for school).

July 22 - collecting river rocks

While enjoying a mini vacation I made some strawberry jam in anticipation of figuring out a buckwheat cracker recipe that tastes good. Then I found transparent apples but didn’t have time to figure out what kind of GF shell to make so I canned them all for future experimentation in the fall.

I’m slowly getting better at finding and using my camera too. Documenting the progress on the house has helped, as has the documentation of textile dyeing by others. Today I even pulled out the gorilla tripod and took shots of our crabapple jelly processing.

Aug 3 - Hand-dyed goodness

After three years of being on the fruit tree program call out list, I was finally able to help. Pickers help take the fruit from trees so that bears aren’t attracted to it and then distribute it among themselves, the landowner and the local food shelter. I wasn’t sure what to do with crabapples but since they weren’t plums and I was available I thought I should help. It probably didn’t hurt that 2 nights earlier I’d witnessed a huge black bear walking across our foundation and then up into the big old plum tree next door. Branches cracked and the whole tree shook as he picked it nearly clean. (Of course I wasn’t in the habit of carrying my camera so no proof, just the story!)

Crabapple surprise!

And I almost forgot – I went blackberry picking in my own town! Usually we rely on Gulf Island field trips for our seasonal fix but they’re abundant, juicy and more than a tad tart right here. Last year they were wizened and kind of gross, but I remember our black bear sightings went up right as the berries got ripe. It seems the same is true this year as I saw the black bear on the same day as I picked my first blackberry of the season.

I also saw this:
Aug 2 - new local wildlife sighting
which, thanks to my growing collection of field guides, I can identify as a common skimmer. (Which reminds me of another first encounter with an aquatic bug – a giant stonefly. It had been familiar to me in name only and it was so interesting to observe and learn more about it that fine spring day.


island folk

January 8, 2013

I came across this old draft from September 15, 2009. I wish I’d posted it then, but rather than lose it, I’m posting it now.

The other night I drafted what I thought was a good post in my head.  It’s gone now.  I guess I should have stayed up later to type it after all.

When we were on the coast we had beach time and caught up with family but unlike most other trips we kept busy and didn’t do any real lounging around at the house and the beach.  I was disappointed by that at first but we did so many cool things and getting settled for school allowed me the opportunity to decompress.

By far one of the most memorable pieces of our trip was the eco home tour we participated in.  Kevin’s parents have been talking about building a place on their property, my mom is always keen to see other peoples gardens, my parents are currently planning some energy efficiency upgrades at home and Kevin and I have been talking about this living small thing for a while.  The tour, which we only found out about the day before, couldn’t have come at a better time.

We saw timberframe, straw bale, chipslip, and conventionally constructed homes in various stages of construction and completion.  There were solar systems (which makes so much sense when electricity is so unreliable in the winter) and perhaps best of all, we met the people behind these projects.  They graciously welcomed us and countless other strangers into their homes and yards to share what they had been doing.  Some had lived in trailers for as they used their own hands to build their homes.  Others had different ways of getting things done but the fact was they were following their hearts and doing what they felt was right, despite the side effects.  It was so inspirational!

We still don’t know where we’re going to live and while we’re thinking an older small house will best fit our somewhat nomadic livestyle I’m so looking forward to turning our dreams into reality just as these folks did.

Interestingly, we went back to see a whole new edition of the tour in 2011 and are now getting ready to build our own place! As much as we like the idea of something other than stick built and synthetic insulation, it looks like we’ll be going that route. Of course we’ll be working towards a more energy efficient house, taking advantage of passive solar gain, improved building methods, and the like.



September 22, 2009

Going to school has meant separating myself from the majority of my material possessions, albeit temporarily.  I moved here with the maximum carry-on baggage and had just over a pound to spare (but no room) in my two pieces of checked luggage.  I am short a few things but nothing I can’t live without.  Well, maybe my sewing machine!  I should be able to manage 9 months though;)

When I first left home for school 14 years ago, everything I needed fit in a few boxes.  By the end of year 1 I had my car 50% full.  The next year there wasn’t an extra foot of space, not even under the roof.  By the time I was done school I had accumulated 20 something boxes and everything I could take on the plane.  Things haven’t changed much in the last decade but with this move I don’t need kitchen ware, my bike, a plethora of swimming equipment (for a non- gear intensive sport there can be a LOT of accessories) or a printer.  I’m also being more conscious of what I need and trying to limit the extras.  I think it’s going to be a challenge but one which will hopefully make it easier to live simply and prepare for a move to something smaller when I’m done school.

There were some oversights in my packing – the only pants I brought are for cold weather (it’s been hot) and only two of them are suitable for the classroom.  I also forgot about t-shirts so didn’t bring enough of them and only one in a light colour.  I made a trip to the thrift store on the weekend to start filling in some of the gaps but will have to be diligent to make sure that I don’t go overboard again.  Just to make sure this is my “before” clothing photo.  All my extra winter layers are in the bottom left.


On the kitchen front, I know Kevin and I are a little different from most but I’m quickly learning just how different.  Some of the things I consider necessities are not standard fare in this kitchen.  For example, I couldn’t find any cookie sheets or sharp knives and unless I do something about it, I won’t have access to measuring cups, measuring spoons or a waffle iron.  It’s making me rethink what things really are important.  Certainly the waffle iron is a strange one but it’s become my favourite way to start the day because it’s cheap, easy and doesn’t require special cereal or bread that can be *so* hard to get in Alberta.  I’ll definitely keep the one at home but I think 9 months without it will be quite alright.  On the other hand I might not want to go much longer without measuring cups and spoons.

The other challenge I’ll need to meet in preparation for a small house is in terms of kitchen counter and pantry space.  There is ample counter space in this kitchen but a plethora of large appliances are taking up space.  I have a hard time when the deydrator joins the microwave and kettle for more than a day at home so I’m going to have to do some work on my thinking so that the situation here doesn’t cause me to go crazy!  It’s a good challenge though and  I can’t wait to get home at Christmas and start purging!


how much house

June 7, 2009

For some reason, assessing what possessions need to go has been far more difficult for me than figuring out the reasonable amount of space we need to live happily.  Well, except for the kitchen anyways!

Our current house is just over 1500 sq ft on the three developed levels and of those we really only use two.  Further still, it’s really only the kitchen, dining room, bedroom and bathroom we use.  Oh, and the little sub 20 sq ft computer alcove in the family room.  The “sewing” room may as well be a closet because I use the dining room all the time anyways.

Many months ago I made a long lost list of the dimensions of the rooms we use.  Then I went one step further and looked at how much space we actually needed to be comfortable in those rooms.  We could add so much storage and still only need a single level of our house.  No wonder this house seems big, it’s huge!  Even if we added a family member we would still have too much.

This exercise, that started as a way to illustrate that we could handle a Tumbleweed B-53 has shown it might even be a little on the big side!

I was still a little worried about the kitchen and how much space the given layout would have so I went and used the Ikea kitchen planning tool.  I got a little carried away and came up with this makeshift sketch of the main floor.

06 house sketch

The kitchen: I did so many tweaks of this space since it’s the A-1 most important room in the house for me.  I like light, a connection to the main living spaces, and a minimum of corner counters (but no galley or walk through please).

I’ve been in a few show homes that have the window in the space that  would otherwise be wall between  the counter and top cupboards and I love it, so I added that.  There’s still a big window higher up at the sink – not that you can see that.  To the right of it the counter goes a little ways and then the idea is to have the wall which is the back of the coat closet.  The apartment sized fridge would be in its own enclosure beside the closet, with the door facing the stove.  My sister has a similar set up in the best bachelor apartment I’ve ever seen and it works fantastically!

The bathroom The plans for this house actually include a dining booth in this space and as much as I like that idea it’s really hard to lay out and cut fabric using that kind of set up.  Moving the bathroom here frees up space for laundry which is a big plus.

Second entry While I really like the look of the main door at the front I know enough to know that I need a place to put shoes and jackets right at the door.   This new side location seems to work well, at least in theory.

Dining area I like, perhaps even love built in benches.  They provide storage, can be personalized with relative ease and since I’d probably make it myself, I would know exactly what it was made of.   No chemical flame retardants for me thank you very much!

I’m thinking that the bench would be a good place to store my sewing machine and could put the reigns on my fabric collection too.  Of course if we’re to have a wee one, then I’ll probably have to restrict my collection even more!

Having the bench on one side also means that it’s easy to add chairs or even a table, to fit more people.

Living area I suspect the main living area will be the area around the built in sofa but it’s always nice to have a bit of an away space – thus the un-labelled bookshelf and chair near the door.

I’m not quite sure how to go about designing the sofa so it can go double duty as a bed, but that would be the goal.  With bookshelves along the outside we would be able to fit our current resource library and some other goodies.  Since books aren’t that deep we could have an access under the cushions to store board games and the like.

I still need to tweak the staircase layout as the recommended one makes me too nervous of falling and breaking more bones.  Regardless, there should be room to wire in the “control station” under the stairs.  We mostly view things on our computers now but there’s always the possibility of a projector sort of thing image on the wall if we really want to go there.

Other I ‘m not sure what the space requirements are for a hot water tank and the plumbing to eliminate the first plug of cold water, but I’m hoping that would fit under the stairs on the bathroom side.  In the tallest space under the stairs I was thinking we could house a smaller deep freeze (a necessity with our diets) and then have more storage above it.

So that’s it for the main floor and apart from the stairwell I don’t see a need to tweek the upstairs!


junk diet

June 5, 2009

Our house is big… which means when we’re not careful we acquire a bunch of junk.  To get an idea of just how much I cart around imagine these two scenarios…

1.  Moving into my first place (that wasn’t res) after university, my folks and my youngest sister met me in my new location.  The three of them and all my belongings fit in their van.

I lived in the new location for just shy of a year and added a couch, kitchen, a sewing machine (and the resulting fabric stash) and what must have been a lot of clothes.  I had finished school with 3 pairs of pants, a few shorts, and enough shirts, socks and underwear to be able to put laundry off for 3 weeks at a time.  I can’t even recall what clothes I acquired but it was obvious there were a lot of them and other miscellaneous items because I could barely fit all of it in or on the van and in my car with room for my dad and I to drive home in.  I even had to leave some things behind.  There’s no way a couch was responsible for all the space on its own, that’s for sure!

2.  Moving to Alberta I didn’t even have enough stuff to fill half of a small moving truck.  I moved with another person who hadn’t spent any time packing efficiently so she easily consumed the rest of the space.  Nonetheless, when I got into my apartment it was full.  I didn’t add that much to my collection in the next year but when I bought my first town house I was amazed that there wasn’t much room for new stuff their either. Yes!

Well in the years since, Kevin and I have combined households and moved into a bigger house where we now find ourselves with a lot of stuff.  Kevin’s sisters provided us with an excellent opportunity to get rid of some duplicates and because we use one of the closets upstairs for hiking gear, clothes have been leaving the house too.   We would love to get rid of more furniture but we’re afraid of leaving the house looking empty when it’s time to sell.  Never mind that we have 4 tables in the house and only enough chairs for one of them.  (Except for the kitchen table the rest are for sewing, computing or stacking up junk).

While the excess furniture takes up the most room, our dreams of living in a tiny house have got me worried when it comes to the kitchen.  Most of what we have is nice and it’s well used.  We’ve got more than enough dishes for a full load in the washer but my pottery collection isn’t helping.  We’ve also acquired a number of mixing bowls of late but now that we have them we find we use them too!  We have managed to get rid of some pots and appliances but if we want to live in sub 1000 sq ft we’ve got some work to go.

So lets see.  In the next few months we’ll be getting rid of:

– a leather living room set

– a gigantic tv

– a table, or two, or three

– a coffee table

– old heavy and stinky end tables

– a few lamps

– books (I can only stand to read all but reference books more than once so I should have taken care of this long ago.  They’re almost all second hand anyways)

– bookshelves

– clothes

– pie plates

– pasta machine

– glasses

– mugs

– bowls

– empty plant pots

– snow removal equipment

And I’m sure the list will continue to grow. I’m trying to think of it in hiking terms.  Things have to be multi-purpose or well used, essential single purpose items.  Oh, and they have to be used often enough too!


mini houses

May 21, 2009

I wrote this back in February but it’s as relevant as ever today so here goes!

As mentioned a few months ago I’m in love with the idea of building our own house.  A little, energy wise, mold free and animal free house.  I especially like the idea of less  cleaning and more time for the important things in life.  A big part of that is saving money – spending less money on a house and less money to keep it warm and dry which then means spending less time at work perpetuating the whole cycle.

We could start building a trailer model right now if we wanted to but with all the hobbies we enjoy and all of our toys…. it doesn’t seem like the smartest idea.  That, and we’d have to rent a truck to drive it to our next destination.  The portability really is the best part but for short term stays we have the ecamper already.  For the lengths of time we tend to visit places it’s probably better to have the camper anyways.  We want to live close to amenities and I’m not sure we could stay under the radar of the local bylaw officer for long in a house on a trailer.

If someone wants to start building neighbourhoods with them and common buildings for laundry, hosting dinner parties, etc. in a place we want to live, it would be a different story.  For now though, I think I’ll continue to dream about cheap infill land and something akin to the B-53.

We’re not at the point where we could build our little house and live mortgage free but we’re working on it.  A lot of it really depends on where we wind up a few months from now.  I’ve been watching for land in the places we like and checking with local bylaws to see what we could do.  It turns out it might not be that hard to get a variance on the minimum principle residence size and if we plan things correctly we might be able to get two on a lot.  We don’t want to have renters but if we do things correctly it would help with resale because another owner could build their monster (ugh) house and rent the wee one out.

I’m just dreaming… rambling… dreaming.