Our first book: Small Space Style

I’ve been keeping this a secret for a year and a half— it feels good to share with you that we have some big news from our lil’ home…

Shortly after West was born nearly 2 years ago, I was approached again about writing a book about small space living. Publishing my own book was never something on my bucket list. But it was a time of notable personal and business growth, so I decided that I might as well go all-in.  In retrospect, it was a bit of a wild move— our schedules became dizzying. 

 The book is here! Cover image shot by  Marisa Vitale .

The book is here! Cover image shot by Marisa Vitale.

West was an infant, and Adam was still at an office full-time. I never took a single day for maternity leave. (Ah, the realities of running your own business.) So this was how the next several months were spent:

  • I’d get up at 3am to write the book at a 24-hour diner. 

  • At 6am, I’d bike back to the Cottage to nurse West. 

  • At 6:30am, my husband and I would walk the dogs, eat breakfast, and then Adam would get ready for work. 

  • At 8am, I’d take calls with my East Coast clients. 

  • At 9am, Adam left for his job. 

  • All day until around 7pm, I’d care for West and the pups, attempt to blog and Instagram, and tackle tasks for several of my creative firm’s clients while the baby slept.

  • When Adam got home, we’d put West to bed, eat dinner, and I would get right back on the computer to resume working on the book (and pumping) until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer— usually around 11pm. 

  • Then, of course, I’d feed West on demand until 3am, when we’d start the whole routine over again.

I’m not complaining— I felt like the luckiest person then, and still feel that way now. But it was a whirlwind.

 From a photoshoot on the same morning I received the contract for the book. (Image © Ergobaby)

From a photoshoot on the same morning I received the contract for the book. (Image © Ergobaby)

Life was blurry. But eventually, Adam left his job to help at home, and I was able to get more work accomplished during the day. We’re just now stabilizing, as the books are being packed to ship for their November 13th release.

 An illustrated DIY spread (featuring StanLee on our deck) from   Small Space Style   .  Art by  Magdalena Zolnierowicz .

An illustrated DIY spread (featuring StanLee on our deck) from Small Space Style. Art by Magdalena Zolnierowicz.

So it’s with great excitement (and fatigue) that I can finally share that our Cottage now has its very own book available for pre-sale: Small Space Style: Because You Don’t Need to Live Large to Live Beautifully.

For me, the key to living in a small home or apartment is not figuring out how to Tetris a life’s worth of stuff into limited square footage. It’s about understanding what you truly need — and don’t need— in order to live comfortably and contentedly, day by day. Compact homes aren’t necessarily stepping stones on our path to larger lodgings. Small space living can work (and work spectacularly) for all sorts of evolving family structures and income levels. Plus it can lessen our negative impact on the environment. Living tiny can be fulfilling, comfortable and, yes, stylish.

My intention is for Small Space Style to help you as you embark upon your own journey into the world of small-space living. I hope that the book’s pages provide you with ideas for crafting a tiny space that feels infinitely beautiful, inspiring and welcoming for you and your loved ones.

The book features 300 tips for making the most of your little home, with chapters centered around the essentials— living, sleeping, eating, and bathing. It offers imagery from our home as well as others, and is brilliantly illustrated by Magdalena Zolnierowicz.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to this book in one form or another. I am so genuinely grateful for your generous time, creativity and positivity.

 Photo from  Casa Joshua Tree , where Artist  Lindsay Hollinger  hand-lettered the title for the cover of the book. (2017)

Photo from Casa Joshua Tree, where Artist Lindsay Hollinger hand-lettered the title for the cover of the book. (2017)

And to the readers of this blog and our Instagram feed: thank you, thank you, thank you. You’ve transformed our lives completely, and for the better. I am moved and motivated by your support every moment of the day. 

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Misc. Accessories in a Tiny Kitchen

It can often be tricky to find a place in a compact kitchen for smaller, miscellaneous items. This is when easily movable trays, narrow rolling carts and floating or inset shelves can be of great service.

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In our galley-style kitchen, a corner between our breakfast bar and the Dutch door is home to a handmade wooden tray that I can effortlessly relocate when needed. A vintage, collapsible file folder holds a small collection of cookbooks, while a basket from Kembali Collective keeps reusable cloth wipes ready for toddler spills and cooking messes.

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Not everything food-related lives in our kitchen. Our reusable, to-go accessories are all kept in a handmade, easy-to-clean basket/bag that keeps it’s shape so our utensils, containers and drinkware are all accessible within an instant while I’m at the market, juggling our purchases in one hand and lil’ West in the other. The tote usually sits on our couch a low stool by the door so we don’t forget to grab our eco-friendly gear on the way out.

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We recently got a Planetbox for West, which I love. It’s narrow and can fit almost anywhere in the kitchen or in the to-go bag. I think we’ll get another for Adam and I to share as well. (Thanks to Reading My Tea Leaves for introducing this product to us!)

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Our kitchen and main living area are all one big room. Whether that space is operating as a dining room, living room, play space, or office, the key is always to keep our belongings and setup simple and flexible.

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part V)

While it's great to share stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces, I think it’s just as important to discuss the things that we can happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. The following is just a very small sampling of everyday items you might want to reconsider. (Click to view Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV of this series.)

As always, before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items might be easy for easy for some folks to forego, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best. Plus habits shift, and tastes change. Design and decor should be different (and enjoyable) for everyone. 

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Pots for Every Houseplant
Ah, plants. They breathe life into our homes, they clean our air, and they beautify everything. It’s good to give back to them, and provide them with an adequate vessel and some TLC. But some plants don’t necessarily need decorative pots. (If you do repot your plants, consider saving the plastic containers they were in when purchased, and return those to your local plant nursery for reuse.) Or instead of buying new pots, keep in mind that some plants can thrive in their original plastic pots, as long as they’re well maintained and have proper drainage. Look around and see what you have on-hand to tuck those ugly plastic pots into. This could be anything from a spare basket, bucket or even a bowl or mug, depending on the plant’s size and type. You can even use a burlap liner, which costs and weighs next-to-nothing, isn’t breakable the way most decorative pots are, and takes up nearly no space to store. We use burlap sleeves for the trailing ivy plants stationed all over our cottage. The ivy is thriving, we didn’t have to spend but a $1 or so per liner, and when there’s an earthquake no one will be harmed by heavy pots tumbling off their perches.

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Dish Drying Rack
There are numerous space-savvy drying racks available, from mini wall-mounted versions, to over-the-sink racks, to cylindrical bottle-trees, to fold-up designs. But, at the end of the day, an absorbent tea towel or a roll-up drying mat can also do the trick. No need to buy and store anything more advanced.

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Plastic Bag Dispensers
For the love of this wilting planet, let’s stop accepting plastic bags from stores— I can’t believe they’re still offered as often as they are. (Recently I watched a cashier put an oversized scanner box that was equipped with a handle for carrying into a standard plastic shopping bag. Once jammed into the bag, the box was awkward and impossible to carry comfortably for the buyer, and yet he walked out of the store with it slipping from his fingertips. WHY?!) And guess what: if you stop getting plastic bags, you won’t be tempted to buy one of those silly bag holders that adhere to the inside of your pantry or cabinet. If you need to keep bags of any sort together and organized, try repurposing something you already have. Are you using that old magazine file? If not, affix it to the inside of a door and use it as a bag holder. VOILA! Or perhaps you have too many canvas bags or miscellaneous totes sitting around? Suspend one from a safe spot and use that. A zillion other things that are eco-friendly and already sitting in your home could work perfectly. We use a coat rack on our front stoop to hold our market baskets and reusable totes. When it rains, we just scoot it inside.

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Holiday Decor Storage Organizers
There are so many “holiday decor organizers” available, and most of them are manufactured from plastic and are fairly ridiculous— particularly for small space dwellers. You don’t need much to make your space feel festive for a holiday or special occasion. (I’ll be writing more on this topic as we head into the colder months, but I’ll say now that we can fit all of our Halloween and winter decor in a vintage suitcase, which we use an accent surface within our home.) If you wish to keep some fragile ornaments and accessories protected, you can probably do so without buying something new. Egg cartons can be upcycled to protect smaller baubles. Wrap your twinkle lights around a bit of spare cardboard. Toilet paper tubes can be stuffed with odd-shaped glass or ceramic decor to keep them from clanking against each other. Try to keep your items to a minimum, and perhaps they’ll fit into a suitcase or a boot box that you can slide under your bed, on an over-the-door shelf inside your closet, or anywhere else that’s accessible yet out of sight. Bonus points for avoiding gift wrap! Presents don’t need to be bound in disposable packaging to be beautiful and thoughtful. (Again, I’ll share more on this topic soon.)

Shoe Organizers 
If you’re looking to downsize and organize your shoe collection, you might already have a “shoe organizer” available without realizing it. My mom cleverly pointed out to me that a 6-slot beverage bag is a great way to store (and tote) low profile shoes. And an old wine crate is a good way to separate and corral footwear as well. (We call our local wine shop whenever we need a used crate for this-or-that, and they’re usually quite happy to set aside an empty box or two for us to take.) If you do truly need a dedicated way to store your shoes, I recently wrote a post on the topic, here.

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A Spoon Rest
Even if you cook constantly, you can magic a myriad of other washable, heat-resistant items— such as a saucer or salad plate— into a “spoon rest” when needed.

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Short-Term Food Storage Containers
Don’t throw out those leftovers, but don’t buy (and store) plastic containers for them either. Reusable bowl covers are a simple way to turn any bowl into short-term food storage. These fabric covers come in various sizes and are outfitted with elastic perimeters. They’re usually machine-washable, and are often handmade with sustainable materials (depending on where you choose to buy them), and require very little storage space when not in use.

Small Space Al Fresco Happy Hour

This is entry no.3 from a three-part wedding registry series, sponsored by Macy’s in partnership with MyDomaine. (View part one here and part two here.)

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I’m pleased to partner with Macy’s to share some space-savvy home goods that are perfect for wedding registries. You might not have much room at home for gifts, but remember: wedding guests are genuinely happy to give newlyweds presents as a gesture of support and celebration. Help them find the items that work for YOU and your unique floor plan by crafting a mindfully curated wishlist that will make the process more enjoyable and practical for everyone involved.

PREPARING FOOD
Personally, my favorite time to dine alfresco is during the transition from summer to fall. The weather is juuuuust right, and gatherings naturally feel a bit cozier. But this time of year is also when social events seem to start popping up and gaining speed for the coming months, so there seems to be a bit of a time crunch. Luckily there are numerous wonderful small appliances at Macy’s that help make food and beverage prep fast and simple. There is also a wide selection of dining sets and serveware that can beautify your compact surfaces.

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Our Vitamix was THE main item we were excited to get for our wedding. This copper blender is beautifully designed, and makes food and beverage prep easy on a day-to-day basis and when hosting. With literally THOUSANDS of quick recipes available online and in print, you’ll never run out of options for what to make in this blender, which can last a lifetime.

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Usually I feel fairly “meh” about stemware, but the Vera Wang Wedgwood Metropolitan Collection was the first glassware collection I’ve ever actually wanted. There’s something about the sophisticated silhouette and unique vessel shape of the wine glass set that I just love. The corresponding champagne flutes are simple and delicate, but still offer plenty of character while holding your bubbly.

When we first moved into our cottage, Adam and I upcycled used candle glasses as tumblers. Needless to say, it felt good to finally put those in the recycling bin and to toast to one another with this beautiful set by Vera Wang.

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SETTING YOUR SURFACES
The Savona Grey 4-Piece Place Setting set by Mikasa has a beautiful visual texture, and the grey tones pair easily with both warm or cool accents. The collection can be put in the dishwasher or microwave for easy cleanup.

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Similarly perfect for any season, the cement Forte Collection by Nambé keeps tabletops looking both dynamic and clean.

In the past, I tried to be thrifty and used several kitchen items as ice buckets and scoops over the years. I pretty much ruined them all, and it would’ve been much more eco-friendly to just get one beautiful set like this from the start. The mixed-media design of the ice bucket and matching wine chiller adds depth and personality to a tabletop without overcrowding it.

SAVING TIME
One of the great things about a small home or apartment is that it doesn’t take long to clean and arrange it for guests. Even if you’re just returning home from work, or about to head out on a trip, you can squeeze in some of that quality socializing time at home. 

Adam and I realized long ago that you see nearly everything in a small space, so it’s wise to only acquire items that you truly need and love. That way, when it’s left out in the open, you don’t mind seeing it, and you won’t need to carve out a clever storage space for it. This definitely applies to luggage.

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Luggage is routinely one of those small space headaches. We all need suitcases, but where do we keep them? Select designs you love and don’t mind seeing, and use them as storage by stashing spare sheets or off-season clothes inside them when they’re not in use. Adam and I have recently discovered how great it is to ditch the carry-on shoulder bag or backpack for one of these rolling TravelPro totes. Its compact design fits a surprising amount, and helps make air travel much more delightful.

You don’t need an entire day to prep and host a social gathering— you can fit it in to your busy lifestyle as long as you have everything you need at the beginning for prepping and serving. More of my curated collection with Macy’s can be explored here.

A Look Inside, Entry 2: Small Space Food Storage

We’re often asked how we manage to accommodate food for 2 adults, 1 toddler and 2 dogs in our tiny, full-time home/office. This post explains how we do it. It’s a setup that works well for how we cook and how we shop, which are factors that obviously vary wildly from household to household.

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Adam and I keep our dry goods in the double-door cabinet above the stove. We make very little from scratch, so the ingredients we need to have on-hand are limited. Other everyday food is either in the fridge or placed in various food storage containers on the countertops. We replenish our groceries every few days (rather than, say, once per week,) because here in Venice we have exceptional access to farmers markets. We don’t buy in large quantities, and go out to get what we need, when we need it.

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There are four different farmers markets nearby, and they take place on staggered days of the week, all within walking or biking distance of the Cottage. There’s a wonderful organic grocery store just a short stroll away, too. As such, we buy locally and on-demand. We try to turn shopping into a family activity whenever possible, encouraging West to cart around his market basket alongside ours, and opting to take the scenic route (via bike, foot or wagon) on the way back home. 

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In the cottage, Adam is the cook and handles most of the food in the house. (I make breakfast, but I’m pretty much a disaster at cooking much else.)

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He usually plans out three days worth of meals every time we shop, and that loose pattern helped us determine how to best use the kitchen spaces we have to suit our particular needs.

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Despite the fact that our new fridge is still compact, it actually holds a surprising amount of items. We follow a pescatarian diet, so that cuts back on the need to buy and store certain types of food. We also make our own sparkling water to cut back on waste and preserve space, and we rarely buy juice or any other beverages, so that frees up inches as well. (We keep our SodaStream on the counter next to the sink, where we use it multiple times per day.)

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We keep most of our dog food refrigerated, as it’s perishable. But we also have a kibble tin on the bottom cubby of a nearby shelf:

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We have reusable bowl covers in lieu of plastic cling wrap, and these protect our leftovers via our standard bowls in the fridge. The linen+cotton covers roll or fold up tightly when not in use, requiring less drawer space than a box of plastic wrap.

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To keep fresh produce in good condition for as long as possible, thereby cutting back on spoiled/wasted food and saving money, we use a set of flax linen Ambrosia Bags, which are incredible. There are 4 to a complete set, each of which is meant to be used in a different way depending on its contents.

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Not only are Ambrosia Bags sustainable, eco-friendly, and lovely to see and touch, but they preserve the life and freshness of veggies, herbs, mushrooms and berries. This means we save money by buying less food, as we no longer accidentally waste precious produce that have gone bad. 

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The “damp bags” hydrate vegetables and herbs 24/7 and extends freshness 2-3 times longer than plastic bags while the “dry bags” slowly dehydrate keeping mushrooms from sliming and berries from molding.

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Flax fibers absorb moisture well, allowing the damp bags to hold onto the moisture when stored inside the refrigerator drawer, and even releasing moisture back out, keeping vegetables and/or herbs alive from continuous hydration, unlike other natural fibers or plastic bags. The linen also allows air to flow and in and out of the bags, keeping oxygen present and preserving the food’s freshness longer.

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The Ambrosia Bags are simple to use and very easy to care for— just launder once a month, or as-needed. 

Storing your vegetables:

  1. Rinse & shake off excess water

  2. Place wet veggies inside bag & close zipper

  3. Store inside refrigerator vegetable drawer

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Storing your herbs:

  1. Gently rinse herbs and shake off excess water

  2. Place herbs inside bag and close zipper

  3. Store in refrigerator vegetable drawer

Storing your delicate greens:

includes spinach, arugula & packaged salad mixes

  1. Remove plastic bag, place on towel

  2. Discard aged or undesirable leaves

  3. Hand sprinkle water over leaves

  4. Gently place inside bag

  5. Place inside refrigerator vegetable drawer

  6. Keep bag moist at all times

Storing your mushrooms:

  1. Remove plastic packaging

  2. Put dry mushrooms into bag and close zipper

  3. Place onto refrigerator shelf

  4. Keep bag dry at all times

Storing your berries

  1. Rinse berries (optional)

  2. Put berries into bag and close zipper

  3. Place onto refrigerator shelf

  4. Keep bag dry at all times

* Protect delicate raspberries/blackberries place container inside berry bag.

Updates to the Outdoor Playroom

When I was pregnant with West 2 years ago, one of the comments I heard at least once per day was something along the lines of: "When are you going to move? You'll need a bigger house." I tried to take a deep breath every time such words were slung my way, and remind myself that most people were trying in their own way to help.

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The thing is, folks here in LA and all around the globe raise children in all manner of structures, and much of the population doesn't have the financial luxury of expanding their living quarters if and when their family grows. Adam and I knew it was possible to stay in our Cottage, which we genuinely wanted to do. We also looked forward to the process of adapting our space to suit our needs whenever necessary. Most of the time when I shared this positive outlook with others, they seemed to write it off as me attempting to preserve my blogging business. (Sigh. No.) That wasn't the case either. People change. Situations evolve. And I expect to be excited for the next adventure after our Tiny Canal Cottage when the time comes, and I hope that the readers of this site are too.

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Rather than go for bigger, newer and "better," Adam and I opted to work with what we have: an amazing SoCal climate, and an adorable little outdoor space that cups our cottage. 

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When West was about a year and a half old, we updated our shared porch from a dining space into a playroom, and that's where Adam and our son spend a significant portion of the day, as West is not yet in school. Our neighbor in the front house almost never used the deck, as he has his own private garden space on the opposite side of his unit, so he kindly gave us the reins to the sliver of space connecting our homes. We covered the 8' x 20' stretch with a sun canopy, outfitted it with some practical patio furnishings, and accessorized the space with toys and games for West.

If we didn't have the deck (or if the climate here was different), we still wouldn't have moved. But I probably would've rented a temporary desk part-time at an office-share nearby.

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When it rains (which is rare, but it happens), we leave the furniture outside and just tote or roll the containers of toys and games inside and stagger them around the interior of the house. Anything smaller that's water-resistant stays outdoors and gets tucked under the coverage of the eaves. 

I receive so many question about toy storage. It's oftentimes marketed as high-end (and thus absurdly expensive), or it's less than pleasing to the eye and manufactured from plastics or other similarly environmentally damaging materials.

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My advice to parents in small spaces is usually to explore items they already have that can be repurposed into toy storage, such as luggage, market baskets, canvas bags, boot boxes (turn them inside-out and re-glue or tape them to hide logos), dresser drawers (if they're safe for children to access), and low rolling carts. As always, please choose wisely and safely with your kid(s) and space in mind. What works well for one child might not do for the next, and what functions well in one home might be ridiculous in another.

Recently we've been using apple baskets as toy storage. They are inexpensive, easy to mix-and-match, and contain no plastic. Plus they dry easily when splashed lightly with water. (We aren't worried about the raw construction of the baskets, as West handles them just fine. However, they might be too rough for many children.)

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When our son outgrows some toys, books and games, we'll keep them on a bit longer in case we decide to try for another child. Other items will be handed over to friends, donated to local non-profits, and given to a nearby library and/or school. Then the baskets can be repurposed in endless ways.

If we wanted or needed to, we could live with far fewer goods in fewer inches. Anyone can. And many must. (I think perhaps many folks would do well to keep that in mind.) People make it work in every sort of environment. Don't be discouraged by your small space, parents. Work with what you've got. (And enjoy it!)

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Multi-Purpose Towels

In a paragraph from a recent blog post concerning items you can most likely make-do without, I called out numerous, dedicated towel sets as items to consider:

"If you’re a serious beachgoer or beach athlete, then that’s one thing. But for most of us, the occasional outing— or even weekly visit— to the beach doesn’t have to require its own set of goods. Turkish towels or linen throws are incredibly versatile. They can be used as spare towels when your primary set is in the wash, when you’re hosting overnight guests, and when you visit the pool or beach. Great news— they can also double as tablecloths, throws for chilly evenings outdoors, and fort toppers for your kid(s). They fold up smaller than standard bath or beach towels, dry quickly, and only get more beautiful with every wash."

I've received numerous requests to show the types of towels we have, since they're used so versatilely here and stored in compact and/or decorative ways. We've had all of these textiles for years. 

ALL-IN-ONE TOWELS:
(spare towels / guest towels / beach towels / decor / tablecloths / throw blankets)

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I found two of these handmade, linen towels on ETSY in early 2013, and they've only gotten better with every wash since. (I never use bleach on anything. I tumble dry sometimes, but prefer to hang-dry via the Cottage clotheslines to conserve energy.)

When my bath towel is in the wash, I'll use one of these. If we have guests in need of full-sized towels, these are what we provide. When we take a trip to the beach, we bring these along with us. (I also use a lightweight, foldable water-resistant mat so we can save the towels strictly for post-swim purposes.)

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This fabric, which is weighty yet slim, folds up compactly enough to be stashed in the simple mop bucket on a shelf in our bathroom, but is also lovely enough to display on our walls. These textiles also become tablecloths, couch covers, and wrap blankets at the Cottage when necessary. (While the original vendor appears to no longer be selling online, this listing looks similar in terms of material and versatility. But search for a texture, price-point, and color combo that works best for your small space!)

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TOWELS FOR THE LIL' ONES:

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I bought two of these adorable, handmade, waffle-weave baby/child towels from ETSY before West was born, and they've been perfect every step of the way thus far.

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We use these daily when he splashes at his water table, and we use them as his bath, pool and beach towels. They're absorbent, fast-drying, and wonderful to the touch. (Plus, they're completely adorable.) They roll up tight, so they're easy to tote, and they have a loop for suspending from a hook when drying.

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MISC. MINI TOWELS:

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These fast-dry linen hand/face towels, a body scrubber, reusable rounds, and hemp washcloths take up little space, are long-lasting and are, in my opinion, timeless in style. 

STANDARD BATH TOWELS:

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Adam and I are both tall (he's 6'2" and I'm 5'11"), but we find standard bath towels to be sufficient, and less space-consuming and faster-drying than oversized bath sheets.  We only have two total-- one for him, one for myself. If we need a spare, we use the linen throws mentioned earlier in this post. Bath towels are so fluffy (meaning they eat up inches) and slow to dry, so I'm not much of a fan of having spares around. We care for them as needed, so they've lasted us for years and years. If they're not drying, they're always hanging from our towel rack in the bathroom.

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part IV)

While it's great to share stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces, I think it’s just as important to discuss the things that we can happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. The following is just a very small sampling of everyday items you might want to reconsider. (Click to view Part IPart II or Part III of this series.)

As always, before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items might be easy for easy for some folks to forego, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone. 

Photos from various gatherings at the Cottage. Over the years, we've used a mix of rental, repurposed, and/or everyday glassware and dishes. The setting doesn't need to be "fancy" to be beautiful & enjoyable. (Select photos by Monica Wang and Justina Blakeney.)

Disposable and/or Extra Dishes + Glassware for Parties
If you host large events regularly, it could be worth having extra plates and glasses around. But there are other ways to accommodate your guests WITHOUT owning tons of kitchen kitems, and without buying disposable goods.

 Repurposed candle jar, turned into a cocktail glass. Photo from the Cottage by Monica Wang.

Repurposed candle jar, turned into a cocktail glass. Photo from the Cottage by Monica Wang.

For several years, Adam and I hosted cocktail parties regularly. I avoid single-use items whenever possible, so we had a wire mesh basket over our fridge filled with 50 slim appetizer plates, as well as a couple wide-mouthed glass jars in out cabinet that held dozens of basic metal forks. We also washed and upcycled numerous candle vessels after burning through their contents, and those were our extra glasses for beverages.

 Spare plates a the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Spare plates a the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

These days, we no longer throw huge gatherings, and we preferred to allocate our kitchen cabinet space to store our son’s kitchen goods instead of hosting wares. As such, the “glasses” went in the blue bin to be recycled, and the plates went to a local non-profit (The RightWay Foundation), which hosts a number of fundraising events and needed reusable dishes for those occasions. (We kept the forks.)

 Rental glassware at a cocktail party at the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Rental glassware at a cocktail party at the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Now, we’ve turned to renting or borrowing dishes and glasses for larger events. Our neighbors are happy to help us out, so there’s NO extra cost. Yes, there’s some extra cleaning involved, but an hour of additional tidying is nothing compared to single-use plastics or recyclables (that might not actually get recycled), which could sit rotting on our worn planet until the end of time. If you’re going for a more coordinated, upscale look, research local rental companies. It’ll cost a bit more, but there's less cleaning time required, and there’s little-to-no waste.

Old or Duplicate Electronics
Stop buying or housing storage bins (or renting external storage space) for your outdated or duplicate electronics. If you have items that you no longer need, get rid of them responsibly. Nearly every town has a local resource for electronics recycling— just do some quick online research to find out about it.

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If you’re nervous about personal information contained on old devices, a basic computer repair shop or Genius Bar can advise you on how to transfer that data, or even just remove the hard drive for you before you donate or recycle your machines. Also, there’s no need to hold on to 12 versions of the same charger or cable—keep only what you need and donate the rest. (Look in your car. Do you have an old GPS? GET RID OF IT.)

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We store our necessary cables and small electronics / accessories in a leather Tech Dopp Kit by This Is Ground, and in a repurposed zipper pouch that one held a portable camping stool that I used to take to work on various sets. Both fit in a basket that sits in plain sight within our lil' living room.

Certain Books
I love our books, but I love the library more. We’re allowed to check out up to THIRTY items at a time here in LA. THIRTY! So rather than buying new books or making space to store titles that you've read, donate some and explore the offerings of your local branch. There’s no cost to check out books, and renting (or buying digital copies) can open up SO much space and eliminate waste. I still buy publications by my friends and colleagues, and we’ve kept any volumes we return to often for information or inspiration. But digital versions are a solid option if you want to buy but are pressed for space. 

As far as children's books are concerned, we bought (or accepted hand-me-down) board, bath and cloth books for West’s first 12-18 months. We did this because he was chewing on, drooling over, and attempting to rip everything possible. I didn’t want those germs ingested or spread, nor did I want to ruin community property. But now that West knows how to treat picture books, we borrow 90% of our inventory from the county and city libraries. 

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Experiencing a temporary overflow of library books? At the Cottage, we simply use a recent cardboard box for short-term book storage— no need to buy something new. If the box is printed on the outside, we simply untape it, flip in in-side-out so the exterior is blank, and then tape it back up, leaving an empty surface for West to draw and color upon. We use the box to return the books, and then pop the container into the recycling bin.

Coffee Table Objets
Ah, the coffee table. Styling this living room surface has been turned into a science by decor-related media outlets and home goods stores. Personally, the artfully-styled coffee table drives me a bit bananas in small spaces. You need these inches for daily life. Drinks, phones, propping up your legs, playing games, and more. (Our coffee table also contains our spare linens, so it’s constantly being opened.)

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Absolutely keep your necessities stocked on the table or close by. But, perhaps, consider skipping the objets. If they’re sentimental pieces or handmade, that’s one thing. But don’t just buy a thing to have a thing. Your room’s centerpiece can be made surprisingly beautiful with mindfully-arranged everyday items and simple greenery clippings in a jar. 

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Sandwich Presses and Mini Pancake, Waffle and/or Pizza Makers
Living tiny doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy miscellaneous tiny things. You can make tiny pancakes just fine without specialty miniature appliances. And unless your job is pressing sandwiches all day, a “sandwich press” is ridiculous— a spatula and a strong arm will suffice, folks. Of course, opt for compact versions of the smaller kitchen appliances that you deem necessary. (We have a Muji Toaster + Kettle, and a small Vitamix, as well as a wire basket to hold various components from these kitchen goods.)

Chip-and-Dip Bowls
What’s wrong with your regular bowls and ramekins? Don’t buy into the concept that you need dedicated serving items for certain foods.

Paper Towels and New Rags
I’m all for cutting disposable paper towels and napkins out of our lives. Reusable ones are more beautiful, more pleasing to the touch, and more eco-friendly. But you don’t need to go buy cleaning rags. Just use old shirts or old dish towels as cleaning gear.

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For me, considering the things we can live without is not just about decluttering and saving money. It's about stopping the seemingly endless production, consumption and disposal of unnecessary home goods, thus making the Earth a healthier place for generations to come.

Market Friday 8.24.18

This week's Farmers Market Friday in photos:

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Lately, one of the greatest ways we’ve found to save money, reduce waste (both material and food), and beautify another area within the Cottage is via flax linen Ambrosia Produce Storage Bags. I stumbled upon them at Erewhon one morning, and they’re a great example of how a smart lil’ product can actually be a real life changer. Not only are Ambrosia Bags sustainable, eco-friendly, and lovely to see and touch, but they preserve the life and freshness of fruit, veggies, and herbs. This means we save money by buying less food, as we no longer accidentally waste fruits and veggies that have gone bad. (Read more about the amazing benefits of these lovely bags here.)

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Emergency Preparedness in a Small Home

For years, Adam and I have been meaning to dedicate time to preparing our home and family for an emergency. Since we've lived in the Cottage, California wildfires have become increasingly frequent and ferocious, Venice has been issued two tsunami advisories, and, on the East Coast, our friends and family have been displaced more than once due to powerful storms. Our homes are precious places because of the lives within them— it’s our responsibility and privilege to keep our families as safe as possible. 

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According to NASA, the Southwest region of the US can expect increased heat and wildfires, drought, and insect outbreaks in our immediate future, all of which are directly linked to climate change. Plus we're overdue for a major earthquake, and Venice is located in a Tsunami zone. So I reached out to folks at The Earthquake Bag to get my family and our home better prepared, and to inquire if they’d help me with this post. They’re knowledgeable about what folks should do (and have) in the case of an emergency. They generously replied, supplying both information and products so that I could plan for my family, and share this story online. (This is not a paid partnership.) 

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Worldwide, the number of climate-related disasters has more than tripled since 1980, per National Geographic. How can those of us living in small spaces be best prepared?

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Housing supplies for an evacuation or shut-in can be pretty tough to do in limited square-footage. Water, food, survival gear, and hygiene goods add up to be pretty bulky. Plus, the realities of an emergency situation require us to bend some of our basic Small Space Living rules— such as not owning duplicates.

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As a basic example: if you already have a flashlight in your toolbox or junk drawer, you should still probably have another in your emergency kit. If you need to evacuate your home within minutes (or seconds), you'll not have the time or ability to reach scattered, miscellaneous supplies around your home.

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Given the realities of our tiny house, I appreciate that The Earthquake Bag’s contents can be customized to fit our family— including pets— eliminating the guesswork and minimizes excess.

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Many of the supplies in the kits are wrapped in plastic, which we normally try to avoid. But this is one of the great ways to actually use plastic— items need to be preserved over time, and protected from elements such as water and ash.

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For 3 people and 2 dogs, we got a 1-person Complete Bag (for 3-days), a 2-person Complete Bag (for 3-days), and a 2-Dog Bag. This division of items over 2 smaller backpack breaks up the weight between the adults and make it easier to separate supplies if necessary.

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These bags are thus easier to accommodate in our home, on our cargo bike, in our car, and/or carry on our backs. We keep our 3 backpacks lined up under our bed, but they could just as easily be stored via hooks above a door, or high up on the unused upper walls of a closet. Wherever you keep yours, make sure they're easy to access in a moment's notice.

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I chatted with Skyler Hallgren, co-founder of The Earthquake Bag, and posed some questions specific to our tiny space, as well as a few questions regarding general emergency preparedness.

According to Skyler, when it comes to disasters, people tend to do one of two things:

1) Avoid thinking about disasters, because they are scary, or
2) Decide that when "the Big One" hits everyone will die, so there is no reason to think about it.

Truly, the vast majority will survive our next major earthquake without serious injury. It's just statistics! The important thing is to think clearly about the risks your particular location must deal with, and take the high-leverage, common-sense steps to make sure you can thrive, even if infrastructure and services are down for a few days... or even a few weeks.

Our message is always the same - don't freak out! Earthquakes and other natural disasters don't need to be fear-inducing. But we can be smart enough to put some thought into it beforehand, and make sure our families are prepared. And then go on living our lives in this beautiful place!

Whitney: We have soft back books above our bed due to a built-in bookshelf and limited storage space. (Thankfully, they’d land on our torsos rather than our heads if they tumbled out.) But on this topic: do you have any safety tips or advice for folks in earthquake zones who have loose or bulky home accessories (lamps, plants, books, etc.) stored above or immediately next to their beds?

Skyler: Yes - move them! If they are small enough to secure, then start there. If it's a wall hanging, have them secured directly to the wall. We use Quake Hold on anything smaller in our homes.. it's an extremely tacky putty that keeps wall hanging and decor items in place during shaking. If it's something that is too big to secure, and is close to the bed or a window, it's got to be moved to a safer location.

Whitney: What precautions should one take with their gas lines immediately after an earthquake?

Skyler: First off, any one living here with gas lines in their home needs to have a gas shutoff tool zip-tied to the valve. It's so easy to do, and can absolutely save your home from the most common way homes are destroyed in an earthquake - fire. They are inexpensive and are so common sense. Why ziptied? Because you want to eliminate any work you need to do after emergency, like searching your home (even a tiny home!) for your gas shutoff tool. Make it easy on your self. You only want to turn it off if you smell rotten eggs. The gas company adds a chemical to natural gas to give it a smell you can distinguish. If you smell rotten eggs, turn off the gas. If you don't, leave it alone, as you would need the utility company to turn it back on again. 

Whitney: If residents have to evacuate due to a disaster scenario, how should they prep their home/apartment itself before they leave?

Skyler: Hopefully you've already compiled all the essentials in your emergency kit. Not only food, water, first aid and other essentials, but personal items that are sure to be important. Think cash, copies of ID and insurance, an old pair of sneakers and jacket, written-down contact info, contacts, extra glasses, prescription medication, spare keys, and maybe even a map. 

Once you have all that, and if you have a few extra minutes, find your circuit breaker panel and set the main circuit switch to off.

The most important thing? When you get the notice to evacuate, don't waste time. Put yourself in a situation to be able to be out the door with all the essentials in under 30 seconds. You don't have time to waste.

Sincerest thanks to Skyler and the team at The Earthquake Bag for your time and input for this post. Explore their Frequently Asked Questions about their products and emergencies here. And for anyone interested in learning more about The Earthquake Bag's Disaster Relief Program, click here.

Bright(er) Lil' Kitchen

This post was sponsored by The Home Depot. All opinions and images are my own. All photos including our son and/or the pups were taken as they happily interacted in their own, natural ways. 

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Clearly I love our tiny home. Very rarely do I long for material items or major changes— I’m usually extremely content with what we have, and aim for our belongings to last us a lifetime. One glaring exception to this has, for YEARS, been our major kitchen appliances. 

Our refrigerator, range and dishwasher fit our space quite well, but they weren’t the right fit for our style and needs. The fridge had a massive back-coil that consumed several inches of its counter-depth design, rendering the interior smaller than one would expect by looking at it from the outside. And the exterior was black on both sides, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of our airy lil’ home. 

Immediately next to the fridge is the dishwasher, which sits about 6’ or so from my desk, and it was so loud that I never wanted to run it. Plus I disliked that the stainless steel cover and large front-panel of buttons were the first details I noticed every time I entered through our front doors. 

But the stove was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The electric panel kept dropping out of its frame, and the design wasn’t particularly safe for West. Of course young children should always be supervised in the kitchen, but the compact nature of our space means that our 22 month-old West is constantly passing by the stove. We added safety knob covers on the dials, but our son’s proximity to the flames was an issue— particularly with his unruly curls brushing up against everything. Plus we don’t have a vent in our kitchen. Our ample windows and doors move the air constantly, but our burners were always covered in spatter and stray dog hairs. 

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So, in our 7th summer here, we finally swapped out all three appliances. (Hallelujah!) Usually it takes me a while to get used to notable changes in our home— at least a week or so. But I was instantaneously overjoyed with our newest residents: a white GE top control dishwasher, a GE slide-in electric range and self-cleaning convection oven, and a ever-so-slightly deeper but enormously more spacious white GE refrigerator, all from The Home Depot

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The Home Depot delivered and installed the new appliances, and removed the old ones. The entire swap took about an hour, as they had to adjust a few external elements within the kitchen to accommodate the product changes. 

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The GE refrigerator has the most impact on the space. To have an all-white front and sides changes the look and feel of our entire home, since you can basically see the fridge from almost every point in our miniature home. It’s technically not counter depth, so it sticks out about an inch further than our previous model. But It has far more usable space within it, thanks to the fact that there’s no coil in the back eating up precious inches.  

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It’s still very compact, allowing us to store dishes in wire mesh baskets up top. (And, thankfully, the baskets no longer rattle, as they did with our old fridge. They sit tight thanks to the steady and quiet nature of this ENERGY STAR appliance.)

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The GE top control dishwasher is by far superior to our old one. When I first turned it on, I thought it was broken because it was so quiet. I prefer everything about this machine— from it’s cleanly designed exterior to it’s three user-friendly racks inside. Plus it has wash zones, so we can now wash just a half-load when needed.   

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Due to the positioning of the dishwasher, it’s visible immediately when you walk in the house, and the white really brightens up (and thus visually enlarges) our space— even at night.

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Lastly, the range. We are thrilled with it. I know people get really intense about the gas vs electric debate, and I get it. But our new slide-in electric range and self-cleaning convection oven is designed in such a way that it is significantly safer for West to pass by it in our tiny cottage. (Sophee is another matter—she somehow manages to get onto e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.)

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It is SO MUCH EASIER to clean, and there’s no clunky back panel. Folks can continue to grumble over the gas vs electric issue— meanwhile, we’ll be here making eggs on (and clinking glasses by) our cleaner, safer, lighter, and happier lil’ kitchen!

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A Simplified Sunday

I've been making an effort to spend more uninterrupted time with my family lately-- particularly on Fridays and Sundays, which I find to be such unnaturally fragmented (and thus inefficient) days. It might sound a bit odd, as we're around each other constantly since the Cottage is also my full-time office. But as a single-income household in an expensive city, the urge to work around the clock can be a challenging one to calm. However, I believe that taking better care of ourselves allows us to ultimately be of greater service to our families, friends and communities. Self-care doesn't have to be pricey. It can be as simple as taking a long walk with your dog, reading a book (without having your phone within reach), or making a special treat with your partner and/or child.

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Keep it simple:

Market Friday 8.17.18

This week's Farmers Market Friday in photos:

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This week I wore a Southwest shirt from The Farm Project to our local farmers market to remind myself what's in season here in SoCal. Why? Because all year long we can find nearly anything we want at our local grocery store, regardless of the season and region we're in. But buying certain fruits and veggies at certain times of the year might not be the best thing for our health or the planet's. Read more about this topic here.

My handmade ascot is from Late Sunday Afternoon, and my hat is from West Perro. West is in a top from Go Gently Nation, and leggings from Etsy.

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part III)

While it's great to share stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces, I think it’s just as important to discuss the things that we can happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. The following is just a very small sampling of everyday items you might want to reconsider. (Click to view Part I or Part II of this series.)

As always, before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items might be easy for easy for some folks to forego, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone. 

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Pet Beds
I am all for showering animals with love. StanLee and Sophee are some of the greatest joys of my life. But if we didn’t have our garden space, I would’ve given up on buying pet beds long ago. (Hear me out— I’ll explain.) If you’re tight on space and looking for ways to reduce the larger items in your home and/or save money, simply repurpose some washable items from around the house. A spare bathmat, fluffy towel, outdoor seat cushion, or miscellaneous thicker linens could possibly work just fine. It might take a few tries to find what your pet likes best. 

We have two pet beds that we keep outside, day and night. Our pups love them, as do I. But are they NEEDED? No. (Hell, StanLee sometimes likes to nap in a pile of rocks. Does he really require a lofted, K9, wicker daybed?) Sophee sleeps at our feet on our mattress, while StanLee chooses to sleep in the narrow corridor between my side of the bed and the wall. At night, I place a machine-washable, cushioned toddler-sized comforter over the hardwood, and our senior is quite content to lounge on that throughout the night.

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Desktop Gear
I feel as though we’re blissfully beyond the era of receiving randomly customized photo and logoed mousepads… but perhaps that’s just because I’m so far removed from traditional office environments. Either way, if you’re looking for ways to simplify your home-office, keep in mind that you don’t need a desk protector or a mousepad. My Magic Mouse leaves marks on my white, wooden desktop, so I simply slide a leather laptop case under it throughout the day while working. Books, catalogues, or a thousand other items would work just as well. 

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A Hamper
For years, we kept our dirty clothes in a built-in oversized drawer under our bed. It worked flawlessly, as hampers can be really tough to accommodate in a tiny home, regardless of whether they’re hanging or foldable. Everyone’s needs vary, but depending on your situation you might be able to repurpose a larger drawer, cubby or shelf in your closet, bath or bedroom for gathering the garments that need to be washed. No empty drawer to spare? Bonus points for giving away enough items to free one up!

Ironing Board + Full-Sized Drying Rack
While this won’t work for everyone, it might work for you: can you live without an ironing board and a full-sized iron and drying rack?

For little things like burp cloths, napkins, and other items that need to dry before stashed in the to-do laundry, a suction-cup, swing-arm drying rack can be extremely helpful.

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For larger items that need to dry after a proper swim or wash, a no-frills clothesline made of twine, tacks and clothespins could be all you need, indoors or out.

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Use your bed, couch or a table as your ironing board, and let a “travel” iron/steamer do the rest of the work for you. 

Upright Vacuum  
I’ve posted on this before, as we test a lot of these products as part of my job. Gone are the days of needing a massive upright vacuum. An iRobot Roomba, a collapsible / combo cordless design, a combo mop-vacuum, or even a handheld vacuum might be better options for your small space. 

Serving Platters
If your kitchen is compact, skip the oversized entertaining platters and plates. Cutting boards and misc trays from around the house can pull double-duty as serving surfaces. Just add a layer of of reusable beeswax wrap to make them “food safe.” Or, if your surface spaces are also cramped, use a collection of smaller plates dispersed around your available countertops, or add wax paper or beeswax wrap directly to your table. I honestly believe these clever workarounds usually make for more interesting and beautiful hosting setups than most traditional formats. 

A Full Grill
If you only grill on very rare, special occasions, consider a single-use, 100% natural, biodegradable, portable grill. (If you take it camping, simply toss it in the bonfire when you're done.) See photos of one in use at the Cottage, here.

Picnic Set
I’m a sucker for a beautiful picnic. But dedicated gear takes up a lot of space, and is nowhere near essential to our lives. Make your own picnic set when the occasion arises. A myriad of baskets, reusable shopping bags, or even a suitcase will help you tote food and accessories. Have you made an eco-friendly to-go + take-out dining pouch? USE IT. And remember, you don’t need a “picnic blanket.” Any linens that are machine-washable will suffice, as will lightweight outdoor mats. Need some shade for the meal? Try a table runner suspended from a tree branch or pegged to any sort of makeshift poles. Look around. Challenge yourself. Have some fun CREATING. You most likely have everything you need already— don’t waste your precious storage space and funds on a comprehensive set if you’re trying to save money, reduce your environmental footprint, and/or declutter. 

Summer Grilling in the Tiny Garden

This post was sponsored by La Brea Bakery. All images, words, and opinions are my own.

Since West entered into our lives, Adam and I have found that our small space entertaining style has changed greatly. 

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Our beachside summers in Venice were once spent hosting cocktail gatherings of up to 60 people here at our tiny home and yard. These days we are much more content to host easy, healthy, low-key meals in the garden with a few friends at a time. 

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In years past, we shared a giant grill with our neighbor across the porch. Over time it slowly fell apart and he decided to get rid of it. Adam and I never acquired a replacement. We usually grill at a friend’s house— it’s always nice to have little adventures beyond the cottage, and I delight in avoiding having to purchase more objects for our home. But every now and again we still grill in the garden, embracing the tiny life with the help of a biodegradable, 100% natural mini grill. (I’m still pretty much a disaster in the kitchen and on the grill, but luckily Adam is a wonderful cook.)

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We changed our dietary habits not too long ago, and we’ve since been enjoying more greens and fruit, as well as indulging in our love of bread. 

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Adam tried our first pescatarian-friendly meal prepared on a grill, and it turned out to be easy and light— the perfect meal for a warm, relaxing summer evening. 

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Our family tries to get most of our food from the Friday farmers market just off the canals. 

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However, we stopped buying our weekly supply of bread from the market a while back. It would either go stale before we could finish it, or we ended up eating way too much of it immediately in order to avoid wasting food. 

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We found our balance with La Brea Bakery’s Take & Bake breads

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They’re easy to prep fresh for any meal, and they’re completely yummy. 

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For our lil’ al fresco meal, Adam made us a grilled peach salad with fruit, honey, cheese and arugula from the farmers market, rounded off with two Take & Bake French Baguettes from La Brea Bakery. 

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(I may or may not have put a few pieces of arugula on the bread and topped it with a cheesy peach and eaten it like an open-face sandwich rather than a salad.) It was simple and delicious. 

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Here’s to slowing down this summer and enjoying healthy, happy meals with the ones we love. 

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INGREDIENTS
(Note: This served 4 of us, and took 40 minutes on the mini grill.)
4 Large Fresh, Ripe Peaches (Halved) // 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil // 2 Sticks of Honey (or 1/4 cup) of Honey // Chopped blocks of herbed Cheese // 1/2 lb Arugula // 3 Tbsp. Softened Butter // Grilled French Baguettes // Pine Nuts (which we got, but then totally forgot to use) // Salt & Pepper

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You can find more summer recipes here!

A Look Inside, Entry 1: Kitchen Storage

Lately I've received numerous requests to show the inside of our cabinets and drawers on social media and the blog. I'll do a gradual tour-- today, I'm starting with our biggest kitchen cabinet. Here are the contents and sources for most of the items. I hope this helps! 

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Get Organized-- But Stop Buying Organizers 

One of my favorite ways to outfit our Cottage is by using vintage, handmade, or hand-me-down items in unexpected ways. It’s a wonderful way to uniquely dress up your space and tackle organizational issues while putting sentimental items to use, and without contributing to the rapidly increasing environmental problems due to mass production and waste. If you’re interested in testing the waters, I’d suggest starting with your “junk drawer.” Notoriously messy, these makeshift homes for frequently used, nomadic items are the perfect place to start. 

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You don’t need a custom-crafted or store-bought drawer organizer— just look around your space and consider what you already have available to you. Are there items stashed about that you want to keep for sentimental reasons (or others), but aren’t regularly using? If so, can they be either permanently or temporarily repurposed as a petite storage vessel? 

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Consider items such as used packing materials, compact baskets, chooses, mugs, votive holders, food containers, shells, old iPhone boxes, etc. Depending on the size of your drawer(s) and the dimensions of the objects in need of wrangling, you might have some ideal solutions already at your fingertips. 

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Our shallow “junk” drawer, which is at the end of our kitchen, holds matches, rechargeable batteries, chalk, infrequently used keys, string, tape, eyeglass repair instruments, and more. We access these little odds-and-ends every day, so the drawer can get really messy really fast. In lieu of purchasing a new plastic or bamboo divider, and instead of spending time scouring Etsy for a properly-sized vintage option, I saved time and money by putting some miscellaneous collections of ours to additional use. 

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For example, we have a few jars and recycled tealight cups that we use for candles, but they’re only out on special occasions. By giving them the extra responsibility of keeping our drawer tidy, we’ve eliminated the need to find a dedicated storage space to house them in their downtime. 

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Similarly, Adam and I had a random mix of old mugs that mean something to us, but that we don’t actually use for tea or coffee. Rather than stashing them in the back of the cabinets  (where they’ll consume valuable inches) or donating them, we now see and enjoy them again in this practical, purposeful way.

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This concept doesn’t only apply to drawer dividers, of course. I keep office supplies and handbag contents in vine baskets that are actually vase covers, and many of my little accessories around the house are stashed in woven drinking glass sleeves. And my business documents are filed in old picnic baskets, rather than file boxes

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I know this is a 101 task and concept, but it can be surprisingly helpful in tiny and/or cramped spaces! Start small, and test out how your first attempt looks, feels and functions. If you’re pleased with the results, then tackle more zones. This can actually be a delightful, creative challenge.

Minimizing Mess: Dog Toys

I savor signs of LIFE in a home— wild branches shedding leaves, tabletops primed for working, creating or dining, worn floors, and books and games in various stages of use. While I love organized spaces, pristine spaces generally don’t sing to me. 

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The two tricks that make "mess" work for me in our tiny house are: 1) We don’t own much stuff to begin with, so there’s only so much chaos to be generated. 2) Most of the items here I find to be both useful and visually-appealing, so I don’t mind when they’re left out of place for a while.

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These concepts come into play even with the toys we make or buy for our dogs, StanLee and Sophee. 

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Since dog toys primarily exist to be torn to shreds within seconds, I’m reluctant to spend money on them. When I visit boutique pet shops, I can’t help but gawk at the price tags— $19 for a plush doll that Soph will burst through instantly? That’s neither doable nor sensible to me.

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Adam and I either upcycle worn-out, everyday items into games for the pups, or we buy new toys for special occasions via a discount retailer nearby.

UPCYCLING
I’ve seen some great DIY dog activities online that don’t require anything new. My favorite find was a cupcake tin filled with tennis balls, with a nibble hiding under (or within) one of the orbs. This clever little game will give your best friend a fun challenge to tackle before devouring his or her treat. (Although I myself have never tried it, as I’ve never owned a cupcake tin.) 

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Here, we frequently opt for a basic water-soaked cloth left in the freezer and transformed into a cold, soft chew. This is particularly effective in cooling down the pups while also keeping them entertained during the hotter summer months.

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Another go-to for us is the bottle-in-the-sock toy. We eliminated plastic bottles from our lives, but they still randomly surface every now and then, whether via a guest or some unexpected occasion. When that happens, we insert the empty bottles into a clean but tired old sock that needs to be retired, and this simple toy can keep one or both of our dogs occupied for a while.

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Ultimately, the bottle goes in the recycling bin. But keep in mind that only 14% of plastic is collected for recycling! I think of the likelihood of the bottle being dumped in a landfill and shudder.

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Sometimes I wrap parts of older dog toys or balls into a worn kitchen cloth and knot it off, then shred and braid the ends to create a solid tug toy that will outlast a typical plush. And since our old towels or undershirts tend to work well with the aesthetic of our home, these makeshift toys fit in quite well.

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BUYING
To purchase new toys for the pups, we bike to the local Ross, where we can find the same $19 toys I’ve seen at the boutique shops for just $3.99. (Despite the low price tag, we only do this about 4x/year to help cut back on material waste.)

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We scan the inventory to find styles that we know StanLee and Sophee will enjoy. From there we select the models that come in textures and/or tones that match our interior.

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This helps minimize the “mess” within our Cottage throughout the day. There are constantly dog toys left all over the place, but I hardly even notice them since they blend right in. (These photos were taken right after I brought home a round of new goodies for our beagles. When they're not scattered around the house, the dog toys are stashed in a built-in drawer on my side of the bed, as shown here.)

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Details such as these can have a significant impact on the overall look and feel of a tiny home, and help us all embrace (and even love) a lil' mess.

The Cottage Grapevine

When we first moved into the Cottage, we couldn't believe our luck: There was a thriving grapevine that produced Concord grapes on the north side of our tiny home, and an overgrown tree with a seemingly never-ending supply of avocados on the opposite end-- we could lean out of our kitchen window to grab the fruit. That season, we also planted peppers, strawberries, herbs, and citrus trees, all with surprising sucess. 

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This abundance of home-grown goodness lasted a few years before our neighbors on the south side sold their house... and with it, the sprawling avocado tree.

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The new owners hacked off most of its branches. (I admit, I cried.)

 Above: Adam clipping grape clusters.

Above: Adam clipping grape clusters.

Soon thereafter, aphids (or something similar) ate through almost everything we'd planted in our tiny garden. The only thing still standing strong was the grapevine, thanks to ongoing care and maintenance by our wonderful neighbors, Donna and Kevin.

 Left: Clipping the grapes in 2014. Photo by  Monica Wang . Right: Picking fruit between our home and the neighbor's. Photo by Lily Diamond of  Kale & Caramel .

Left: Clipping the grapes in 2014. Photo by Monica Wang. Right: Picking fruit between our home and the neighbor's. Photo by Lily Diamond of Kale & Caramel.

Fun fact: Kevin and Donna's beautifully designed, environmentally-savvy, vibrant cottage is featured in Justina Blakeney's 2nd book, The New Bohemians Handbook. Their house was built via the same blueprint as ours back in the 1920s. Much like our little home, it has undergone numerous changes since then, but the similarities are still very evident.

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Adam and I have reaped the benefits of this grapevine every spring and summer since we've lived here. The fruit is ready to eat in August when it turns a rich purple. But my favorite month as far as the vine is concerned is late May.

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That's when the leaves and tendrils rapidly stretch far and wide, and create a cooling canopy over our little yard in preparation for the summer months, which seem to keep growing hotter and hotter.

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Around this time of year, our neighbor, Kevin, spends hour upon hour clipping and cleaning the grapes, with which he makes delicious sorbet, jam and preserves. Adam and I have joined him in this process in the past.

Recently, Adam and I have been able to share the joy of the vines with West.

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Our son has been climbing up on the bench in the garden and picking the fruit off the vine ever since the clusters began forming.

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He's so excited to finally be able to eat them.

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The grapes are sweet. They have seeds and tough skin, but our little one has already gotten the hang of squeezing out the fruit and plucking out the seed.

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 Above: We used West's  toy wheelbarrow  to sort batches of grapes-- it's larger than any bowl we have on-hand.

Above: We used West's toy wheelbarrow to sort batches of grapes-- it's larger than any bowl we have on-hand.

As always, home-grown food is my favorite gift to both give and receive. It's eco-friendly, created with love, and requires no extra storage space! I believe that the simple stuff is oftentimes the best.

 Above: Gifting grapes in 2015.

Above: Gifting grapes in 2015.