Better our bodies, Better our planet

Some of the primary considerations when it comes to making lifestyle shifts towards reusable goods and healthier foods is, of course, economics and accessibility. Here in LA there is a seemingly never-ending list of restaurants and markets where you can buy local, fresh, organic foods, but they tend to come with a lofty price-tag. While I’ve experienced (and shared) how small homes and reusable goods can save so much money and so many resources, I need some help on the topic of food. (It seems like nearly all of the money I earn goes into our bellies, and I’m really trying to be smarter when it comes to what we eat and how much we spend on it.)

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I aim to make healthy, wallet-friendly, ethical food choices for my family, but it can be tough to check off all the boxes on this list for the majority of folks living on a tight budget in larger, fast-paced cities. By researching how to wisely feed ourselves and our families in a way that reduces waste, costs less, and is accessible to more of the population, we can better our bodies and our planet. 

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I wanted to learn more about this subject, and do so alongside youth and staff members from The RightWay Foundation, which is a local organization that I’ve been involved with for years. The RightWay Foundation works with current or emancipated foster youth to move from a point of pain and disappointment to a point of power, productivity, and self-sufficiency. This topic of healthy and affordable meals is important to many of the RightWay youth who are struggling to budget for healthy foods for themselves or their children, and/or find ways to eat healthy while juggling the realities of shared living spaces and busy work schedules.

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For our discussion, we met at a sweetgreen restaurant, which I chose due their business philosophy and practices. sweetgreen believes that the choices we make about what we eat, where it comes from and how it’s prepared have a direct and powerful impact on the health of individuals, communities and the environment. (Note: This is not a sponsored post.)

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sweetgreen operates with a transparent supply network, they cook from scratch, and they’re building a community of people who support real food. I also appreciate their focus on sustainability, from their brick-and-mortar designs and waste management to the food they serve. Society can’t afford not to think and eat sustainably, and sweetgreen takes steps to positively impact the food system.

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Our specialist for the session was Lily Diamond of Kale and Caramel. Lily is a stand-out voice in the food community, and she uses her blog and social media channels to share her knowledge of ways in which we can invest in self-care without spending a penny, and eat healthy and beautiful foods on a strict budget in all types of kitchens, whether small, shared, temporary, mobile, or professional.

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Lily offered some easy practices that I intend to look into immediately. A few simple highlights are below, but I encourage folks to browse her channels to dive into everything in deeper detail. 

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HEALTHY & AFFORDABLE MEAL SOLUTIONS (a sampling)
by
Lily Diamond

Imperfect Produce
Imperfect Produce is a delivery company sources “ugly produce” directly from farms and delivers them to your door. From their website: “Approximately 20% of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. never leave the farm just because they look a little different. Instead of ending up on your dinner plate, they end up left in the field or trucked to landfill. We think that’s crazy, and we’ve built a network of over 150 farmers and producers who agree. We buy their unloved produce, and they’re rewarded for their full harvest–not just for the pretty stuff.”

Multi-Use Food Staples 
Did you know you can wash your face with honey? And you can moisturize your skin with almond oil or even olive oil— not just coconut oil? And use salt or sugar for body scrubs? The list goes on. While a bottle of oil might cost a bit more money up front than you want to spend, it can go a long way in the kitchen AND when it comes to skincare. (Which can save SO much money AND space.) Similarly, a single, larger container of Greek Yogurt can be used as sour cream, traditional yogurt, and even cream cheese. 

To-Go
Refillable water bottles will save you money. (A leak-proof bottle might cost, say, $20 up front, but can last for a lifetime. Seeing as how a bottle of water can cost around $3, it won’t take long to get your money’s worth.) Having reusable bags filled with bulk-purchase nuts, or carrying stainless steel containers of cut up fruits and veggies in your bag at all times will keep your snacks healthy and your waste minimal. (Carry a reusable roll-up utensil pack at the ready so you’re not tempted to pop into a cafe.)

Store Fruits & Veggies Appropriately
Think about where fruits and veggies are displayed in the market, and store yours accordingly. (For example, tomatoes shouldn’t go in the fridge.) This will help them last longer, and ripen naturally. Use bags like Ambrosia Bags to preserve freshness. They have a price-tag, but will save you money in the long-run by prolonging the life of your food and reducing your waste.  

Make a Meal Last
Add nut butter to blended breakfasts to provide you with more nutrients and to better satiate your hunger, prolonging the amount of time until your next meal.

For Babies
It can be so much cheaper and healthier to steam veggies and then mash/blend them (or fruit) for a baby. You don’t need expensive equipment to do so— a handheld grinder such as this will work beautifully. This also introduces your child to more adventurous tastes, and prevents them from consuming preservatives and other add-ins in processed foods. 

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I look forward to trying out  more of Lily’s mindful suggestions. I also hope to spend some time looking into The Jar Method, developed by E and Roe of @BrownKids (who live in 140 sqft!) in Baltimore.

Sincerest thanks to the team at sweetgreen for welcoming (and feeding) us during this wonderfully productive meeting.

For readers who want to learn more about The RightWay Foundation, or are interested in donating funds for us to purchase produce bags, food storage bags, and reusable travel bottles for the youth, click here to visit the website, or contact the Cottage.

Our Small Space Baby Essentials

In a recent questionnaire I posted on Instagram, so many folks asked me what our small space baby essentials are. Below is a little roundup of what we loved and used the most with West for the first 1-2 years, and/or products we discovered later on that we wished we’d known about from the start. (As always, please research what is best for your needs and tastes, while keeping safety in mind.)

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  • Dock-A-Tot

    • Dock-A-Tots are multi-use “docking stations” where your baby can rest, lounge, play, and cuddle. (Throw a Gathre Mat over yours and it can become a changing surface, too.) They’re portable, and come in 2 sizes. We used ours as a bed-sharing dock for a year. I suspect that if we decide to have another child, we will use the Dock-A-Tot instead of a bassinet or crib.

  • Hie Bag

    • The Hie Bag has almost everything you need for a mini or major trip, including a fold-out diaper changing pad, a cooler (as a add-on), a built-in charger, clips to become a stroller bag, backpack and shoulder carrying options, a wipe dispenser, a “kick stand” to make the bag sit upright when resting on a surface, an expandable bottle holder, a clip for keys, an an add-on changing pod for wipes, etc. You could use this bag as your primary changing station at home and/or when away.

  • Gathre Mats

    • These wonderful mats come in various sizes and colors/patterns. They are easy to roll up and wipe down, and are perfect as changing surfaces, play mats, under-the-highchair mats, picnic blankets, and more.

  • Folding Tub

    • West is 2 and still adores his folding tub. We use it for his baths in our standup shower or in the garden, and he also uses it as a sensory/water activity basin.

  • MamaRoo

    • The MamaRoo takes up less space than a traditional baby swing. West was constantly in his for naps and entertainment until he was around 7 months or so.

  • Folding Play Gym

    • West was a big fan of this folding gym, which only takes a second or two to set up or collapse. We customized ours with little instruments and additional activities, too.

  • Folding Climbing Triangle

    • West uses his constantly— see a photo on this recent post. It folds up (as shown below) within about 10 seconds.

 Above: West’s climbing arch folded up in our main room. Expanded view   here  .

Above: West’s climbing arch folded up in our main room. Expanded view here.

  • Folding Play/Dining Table + Chairs

    • This set is lightweight and practical, and takes up very little space when collapsed. West uses it as a surface for a bit of everything, from activities to dining to sensory activities.

  • Rolling Book Cart

    • We very much enjoy our rolling book carts, which West totes all over our home and porch. Note: If your child climbs on everything, this might not be the best option for you, as these carts aren’t attached to a wall and can topple. (West is a climber, but has never pulled on his carts.)

  • Inserts for Cloth Diapers

    • We use Grovia diapers with bioliners, which catch solids for easy removal.

  • ErgoBaby Carrier 

    • You can skip the stroller at first if you use a baby sling or carrier. I like the Ergo brand carriers, which grow/adapt with your child, lasting until they’re around 45 lbs.

  • Booster Seat with Tray Highchair 

    • Highchairs take up a lot of space. Folding options aren’t a bad idea, but feeding booster seats strap on to your existing chairs and have a food tray, so you don’t need to make space for an entirely new, wideset chair.

  • Travel / Compact Toys

    • Travel toys are great options for everyday use in a small home or apartment. I love the handmade offerings by SoHandmade, who I discovered on Etsy.

  • Timberchild Plates (2) + Teether First-Feeder Spoons (2)

    • We first tried a suction plate and bowl, but West could always remove them within minutes. So we swapped those for a set of wooden bowls, along with handmade wooden plates by Timberchild. They’re so beautiful that I never mind seeing them out on the counter, drying or waiting to be cleaned.

  • PuraStainless Insulated Bottles

    • We prefer these bottles because they’re not made of plastic, and they have adaptable tops, allowing them to grow with your child simply by replacing the nipple/straw/cap.

  • Wonderfold Collapsible Wagon

    • I did an entire post about our wagon here. We’ve loved it from the start, and continue to use it daily.

  • Handmade Puzzles + Blocks + Rings

    • Etsy was (and still is) my favorite source for handmade, wooden toys.

  • Custom-sized Table Tent

    • No room for a pop-up tent or play fort in your home? These handmade, custom-sized table tents are basically tablecloths that double as playful hideaways for your kid(s)! West and the pups have used theirs for about a year now, and I suspect it will get much more use in the years to come.

  • Books, Books, Books

    • First Months: Cloth Books (Buy new since infants chew on them.)

    • Months 6-12: Board Books (Buy new and/or get hand-me-downs from family, as these are chewed upon as well.)

    • Months 12+: Board and Picture Books (These are great to borrow from your local library once your child no longer rips pages.)

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A Look Inside: Food Wrap Storage

Many of you have asked for an unstyled look inside our drawers and cubbies here at the Cottage to show how we store our homewares. Since The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released a bleak and urgent report concerning the health of our planet, I figured toady’s entry could show how we almost always stick to reusable food wraps and baggies, and how we accommodate them in our tiny house. While we don’t use any clever tactics for stashing these items, I’ll share a few no cost (or low cost) space-savvy methods towards the end of this post as well.

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We’re lucky enough to have several drawers in our kitchen. (I’ve lived in numerous apartments that had 0-2 drawers, and I know that can be a struggle.) We don’t need to stash much in terms of our baggies and wraps, so we’re able to fit everything in a shallow space between the range and refrigerator.

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We have a roll of foil (and we reuse sheets as often as possible) along with some wax paper, but other than that, all of our baggies, wraps and kitchen linens are reusable/non-disposable.

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Above: About 6 reusable bags in 3 different styles are all we need for snacks for the entire family. (We also have a PlanetBox, and some stainless steel to-go containers.)

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Above: Beeswax wrap folds or rolls up tight, leaving more room in your kitchen than a standard roll of cling wrap.

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Above: We have two, roomy waxed bread bags. We use them for fresh loaves of bread about twice per week.

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Above: Waxed brown paper bags help us carry miscellaneous little goods. We only use about one per month and could go without them, but they’ve turned out to be fun with West for a myriad of mini items and snacks.

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Above: Mesh produce bags consume less space than plastic bags. They can be washed easily, and are great for stashing in a drawer until needed, and/or in your daily backpack or handbag.

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Above: Linen bowl covers are pretty, lightweight, slim, and eco-friendly. Since they simply pop over your everyday dining and cooking bowls, there’s no need to buy extra storage containers for your basic, everyday leftovers.

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Above: Our Ambrosia Bags, which I shared in this post, are also kept in this drawer when not in use. They help us preserve our produce longer, greatly reducing our food waste.

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Above: I have an entire “Bake House” bag set, handmade by Peg and Awl. I use these for a bit of everything, from carrying full market groceries, to transporting little pastries for West.

STORAGE
If you’re struggling to fit all of these items in your compact kitchen, first explore what items you can potentially live without, and consider donating those to a nearby non-profit. If you don’t have an available drawer as we do and are seeking some no-cost, simple storage solutions, see two examples below— one from our neighbor’s home, and one from the Cottage.

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Above: Our neighbor, @ZiaFinds, who lives in a tiny cottage like ours, simply keeps her baggies and loose wrap grouped together in a net bag hanging beside aprons in her kitchen.

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Above: An illustration from our upcoming book Small Space Style demonstrating an easy, no-cost way to store boxes of foils, wraps and baggies on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. Want to go green? Good news— it’s just as easy, and is FAR better for the environment. Simply nail or tack an old magazine file (as seen on the right) or a similarly slim box on the inside of the cabinet door and fill that with your reusables instead of disposables.

Explore more posts from our “A Look Inside” series:

Embracing the Occasional Minimalism Fail

While I’m not a minimalist, I clearly find great joy in the simplicities of living in a small space with fewer belongings. However, every now and then I fail big time and take the plunge on a grand item. (The last time I did this was when I purchased our back patio dining set, after years of sticking to folding picnic tables and chairs.) This time around, I succumbed to buying an outdoor “mud kitchen” for West in honor of him starting pre-school. (More on that below.)

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For months, we’ve been setting up a makeshift water/activity table for West. He still loves that little pop-up play station, but we decided to get him an outdoor “mud kitchen” for different reasons.

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For months now he’s been tearing up the porch planters. He’ll crouch over them for long stretches of time, sifting wood chips from toy truck to toy truck. I don’t mind happy messes, but dealing with mounds of dirt and wood chips scattered around the play porch rugs and being tracked into the house was getting tiresome.

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So, after lengthy deliberations, Adam and I opted to get our son a full gardening station for sorting, splashing, and making a proper mess.

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We outfitted it with rocks, old and new stainless steel accessories, his beloved mini trucks, some hand-me-down gardening accessories, and hanging baskets from his old closet nursery.

 Above: West gives his grandparents (in Florida) a FaceTime tour of his new table.

Above: West gives his grandparents (in Florida) a FaceTime tour of his new table.

I’m so glad we decided to go for it. West absolutely loves the table, which we unveiled for him at at the time he began attending part-time pre-school. Our timing was very deliberate. We wanted him to understand that even though he’ll be apart from us a few days per week (for the first time ever), that his home is always waiting for him, and overflowing with love.

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So far the transition to part-time preschool has been a painless one. Adam began taking West to the school twice per week over the past 4 months, so when the day came for West to attend alone he was already familiar with the staff, students, and indoor/outdoor environment of the school.

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However, our son is still home with us for the majority of the week. And since this is also my office, it’s great to have this compact play zone just beyond the stoop. West can make a mess, enjoy his favorite activities, and play with us or independently, depending on his mood.

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Simple items like mixing bowls, cutting boards, garden supplies, and stainless steel restaurant accessories are the perfect, simple supplies for the “mud kitchen.”

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When paired with a few small and affordable toys, this little area sparks hours of imaginative, outdoor play.

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part VI)

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. 

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. Habits shift, tastes change, lives and practices evolve. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone.

The following is just a small sampling of everyday items you might want to reconsider.

Microwave
How have I not discussed this one before? We don’t have a microwave in the Cottage kitchen. I didn’t have one prior to moving here, either. You can use your oven/range for pretty much everything. If the extra prep-time gets to you, try to convert those minutes of waiting into productive chunks of time by using them to water your plants, stretch and breathe deeply, read, clean, call your loved ones, or read a book with your child. 

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Television
I know some folks can’t imagine living without a TV, but if you’re on the fence then give skipping the tube a try! It’s incredible how many hours you’ll get back when you’re not watching commercials or flipping through channels. I have a large iMac for work, and every now and then Adam and I will use it for a movie night since nearly everything is online now anyway. Our time on this Earth is short and precious— let’s try to be more mindful of when and what we watch. 

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Matching Pairs
If you’re in a small space, chances are you probably had to scrap the concept of matching nightstands and lamps long ago. I find that out-of-the-ordinary or multi-purpose side tables are much more interesting than matching sets. And tabletop lamps take up so much space. Get creative with your bedside accent furnishings and lighting alternatives to save inches and reduce the number of items you feel inclined to purchase.

Subwoofer
Music is one of the greatest joys in life, but bulky and fragmented audio system components aren’t necessary for the casual listener. And for those of us in small spaces, the idea of having high-tech audio capabilities is likely highly unnecessary anyway— a small, decent quality bluetooth speaker is likely more than enough to provide you with enjoyable sound throughout your tight square-footage. (Since 2013 we’ve had the same white “Big JamBox” over our kitchen cabinets next to our security system, and it sounds great throughout the entire Cottage, porch and stoops.)

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Clocks
While many types of clocks are beautiful works of functional art, they are no longer vital accessories for most homes and apartments. For better or worse, our devices tell us the time, wake us with reliable alarms, and also function as stopwatches and timers. 

Curtain Tie Backs
There are so many ways to keep a curtain cinched without buying a dedicated piece of hardware and tieback. You can simply gather your window linens with basic twine, or even knot the fabric. (For our bedroom curtains, we use a loop or rope that we secure to a piece of driftwood I drilled into the wall.)

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Shower Caddy
The more bath products you buy, the more cluttered your shower gets, and the more ledges you’ll need to accommodate the bottle build-up. Challenge yourself to stick to the basics, and you might find that you no longer need any storage accessories in the shower.

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Bassinet
There are so many beautiful mini-cribs, bassinets, bedside sleepers, and pack-and-plays out there. Do what’s best for your family and infant. We had a mini crib and I loved it, but if we decide to have another child, I suspect that I’ll stick with the Dock-A-Tot in lieu of a compact crib. It’s also portable, and it functions as a changing pad, activity gym, and tummy time surface, so it’s a win-win-win-win-win-win.

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Our Youngest Resident Turns 2

And just like that, the youngest resident of the Cottage turned 2.

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As with every major celebration here at home, we tried to center the events around each other and our shared experience, rather than tilting the focus towards “stuff.” However, a few days before West’s birthday, we received a beautiful, handmade, folding (and thus space-savvy) climbing ladder and board from Wiwiurka Toys, and it rightfully (and delightfully) stole the show.

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Other than enjoying the new climbing gym, we spent most of the day slowly rolling the cargo bike through the nearby, annual Abbot Kinney Festival, reading “new” library books, and paddling down the canals during sunset.

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Instead of buying new books for West and wrapping them in disposable paper, I decided to borrow a stack of books from the county library, and bundle them up in one of my scarves. This gift didn’t cost a penny, it produced no waste, and was every bit as fun for West to unwrap, discover, and dive into as a pricey gift in specialty wrappings. (And the books will spark happiness for weeks.)

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West was also given some musical greeting cards from our family members. We love these because they keep our squirmy son entertained during diaper changes.

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Our sunset paddle was a particularly gorgeous one— the sky was thick with layered gold and pink clouds.

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After floating home, West ate a slice of pumpkin pie (in lieu of a birthday cake), and he blew out a candle for the first time.

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Happy birthday, lil’ West. Our love for you is beyond anything I could’ve ever possibly imagined.

Easy + space-savvy + attractive, eco-friendly bathroom swaps

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It’s easy to be tricked into thinking that reusable goods consume more space than disposables, and thus are not small space friendly. However, I find the opposite to be true! Let’s look at some quick, affordable, and effortless bathroom swaps. If you select your eco-friendly bath items carefully, not only will they take up less storage space and fewer surfaces inches, but they’ll also look better than their single-use or plastic counterparts.

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Shampoo + conditioner bars are becoming increasingly available. I found mind on Etsy, and will continue to test out various types instead of buying disposable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. And a simple wall-mounted, hanging or standard wooden soap dish is all one needs to accommodate these bars.

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Adam and I recently made the switch to Leaf (for me) and Rockwell (for him) razors. Up front the cost is higher, but over time they save so much money and reduce a ton of unnecessary waste. (And let’s be real— they’re far prettier on the eyes than loud plastic designs.)

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Reusable ear cleaning tips are arguably more effective than Q-tips, and are easy to clean and require far less storage space.

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Machine-washable cotton rounds are every bit as effective as disposables. They’re a one-time purchase that can last a lifetime. No need to store backups. 10 or so should be just fine if you do laundry at least once per week.

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Refillable floss and recyclable metal toothpaste tubes are lighter on the environment. Like everything else here, they take up no extra space and, in my opinion, look great on counters and shelves.

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Reusable tissues can serve as miscellaneous cloths as well. We keep small baskets of them stashed around the Cottage. No need to buy and store tissues, tissue box covers, or wipes.

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Adam just can’t quite get into using a bar of soap at our sinks, but obviously that would be the least wasteful way for us to go. Until we find a nearby refill station to which we can bike to replenish our inventory of cleaning supplies, we’ve started refilling containers here at home with liquid soaps instead of buying entirely new bottles.

Some other easy swaps include:

Hosting Overnight Guests in Your Small Home

In the 7+ years that we’ve lived here in our little home, we’ve hosted dozens of overnight guests. Most stay for just a night or two, but we’ve had folks stay longer, too— anywhere from 5 nights to 3 weeks. (If we can do it, so can you!)

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It’s less about perfection than it is about consideration. It’s not likely that your visitor will be concerned about whether or not the bed is made with flawless hospital corners, but they probably will care about having a place to hang their towel, change their clothes, tuck their bag(s) out of the way, and sleep through the variations of noise and light that are inevitable when sharing a small space overnight.

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The guest room is, of course, our main room, which serves as our entryway, living room, dining room and office. Recently we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to welcome a family member for a short stay, so I snapped some photos of the “guest room” setup prior to his arrival. I’ve also included some images from a Rue Magazine story I did several years back, which was photographed by the wonderful Kimberly Genevieve.

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Bedding Storage & Organization
We stash our guest bedding in the coffee table / trunk by the couch. Sheets for a Single-size mattress fit perfectly on our larger cushion. We also have a spare set of sheets for our Queen bed stashed in there, and those come in handy if we want to put the two main couch cushions on the floor and unite them to create a larger bed. With both sets of bedding I store the fitted and flat sheets within the set’s pillowcase. This helps keep everything compact and organized. 

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Curtain Storage
We like to string up a privacy curtain for our guests, and do so by simply spanning and tacking twine between sensible points on nearby walls. I either pin a lightweight throw blanket to the twine, or borrow the curtains from our bedroom for the evening. No need to buy a dedicated set! During the day, we either slide or pin the linens back, depending on the setup. We’re always sure to leave enough space between the couch and the curtain so that our guest has space to stand and walk along the sofa, and doesn’t feel crowded.

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Luggage
I supply a folding stool as a luggage stand, and/or empty out the trunk so that our guests have a place to put their bags. 

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Clothes & Towels
We suspend hand-painted hangers and basic S-hooks from the moulding near the couch to provide our visitors with a place to hang their outerwear, towels, and/or dress clothes.

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Little Considerations
Having items such as eye masks, earplugs, a phone charger, water, and local literature handy is a good way to help your overnight guests feel comfortable in your tiny home or apartment. 

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Lighting
Since we don’t have much room for tabletop fixtures or floor lamps, I like to keep battery-operated candles or twinkle lights near the pop-up guest bed so that there’s always a safe source of adequate lighting within arm’s reach.

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Toiletries 
We clear off a cubby in the bathroom so that there’s ample space for our visitor’s dopp kit, brushes and more. That way they don’t feel as though they have to pack and unpack their toiletries multiple times per day due to lack of space in the living area.

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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 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 over 200 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: 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: