Now that West is sleeping in his “big kid bed,” Adam and I figured it was time to address a few issues we’ve been having around the couch, starting with aspects of the built-in shelving. As such, we outfitted the exposed cubbies in our main room with custom drawers that allow us to use the entire height, width and depth of the cavity. (This is what these ledges looked like for 7+ years prior to this lil’ update. I very much liked the relaxed, natural look, but it just wasn’t the most efficient use of the interior space.)
I intended to add drawer pulls of some sort (probably vegetable-tanned leather) to the front, but West has had so much fun putting pebbled and crayons in the finger outlets recently that I haven’t had the heart to change them quite yet. Plus they match the holes in the under-sofa storage doors, and they are most likely keeping our son from pulling the drawers out onto the floor (and onto his adorable feet). Meh, I’m in no rush.
I am so accustomed to seeing the old baskets there that these white, squared-off drawers make me feel a bit like I’m at Space Camp. But They brighten up the space, and they’re so much more useful.
While I’m always an advocate for fewer belongings over more storage, it made no sense for us to continue to ignore the inches being lost by the baskets, which only filled up about 2/3 of the cubbies. Now this funny little built-in zone feels cavernous to us.
The middle drawer holds my office supplies, such as envelopes, tech dopp kits, and a few small accessories in pouches.
The top is where we keep StanLee and Sophee’s pet bags, deshedding brush, harnesses for the cargo bike and car, and specialty collars (like a safety collar and the one StanLee wore during our home wedding). I also keep a lint roller in here, though I plan to switch to a sustainable brush once this one is worn out or chewed up.
The bottom drawer holds West’s wooden train track parts. (The apple basket in which they were stored before made a perfect plant holder for a new variegated rubber plant that we found at Venice Plants.)
I’m always amazed by what an impact a tiny change like this can have on the appearance and function of a space our size.
From a mini-crib, to a Dock-a-Tot, to bed-sharing, we’ve tried a few different sleep environments on for size here to see what works best for our lil’ family and space. I wrote a comprehensive post on that topic here, in which I explain why (and when) we made the decisions we did. Now that West is 2y3mo old, we feel as though it’s time to get him comfortable with his own bed, even though we’re not fully shutting the door on bed-sharing.
For a while, we debated: Do we craft a mini-Murphy bed in the closet? Do we create a daybed-style built-in? Do we make a fold-out platform at the foot of the bed? Ultimately we decided on the simplest course of action— a bumper pillow for the couch.
While this particular move won’t land us in any decor magazines (what— no picturesque telescoping guard-rail or accordion extension on the build-ins?!), it is easy, affordable and practical. And while it’s admittedly not the most aesthetically-rewarding choice, it’s not an eyesore either. Plus it’s easy to for others to recreate in their own small homes or apartments, without requiring extra inches or big budgets.
When we make our bed in the morning, we slip the bumper out of sight against the headboard behind our normal pillows. Unless the linens need to be washed, the mattress protector and fitted sheet fit within a repurposed plastic bag, and are stashed under the bed or sofa. West’s Ketzal Blanket folds up and remains by the couch, while his Parachute Baby Quilt + Pillow go onto our bed, as they always have.
(Ah, Sophee, why must you stick your nose in EVERYTHING? Please note that we do not leave plastic bags out where the pups or our son can get to them. This repurposed storage bag is usually tucked safely away unless actively in-use. Safety first, folks!)
The whole thing takes about 5 minutes to set up / and 5 minutes to break down. Adam or I encourage West to join us so that he can find joy and pride in the process of constructing his own space at night, and deconstructing it for the entire family’s use in the morning.
By adding books (which West chooses every night), a hand-me-down rotating nightlight gifted by his cousins, and a few plushies (which we only bring out at bedtime so that the dogs don’t mistake them for their toys), the space instantly becomes West’s own little zone.
We are really relaxed when it comes to hid bedtime routine. We go through the same motions nearly every night, but we are flexible with time and place.
If he is sleepy and wants to get in bed at 7, great. If it’s more like 8, that’s fine, too. If he wants to read 10 books instead of 5, we go for it. And if he’s only in the mood for a single story and wants to sing and watch the night lamp rotate in lieu of finishing the stack of books, we do that together instead.
Similarly, we ask him which bed he prefers. He can choose his “big kid bed” on the couch, or the “family bed.” This has allowed him to naturally gravitate towards his dedicated sleep space comfortably and at his own pace. He chooses it now more than our family bed, and is clearly excited about his independence. There was no fighting, no bribery, no pleading, and and no struggling to stick to arbitrary rules. West still loves getting in bed and falling asleep, as he did before— it remains easy and delightful for everyone.
As far as noise and light are concerned once our son falls asleep… we lucked out. The kid seems to be blissfully immune. (I discussed this more comprehensively in our bed-sharing post from January 2018.)
When we have visitors over after our son’s bedtime, if we’re hosting an overnight guest, or if West has a rough night, he’s fine to simply sleep in the middle of our built-in queen bed in the bedroom instead, as he’s done for years. The great thing about bed-sharing for so long is that West contentedly falls asleep nearly anywhere and in any reasonable conditions, and he isn’t upset by change.
I know that many people can’t imagine parenting life without a crib— I completely get it, and I’m not advocating for or against any sleep methods or tools. But it has been such a happy surprise to discover that 12+ hours of sleep per night for West is doable thanks to inexpensive and space-savvy gear, such as a Dock-a-Tot (initially) and now the bumper.
While we’ve had fun trying out and reviewing other methods and products (both for our lifestyle and for our business), we continue to learn over and over that pared-down and simple solutions are usually the best for our family and our tiny home.
I moved West’s folding table from the porch back into the Cottage today, as he hadn’t been using the setup too often lately. Thanks to the minor change of scenery, he suddenly fell in love with the table again, and played here for hours.
One of my goals for 2019 is to reinvent/repair/repurpose far more, so this has been the perfect way to spend the first evenings of the new year.
When he outgrows this piece, we can fold it away and stash it in the back of the closet when it’s not needed, but still continue to use it regularly in other ways around the house and on adventures.
Here’s to making it work with what we’ve got. It is better for our wallets, better for the planet, and can even spark a lil’ creativity.
You wouldn’t know it upon first glance, but the main room of our cottage is filled with a reasonable amount of books and toys— they’re simply hidden in plain sight.
Rather than opting for traditional “toy storage,” we simply use items from around the house, or pieces we’ve found locally or via Etsy that suit our aesthetic while being easy for West to open and close.
By breaking the storage up throughout the space where possible, we’ve eliminated the need for bulky, dedicated playroom trunks and similar storage furnishings.
It only takes a few minutes for our home to turn into a disaster zone. But, luckily, one joy of a tiny house is that it only takes about takes about 3-10 minutes to put everything back together again.
While we strive to only purchase responsibly-sourced and ethically-produced eco-friendly toys and accessories, we are also fine with using hand-me-down plastic and metal toys, because if the products are already out there we might as well put them to good use. They’re already sunk goods, so there’s no point in sending them directly to a landfill where they’ll sit until the end of time. Our hope is to pass on all items to friends, families in need, and places like the library where they’ll live out new adventures.
Between a woven suitcase, a book trolley, a built-in drawer, and a few baskets, we can accommodate nearly every toy West uses on a daily basis right here in our mini home without it looking or feeling overwhelming.
In less than 400 square feet, we’re lucky to have, not one, but two beautiful skylights. The window over the main room (which is the space that serves as our living room, kitchen, office, dining room, playroom, guest room, entryway, and more,) is generously sized, and is the unsung hero of our lil’ home. It permits the SoCal sunlight to pour abundantly into nearly every area within the Cottage.
I can’t imagine our house without this skylight, but during the winter months it poses a bit of a challenge for my workspace. The sun moves in a path that lands smack on my monitor for about two crucial hours of the workday (10-12), meaning that I can’t shoot, adjust photos, or edit videos at my desk during that time.
Obviously this is a great problem to have, and clearly there are several easy work-arounds, such as moving the iMac or using the laptop. But more often than not, I end up jumping up on the roof and throwing an old tablecloth over the window so I can continue my work uninterrupted.
I took to Instagram Stories to make fun of myself for doing this when my friend Hilton Carter (the talented creator of Jungle By The Falls) sent me a DM suggesting that perhaps I block the bulk of the temporary, problematic light with… plants. (I’ve suspended plants from our beams before, but I’d never, ever thought to dangle them from the skylight as a decorative solution to harsh sunlight.)
I’m a big fan of Hilton’s. He possesses such a rare blend of talent, humor, kindness, creativity, and style. (And his feature in our book, Small Space Style, is one of my absolute favorite parts of the entire publication.)
Problem solved— and solved simply and beautifully, with minimal purchasing.
The tension rod and s-hooks are only clearly visible if you’re standing directly under the skylight when the plants aren’t in the baskets. Within moments, everything can be scooted over to block transitioning sunlight, or taken down for watering or alternative placement.
And hallelujah— I can finally see my desk for the duration of the workday!
Thank you, Hilton. (As always.) Our house is a happier place because of you!
Ah, storage. While I believe that we should strive for fewer belongings (as opposed to more containment methods), stylish and space-savvy storage is undeniably something we can’t entirely do without. As a result, I have a mild love-hate feeling about crates, baskets, buckets, and bins (of which I admittedly have several).
With the new year around the corner, folks are forming lifestyle resolutions and establishing fresh habits in their homes. The urge to tidy, downsize and start anew is widely shared at the close of the holidays, so curbing clutter while beatifying the home will undoubtedly lead many to seek out organizational/storage accents. For those living in limited square-footage, operating with a tight budget, and trying to be more environmentally-minded with their purchases, the options narrow.
Well-designed storage can get fairly pricy, and pieces are often made of synthetic materials. And some moments in life require more storage than others, but then there’s no place to stash typical containers in a small home or apartment when they’re no longer necessary for the time-being. Inevitably you end up getting rid of them, only to need more later down the line. (The cycle rolls on.)
Washable paper bags are clever options for customizable, affordable, simple, eco-friendly, easily-to-clean, small space storage.
Depending on the design and format, washable paper bags can be used for nearly everything: toiletries storage, laundry, plants, pantry goods, toys, tabletop organization and display, and even as a market tote.
When you no longer need them, they fold flat to fit on a bookshelf, in a drawer, or behind stacked items such as cutting boards or books, where they wait unobtrusively to be called into action once again in the future.
There are numerous makers on Etsy selling washable paper bags, and there’s also UASHMAMA, which makes a myriad of additional items from washable paper. Their designs look and feel like leather, but washe with ease and stay soft while remaining resilient. They’re also made of a cultivated fibre and does not contribute to deforestation.
We use washable paper bags everywhere around the house lately. The applications are ever-changing, without being wasteful.
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— particularly during the holidays, when “stuff” just of all sorts just seems to swell. 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 travel items you may want to reconsider. (View all the entries in this series here.)
The Overzealous Skincare Routine
At home and on-the-go, I used to use an obnoxious (and expensive + space-space-consuming) number of products: makeup remover, face wipes, cleanser, toner, face oil, serum, add-in powders for the serum, moisturizer, under-eye cream, sunscreen, and primer. It was absurd, costly, cumbersome, and wreaking havoc on my skin. Meanwhile, Adam had his small arsenal of products as well. We finally look a long-overdue plunge and tried Vintner’s Daughter, and it instantly became my favorite for many reasons.
When my hormones went wild after West stopped nursing at 18 months, this little bottle of magic saved the day. (I’ve not had a notable breakout since, nor have I had to visit the dermatologist or get a corrective facial.) Adam and I can BOTH use Vintner’s Daughter. Despite it’s higher price tag, it ultimately saves us money by reducing the number of products we buy. Plus it helps us greatly cut back on waste from packing/shipping/trash, time spent our morning and bedtime routines, and it preserves space within our home. The bottle lasts for months, yet is small enough to slip into your pocket. Now I remove makeup with a dedicated reusable wipe, wash with a mild bar soap, apply toner via a washable cotton round, use Vintner’s Daughter, and, when needed, top off with a clear sunscreen that can double as a primer. VOILA. (Adam does the same, but uses his own SPF-moisturizer afterward.)
These silly things always, always make me laugh… until I imagine how many are likely disposed of between trips, and how many new ones are purchased daily. Try rolling up a scarf or a sweater… or dare we simply make-do with ever-so-mild discomfort for a few hours and then move on with our clutter-free lives.
If you have a regular scale at your home, then you have a luggage scale. If your bags are hard to weight by themselves, just weight yourself with each suitcase in your arms, and then subtract your weight sans-suitcase. My 5 year old nephew can manage it— you got this.
Disposable Makeup Remover Wipes
I was guilty of keeping a stash of these disposable goods in my bedside drawer, in the medicine cabinet, and in my travel toiletries pouch for years. Then, recently, we were paddling down the canals and I saw a crane pecking the discarded plastic packaging from the same product. So… no more. I now have three reusable makeup remover pads, which can be washed up to 200 times each. If I’m wearing particularly stubborn eye makeup after a en event or shoot, I just use a bit of coconut oil on a washable cotton round and it’s managed.
Pre-Packaged Travel Convenience Kit
These drugstore kits are usually filled with plastic bottles containing filler-laden formulas with toxic ingredients. And, most likely, you probably don’t even need (or want) all the products, but accept them as a bundle. Invest in a few reusable travel-sized bottles and containers instead— then just syphon off an appropriate amount of your everyday necessities within them and go. Sample sizes work well for this, too.
I’m not going to lie— we have these. I bought a handmade trio for our first trip out of the country with West, simply because I was so excited about the journey. But it was silly of me. As long as you keep your passport safe while at home and on the go, you don’t need a dedicated cover. And, according to NPR, e-pickpocketing by RFID-hackers can be blocked by wrapping your wallet, cards, or passports in aluminum foil when you’re in places in which they’re potentially more vulnerable. (Consumer Reports claims that this works just as well as most RFID protectors on the market.) Our passport envelopes are pretty for sure, but we really only see them for a minute or so per year. I should’ve taken that bit of money and put it into West’s education account instead.
What? No. These are on par with neck pillows. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you require a deck of cards to carve a path through your social interactions during long rides.
Some people have injuries and conditions that require special gear for travel. However, if you don’t have a medical issue, then you probably don’t need things like airplane footrests. Can you prop your feet on your under-the-seat bag or nearby hardware? Can you perhaps walk up and down the aisle, or do some basic stretches if you get achy? I have faith that most folks can make-do without their own suspended footrest.
I wrap up my shoes when I travel, but I do so with washable canvas totes, cotton drawstring sacks, or even the unfortunate plastic bags that still come with various deliveries. (Does your dry cleaner wrap your attire in plastic, even when you’ve asked them not to? You might as well get some more milage out of it all… better than just throwing it directly in the trash, right?)
These dedicated blankets roll up tight into their own clever little built-in pouches, but they’re likely unnecessary, and usually manufactured in conditions and with materials much like fast-fashion apparel. Just use your coat or an oversized large scarf when you get a bit chilly in-flight or on a drive. Adam, West and I wear our larger LSA scarves (as seen above in a photo by Sebastian Artz) when we travel for this exact purpose.
Travel Accessories With Which I’m Unapologetically, Totally on Board
I personally like the following because I use them to stay organized every day, whether in our tiny home or when we’re away:
We’re not big on screens for entertainment here— we don’t even have a television. Adam and I do, of course, stream shows or movies from time to time on the computer, but that’s about it. I didn’t have much access to TV when I was younger, as my family lived in the middle of nowhere and there were only 3 channels. So sitting for hours in front of the tube has never felt natural for me. As such, my son has extremely limited screen time.
I want to offer up-front that screen time is a personal decision based on a multitude of factors. I’m neither judging, nor on a soap box— I’m simply sharing our reality. Adam and I work from home and have only have 1 child, and all three of us are healthy and able-bodied. As such, it has been easy for us to stick to our plan as far as screen time is concerned. This is certainly not the case for many families. To each his/her/their own— we are all trying to do our best!
West is never allowed a device in the car. If he gets upset, we pull over. By his carseat, he has a divided basket of books, window clings, and soft toys that he can access on his own as he chooses.
He’s also not permitted to watch an iPad or iPhone during a meal. If he loses his cool, we take him outside the restaurant until he calms down, and very rarely we just abruptly pack up and head home. We almost always use a to-go kit of books and activities at restaurants to keep him interested when his attention to the meal and conversation wanes. (More on that below.)
When West wiggles wildly during diaper changes, we give him audio/mechanical greeting cards to keep him entertained.
Adam and I do let our toddler watch an 8 minute episode of Sarah and Duck or Puffin Rock after he showers while I’m brushing out his long, messy curls and clipping his nails, because otherwise I think he’d be terrified of that somewhat uncomfortable routine. And, occasionally in the early evenings when Adam is making dinner and I’m not yet done with work, West gets to watch an episode. When he was sick with a fever recently, he watched The Snowy Day. He also uses FaceTime with family for however long the conversations happen to run.
I frequently post Instagram Stories showing West at restaurants with his little to-go trunk of books and activities, and I’ve received many inquiries about the contents of the bundle, so I’m sharing details via this post.
While we change the items up slightly every week to keep things interesting, the collection usually contains these or similar items. West is nearly 2yr3mo, and has been using some variation of this kit for about a year. I’d say that 9/10 times, it keeps him happy and engaged for an hour-long meal or event.
I read Bringing Up BéBé when I was pregnant, and wondered if I’d stay on-track with raising a child who was content to sit, eat and interact with the rest of the group at dinner. While I’ve fallen short of that thus far, I gotta say that dining out is still totally delightful and manageable… most of the time. (On occasion, it feels like running a marathon. But c’est la vie.)
Another thing I like about the to-go kit is that it helps us cut back on waste. A refillable little stainless steel ramekin is enough for his water or ice cubes, so he doesn’t need a restaurant sup-cup. A few items, such as his magnet-box and mini-mat easily double as a placemat or plate, so we’re not likely to break any porcelain.
A chewable silicon straw and set of bamboo cutlery or a stainless folding spork helps keep him safe while allowing him to engage with his meal like the big kids he so admires. Some chalk and/or a roll-up crayon pack allows us to politely decline new, individually packaged sets often handed out at the host stand.
The toys are a mix of things we were given, picked up at local shops, or nabbed as hand-me-downs. Everything is a success— particularly the pack of magnetic blocks (not pictured).
We keep everything in a sturdy and beautiful Steamline Luggage train case that has traveled with us via train, plane, bike, stroller, wagon, and car, but we’ll sometimes syphon off bits and pieces into a mini canvas bag that West can carry himself when he wants.
Both containers fit easily in our tiny home, and work with our decor as well.
If we’re going to an event with a bit of room, we bring his combo play-mat + storage bag instead. While he doesn’t stick to it, it’s a good rallying spot for kids and toys, and takes mere seconds to gather up and go.
I hope this helps!
For most of the year, I appreciate the ways in which our lil’ home encourages us to get outside and enjoy our neighborhood and be involved in the community. But, with longer stretches of night and colder days, we love staying in— or at least staying close. Looking back at the photos in my camera roll from the past week or so, it’s apparent that our tiny house hibernation has definitely begun for the season.
We’ve discovered a lifestyle balance that works well for our family by creating a space that lovingly reminds us that there’s so much more to the world beyond our walls, while it simultaneously provides us with everything we need and want within this compact square-footage.
We’ll be staying here for the holidays, soaking up the rare quiet that falls over Venice, reading piles of library books with West, strolling slowly with the pups, canoeing through the canals, and biking through the streets to enjoy the twinkling holiday displays.
Below are some iPhone and compact camera shots from December thus far. We’ll be blogging and ‘gramming through the holidays, but we still want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. (And, if you’re feeling in the giving spirit, please consider donating to The RightWay Foundation. Your contribution will go directly to providing our youth with the gift of a safe, warm, and welcoming environment and community, so they won’t be alone for the holidays.)
Photo of West & Whitney in the canoe by Sara Toufali.
I’ve received enough requests for a round-up of space-savvy, beautiful and/or eco-friendly pet goods for the holidays that I though the topic deserved a mini-post.
I unapologetically have stockings for both of my dogs, and even my parents display stockings for StanLee and Sophee at their home in Kanapaha. I think I’m more enthusiastic about giving gifts to our pups than to anyone else, other than West. Our lil’ beagles bring us so much joy on a daily basis— why not return the favor?
Handmade, Updatable Collars
I wish I’d discovered Ike & Stella collars years ago, as they’re easy to update when parts begin to age or fray (meaning that they don’t have to be entirely discarded over the years).
These sturdy leather-and-metal collars have removable (and sometimes washable) decorative + cushioned slide-on sleeves.
I got collars and sleeves for both of the pups, and they’re definitely here to stay— no more wasteful discarding of older collars.
Nesting Pet Stairs
Need a set of space-savvy, well-designed pet stairs? Good news:
Fursatile makes customizable nesting accent stairs/stools that we love. These multi-purpose accent pieces use fabric that is both lovely and durable, capable of resisting stains and spills from pets and kids alike.
If you’re limited on storage space, handmade leashes can be surprisingly pretty if displayed on your walls via hooks when not in use.
Let’s spend more time out and about with our pups (without our eyes glued to our phones)— it’s the most loving gift we could give them.
BioBag makes bags & films made from plant starches, vegetable oils & compostable polymers for organic waste collection for composting.
We’re currently using stainless steel mixing bowls for the pups since West broke all but one of the ceramic pet dishes when he was little. But there are endless, artfully crafted bowls available via Etsy!
We’ve been skipping indoor pet beds these days, opting instead to use easily-washable, layered blankets. (More info on that here.) However, we truly we LOVED our oversized pillow from our neighbors at The Wolf Nest when we had it in the front tiny house. (We humans used it as a floor cushion, too.)
I recently wrote an entire post on pup toys, here.
If you’re cramped for space, nothing can ruin the look of a room (or leave food vulnerable) like an exposed bag of kibble. These tins blend easily into a space, and are available in treat/snack sizes, too. We keep ours on the bottom shelf in the Cottage bath, right next to the water bowl.
How we navigated overnight hosting + holiday decor + rainy weather realities in our tiny house with three adults, one wild toddler, and two active 40-lb dogs over this past week.
There are just three rooms in our miniature home— the bedroom, the bathroom, and the main room. The main room is divided by a low wall into two sections: the kitchen and the living space. The living space is about 10’ x 12’ and operates daily as our sitting room, my full-time office, a play space, and an entryway. However, this compact rectangle also multitasks as a guest room, a dining room, and a pop-up office when needed. (Read about hosting overnight guests in a tiny home, here.)
For the past week, we hosted one of our closest friends (Emily) here at the Cottage. She is the greatest houseguest and the most delightful person in general, so it was an absolute joy to have her here for every precious minute. (She’s one of my nearest and dearest, and was included in my book’s dedication.) But the logistics of her stay in our home could’ve easily become a mess for a variety of reasons...
Between having a sixth being in our small home for a decent stretch of time, accommodating her corresponding luggage (2 carry-ons), our holiday tree, and the rain that kept us all within under 400 sqft for the first part of her vacation (and ensured muddy paw-prints and wet pup hair during the subsequent days), there was a lot going on in the 10’ x 12’ from which I’m writing this post. (Read about the downside of rain and our tiny house, here.)
But with a few adjustments that required minimal effort, the week breezed by too quickly. While we enjoyed many lil’ adventures (a trip to the museum, a paddle on the canals while neighbors decorated bridges overhead for the holidays, bike and scooter rides around Venice, dining out, visits to local shops, reunions with old friends, holiday parties, and strolls down the beaches), I actually wish she could’ve stayed longer.
Here’s how we navigated overnight hosting + holiday decor + rainy weather realities as three adults, one wild toddler, and two active 40-lb dogs in our tiny house:
Rolling, Collapsible & Nesting Furnishings/Accessories
Since moving into the Cottage over 7 years ago, we’ve had the same rattan storage trunk coffee table, and the same white folding dining table. Last month, I decided to make finally make some changes to those pieces to better accommodate our current lifestyle and tastes.
We once needed the storage trunk in order to store our guest bed sheets and throw blankets, but I donated almost all of our spare linens and eliminated the need for that extra storage space. We now keep any throws out on the couch (either folded up or spread over the cushions), and the basic guest bed linens fold up tight and fit within the pillowcase, which I now stash in a protective bag under our bed.
In place of the trunk, we now have a vintage, rolling basket-style table, which I found via @ShopSupermarché. I love this piece for so many reasons beyond its unique appearance. It’s easy to scoot around the house, it offers a perfectly contained play surface for West, and its narrow, metal legs free up the floor in our living room, making the space look bigger.
I can easily roll this new piece of furniture beneath my workspace without removing my desk chair.
Even with the coffee table tucked under my desk, I can nest West’s rolling “Strolley” (which contains his ever-changing collection of library books) and maintain immediate access to everything.
A camping style stool was a perfect luggage stand and kept Emily’s carry-on bags off the ground, making it easier for her to organize and reach her belongings within a dedicated space.
Our new (pre-used) metal folding dining table that I found at a local garden center is longer yet narrower than our previous collapsible dining table, so it offers all the surface space needed for meals while simultaneously freeing up inches to navigate the rest of the room.
We brought in West’s apple baskets of toys/activities from the play porch, as we do whenever it rains. They are easy to slide into spare inches, cavities, and corners around the Cottage.
His drawstring toy-storage play-mat kept little toys contained, and is a breeze to cinch up and hang on the wall.
Extra Guest Bed Considerations
We didn’t want to make and remove Emily’s bed (aka our built-in couch) every day, but we still needed to use the sofa. Due to the rain, I was worried her linens would get destroyed by the dogs and West, who is a big fan of climbing on everything. As such, we draped a large flax Gathre Mat (which we cut into 2 pieces) over the cushions/bedding to keep everything looking relatively normal while also offering protection from mud, pet hair and paw prints, toy truck tires, and chalk-covered hands. Thankfully, the mats functioned as intended.
Blank Space at the Entryway and In the Bathroom
Having zero entry space beyond your front door can be rough in rainy conditions. But we make it work with a machine-washable woven bath mat that we fold horizontally in half. When not in use, I keep it in our bathroom vanity. When in use, it’s basically an interior doormat and boot tray. Our door-mounted key rack temporarily holds a quick-dry travel towel, which we use to wipe down the dogs after walks. It also accommodates umbrellas when needed, as they simply drip down onto the mat until we’ve removed our boots and are able to relocate umbrellas to the shower to dry off there. These adjustments to our 12-inch “entryway” took up none of Emily’s space. (Plus Adam was in Florida for 2 days during Emily’s stay, which helped ease the rain gear build-up.)
In the bathroom, we temporarily cleared a shelf for Emily’s toiletries, and added an extra s-hook to our branch towel rack for her towels. This allowed us to manage rain-soaked clothing and gear, as well as West’s cloth diaper hanging hamper, without cramping the space or consuming the blank space needed for everyone’s daily routines.
Carefully Considered Holiday Decor
We have a 4.5’-tall holiday tree, which we displayed on a slim, tall accent table / plant stand and placed by my desk. It makes the entire main room of our small house look plenty festive. Other than that (and a throw pillow cover), we have no additional holiday decor within the living space. Thanks to the absence of decorative trinkets and seasonal tabletop accents, Emily had the surface space she needed for her things, West had room to play with his toys and scatter his books, and the pups could still romp around per usual— all within the warm glow of the tree’s twinkle lights.
Come back, Emily— we miss you. (And West keeps opening the pocket door and calling out for his “Auntie Shmoo.”)
When you’re living in a compact space, finding suitable toys and gear for babies and toddlers can be difficult if you only search via big box stores and typical bestsellers. The following are some key considerations I’d recommend keeping in mind— particularly if you’re trying to be more eco-friendly this year.
Is the toy beautiful for the adults to see while also being interesting and educational for the child/children? Toys are always left lying around, meaning they’re most likely visible from almost anywhere in a compact apartment or home. It really makes a huge difference if toys are well-designed with colors, materials, and/or shapes that compliment your space.
Can you opt for a hand-me down or vintage piece rather than something new? Plastic and metal toys from decades past are still sitting on this Earth, so why not make repeated use of them and save them from landfills?
Do the manufacturing, packaging and delivery have a light footprint?
Can the item work just as well on-the-go as it does within your home, reducing the number of toys your child requires? Compact books, storage play-mats, roll-up gear, travel games, folding tools, and to-go sets are easy to tuck into a canvas bag and suspend from wall hooks within the house at the end of the day, and can also be tossed effortlessly into strollers and carry-ons when needed.
Is this a piece that can be handed down to a children’s hospital, library, or pre-school after it’s not longer needed in your home?
As always, Etsy is my favorite resource for all things handmade and vintage. (You can even write to the seller to inform them that the packaging doesn’t need to be fancy, decorative or even new, which can help cut back on shipping materials and waste in general.) But there are many other sites and shops to explore, depending on your region, tastes and shopping preferences.
And don’t forget your local library! Borrowing books is a great way to cut back on clutter, waste, and cost— all without disappointing your little one(s).
Here are some items (and similar designs) that we have and love for our son and our home. They are a mix of materials, sources, and production methods. Hopefully you’ll find some options that suit you and yours. Happy holidays!
This blog post was sponsored by Garnet Hill. As always, the images and words are my own. Any photographs of my son and/or the pups were taken as they interacted happily in their own natural ways.
If you’re living in a small space and/or trying to be more eco- conscious, the holidays can feel a bit like a bit of a trap. The idea of additional, decorative home goods, mounds of gifts, and festive attire can squeeze compact square-footage while generating unwanted waste— from production, to transport, to (ultimately) removal.
Plus, when you’re in a region similar to ours here in Southern California, the weather doesn’t help you cut corners. If you want it to look and feel like the romantic start of a snowy-white winter season we see in movies, you have to get creative. To all of this I say— why not embrace a green season?
Here are a few enjoyable and easy ways to welcome a “greener” winter into your home, wardrobe and gifts.
No room to store oversized decor year-round? You’re not alone.
However, throw pillow covers, strands of lights, minimal garlands, and lightweight linens are tiny-yet-mighty ways to liven up your home for the season— particularly when paired with organic decor, such as potted plants and fresh clippings.
Tea towels and mini or lightweight festive throws and covers can be layered on top of your everyday home goods, adding a touch of warmth and forming a seasonal theme. We’ve gotten almost all of our tiny holiday touches from Garnet Hill. Most of these items can be folded away in a small, space-saving travel or “vacuum” bag when not in use.
I stash all manner of holiday strands (lights, bunting, etc.) behind our paperback books on the shelves after the season is through.
Don’t forget to compost or recycle your clippings and other such seasonal greenery per your regions specifications come January 1. (Or even better— opt for potted plants that can take root in your home or garden and become part of the family.
I prefer to gift edible goods and beverages over the holidays, as they take up no space over time, and generate little-to-no waste. But for the rare occasions when I want to gift a more permanent item, I look for eco-friendly, versatile items that can adapt to a myriad of environments and roles.
A simple yet stylish scarf can be worn and put to work in many ways, and can be displayed as functional decor when not in use. A neutral cashmere scarf/wrap, for example, is flexible for numerous wardrobe looks, and can last a lifetime when properly maintained.
Breathable, twisted, two-ply yarns can reduce piling and prolong lifespan, all while getting softer with age. When gifted in tandem with a favorite beverage, a charitable contribution, or locally-grown specialty produce, a gift such as this can be suited to nearly any recipient. Simple twine and/or reusable produce bags or bread pouches are every bit as beautiful as wrapping paper, but can be used as daily household items again and again.
For our little ones: West has finally outgrown the overnight jumpsuits that we relied upon so heavily these past two years (sob!), so we ordered these eco-friendly, stretchy-yet-snug, Green Cotton® pajamas for him. For over a quarter of a decade, the makers of these particular PJs have upheld strict environmental standards for harvesting, processing, dyeing, and finishing their cotton. (West loves their holiday hedgehog set the most.)
My goal is for this set to last him as long as possible, and then either be handed down to a friend’s child, or kept in case we have a second child.
For him: Adam is at home most of the time, though he spends more time with West than I do, and less time at a desk. Since we don’t have want too many items crowding our single, shared closet, he usually wears one of two pairs all day long— so much so that no matter how often we wash them they still seem to maintain a hilarious, lived-in shape. So, as an early holiday gift, I got Adam a long, organic cotton robe, and a pair of plaid pajama pants, which are much cozier for days spent around the Cottage and our garden.
For her: I want to embrace the season with my attire, but I live in sunny SoCal, and I’m always carrying around a child, chasing after the pups, working alone from my home-office, or biking around town. So I need versatile, no-fuss wardrobe staples. Despite the fact that I work from the Cottage, I don’t want to look like a zombie. I find that I’m more confident and more productive when I feel put together, though I never want to spend more than a couple minutes picking out an outfit and getting dressed. (I mean, I found my wedding dress within an hour.)
An organic-cotton plaid shirt in a flattering cut can blend such needs and realities beautifully, and do so without containing harmful pesticides, GMOs, or chemical defoliants. It breathes, it adapts to both warm and cool temperatures, and feels good against your skin all day. It’ll get a lot of milage this time of year, and that’s the whole point.
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— particularly during the holidays, when “stuff” just of all sorts just seems to swell. 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 Holiday items you may want to reconsider. (View all the entries in this series here.)
Love those little warm, battery-operated twinkle lights? Me too! Do you have flameless candles in your child-proofed home? So do we! A great way to cut down own spending and waste is to use rechargeable batteries. A simple 4-slot charger set can usually handle both AA and AAA sized batteries.
Tree Skirt and Tree Pots
Getting a potted, living tree from a responsible grower? Amazing. Depending on your plant nursery, you might even be able to leave their standard plastic pot there for the staff to reuse if you have one on-hand already that you intend to use instead. (Or you can return the pot to the store once you’ve planted your tree.)
Did you get a more traditional tree? Lovely! Challenge yourself to skip a “tree skirt.” Investigate your existing belongings— perhaps you have a washable scarf, Turkish towel, or table runner might work perfectly. Then it can go back to its intended use after the holidays.
Skipping the standard set up? An upcycled wine crate or basket might fit your lil’ tree juuuust right.
Wrapping Paper, Packs of Generic Greeting Cards, and Tags
No need to buy and stash all of those paper goods. Make your own from by repurposing book jackets, newspaper, craft packing paper, canvas shopping bags, tea towels, and more. A bit of twine can cinch it all up with understated elegance, and a creative tag can be made of almost anything— including fallen leaves penned with sharpie or metallic ink.
To me, clever packaging such shows more care than the typical store-bought formats. But if you have any shiny new packaging set aside, go ahead and finally put it all to use… then stop the influx of similar purchases in the future.
Generic heading, I know. But here’s a typical example of what I mean: Did you get an invite to yet another ugly sweater party? Skip the retailer sweater, which you’ll likely wear once and then toss out, or cram into the back of a drawer for 364 days. “Fast fashion” is terrible for the planet, and there’s no reason to spend real money on a moment like this— particularly since other people will probably have shopped in the same place, and be sporting the same attire. Thrift shops usually have a myriad of options, and there’s oftentimes a charitable element that’s threaded through such businesses. As such, you can feel good about supporting their cause via your discounted, second-hand purchase.
Seasonal Tabletop Decorative Tchotchkes
I love the look of those little holiday villages all lit up on a mantle, but they’re a bit silly in a small space. Same goes for random “winter” objects, artificial pine cones and similar vase-fillers, and seasonal figurines.
Want a festive display that looks great on a surface, doesn’t cost much money (if any), and requires zero storage space? Simple winter branches and florals, dunked into an existing glass, pitcher, watering can, or vase. When they’ve passed their prime, simply compost them or drop them in your city’s green bins. (Don’t get me started on seasonal napkin rings and name card holders. Is there anything more unnecessary?)
With some greenery, you can easily holiday-up your small space gatherings without buying themed plates, cups, napkins, etc. Just use your everyday tableware, candles and/or twinkly lighting, and then let the clippings, food, and beverage round out the seasonal experience.
There are endless causes for us to support every day of the year. There are millions of people in need of food, clothing, and safe shelter. There are children lacking basic school supplies. There are folks who need financial support for out-of-the-ordinary medical issues and family emergencies. Consider donations instead of tangible gifts.
If you’d still prefer to give something to your recipient directly, perhaps an experience would be welcome. A museum membership, a quick getaway, or a meal with friends and family are all lovely options.
We all know this, but it’s helpful to remind ourselves that it’s NOT ABOUT THE STUFF. Decorating for the season can be so delightful, but it’s really all about making human connections, giving back to our communities, engaging with one another, loving each other, and sharing the responsibilities of protecting our planet.
My business is centered upon the art of making small and/or tricky spaces into long-term homes. But there are so many people in this world who have never had a steady home.
For years I’ve worked with The RightWay Foundation, which supports current or emancipated foster youth. The RightWay Foundation works with youth ages 18-24 because they are preparing to emancipate or have just "aged out" of the system. Many suffer the consequences of trauma from moving house to house or group home to group home in their childhood, lack the support they need to find a job and keep one, and are unable to secure housing after their housing from the County has now been cut off.
Many of Rightway’s foster youth are pushed into the world without enough resources to ensure their success. Once aging out, youth are facing the harsh realities of the general outcomes for foster youth in California and LA County. This is when they come to The RightWay Foundation.
The RightWay Foundation offers job training services, help with housing, therapy, job placement, financial literacy, career counseling, and education to the transitioning foster youth, and provides them with a welcoming and understanding support system.
Previous Rightway posts:
This blog post was sponsored by S’well. As always, the images and words are my own. Any photographs of my son and/or the pups were taken as they interacted happily in their own natural ways.
I’m often asked how we manage various holidays in our tiny house. (“Where do you store all the stuff year-round? How do you display everything? Can you host, or do you have to go elsewhere?”) While I definitely understand the inquiries, I also find them a tad bit amusing— because, in actuality, it’s all quite simple. By reorienting our focus towards activities (rather than things) and community (rather than staying being our tiny closed doors), our family enjoys our holiday traditions immensely— they just look a bit different here.
With every passing day we’re becoming increasingly focused on reducing our household waste— especially when it comes to what we buy and the businesses we support. I’ve shared much of this journey here on the blog and via Instagram, and there’s certainly been an marked uptick in our passion on the topic since reading recent studies regarding the devastating effects we’ve had on the Earth.
Microplastics are turning up everywhere— even in the food we eat and the beverages we drink. We can do better. We HAVE TO do better for our bodies, our planet, and future generations. This means evaluating everything we buy and use (and then consider discarding)— from our every day sustenance to our holiday decor.
While the climate devastation is a sobering issue, shifting our habits and lifestyle can be downright delightful, as we’ve discovered here at the Cottage.
One of my favorite, easy ways to reduce waste and save money is by using S’well bottles, both here at home and while on-the-go.
As such, I was thrilled when S’well invited me to be a part of their ‘It’s a S’well Life’ campaign, and to share with you how we use (and use and use and use) our S’well products as essentials— everyday and during the holidays.
Our son, West, is two years old. Over Halloween, we realized that he is now old enough to be completely fascinated by holiday decorations, even if he doesn’t yet understand why they’re up.
But rather than covering our own home and garden with seasonal flair, we turn his love of holiday decor into a family scavenger hunt of sorts. We’ll take the dogs and either walk, cargo bike, or canoe around our neighborhood to explore the festive setups our neighbors have taken care to install in their yards.
We also visit markets, brick-and-mortar shops, and pop-up retail / seasonal activity hubs to get an extra dose of spirit.
Going to browse potted trees (which can be replanted after the holidays, avoiding landfills and helping manage heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere!), natural or pop-up ice skating or sledding spots, wreath-making workshops, and local light displays are all options that require little-to-no money. And then we don’t have to bring home anything new to display in our tiny home (and then ultimately throw out or store year-round).
From the library, to night markets, to neighborhood events at the playground, to the beloved annual bridge and boat decorating contest here on the canals, there’s so much to see and do here as an individual, couple, or family.
Nearly every community has SOMETHING going on— you just have to turn off your TV, open your door and GO.
We LOVE hosting in our tiny house.
There’s something about a small space that makes everything feel a touch more festive and special— it’s just so cozy and welcoming.
One of the (many) things I love about S’well is that you can use the same, stylishly-designed pieces in your house and outside of it, minimizing the number of items you own while reducing your dependency on new, single-use plastics and other similar disposable drinkware.
Let’s take active measures together to ensure that we protect our planet for future generations— there’s no greater gift we could give them this holiday season, and beyond.
Recently I asked readers to share their biggest hurdles with decluttering. I was surprised and fascinated by the fact that the number one reply was that it’s tough to get a partner/spouse on-board with the idea of downsizing the household’s possessions. (This response was followed closely in numbers by “sentiment,” which I’ll address in a future post.)
I’ve long taken for granted the fact that my husband and I are on the same page when it comes to a simplified home, so I spent some time considering whether we just hit the jackpot with our lifestyle alignments, or if perhaps we evolved into our shared mindsets in tandem with one another. (I think it’s a bit of both.)
As such, I’m no expert on how to magically transform your significant other into someone who is as enthusiastic about a simplified lifestyle as you are. But I don’t see that as a negative thing— why should we aspire to switch on and off various components of the people we love? But naturally, over time, we can demonstrate first-hand to our partners the overwhelming benefits that a pared-down home can offer, and allow them to form their own opinions from there. (As the saying goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.)
GIVE IT TIME
Decluttering takes time— it’s a rolling series of actions that ultimately result in a significant lifestyle shift. And decluttering only works after you’ve managed to curb your new acquisitions and purchases, and have become stricter about and mindful of the things you bring into your home.
Go through your own process gradually. Your partner will likely take notice once it’s no longer deemed a passing phase, and as you make the ongoing process a part of your own philosophy and ritual. It’s fairly safe to assume that no amount of badgering is going to convince your significant other to change her/his ways. But if you quietly transition your habits, your partner will hopefully be influenced by your resulting joy, and catch-on out of proximity and solidarity.
BACK TO BASICS
When I look back at my last significant relationship, I realize how happy my ex and I were with very little, versus how unhappy we were towards the end when we had a giant apartment and far more possessions than we ever needed. Rather than channeling my energy towards our failing relationship, I focused on filling our place as a hopeful remedy to our problems:
“If I buy this giant desk for my home-office, I’ll have more space to be creative with my work and thus be happier! And if we have this expansive dining table, our future children will all dine here together— can’t you picture it?!”
It was foolish of me for so many reasons. And it’s not unique.
The “we didn’t have much, but we were so happy,” refrain pops up again and again, and there’s a reason for it. With fewer belongings comes fewer responsibilities, coupled with the possibility of more time and mental space for exploration. Couples have a heightened opportunity to truly connect. Perhaps you can remind your partner about the satisfaction and spark that comes with an less complicated life. (A huge an ongoing inspiration for me on this topic and lifestyle is the insightful and endearing couple behind @BrownKids.)
REFOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS
If the above won’t work, it might be helpful to subtly and routinely remind your significant other about the impact our material consumption and waste has on younger/future generations. (Read more about this via the hilarious yet sobering book by Ashlee Piper, “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.”
For example, is your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend addicted to fast fashion? Without hounding your partner, gently educate and inform them of the devastating environmental impacts of the industry, and how it’s indisputably damaging to the wilting planet we’re leaving for our children. (Not to mention the microplastics it’s shedding into the liquids and foods we consume, chipping away out our health.)
If that’s too obtuse, then bring it even closer home. Won’t they be happy and more confident when they can reach into a carefully curated, compact wardrobe, grab ANYTHING in there and then be content with how they look? The prospect is so much better than shuffling discontentedly through drawers and racks of garments for long stretches of time, debating about what fits right.
I’m not suggesting that this lifestyle is suitable for all folks. Small homes and streamlined living are not for everyone, and that’s fine. Perhaps your partner finds immense pleasure in having a large home, or delights in his or her overflowing collection of shoes.
But as the population continues to climb, and as the impacts of climate change roll ferociously across the globe, more and more of us will have to share resources. As such, I believe that getting our partners enthusiastically on board (at a reasonable pace) with a less wasteful, more compact way of living is certainly worth the gentle, subtle, yet deliberate effort.
Here’s a lil’ Fall editorial round-up of stories from the Cottage:
Architectural Digest - 7 Home Office Organization Hacks That’ll Save You Tons of Space
JoieSundayGirl - Interview & Photo Shoot
Elle Decor - The Secrets to Maximizing a Small Living Room
Hunker Home - Small Kitchen Tips via Instagram Stories / Video
The Chalkboard - How to Decorate a Small Space When You Have Big-Space Taste
Domino - Best Living Room Trends for 2019
Apartment Therapy - 10 Tiny Homes That Nailed Cozy Fall Decor
Nesting with Grace - Small Space Living Feature
Reader’s Digest - 15 Things Your Home Décor Reveals About Your Personality
When home at the Cottage, West’s favorite activity is reading.
Now that he is two, he’s no longer ripping pages in excitement, so we borrow about 30 books per week from our city and county libraries.
Since he goes through so many titles, renting books is a great way for us to save money and space. (And our son can always revisit his old friends / previous rentals when we’re at the library.)
If he truly LOVES a particular book for several weeks in a row, then we commit to buying it, and add the volume to his permanent collection here at home.
We used to have 2 rolling carts filled with books. We’ve since broken those down by donating several titles to the libraries, and storing a bunch of much-loved board books in a cabinet by our built-in couch… just in case we have a second child. The library books are kept by my desk in a mobile “Strolley” by OllieElla, while West’s picture books are stored in our single, shared closet, atop the drawers that span the space, just below our hanging clothes.
It’s not fancy, but West genuinely seems to enjoy disappearing momentarily behind the curtains, and then jumping out triumphantly with his selections in-hand. Plus this non-traditional storage method frees up space in our home by eliminating the need for a dedicated, children’s bookshelf.
Since I post so many Instagram photos of West reading, I’ve received many requests for children’s book recommendations. As such, some of his old and new favorites are below.