"What's Next?"

One of the questions I’m asked the most often is: what is the plan for when West gets older and wants more privacy, and if we decide to have a second child?

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While these are topics that Adam and I discuss at times, we’re still so content here in our lil’ home that we don’t see the need to leave until/unless the need actually presents itself. 

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While there are obvious realities for which we need to plan (retirement, West’s education, emergency situations, etc.), I don’t feel the need to adjust our living situation in anticipation of whatever the future might hold. 

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The same sort of questions popped up time and time again when I was pregnant with West— everyone asked us when and where we’d be moving. But we took things day-by-day, and it all worked out better than we could’ve ever imagined. That’s how I want to live— planning wisely for the fairly standard “givens” in life, but also allowing the future to unfold naturally as we enjoy the present. That way, when the time comes, we will know what we need and why, rather than acting half-heartedly (and perhaps wastefully) on predictions.

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People make all sorts of living situations work for them and their families, whether by choice or necessity. (Look at @themayesteam— a family of 6 living on a converted bus, or @readtealeaves— a family of 4 comfortably nestled in a single bedroom in NY.) Diverse lifestyles and homes are all around us, but they’re rarely integrated into entertainment in a way that makes them seem like anything other than a problem or a quirky novelty. 

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Anyway! To all of you lovely folks who’ve written kind messages and inquired what’s next for us as far as our living situation is concerned, my apologies for not replying— your guess is as good as ours. But in the meantime, we feel so happy (and unbelievably lucky) to be right where we are.

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Built-In Bed Refresh

Now that West is accustomed to sleeping in his “big kid bed(wail!), Adam and I felt like it was time for a refresh of our built-in bed. All of the linens here weather a daily storm of heavy use— in part due to the realities of life with a toddler and two pups, but also due to the small size of our home. As inches decrease, use of each and every space increases. As such, the bed takes on numerous roles throughout the day before being slept in all night, so our bedding has to be durable as well as beautiful.

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Additionally, we strive to use ethically-produced and natural products as often as possible, so we also wanted to modify our bedding with this in mind.

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In our search for the perfect fit for our needs and preferences, we decided to upgrade our bedding with Rough Linen.

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I’ve purchased a few items from Rough Linen in the recent past. After years of using the same two traditional bath towels, Adam and I finally needed replacements, so we purchased and fell in love with Rough Linen’s waffle-weave towels.

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We also got a linen runner, which fits our compact table like a full tablecloth, and a child’s apron for West.

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After feeling and using these items in the kitchen, bath, and living room for a couple of months, I knew I also wanted to introduce Rough Linen to our bedroom. We started out with a lightweight, Raw Edge Linen Summer Cover, which we thought would work perfectly for our SoCal home. (And we soon discovered during a rainy day that the cover doubles splendidly as a toddler fort with the help of some oversized wooden clips.)

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We added some standard pillow shams with invisible zippers, which I prefer over buttons or a typical envelope-style version. The design is so clean and minimal, which sings to me.

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Lastly, we got a linen coverlet. (I’m not a fan of duvets.) The coverlet is simple but elegant, rich with texture and slightly naturally varying tones It’s dry clean only, but I expect that its high quality combined with the ease of washing the summer cover that we drape over it will make it easy to maintain.

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We added some more variegated english ivy plants to the bookshelf to bring the built-in to life. I simply placed a slim porcelain plate beneath each to collect water and protect the wood.

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The central plant in the Ollie Ella Hanging Book Basket on the headboard is still snug in its nursery pot, and wrapped in a waterproof liner.

I miss how West used to fall asleep with us here every night. I don’t think I would have ever been ready for that to end, but HE was ready.

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He’s so happy in his big kid bed. And Adam and I are delighted with our newly upgraded bed, too.

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Greener Solutions for Household Unmentionables

This blog post was sponsored by Grove Collaborative. As always, the opinions and imagery from the Cottage are my own.

I didn’t watch much television when I was growing up, but I do remember seeing ads for toilet paper and feminine products wondering every time: Was the Talent being compensated more for being the faces of such delicate topics on camera? Were they embarrassed? Did the crew feel awkward?

In the subsequent years, I grew up and became comfortable with such household realities— nothing will sober you up to the unmentionables in life like cleaning up after pets, changing diapers, dealing physically with childbirth + recovery, and assisting unwell loved ones. 

I began searching for greener alternatives to widely marketed, everyday household products— both for my family, and for the readers of this blog. (I receive numerous direct messages via Instagram inquiring about what sort of pet waste bags and trash bags we use here, along with questions about everything from eco-friendly feminine products to composting options in the city.) I discovered several helpful products via Grove Collaborative, so I reached out to them to inquire if I could do a blog post sharing some details about their compost bins, toilet paper, pet waste bags, bin bags, menstrual cups, and unique sponges. 

If you had told me 20 years ago that I’d be volunteering myself up as the “Talent” for a reusable feminine product I would’ve balked. These days, it brings me joy. This planet needs for us to mind our waste, and switch to sustainable products within our homes and beyond.

COMPOST 
For a while, we were placing kitchen scraps into LA’s green bins, not knowing that this actually wasn’t permitted. Only yard trimmings such as grass clippings, leaves, branches, and fruits or vegetables that have NOT been prepared for consumption and have NOT been partially consumed are allowed in the green bin. Eggs, partially eaten fruit, and scraps are not contenders.

It’s frustrating how hard it can be to compost in a city. Especially since 52% of all produce in the US goes uneaten*, and that when food is disposed in a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane. Plus, growing and transporting wasted food emits as much carbon pollution as 39 million passenger vehicles.** We have a small garden, so we’re got a compact compost tumbler into which we can toss the scraps from our Kitchen Compost Bin from Grove. But, depending on where you live, there might be local options for community and municipal drop-offs and pick-ups for compost collection.

The Kitchen Compost Bins & Lid Starter Set from Grove is completely biodegradable kitchen food waste bin made from end-of-life recycled cardboard. The cardboard bin is breathable and allows for airflow, helping to avoid smelly, moist contents. Safe for both home and municipal composting. The same bin can be used multiple times. Fill with kitchen food waste, and once full, cover with paper seal provided (or the optional add-on lid) and put out for municipal pick-up (depending on your town) or empty into your home compost pile or tumbler and reuse the bin until it starts to biodegrade.

WASTE BAGS
BioBag makes small and medium bin bags, as well as pet bags that are 100% compostable and biodegradable. 

They’re also fragrance-free, not tested on animals, and packaged responsibly.

ALTERNATIVES TO SYNTHETIC SPONGES & PAPER TOWEL
I have to admit— I purchased a handmade, non-disposable sponge for our kitchen with the best of intentions, but it didn’t work well and thus didn’t last long. It was a bummer and a waste. In searching for responsible alternatives to synthetic sponges, I found my favorites via Grove. The Walnut & Cellulose Scrubber is sustainably made, and is both resilient and subtle in appearance. 

Meanwhile, the European Dishcloths are fantastic alternatives to paper towels, as they can be washed in the dishwasher and then reused— plus they are biodegradable. (These have been particularly great for cleaning up my son’s crayon marks and toy scuffs.)

TREE-FREE TOILET PAPER 
The Seedling by Grove Tree-Free Bath Tissue is 100% tree-free, and composed from a proprietary blend of bamboo and sugarcane. Bamboo absorbs 5x the amount of CO2 as trees, and takes as little as 3 months to harvest (whereas trees take 20+ years). Also worth noting is that Seedling by Grove has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, and a portion of every roll sold goes to plant trees across the United States.

MENSTRUAL CUPS
I liked the idea of a healthy and sustainable alternative to tampons, but it took me a while to get used to the practice of using a menstrual cup. Now I’m fully on-board and can’t imagine ever going back to anything disposable. Not only does using a cup like the Lena prevent an astounding amount of waste, but it saves money and eliminates the need for those urgent and ever-inconvenient dashes to the store for tampons or pads. If you feel like you need a little extra protection while getting used to using a cup, washable cotton liners are effective and easy to use. When not in use, I hide my Lena in plain sight by simply placing the cup + provided pouch in a drawstring sac that matches our decor, and I suspend that from our towel rack. 

(It’s also easy to hang the little pouch on the inside of a cabinet door, if you’re pressed for drawer space in a small bathroom.) The Lena is BPA free, fragrance free, gluten free, hypoallergenic, made in the USA, not tested on animals, responsibly packaged, reusable, suitable for sensitive skin, vegan, and is the product of a women owned business.  

REPURPOSING PACKAGING
As for the Grove packaging itself in which everything is delivered: we reuse almost every part of it. Any brown paper or small cardboard pieces end up covering West’s drawing table surface and become fresh canvases (and are ultimately recycled). The main cardboard box is always refilled with donations from drop-off, or other outgoing items that we ship from our home. Even the extra compost bins are put to use as toy storage before they step up to their intended role in the kitchen when their time comes.

Everything available via Grove is healthy, effective, sustainably produced, and cruelty-free. You can customize the timing and contents of your refill shipments, which themselves are eco-minded. Additionally, Grove curates a gift set of some of their favorite household essentials, included in the first order (of $20 or more) by new customers. View a sampling of their gift sent contents, below:

Grove is giving away a $100 gift credit to Grove Collaborative, plus a bundle of the products featured in via my blog post. Just enter your name and email address below to win. (TinyCanalCottage.com values your privacy, and will never share or sell your address.) One entry will be selected at random and announced via my @WhitneyLeighMorris Instagram Stories on Feb. 7th, 2019. (No purchase necessary. Continental US only.)

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Source: *Give A Sh*t by Ashlee Piper, 2018 |** Forbes, 2018

January Stories Roundup

Recently, I consulted with Domino Mag about ways to elevate your string lights, and why this form of lighting is so great for spaces of all sizes. You can view the interview here.

Additionally, we did a shoot and interview earlier this winter with One More Thing. The images and story are live here, and a preview is below. (Photos were taken by Angi Welsch, courtesy of One More Thing.)

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Under One Tiny Roof While Under the Weather

’Tis the time of year to get sick… repeatedly, apparently. Adam, West and I all got our first colds of the season on our trip home from the East Coast after Thanksgiving, and none of us have quite gotten back to 100% since. This week, West and I caught a new round of something— his was symptomatic of a rude stomach bug, whereas mine was an epic assault on my sinuses. 

When possible, our family prefers to stick with natural approaches to healing. (However, we’re not opposed to taking prescribed medications when necessary— for example, we all have our flu shots.) Since our tools for soothing and healing are rarely contained in a pharmaceutical pill bottle, they could quickly overrun sections of our small home if weren’t deliberate with them. 

However, when you’re sick it’s tough to summon the energy to pick up a sock, let alone clean up larger messes after they’re made. But it’s obviously unhealthy to leave certain items sitting around when you’re sharing a tiny petri dish of a home-office as a sniffling, sleepless family. So, as I sit here, bleary-eyed with my hot water and lemon at 4am, I figured I might as well share a roundup of the items we have, and why they work for our small space. 

I was intentional when I acquired the following goods for our Cottage. And, of course, I’m considering them in detail now as I formulate this post. But the great thing about these pieces is that they require very little consideration while we’re in the throws of cleaning up toddler vomit, managing migraines, or moping together in bed. 

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An Out-of-the-Ordinary Indoor Activity 
Since our little one can’t go on his usual adventures when sick, Adam and I feel like it’s wise to offer him a major new activity to calmly enjoy while recovering. As we don’t like the idea of him sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, we got him a cardboard playhouse, which we shuttle between the main room and the covered porch, depending on time and temperature. It’s HUGE, yes, but it’s also completely perfect for the occasion. We’ve decorated it with twinkle lights— inside and out— and West retreats to it for long stretches of time to color and sticker the inside walls, or build with his legos and blocks.

When it’s no longer needed and West is back playing outdoors and with other kids from the community, we can deconstruct the playhouse and store it behind our clothing in the closet. I like that it’s a grand, plastic-free, special present that can be tucked away until another sick day. 

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Tissues
We don’t use tissues— instead, we use little reusable cloths from Etsy and Grovia that we stash around the house. After we use one, we toss it in a washable paper bag that we usually keep on the built-in seat/shelf in our shower, where the cloths sit contained until the next round of laundry. The Grovia ones in particular are super soft and don’t irritate our skin (like standard tissues), and little cloth squares don’t take up space on the bedside as an entire tissue box would. This also helps us avoid accumulating mounds of paper in the recycling bin. 

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Humidifier 
I remember the humidifier my parents used to fill up for my sister and me when we were young. It was HUGE, and it was loud… and mildly terrifying for a young, ill child. Thankfully, design has come a looong way. At the Cottage, we use a slim Muji humidifier that is almost silent, and at 3.5” in diameter it’s slim enough to slide onto a bookshelf or cabinet when not in use. Since our “nightstands” are cut-outs within our built-in, I can’t keep it there when it’s on. So I simply pull out a drawer next to the bed (slightly below the mattress), and cover it with a wine box top to create a stable surface on which to keep the humidifier overnight. It works perfectly. 

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We also use a simple drying rack in the bedroom at these times for a hint of extra moisture in the air.

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Neti Pot 
I’m a big fan of our Eco Neti Pot. It works wonders while also being affordable, petite and durable. When I’m using it regularly, I let it dry out on an s-hook on our towel rack. And when I don’t need it, it only takes up bout as much space as a hairbrush, so I just hang it from a tack-and-string on the interior, upper perimeter of the bathroom vanity. 

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Clean Drinking Glasses 
Since you’re supposed to drink clear fluids when sick, I want to be sure that West always has access to water. But I also don’t want him drinking from a straw and bottle that are just incubating the germs. A space-savvy way to offer up clean vessels without having to constantly stand over the sink and clean cup after cup is to use stainless steel ramekins or a removable silicon sleeve on a 4oz mason jar. Both of these “cups” can be used for many other things around the house as well.

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Ouch Box
Our First Aid kit is accessible for adults, while out of reach of the littles. It holds any medications we’re currently taking, as well as our most-needed supplies. (Our full emergency preparedness kits are stored elsewhere.)

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Kettle 
We have a compact Muji electric kettle that’s so small and cleanly designed that it can stay on the counter for weeks at a time without consuming many inches. It slides into a cabinet by the stove when not in regular use. (We don’t use a stovetop model, as our stove is usually in use as a dish drying spot and as a surface for cutting boards when it’s not in operation.)

Plate / Platter per person
To keep mugs, cloth tissues, stirrers and more separated so we know whose is whose (so as to keep from passing serious germs back and forth to one another while our bodies are trying to heal), we dedicate individual small plates or platters to everyone on the countertops. We try to corral our individual collections here, whenever possible. It also makes things easy to move around, which helps when we need to open up space for cooking, crafts, and/or work.

Hot Compress
I don’t bother with a dedicated compress. A simple washcloth or small towel can be heated with hot water (and salt, depending,) and used in the same manner. (Just be careful!)

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Heater
We are extremely satisfied with our Dyson Hot-Cool Link Air Purifier, which manages our entire tiny home. But if we need a boost of concentrated heat— like while I’m at my desk, or when West is in his bed— we use a very small, personal heater. In limited square-footage such as ours, it’s all that’s needed. It’s footprint is small enough that it can rest on the low wall between our kitchen and main room when it’s on. (When it’s off, we just place it into the cabinet by the stove between the kettle and the mini-Vitamix.)

Tiny Update for a Tidier Built-In

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The middle drawer holds my office supplies, such as envelopes, tech dopp kits, and a few small accessories in pouches.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Sofa → Toddler Bed → Sofa

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.

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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.

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Above all, it works— at least for our family. All it took for us is a slip-proof bumper pillow and a waterproof, fitted twin mattress protector.

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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.

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(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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Toddler Folding Table

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.

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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.

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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. 

Corralling and Concealing Toys in a Small Space

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.

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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.

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By breaking the storage up throughout the space where possible, we’ve eliminated the need for bulky, dedicated playroom trunks and similar storage furnishings.

Above: Baskets from  Kembali collective , tin from muji. vintage coffee table from  super marché .

Above: Baskets from Kembali collective, tin from muji. vintage coffee table from super marché.

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.

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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.

Small Space Skylight

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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All it took was a sturdy tension rod, ever-handy s-hooks from the toolbox, a couple of my favorite hanging baskets from around the Cottage, and some variegated English Ivy to bring his recommendation to life. Et voila:

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Problem solved— and solved simply and beautifully, with minimal purchasing.

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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.

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And hallelujah— I can finally see my desk for the duration of the workday!

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Thank you, Hilton. (As always.) Our house is a happier place because of you!

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An Ode to Washable Paper Containers

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).

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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.

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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.)

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Washable paper bags are clever options for customizable, affordable, simple, eco-friendly, easily-to-clean, small space storage.

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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.

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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.

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We use washable paper bags everywhere around the house lately. The applications are ever-changing, without being wasteful.

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part IX) - Travel Edition

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.)

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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.

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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.)

Neck Pillow
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.

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Luggage Scale
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.

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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.  

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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.

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Passport Cover
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. 

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Conversation Cards
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. 

Airplane Footrest
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.

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“Shoe Bags”
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?)

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Compact Blanket
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.

Above: Folks always ask how we get the pups to pose. We don’t. We just catch them doing what they do best: adorably photobombing.

Above: Folks always ask how we get the pups to pose. We don’t. We just catch them doing what they do best: adorably photobombing.

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:

In Lieu of Screens When On-The-Go

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. 

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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.

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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.)

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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. 

Above: Chatting with his grandparents via Facetime.

Above: Chatting with his grandparents via Facetime.

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.

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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.

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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.) 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Both containers fit easily in our tiny home, and work with our decor as well.

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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.

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I hope this helps!

Tiny House Hibernation

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Photo of West & Whitney in the canoe by Sara Toufali.

Roundup: Gifts for the Pups

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.

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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?

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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).

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These sturdy leather-and-metal collars have removable (and sometimes washable) decorative + cushioned slide-on sleeves.

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I got collars and sleeves for both of the pups, and they’re definitely here to stay— no more wasteful discarding of older collars.

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Nesting Pet Stairs
Need a set of space-savvy, well-designed pet stairs? Good news:

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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.

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Handmade Leashes 
If you’re limited on storage space, handmade leashes can be surprisingly pretty if displayed on your walls via hooks when not in use.

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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.

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Bio-Bags
BioBag makes bags & films made from plant starches, vegetable oils & compostable polymers for organic waste collection for composting.

Pet Bowls
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!

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Pet Beds 
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.)

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Toys
I recently wrote an entire post on pup toys, here.

Food Tins
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.

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Food (Food, Food)
Want to really please your pet and save some space? Food is arguably the best way to go. Services like The Farmer’s Dog and PetPlate make fresh, refrigerated, customizable meals, which are delivered right to your door at timed intervals.

Housing a Crowd Without Overcrowding 

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.

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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.)

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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...

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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: 

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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.

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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.

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I can easily roll this new piece of furniture beneath my workspace without removing my desk chair.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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His drawstring toy-storage play-mat kept little toys contained, and is a breeze to cinch up and hang on the wall.

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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.)

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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. 

Above left: The bathroom cubby we cleared for Emily (aka “Shmoo”). Above right: Sophee before we added the Gathre Mat to the guest bed to keep the pup prints + hairs off of it.

Above left: The bathroom cubby we cleared for Emily (aka “Shmoo”). Above right: Sophee before we added the Gathre Mat to the guest bed to keep the pup prints + hairs off of it.

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. 

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Come back, Emily— we miss you. (And West keeps opening the pocket door and calling out for his “Auntie Shmoo.”)

Toys For Little Ones Living in Little Spaces

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.

Above: Photo of the Cottage nursery by Sami Drasin for Cosmo (2017)

Above: Photo of the Cottage nursery by Sami Drasin for Cosmo (2017)

DESIGN
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.

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MATERIALS
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? 

Above: Photo from West’s temporary room (for 5 months) in the front tiny house, which we no longer rent.

Above: Photo from West’s temporary room (for 5 months) in the front tiny house, which we no longer rent.

SUSTAINABILITY
If the item is new, are the materials sustainable

SIZE + SHAPE
Does the toy wrap, fold, collapse, nest, stack, or can it be tucked away? Is the piece designed to be tall rather than wide? Can it slide under a table or lay flat under a mattress or cushion when not in use?

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CUSTOMIZATION
Can the item work creatively with the current items within your home? For example, a hallway tent takes up no extra space— same goes for a tablecloth fort, or a set of wooden magnets that can live on the exterior of your larger kitchen appliances.

MANUFACTURING
Do the manufacturing, packaging and delivery have a light footprint?

ADAPTABLITY
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.

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LIFESPAN
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?

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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! 

Embracing a Green Holiday Season

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. 

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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.

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Green Home

No room to store oversized decor year-round? You’re not alone.

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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. 

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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. 

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I stash all manner of holiday strands (lights, bunting, etc.) behind our paperback books on the shelves after the season is through. 

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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.

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Green Gifting

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.

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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.

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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.

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Green Fashion 

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.)

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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. 

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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.

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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.)

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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. 

Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part VIII) - Holiday Edition

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. 

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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.)

Disposable Batteries
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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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New Things
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. 

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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.

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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?) 

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Party Supplies
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. 

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Tangible Gifts
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. 

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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. 

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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.