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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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.

S’well Holidays

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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Anyone who tunes into my Instagram Stories or regularly reads the blog will recognize my go-to blonde wood water bottle and coffee “Traveler,” both of which are all but glued to my side. 

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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.

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DECOR
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. 

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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. 

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We also visit markets, brick-and-mortar shops, and pop-up retail / seasonal activity hubs to get an extra dose of spirit. 

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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).

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ACTIVITIES
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. 

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Nearly every community has SOMETHING going on— you just have to turn off your TV, open your door and GO. 

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(And don’t forget to toss your S’well bottles and reusable utensils roll into your bag as you walk out the door!)

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HOSTING
We LOVE hosting in our tiny house.

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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. 

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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.

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part VII)

While it's great to share stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces, I think it’s just as important to discuss the things that we can happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. 

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

The following is just a small sampling of everyday items you may want to reconsider. (View all the entries in this series here.)

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Traditional Window Treatments
Not only are curtains and blinds oftentimes expensive, but they take up a surprising amount of both visual and physical space in a small home or apartment. Depending on the moulding around your windows, you might be able to skip the usual hardware and go for a more inexpensive and removable (yet lovely) design with the help of a basic tension rod and lightweight linens and curtain clips. When we temporarily rented the front house on our shared property earlier this year, we tried this method out and loved it. We only popped the window covers into place when needed, which is when we converted the couch into a bed. When not in use, the window covers and telescoping rods tucked away with ease, requiring no more space than a t-shirt. We were also able to reuse the tension rods and linens for other various purposes when not in use within the window frames. 

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An Entryway
No dedicated entryway at your front door? No problem. You can still make a lovely, functional space to support your needs and belongings as you come and go with the help of a few clever, petite, inexpensive accessories. I wrote about this in greater detail via our new book, Small Space Style.

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An Umbrella/Yoga Mat Stand
I actually find umbrella stands to be most useful as small space waste-bins, as they’re typically tall and slim, and oftentimes quite stylish. But if you’re pressed for inches in your compact home, skip the door-side stand and opt instead to hang your umbrella and/or mats from wall hooks, either on display, or tucked inside a closet or on the back of a door. If one is wet and needs to air out, simply hang it from the curtain rod or shower-head in your bathroom.

Gift Wrapping Station
Very few people require a full box, drawer, closet, or cart dedicated to gift wrapping, and yet we weirdly tend to hoard decorative papers and ribbons. Challenge yourself to find creative ways to wrap gifts that don’t involve single-use products. For example, I love using tea towels, scarves, and extra canvas shopping bags— all of which can be repurposed by the recipient. A simple piece of twine, a strand of leather (vegan or otherwise), and/or some fresh clippings from around your neighborhood can top it all off beautifully while demonstrating that you put mindful effort into the presentation, even if it isn’t enveloped in shiny new paper and dressed with a fluffy bow.

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An Extensive Sewing Kit
Unless you sew on a regular basis, there's probably no need for an entire box of spare buttons, thread, and so forth. A simple jar or pocket-sized tin can most likely contain the basics that most folks need on-hand to repair slight tears and loose hardware.

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Watering Can
To be honest, we have one. But most folks in a small home or apartment— including us— don’t need one. Do you have a drinking glass? (Of course you do.) Or even better— a reusable water bottle? Guess what?! Those make for mighty fine watering tools.

Serving / Salad Bowl
If you have a mixing bowl, then you have a serving bowl. Pick a classic stainless steel design, or perhaps an enamel model, both of which could function as a serving bowl, salad bowl, and a mixing bowl. They’re timeless, simple, versatile, and attractive.

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A Magazine File
Traditional magazine files consume precious inches. Challenge yourself to update all your physical magazine subscriptions to a digital format, which will reduce waste (in production, transport, and materials), and require zero space in your home. No magazines? Then voila— no need for a clunky file.

One thing you cannot go without is VOTING. See you at the polls on Nov. 6, America!

A Look Inside: Food Wrap Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part VI)

While it's great to share stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces, I think it’s just as important to discuss the things that we can happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other easy swaps include:

Misc. Accessories in a Tiny Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part V)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Inside: Small Space Food Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storing your vegetables:

  1. Rinse & shake off excess water

  2. Place wet veggies inside bag & close zipper

  3. Store inside refrigerator vegetable drawer

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Storing your herbs:

  1. Gently rinse herbs and shake off excess water

  2. Place herbs inside bag and close zipper

  3. Store in refrigerator vegetable drawer

Storing your delicate greens:

includes spinach, arugula & packaged salad mixes

  1. Remove plastic bag, place on towel

  2. Discard aged or undesirable leaves

  3. Hand sprinkle water over leaves

  4. Gently place inside bag

  5. Place inside refrigerator vegetable drawer

  6. Keep bag moist at all times

Storing your mushrooms:

  1. Remove plastic packaging

  2. Put dry mushrooms into bag and close zipper

  3. Place onto refrigerator shelf

  4. Keep bag dry at all times

Storing your berries

  1. Rinse berries (optional)

  2. Put berries into bag and close zipper

  3. Place onto refrigerator shelf

  4. Keep bag dry at all times

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

Multi-Purpose Towels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TOWELS FOR THE LIL' ONES:

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

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

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MISC. MINI TOWELS:

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

STANDARD BATH TOWELS:

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

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part IV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spare plates a the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Spare plates a the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market Friday 8.24.18

This week's Farmers Market Friday in photos:

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

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A Simplified Sunday

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

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Keep it simple:

Market Friday 8.17.18

This week's Farmers Market Friday in photos:

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

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

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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part III)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part II)

I tend to post stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in our little house, but I think it’s just as important to share information about the everyday items that we happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less.

The following is just a very small sampling of everyday items that you can probably make do just fine without. (Explore Part I of this series here.)

Before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items don’t work for me, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best, folks. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone. 

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Random Sets
From office supplies to hair accessories, lots of smaller goods tend to come in sets. Unless you’re buying packs of supplies for an entire staff, I expect that one or two mindfully-crafted, beautiful versions of whatever you’re seeking will probably suffice. 

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For example, I haven’t bought a pack of pens in years. I now have three handmade pens on my desk, and a few handpicked color markers in my desk drawer. Because I chose these deliberately, and selected versions I thought to be beautiful and practical, I’m more careful with where I leave them. (If you have an excess of office supplies that you want to offload, I'd recommend donating them to a local school. Teachers often end up buying school supplies out-of-pocket, and your contribution could save them time and money, and help their students.)

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Similarly, do we require 100 hair ties at a time? I’ve had long, thick hair my entire life, and I frequently wear it pulled back-- but that's no excuse to buy a million elastics and pins. Since paying closer attention to my consumer habits, I’ve stopped absent-mindedly grabbing packs of clips or bands at once, and have managed to keep track of a small handful of these tools instead. By being more careful with how I use them and where I store them, I've been able to keep the same ones for years. 

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Vases & Candle Holders
I appreciate that so many homewares are works of art. If you have a collection of vases or candle holders that you love, that’s great— show them off and enjoy them often. But if you’re just starting out or looking to reduce your inventory at home, consider upcycling an ever-changing assortment of glass jars and other similar containers for tealight candles and/or vases if and when you need them. After they’ve lived out their second life, they can either be tucked away in a cabinet for future use, or dropped in the recycling bin.

Photo from the Cottage in 2014 by Monica Wang

Photo from the Cottage in 2014 by Monica Wang

Frames
I worked closely with art galleries and museum collections for over a decade. I appreciate the need for a protective frame for a piece of fine art, and genuinely enjoy the process of picking out moldings, mats and fillets that compliment original works when designing a supporting frame. But if you’re hanging posters, personal photos, textiles, or inexpensive prints that you anticipate wanting to regularly switch up, try skipping the frames. Bulldog clips with flat thumbtacks will cost you about $1 total, save about an inch (or more) of space on your walls, and won’t go to waste if and when you want to change your walls or artwork.

Ash Trays and Palo Santo Holders
If you’re not a regular smoker of any kind, chances are you’ll never need an ash tray. Just use an upturned metal cap, a shallow glass jar, or a petite ceramic plate instead. They can all be washed and reused for their original purposes and beyond. (As always, please use your brain and keep safety at the top of mind when it comes to fire and ash.)

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Changing Table and Accessories
We had a changing table that doubled as a baby bath (our sinks wouldn't have worked for bathing an infant), and storage space. But now, in retrospect, I can see that we didn’t NEED it. I am glad we had it for that initial year with our first child, but we ultimately gave the unit to friends who we're expecting. I hope that they too passed it on when the time came. A Gathre Mat or portable changing roll work just fine as a surface for diapering your baby. (I prefer the Gathre Mat because it comes in an array of larger sizes, which can help when you're cleaning a squirmy little kiddo.) 

Wipe warmers and diaper stackers are even more unnecessary. Your hands can warm up a wipe if needed. And if you want a neat stack of diapers, an organizer can easily be made out of a spare basket turned on its side and nailed to the wall or placed on the floor.

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A Top Sheet
I recently got a new round of my favorite bedding from Parachute to replace the linens we’d worn out over years of co-sleeping, and realized that we didn’t actually need a top sheet. It took some getting used to over the first few nights, but now we don’t miss it at all. In fact, it’s a mini relief not to have the displaced fabric bunching down around our legs at night as it always inevitably did. Plus the lack of a top sheet speeds up the time it takes to make our bed in the morning, and cuts back on laundry, as well as the need for more storage if you have a spare set.

Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part I)

I tend to post stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in our little house, but I think it’s just as important to share information about the everyday items that we happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. 

The following is just a very small sampling of everyday homewares that make me face-palm, as we definitely do not need them. But before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items don’t work for me, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best, folks. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone-- you do you.

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Bath Accessory Sets
Bath sets almost always make me cringe. These bundles are usually made up of components such as soap dishes, lotion dispensers, toothbrush holders, drinking cups, tissue box covers, cotton swab containers, and q-tip jars. That’s an insane amount of stuff for limited surface space, plus most of these items are flat-out unnecessary. Even if you do manage to cram all those items into your bathroom, you’ll probably not have the space left over to navigate through your rituals. When I visit a hotel or vacation rental that has all these items, I usually find myself relocating them into an empty drawer so I actually have room for my family's toiletries. 

Repurposed glass jars are more eco-friendly, come in sizes that require far less space, and can be recycled or reimagined when no longer needed. As for the other items— look around your home and see what sorts of things you already own and want to keep, and can repurpose to serve more than one function. 

And why do we think we need tissue box covers? As a matter of fact, we might not even need tissues. A single, machine-washable handkerchief made from sustainable materials for each member of the family might be enough. Voila. No waste. No need for tissues. And, thus, no need for a tissue box cover.

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

Above: A mop bucket holds all of our spare towels for the beach, guests, and more. The pail itself becomes a toy for West when we visit our local beach.

Above: A mop bucket holds all of our spare towels for the beach, guests, and more. The pail itself becomes a toy for West when we visit our local beach.

Similarly, you probably don’t need a set of dedicated beach toys for your kids. Bowls, pails (if safe for little hands) from around the house, and oversized spoons can be just as fun. In fact, it might spark a bit more creativity from your child if he or she is challenged to find rocks, shells, leaves, and/or seaweed with which to decorate their sand creations.

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Napkin Rings
I'll admit that I have it out for napkin rings. They’re just another set of things to spend money on, find storage for, and have to set out or clean up around mealtime. I much prefer to twist our napkins into a knot and thread our silverware through the tie. Clipped soft vines or reusable twine will also decorate your cutlery rolls just as effectively. 

Having said that, one of my closest friends uses napkin rings in a brilliant way in her home in Pennsylvania. Her family is huge, and everyone uses a single, distinct ring (rather than a ring from a matching set) to keep track of of which reusable napkin is theirs. (Think of it as a wine stem ID tag, but for their table linens. Genius.)

Full Printer/Scanner
This definitely isn’t for everyone, but it worked for us: We recently donated our printer/scanner. We realized that we only used it a few times per month, so we now walk or bike up to the nearest shipping store whenever we need to print anything out. My mini scanner, which sits on a rack attached to the back of my desktop computer, can accommodate all the scanning necessary for our home and small business. 

Photo of the Cottage kitchen taken by Lily Glass for  SFGirlbyBay

Photo of the Cottage kitchen taken by Lily Glass for SFGirlbyBay

Fruit Bowls
We have limited counter space, so rather than keeping a fruit bowl in the kitchen we simply store/display our fruit in our saucepan on the stove-- clearly only when it’s off.

Fly Swatter
Nope.

Bookends
Skip the objet— simply put a few books in a horizontal stack at the end of your upright titles to keep everything in place.