Decluttering Hurdle: Aligning with Your Significant Other

Recently I asked readers to share their biggest hurdles with decluttering. I was surprised and fascinated by the fact that the number one reply was that it’s tough to get a partner/spouse on-board with the idea of downsizing the household’s possessions. (This response was followed closely in numbers by “sentiment,” which I’ll address in a future post.)

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I’ve long taken for granted the fact that my husband and I are on the same page when it comes to a simplified home, so I spent some time considering whether we just hit the jackpot with our lifestyle alignments, or if perhaps we evolved into our shared mindsets in tandem with one another. (I think it’s a bit of both.)

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As such, I’m no expert on how to magically transform your significant other into someone who is as enthusiastic about a simplified lifestyle as you are. But I don’t see that as a negative thing— why should we aspire to switch on and off various components of the people we love? But naturally, over time, we can demonstrate first-hand to our partners the overwhelming benefits that a pared-down home can offer, and allow them to form their own opinions from there. (As the saying goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.)

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GIVE IT TIME 
Decluttering takes time— it’s a rolling series of actions that ultimately result in a significant lifestyle shift. And decluttering only works after you’ve managed to curb your new acquisitions and purchases, and have become stricter about and mindful of the things you bring into your home. 

Go through your own process gradually. Your partner will likely take notice once it’s no longer deemed a passing phase, and as you make the ongoing process a part of your own philosophy and ritual. It’s fairly safe to assume that no amount of badgering is going to convince your significant other to change her/his ways. But if you quietly transition your habits, your partner will hopefully be influenced by your resulting joy, and catch-on out of proximity and solidarity. 

 Above photo by Gabriel Sweet for  Joie

Above photo by Gabriel Sweet for Joie

BACK TO BASICS
When I look back at my last significant relationship, I realize how happy my ex and I were with very little, versus how unhappy we were towards the end when we had a giant apartment and far more possessions than we ever needed. Rather than channeling my energy towards our failing relationship, I focused on filling our place as a hopeful remedy to our problems:

“If I buy this giant desk for my home-office, I’ll have more space to be creative with my work and thus be happier! And if we have this expansive dining table, our future children will all dine here together— can’t you picture it?!” 

It was foolish of me for so many reasons. And it’s not unique. 

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The “we didn’t have much, but we were so happy,” refrain pops up again and again, and there’s a reason for it. With fewer belongings comes fewer responsibilities, coupled with the possibility of more time and mental space for exploration. Couples have a heightened opportunity to truly connect. Perhaps you can remind your partner about the satisfaction and spark that comes with an less complicated life. (A huge an ongoing inspiration for me on this topic and lifestyle is the insightful and endearing couple behind @BrownKids.)

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REFOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS
If the above won’t work, it might be helpful to subtly and routinely remind your significant other about the impact our material consumption and waste has on younger/future generations. (Read more about this via the hilarious yet sobering book by Ashlee Piper, “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.

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For example, is your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend addicted to fast fashion? Without hounding your partner, gently educate and inform them of the devastating environmental impacts of the industry, and how it’s indisputably damaging to the wilting planet we’re leaving for our children. (Not to mention the microplastics it’s shedding into the liquids and foods we consume, chipping away out our health.)

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SHOW CONFIDENCE
If that’s too obtuse, then bring it even closer home. Won’t they be happy and more confident when they can reach into a carefully curated, compact wardrobe, grab ANYTHING in there and then be content with how they look? The prospect is so much better than shuffling discontentedly through drawers and racks of garments for long stretches of time, debating about what fits right.

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I’m not suggesting that this lifestyle is suitable for all folks. Small homes and streamlined living are not for everyone, and that’s fine. Perhaps your partner finds immense pleasure in having a large home, or delights in his or her overflowing collection of shoes. 

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But as the population continues to climb, and as the impacts of climate change roll ferociously across the globe, more and more of us will have to share resources. As such, I believe that getting our partners enthusiastically on board (at a reasonable pace) with a less wasteful, more compact way of living is certainly worth the gentle, subtle, yet deliberate effort.

Children's Books

When home at the Cottage, West’s favorite activity is reading.

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Now that he is two, he’s no longer ripping pages in excitement, so we borrow about 30 books per week from our city and county libraries.

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Since he goes through so many titles, renting books is a great way for us to save money and space. (And our son can always revisit his old friends / previous rentals when we’re at the library.)

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If he truly LOVES a particular book for several weeks in a row, then we commit to buying it, and add the volume to his permanent collection here at home.

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We used to have 2 rolling carts filled with books. We’ve since broken those down by donating several titles to the libraries, and storing a bunch of much-loved board books in a cabinet by our built-in couch… just in case we have a second child. The library books are kept by my desk in a mobile “Strolley” by OllieElla, while West’s picture books are stored in our single, shared closet, atop the drawers that span the space, just below our hanging clothes.

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It’s not fancy, but West genuinely seems to enjoy disappearing momentarily behind the curtains, and then jumping out triumphantly with his selections in-hand. Plus this non-traditional storage method frees up space in our home by eliminating the need for a dedicated, children’s bookshelf.

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Since I post so many Instagram photos of West reading, I’ve received many requests for children’s book recommendations. As such, some of his old and new favorites are below.

 Above: StanLee sitting by the floating book exchange on the Venice Canals.

Above: StanLee sitting by the floating book exchange on the Venice Canals.

Tiny House Halloween

I never realized how odd the tradition of Halloween is until I tried explaining it to my 2 year old child.

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On our daily walks, he’s suddenly seeing skeletons coming out of the ground, massive faux-webs and spiders clinging to hedges, and all sorts of strange objects hanging from stoops and trees. Some of it he likes. Some of it he doesn’t. (I feel the same way.)

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I’m sure that our level of Halloween decor will fluctuate as West grows. But for now we’re still keeping things simple and nearly waste-free. We’ve done this by focusing more on fall-related activities, rather than crowding the Cottage with temporary flair.

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Our decor consists of real pumpkins, autumnal flowers/branches from the market, and small number of die-cut paper pumpkins (which we’ve suspended with twine from the branches above our front stoop).

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Southern California doesn’t get too fall-ish, but we’ve faked it by getting overflowing Ollie Ella baskets of apples from the farmers markets, checking out Halloween and seasonal books from our two nearby local libraries, visiting the pumpkin patch, and heading outside in the rare rain and cooler weather whenever possible.

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West really loves the gargantuan spiderwebs spread throughout the neighborhood, but rather than buying them for the Cottage (and then inevitably tossing them in the trash), we use his enthusiasm for them as an excuse to take more walks with the pups and hunt for web displays that many of our neighbors have installed.

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I’m not sure yet what West will wear as a costume, but we’ll figure something out. (A bit of cleverly-cut + penciled cardboard paired with an everyday basic from Primary can go a long way.)

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Keeping holiday decor simple might seem a bit grinch-y, but I don’t feel like we’re lacking in spirit at all thanks to all the wonderful community offerings and activities.

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By avoiding the delightful-yet-superfluous decorative trappings of Halloween we save money, prevent excess waste, and eliminate the need to store anything in our tiny house until the fall rolls around year after year.

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However you and yours decide to celebrate Halloween, have fun and be safe! And don’t forget the most important fall date of all— election day! See you at the polls on Nov. 6, America.

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Our Small Space Baby Essentials

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

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  • Dock-A-Tot

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

  • Hie Bag

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

  • Gathre Mats

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

  • Folding Tub

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

  • MamaRoo

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

  • Folding Play Gym

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

  • Folding Climbing Triangle

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

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

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

  • Folding Play/Dining Table + Chairs

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

  • Rolling Book Cart

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

  • Inserts for Cloth Diapers

  • ErgoBaby Carrier 

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

  • Booster Seat with Tray Highchair 

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

  • Travel / Compact Toys

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

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

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

  • PuraStainless Insulated Bottles

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

  • Wonderfold Collapsible Wagon

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

  • Handmade Puzzles + Blocks + Rings

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

  • Custom-sized Table Tent

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

  • Books, Books, Books

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

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

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

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Embracing the Occasional Minimalism Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Youngest Resident Turns 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our first book: Small Space Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • At 9am, Adam left for his job. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book features over 200 tips for making the most of your little home, with chapters centered around the essentials— living, sleeping, eating, and bathing. It offers imagery from our home as well as others, and is brilliantly illustrated by Magdalena Zolnierowicz.

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

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

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

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

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Updates to the Outdoor Playroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Minimizing Mess: Dog Toys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cottage Grapevine

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

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

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

 Above: Adam clipping grape clusters.

Above: Adam clipping grape clusters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Above: Gifting grapes in 2015.

Above: Gifting grapes in 2015.

Tiny Adventures: Idaho

One of the things I enjoy the most about small space living is that it inspires us to seek new experiences beyond our four walls. Last month, my sister and her family left LA and moved to Boise. So Adam, West and I decided to take a tiny adventure and travel to Idaho to explore their new home. (View the post about how we prepared for air travel with our toddler here.) Below are some images from our trip, with a few comments scattered throughout. 

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We stayed at The Modern Hotel & Bar in one of their new one bedroom apartments, which we thoroughly enjoyed. The staff was incredibly kind, and the accommodations offered everything we needed to feel and function as though we were staying in a home-away-from-home. 

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We were conscious to reduce our trash (particularly plastic) as much as possible while we were away, just as we aim to do at home. We transported our own beverage containers, on-the-go utensils and tins, etc. The Boise businesses we visited seemed to be inherently more earth-friendly, offering paper straws, not providing plastic bags for purchases, and appearing at our tables with sturdy mason jars with reusable lids for West in lieu of plastic single-use cups.

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Our apartment at The Modern was much larger than our tiny cottage, but the staff still used some clever space-saving tricks to maximize their square-footage. One example is this wall-mounted storage basket on the back of the door of the laundry closet.

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We visited the library, the Boise Contemporary Theater, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Hyde Park shops and restaurants, the Rose Garden, and the Boise River, among other spots. We biked (despite the 100+ degree heat), we spent quiet time at my sister's beautiful home, and we celebrated my nephew's 5th birthday. 

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This lil' getaway was such a delight. Thank you, Boise. We'll be back soon!

Air Travel with a Toddler: Working with What We’ve Got

This week, we’re traveling to visit my sister at her new home in Boise. She and her family moved from Los Angeles earlier this summer, and I am eager to experience the place they now call home.

We've flown many times with West for business trips-- several times across the country, over the Pacific and across the Atlantic. He seemed keen on every flight except for two. (Turns out he had a bilateral ear infection during one. The other was rough for us all thanks to a 24-hour journey, coupled with a 9 hour time-zone difference.)

We love adventuring beyond our cottage— it’s one of our intentions behind living tiny. But we deliberately paused our non-essential air travel in the months after West stopped nursing. Every child is different— we knew that flying would’ve been tricky with and for our little one at that time of his life. Now that he’s almost two, so we’re testing the skies again with this shorter getaway to Idaho.

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A friend of mine travels constantly with her daughter, and her advice to me from the beginning was to use washi tape and recycled paper to wrap books, toys and food for flights, then invite your child to unwrap things when needed, prolonging his or her excitement and joy during air travel. Adam and I tried it out, and it worked wonders. We aren’t big on screens here, and try our best to keep our child happy and engaged without a device at home, in restaurants, and during all types of travel. (Let me be very clear-- I'm not passing judgement on folks who use iPads with their children. I've never had to travel with multiple little ones, nor with a family member who has special needs. And some days just ROUGH-- for the kid(s), for the parent(s), or both. In those cases, I imagine that a little screen time could be a huge help. You do you. We're all trying our best.) But in preparation for this short trip, I’ve been slowly composing a little bundle of surprises for West to enjoy, all inspired by my friend’s clever tape-and-paper tactic.

I’ve read numerous “travelling with toddlers” tips online that make me wonder... do I really need to bring stacks of disposable diapers, brand new toys in shiny wrapping, and plastic bags for trash when we fly? I refuse to believe it. I’m pretty sure that most of us can find economical, eco-friendly, and space-saving ways to captivate our kids. 

We have a reusable, waterproof bag that holds used silverware after we dine on-the-go, so we packed that instead of plastic shopping bags. (Why are single-use plastic bags still in production anyway?!) We use a cloth diapering system, which came with a standard, leak-proof bag that securely holds dirty fabrics. When we travel to a place where we won't have access to a washing machine or a cloth diapering cleaning service, we temporarily use GroVia BioSoakers (which are natural and almost entirely compostable) in West's cloth diaper shells. 

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As far as toys are concerned, the little bundle I’ve been preparing is made up of items from varying sources: hand-me-downs from neighbors and friends, random party favors we received at events, smaller components collected from other games or activities, loose pages from coloring and sticker books, and objects that we keep in rotation so our son doesn’t get too attached to (or too bored of) his daily toys.

I’ll wrap some of these goods in old papers from around the house, such as unwanted mail, used packing kraft, drawn-on pages, ribbons from miscellaneous deliveries, etc. I didn’t have to buy anything new— everything was already floating around for one reason or another. And yet I’m sure every piece will feel like a gem to our son when he unwraps it.

The two things we did buy are his travel bags, which I expect will last for several years to come. I selected a little handmade drawstring backpack from Etsy. (The maker and I communicated, and she offered to replace any strings that need repairing in the future, and/or to re-wax the canvas if it starts getting overly worn.) I also invited West to pick out his own suitcase, which he did with such enthusiasm. While I love neutral homewares and natural materials, I don’t want to constantly impose my preferences on my son. When he outgrows his little suitcase for one reason or another, we can either pass it down to our second child if we go that route, or we can pack it with linens and donate it to a disaster relief outlet.

I’ll update this post to reflect the realities of our trip. Fingers crossed, but I’m confident that we can operate more mindfully without sacrificing convenience. And even if something takes a touch more effort, it’s nothing compared to leaving our children a crumbling planet overburdened with single-use plastics and spilling landfills.

We can do better. And we can do better beautifully.

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Update post-flights: Despite several hours of delays, West was a trooper in the airplanes and at the airports. The bag of tricks was a hit-- even at 2am in the air. The biggest success was this simple box of oversized buttons, paired with a wooden dump truck. The sorting kept West occupied for long stretches of time, as did the little chalkboard and bag of chalk, and pages of reusable stickers.  

Market Friday 7.20.18

This week's Farmers Market Friday in photos:

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Daily Efforts to Reduce Waste

I received so many follow-up questions and comments on our recent eco-friendly stories (“Reusable Goods to Carry Daily” + “Reusable Bags” + “Cloth Diapering”) that I wanted to follow up with further details about the items we use in the cottage and on the go to help reduce waste and/or curb our dependency on plastic. This blog entry encompasses a bit of everything, from recycled toys to feminine care. 

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Some of our efforts to reduce our footprint have been more substantial commitments, such as cloth diapering, dietary changes, and getting rid of one car and replacing it with a cargo bike. Others have been simpler, like using stainless steel drinking and snack cups instead of their plastic counterparts. Either way, everything was worth evaluating and adjusting, as our Earth needs some love, and she needs it now

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Not too long ago, we had an old mattress hauled away from our house by an LADWP bulky items truck. When the driver arrived, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind also taking a collapsed but oversized and thick cardboard box that was proving to be a challenge for the recycling bin. The driver kindly told me that he would take the box, but that he strongly recommended I find a way to break it down myself since it wouldn’t end up in the recycling center if he hauled it away-- it would instead go to a landfill. It was sobering to hear him reveal just how bad the trash situation is here. I appreciated his advice and honestly. (Later, Adam and I quickly spritzed the box with the hose and then drove our little car over it a few times to soften it up enough for us to fold it further and cut it down for our recycling bin.)

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The point is this— I think many of us make consumer and lifestyle decisions based on immediate convenience at the expense of the longterm ramifications. So, from our morning cup of coffee to West's diaper wipes, we’re sharing some of the efforts we've made to reduce the waste coming out of the Cottage. Hopefully this list will continue to evolve and expand.

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TOYS
I'll admit that West has a set of tiny plastic trucks he loves, as well as a few plastic tub squirt toys for his folding bath/water table. But otherwise, we've tried to stick with wooden, handmade, and/or recycled toys. Our two favorite sources are ETSY and GreenToys. You can find so many beautiful and wonderful handmade wooden items for kids of all ages on ETSY. And GreenToys makes their non-toxic plastic toys here in the USA out of 100% recycled milk jugs. (The two trucks in the image below are from GreenToys.) 

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PUP SUPPLIES
This isn't the prettiest topic, but let's get right to it. Poop/litter scoop bags. (Ugh.) After doing some research on the topic, I discovered that many pet waste bags can print claims that they're eco-friendly, when perhaps they're not entirely. We tried using old newspaper and repurposing old packaging to clean up after our dogs, but it was just too messy. Now we use BioBag, which is derived from plant and vegetable based materials that make them 100% compostable and biodegradable. We opt for standard packaging rather than the rolls to avoid that little plastic tubing that comes in the center of the roll.

We've found healthy and ethically-produced dog food that our pups really enjoy, but the packaging is a concern for us. So we're still on the hunt! We might start prepping food fresh for the pups, depending on the economics. I'll report back soon...

GETTING AROUND
About 2 years after moving into the Cottage, Adam and I decided to donate his SUV (via KCRW), and we now share our little 2009 Honda Fit for longer distance trips. If possible, we opt to ride the LA Metro-- particularly if we're visiting a museum, attending a rally, or going to a concert. 

It's liberating to avoid the extra cost and responsibility of a second car. We simply use our cargo bike or other bikes for local errands and adventures-- it's better for our bodies, and far more enjoyable than sitting in a car in LA traffic.

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DINING IN AND ON-THE-GO
I have a tiny bag that's packed with the reusable goods we carry daily-- from straws to produce bags to napkins to to-go containers-- view the roundup here. At various markets and shops, we've been able to offer our tupperware or stainless containers to fill in lieu of plastic packages. When items get dirty from use when we're out, we drop them into a leak-proof BPA-free bag and wash everything at home later.

We've also been reducing our dependency on plastics within the Cottage. West uses these beautiful handmade wooden plates by Timberchild, and stainless steel snack cups + drinking cups + sippy cups. Munchkin has some great hybrid designs, and Pura Stainless has fantastic, adaptable Earth-friendly items for all ages from infants to adults.

Instead of getting plastic plates, bowls or utensils for West, we have wood or metal versions of everything. They hold up just as well to being tossed around, and they're easy to care for.

As far as beverages are concerned, we go through a ton of carbonated water. Instead of buying bottles and cans, we use a Soda Stream here at home, which cuts back on cost and eliminates bottle waste. For coffee, we now have a mini Keurig with a reusable pod so there's zero waste (not even a basic filter) beyond the compostable coffee grounds.

As for West, he was exclusively breast-fed for the first 6 months, and then fed with breastmilk in tandem with his food for another year beyond that point. He now drinks water or milk from stainless steel containers, or paper cartons if we're in a pinch out the door. When we buy milk, we try to select paper cartons that have no plastic components.

We never use disposable cups, nor do we use disposable plates or napkins. We never use cling wrap, and opt instead for beeswax wrap.

Lastly, Adam and I recently adopted a pescatarian diet-- both for environmental reasons, and out of concern for animal cruetly. 

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CLOTHES / LINENS
We have a reusable/cloth diapering system from Grovia, and we’re thrilled with it. You can read about it here. While we do use baby wipes if needed, we also have reusable cloth wipes, which we use during every changing.

When possible, we skip the dryer (which we share with our neighbor) to save energy, and use a makeshift clothesline that runs between our cottage and a ficus tree. I have some work to do on this topic though. I do still use the dryer for linens that have notable amounts of dog hair on them, since the dryer is basically a magical pet hair remover. We use a Seventh Generation detergent that comes in compostable and recyclable brown packaging.

For West's few pieces of clothing, we try to use ETSY as much as possible. As for me, I use Rent the Runway for special occasions, and have started wearing lots of no-fuss linen, as well as clothes by Daniella Hunter, which are made of eco-fabrics that utilize sustainable plant-based threads like hemp, silk, organic cotton and lyocell. (Meanwhile, Adam basically never gets anything new ever. He's still wearing the shirts he wore when I met him, and I love him for it.)

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PERSONAL CARE
When it comes to feminine products, menstrual cups are solid options, as there's zero waste beyond their initial packaging. If a cup doesn't work to your comfort, tampons without applicators are a mindful alternative. For example, Natracare organic tampons are naturally biodegradable and vegan.

I recently swapped out disposable cotton rounds for organic reusable/washable cotton cloths. These are available in a myriad of places, such as ETSY and Wild Minimalist. Similarly, we rarely use tissues-- even on West-- and use handkerchiefs instead. (If our skin needs a bit of softening or relief, we just apply coconut oil.)

Our razors are made from recycled plastic, but I'm not really wild about them. Our wood-handled ones fell apart years ago, so I think I'll try a Rockwell Safety model next. Hopefully that will be the last!

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CLEANING
I have a separate cleaning post in the works, so I'll pause on this topic until that entry. But I've found that reusable glass bottles filled either with homemade all-purpose cleaner or cleansers from concentrate are not only eco-friendly but space-saving. We use towels and rags rather than paper towels for all forms of cleaning. 

I'm sure I'm forgetting so many details, but I look forward to expanding upon all of these topics soon. (In the meantime, if you have any questions, please email us!)

Updates to the "Company Car"

It's been a year and a half since we got our "Company Car"-- a wonderful cargo bike by Virtue. Now that West is a toddler, we made some adjustments to the seating setup to keep him and the pups safe during our adventures around town.

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The bike comes with seating and safety belts for up to 4 children, but we're predicting that West won't be large enough to ride without some sort of support seat until he's around 4 years old. When West was an infant, Adam and I used to secure his first-stage car seat into the cargo bike. But once he outgrew that arrangement, we began searching for other methods of keeping him safe while riding in the bucket.

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In order to fit West, both pups, and a few bags into the bike, we removed one of the two benches that come with the Virtue. We left the back bench in place, an attached a "Child Seat" next to a "Toddler Seat" from My Amsterdam Bike. Currently, West fits in the toddler seat, but he or his friends can sit in either of the chairs.

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We also added two tethers to the interior of the bike to keep Stanlee in Sophee safe in traffic in case they try to jump out. These two tethers are connected from the bike to harnesses on either beagle-- we never attach the dogs by their collars. If a pup does jump, there's enough slack so that they can land on the ground without dangling, but there's not enough slack for them to run away. (Neither pup has ever jumped out while on-the-go, but I don't want to take any chances.)

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This is by far my favorite way to get around Venice and the nearby neighborhoods of LA. Not only is it a joy to ride with our family all together, but the bike inspires great reactions from the community, and we've met several lovely folks this way.

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West has a toddler helmet (the "BabyNutty") by Nutcase. I highly, highly recommend this brand, as their helmet buckles are magnetic rather than traditional, so there's little to no chance of pinching your child's neck when applying or removing the helmet.

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Adam also wears a Nutcase, and I wear a Bern.

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While we use a monster lock to secure our bike around town, I also got a double-loop cable to string through our helmets and empty baskets so we don't have to lug them around with us when we're popping into businesses.

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With this bike (and the occasional Lyft ride when necessary), our simplified, 1-car lifestyle works out beautifully!

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Folding Wagon for Kids, Pets, & Shopping

We bought a folding wagon for West and the pups about a year ago, and we still receive numerous inquires about it. As such, here's a quick review with photos and product links. I would've loved to buy a previously-owned / vintage wagon, but this one navigates smoothly over wretchedly-paved roads or natural ground, is washable, and is practical for a compact home or apartment. As such, it was the right fit for our needs. We routinely use ours to wheel around our son, his friends, the pups, plants, groceries, and medium/large boxes. 

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We selected a version of the Wonderfold that comes with telescoping corners for an optional sun canopy, and I'm so glad we did. It takes about 15 seconds to apply or remove the canopy, and it functions perfectly for bright, hot days. We also added a safety seat for West when he was a bit smaller. It kept him upright, safely harnessed, and prevented him from knocking his head into the wagon's frame. (Another optional add-on is a mosquito net.)

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Most importantly, the entire wagon folds up or expands within a couple seconds, making it practical for multi-tasking folks in confined living quarters. (It also fits easily into small trunks when collapsed.)

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Some handy details include two mesh pockets on the exterior for reusable water bottles and coffee thermoses, a zippered back storage bin for medium-sized goods such as handbags, and an interior pouch for small  books, leashes, etc.

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Conveniently, the handle of the wagon doesn't crash to the ground when you release it-- it either stays put, or very slowly lowers, depending on how forcefully you release it.

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It's easy to remove the canvas of the wagon for machine washing. (I simply hang-dry the material before reinstalling it.) Ease of washing was important to me, because West regularly draws on the fabric with chalk, the pups shed on everything, and I somehow always manage to get sap and floral water all over the interior.

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I hope this helps. Here's to tiny adventures beyond our homes!

Year 12

Stanlee, our senior adopted beagle-mix, turned 12 yesterday!

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I adopted him when I was living on the east coast over a decade ago. He has since been all over the country with me, and has romped through forests, cities, snow, beaches, prairies, endless flower fields, the mountains, and deserts. He has stopped a robbery in progress at the Cottage, was here for our tiny home wedding, and has watched over West like a hawk since our son was born.

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We spend Friday mornings together-- just the two of us-- and I wouldn't be who I am without him.

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Here are some of our favorite pet products that we've enjoyed with him (and his sister) over the years:

When we moved into the cottage, we initially tried to keep him off of the couch and bed. But after a few days we realized that he’d basically have nowhere to go if he wasn’t welcome on those surfaces, since our home is so small. Now 7 years have passed, and we have 2 more family members— West & Sophee— who have mastered the Art of the Cushion-Smash pioneered by their big brother. I love watching them scramble up and down the built-ins. Meh, the dirt can always be cleaned. (And machine-washable throw blankets are our friends.)

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It might sound childish, but Stanlee is my best friend on the planet. #AdoptDontShop, folks. It can change your life in the most wonderful way. 

 Left: Stanlee at the cottage, photographed for  the chalkboard  in 2015. right: stanlee at the cottage, photographed for  sfgirlbybay  in 2018.

Left: Stanlee at the cottage, photographed for the chalkboard in 2015. right: stanlee at the cottage, photographed for sfgirlbybay in 2018.