Tiny House Hibernation

For most of the year, I appreciate the ways in which our lil’ home encourages us to get outside and enjoy our neighborhood and be involved in the community. But, with longer stretches of night and colder days, we love staying in— or at least staying close. Looking back at the photos in my camera roll from the past week or so, it’s apparent that our tiny house hibernation has definitely begun for the season.

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We’ve discovered a lifestyle balance that works well for our family by creating a space that lovingly reminds us that there’s so much more to the world beyond our walls, while it simultaneously provides us with everything we need and want within this compact square-footage.

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We’ll be staying here for the holidays, soaking up the rare quiet that falls over Venice, reading piles of library books with West, strolling slowly with the pups, canoeing through the canals, and biking through the streets to enjoy the twinkling holiday displays.

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Below are some iPhone and compact camera shots from December thus far. We’ll be blogging and ‘gramming through the holidays, but we still want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. (And, if you’re feeling in the giving spirit, please consider donating to The RightWay Foundation. Your contribution will go directly to providing our youth with the gift of a safe, warm, and welcoming environment and community, so they won’t be alone for the holidays.)

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

Housing a Crowd Without Overcrowding 

How we navigated overnight hosting + holiday decor + rainy weather realities in our tiny house with three adults, one wild toddler, and two active 40-lb dogs over this past week.

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There are just three rooms in our miniature home— the bedroom, the bathroom, and the main room. The main room is divided by a low wall into two sections: the kitchen and the living space. The living space is about 10’ x 12’ and operates daily as our sitting room, my full-time office, a play space, and an entryway. However, this compact rectangle also multitasks as a guest room, a dining room, and a pop-up office when needed. (Read about hosting overnight guests in a tiny home, here.)

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For the past week, we hosted one of our closest friends (Emily) here at the Cottage. She is the greatest houseguest and the most delightful person in general, so it was an absolute joy to have her here for every precious minute. (She’s one of my nearest and dearest, and was included in my book’s dedication.) But the logistics of her stay in our home could’ve easily become a mess for a variety of reasons...

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Between having a sixth being in our small home for a decent stretch of time, accommodating her corresponding luggage (2 carry-ons), our holiday tree, and the rain that kept us all within under 400 sqft for the first part of her vacation (and ensured muddy paw-prints and wet pup hair during the subsequent days), there was a lot going on in the 10’ x 12’ from which I’m writing this post. (Read about the downside of rain and our tiny house, here.)

But with a few adjustments that required minimal effort, the week breezed by too quickly. While we enjoyed many lil’ adventures (a trip to the museum, a paddle on the canals while neighbors decorated bridges overhead for the holidays, bike and scooter rides around Venice, dining out, visits to local shops, reunions with old friends, holiday parties, and strolls down the beaches), I actually wish she could’ve stayed longer.

Here’s how we navigated overnight hosting + holiday decor + rainy weather realities as three adults, one wild toddler, and two active 40-lb dogs in our tiny house: 

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Rolling, Collapsible & Nesting Furnishings/Accessories 

Since moving into the Cottage over 7 years ago, we’ve had the same rattan storage trunk coffee table, and the same white folding dining table. Last month, I decided to make finally make some changes to those pieces to better accommodate our current lifestyle and tastes. 

We once needed the storage trunk in order to store our guest bed sheets and throw blankets, but I donated almost all of our spare linens and eliminated the need for that extra storage space. We now keep any throws out on the couch (either folded up or spread over the cushions), and the basic guest bed linens fold up tight and fit within the pillowcase, which I now stash in a protective bag under our bed.

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In place of the trunk, we now have a vintage, rolling basket-style table, which I found via @ShopSupermarché. I love this piece for so many reasons beyond its unique appearance. It’s easy to scoot around the house, it offers a perfectly contained play surface for West, and its narrow, metal legs free up the floor in our living room, making the space look bigger.

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

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Even with the coffee table tucked under my desk, I can nest West’s rolling “Strolley” (which contains his ever-changing collection of library books) and maintain immediate access to everything.

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A camping style stool was a perfect luggage stand and kept Emily’s carry-on bags off the ground, making it easier for her to organize and reach her belongings within a dedicated space.

Our new (pre-used) metal folding dining table that I found at a local garden center is longer yet narrower than our previous collapsible dining table, so it offers all the surface space needed for meals while simultaneously freeing up inches to navigate the rest of the room.

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We brought in West’s apple baskets of toys/activities from the play porch, as we do whenever it rains. They are easy to slide into spare inches, cavities,  and corners around the Cottage.

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

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Extra Guest Bed Considerations 

We didn’t want to make and remove Emily’s bed (aka our built-in couch) every day, but we still needed to use the sofa. Due to the rain, I was worried her linens would get destroyed by the dogs and West, who is a big fan of climbing on everything. As such, we draped a large flax Gathre Mat (which we cut into 2 pieces) over the cushions/bedding to keep everything looking relatively normal while also offering protection from mud, pet hair and paw prints, toy truck tires, and chalk-covered hands. Thankfully, the mats functioned as intended.

Blank Space at the Entryway and In the Bathroom

Having zero entry space beyond your front door can be rough in rainy conditions. But we make it work with a machine-washable woven bath mat that we fold horizontally in half. When not in use, I keep it in our bathroom vanity. When in use, it’s basically an interior doormat and boot tray. Our door-mounted key rack temporarily holds a quick-dry travel towel, which we use to wipe down the dogs after walks. It also accommodates umbrellas when needed, as they simply drip down onto the mat until we’ve removed our boots and are able to relocate umbrellas to the shower to dry off there. These adjustments to our 12-inch “entryway” took up none of Emily’s space. (Plus Adam was in Florida for 2 days during Emily’s stay, which helped ease the rain gear build-up.)

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In the bathroom, we temporarily cleared a shelf for Emily’s toiletries, and added an extra s-hook to our branch towel rack for her towels. This allowed us to manage rain-soaked clothing and gear, as well as West’s cloth diaper hanging hamper, without cramping the space or consuming the blank space needed for everyone’s daily routines. 

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

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

Carefully Considered Holiday Decor

We have a 4.5’-tall holiday tree, which we displayed on a slim, tall accent table / plant stand and placed by my desk. It makes the entire main room of our small house look plenty festive. Other than that (and a throw pillow cover), we have no additional holiday decor within the living space. Thanks to the absence of decorative trinkets and seasonal tabletop accents, Emily had the surface space she needed for her things, West had room to play with his toys and scatter his books, and the pups could still romp around per usual— all within the warm glow of the tree’s twinkle lights. 

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

Toys For Little Ones Living in Little Spaces

When you’re living in a compact space, finding suitable toys and gear for babies and toddlers can be difficult if you only search via big box stores and typical bestsellers. The following are some key considerations I’d recommend keeping in mind— particularly if you’re trying to be more eco-friendly this year.

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

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

DESIGN
Is the toy beautiful for the adults to see while also being interesting and educational for the child/children? Toys are always left lying around, meaning they’re most likely visible from almost anywhere in a compact apartment or home. It really makes a huge difference if toys are well-designed with colors, materials, and/or shapes that compliment your space.

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MATERIALS
Can you opt for a hand-me down or vintage piece rather than something new? Plastic and metal toys from decades past are still sitting on this Earth, so why not make repeated use of them and save them from landfills? 

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

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

SUSTAINABILITY
If the item is new, are the materials sustainable

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

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

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

ADAPTABLITY
Can the item work just as well on-the-go as it does within your home, reducing the number of toys your child requires? Compact books, storage play-mats, roll-up gear, travel games, folding tools, and to-go sets are easy to tuck into a canvas bag and suspend from wall hooks within the house at the end of the day, and can also be tossed effortlessly into strollers and carry-ons when needed.

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LIFESPAN
Is this a piece that can be handed down to a children’s hospital, library, or pre-school after it’s not longer needed in your home?

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As always, Etsy is my favorite resource for all things handmade and vintage. (You can even write to the seller to inform them that the packaging doesn’t need to be fancy, decorative or even new, which can help cut back on shipping materials and waste in general.) But there are many other sites and shops to explore, depending on your region, tastes and shopping preferences. 

And don’t forget your local library! Borrowing books is a great way to cut back on clutter, waste, and cost— all without disappointing your little one(s).

Here are some items (and similar designs) that we have and love for our son and our home. They are a mix of materials, sources, and production methods. Hopefully you’ll find some options that suit you and yours. Happy holidays! 

Embracing a Green Holiday Season

This blog post was sponsored by Garnet Hill. As always, the images and words are my own. Any photographs of my son and/or the pups were taken as they interacted happily in their own natural ways. 

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If you’re living in a small space and/or trying to be more eco- conscious, the holidays can feel a bit like a bit of a trap. The idea of additional, decorative home goods, mounds of gifts, and festive attire can squeeze compact square-footage while generating unwanted waste— from production, to transport, to (ultimately) removal.

Plus, when you’re in a region similar to ours here in Southern California, the weather doesn’t help you cut corners. If you want it to look and feel like the romantic start of a snowy-white winter season we see in movies, you have to get creative. To all of this I say— why not embrace a green season?

Here are a few enjoyable and easy ways to welcome a “greener” winter into your home, wardrobe and gifts.

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Green Home

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

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However, throw pillow covers, strands of lights, minimal garlands, and lightweight linens are tiny-yet-mighty ways to liven up your home for the season— particularly when paired with organic decor, such as potted plants and fresh clippings. 

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Tea towels and mini or lightweight festive throws and covers can be layered on top of your everyday home goods, adding a touch of warmth and forming a seasonal theme. We’ve gotten almost all of our tiny holiday touches from Garnet Hill. Most of these items can be folded away in a small, space-saving travel or “vacuum” bag when not in use. 

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

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Don’t forget to compost or recycle your clippings and other such seasonal greenery per your regions specifications come January 1. (Or even better— opt for potted plants that can take root in your home or garden and become part of the family.

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Green Gifting

I prefer to gift edible goods and beverages over the holidays, as they take up no space over time, and generate little-to-no waste. But for the rare occasions when I want to gift a more permanent item, I look for eco-friendly, versatile items that can adapt to a myriad of environments and roles.

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A simple yet stylish scarf can be worn and put to work in many ways, and can be displayed as functional decor when not in use. A neutral cashmere scarf/wrap, for example, is flexible for numerous wardrobe looks, and can last a lifetime when properly maintained.

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Breathable, twisted, two-ply yarns can reduce piling and prolong lifespan, all while getting softer with age. When gifted in tandem with a favorite beverage, a charitable contribution, or locally-grown specialty produce, a gift such as this can be suited to nearly any recipient. Simple twine and/or reusable produce bags or bread pouches are every bit as beautiful as wrapping paper, but can be used as daily household items again and again.

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Green Fashion 

For our little ones: West has finally outgrown the overnight jumpsuits that we relied upon so heavily these past two years (sob!), so we ordered these eco-friendly, stretchy-yet-snug, Green Cotton® pajamas for him. For over a quarter of a decade, the makers of these particular PJs have upheld strict environmental standards for harvesting, processing, dyeing, and finishing their cotton. (West loves their holiday hedgehog set the most.)

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My goal is for this set to last him as long as possible, and then either be handed down to a friend’s child, or kept in case we have a second child. 

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For him: Adam is at home most of the time, though he spends more time with West than I do, and less time at a desk. Since we don’t have want too many items crowding our single, shared closet, he usually wears one of two pairs all day long— so much so that no matter how often we wash them they still seem to maintain a hilarious, lived-in shape. So, as an early holiday gift, I got Adam a long, organic cotton robe, and a pair of plaid pajama pants, which are much cozier for days spent around the Cottage and our garden.

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For her: I want to embrace the season with my attire, but I live in sunny SoCal, and I’m always carrying around a child, chasing after the pups, working alone from my home-office, or biking around town. So I need versatile, no-fuss wardrobe staples. Despite the fact that I work from the Cottage, I don’t want to look like a zombie. I find that I’m more confident and more productive when I feel put together, though I never want to spend more than a couple minutes picking out an outfit and getting dressed. (I mean, I found my wedding dress within an hour.)

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An organic-cotton plaid shirt in a flattering cut can blend such needs and realities beautifully, and do so without containing harmful pesticides, GMOs, or chemical defoliants. It breathes, it adapts to both warm and cool temperatures, and feels good against your skin all day. It’ll get a lot of milage this time of year, and that’s the whole point. 

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

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

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As always, before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items might be easy for easy for some folks to forego, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best. Habits shift, tastes change, lives and practices evolve. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone. The following is just a small sampling of Holiday items you may want to reconsider. (View all the entries in this series here.)

Disposable Batteries
Love those little warm, battery-operated twinkle lights? Me too! Do you have flameless candles in your child-proofed home? So do we! A great way to cut down own spending and waste is to use rechargeable batteries. A simple 4-slot charger set can usually handle both AA and AAA sized batteries.

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Tree Skirt and Tree Pots
Getting a potted, living tree from a responsible grower? Amazing. Depending on your plant nursery, you might even be able to leave their standard plastic pot there for the staff to reuse if you have one on-hand already that you intend to use instead. (Or you can return the pot to the store once you’ve planted your tree.)

Did you get a more traditional tree? Lovely! Challenge yourself to skip a “tree skirt.” Investigate your existing belongings— perhaps you have a washable scarf, Turkish towel, or table runner might work perfectly. Then it can go back to its intended use after the holidays. 

Skipping the standard set up? An upcycled wine crate or basket might fit your lil’ tree juuuust right. 

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Wrapping Paper, Packs of Generic Greeting Cards, and Tags
No need to buy and stash all of those paper goods. Make your own from by repurposing book jackets, newspaper, craft packing paper, canvas shopping bags, tea towels, and more. A bit of twine can cinch it all up with understated elegance, and a creative tag can be made of almost anything— including fallen leaves penned with sharpie or metallic ink.

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To me, clever packaging such shows more care than the typical store-bought formats. But if you have any shiny new packaging set aside, go ahead and finally put it all to use… then stop the influx of similar purchases in the future.

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New Things
Generic heading, I know. But here’s a typical example of what I mean: Did you get an invite to yet another ugly sweater party?  Skip the retailer sweater, which you’ll likely wear once and then toss out, or cram into the back of a drawer for 364 days. “Fast fashion” is terrible for the planet, and there’s no reason to spend real money on a moment like this— particularly since other people will probably have shopped in the same place, and be sporting the same attire. Thrift shops usually have a myriad of options, and there’s oftentimes a charitable element that’s threaded through such businesses. As such, you can feel good about supporting their cause via your discounted, second-hand purchase. 

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Seasonal Tabletop Decorative Tchotchkes
I love the look of those little holiday villages all lit up on a mantle, but they’re a bit silly in a small space. Same goes for random “winter” objects, artificial pine cones and similar vase-fillers, and seasonal figurines.

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Want a festive display that looks great on a surface, doesn’t cost much money (if any), and requires zero storage space? Simple winter branches and florals, dunked into an existing glass, pitcher, watering can, or vase. When they’ve passed their prime, simply compost them or drop them in your city’s green bins. (Don’t get me started on seasonal napkin rings and name card holders. Is there anything more unnecessary?) 

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Party Supplies
With some greenery, you can easily holiday-up your small space gatherings without buying themed plates, cups, napkins, etc. Just use your everyday tableware, candles and/or twinkly lighting, and then let the clippings, food, and beverage round out the seasonal experience. 

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Tangible Gifts
There are endless causes for us to support every day of the year. There are millions of people in need of food, clothing, and safe shelter. There are children lacking basic school supplies. There are folks who need financial support for out-of-the-ordinary medical issues and family emergencies. Consider donations instead of tangible gifts. 

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If you’d still prefer to give something to your recipient directly, perhaps an experience would be welcome. A museum membership, a quick getaway, or a meal with friends and family are all lovely options. 

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We all know this, but it’s helpful to remind ourselves that it’s NOT ABOUT THE STUFF. Decorating for the season can be so delightful, but it’s really all about making human connections, giving back to our communities, engaging with one another, loving each other, and sharing the responsibilities of protecting our planet.

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.

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!

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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A Look Inside: Food Wrap Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing the Occasional Minimalism Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other easy swaps include:

Hosting Overnight Guests in Your Small Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our first book: Small Space Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • At 9am, Adam left for his job. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Misc. Accessories in a Tiny Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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A Look Inside: Small Space Food Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storing your vegetables:

  1. Rinse & shake off excess water

  2. Place wet veggies inside bag & close zipper

  3. Store inside refrigerator vegetable drawer

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Storing your herbs:

  1. Gently rinse herbs and shake off excess water

  2. Place herbs inside bag and close zipper

  3. Store in refrigerator vegetable drawer

Storing your delicate greens:

includes spinach, arugula & packaged salad mixes

  1. Remove plastic bag, place on towel

  2. Discard aged or undesirable leaves

  3. Hand sprinkle water over leaves

  4. Gently place inside bag

  5. Place inside refrigerator vegetable drawer

  6. Keep bag moist at all times

Storing your mushrooms:

  1. Remove plastic packaging

  2. Put dry mushrooms into bag and close zipper

  3. Place onto refrigerator shelf

  4. Keep bag dry at all times

Storing your berries

  1. Rinse berries (optional)

  2. Put berries into bag and close zipper

  3. Place onto refrigerator shelf

  4. Keep bag dry at all times

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

Updates to the Outdoor Playroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bright(er) Lil' Kitchen

This post was sponsored by The Home Depot. All opinions and images are my own. All photos including our son and/or the pups were taken as they happily interacted in their own, natural ways. 

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Clearly I love our tiny home. Very rarely do I long for material items or major changes— I’m usually extremely content with what we have, and aim for our belongings to last us a lifetime. One glaring exception to this has, for YEARS, been our major kitchen appliances. 

Our refrigerator, range and dishwasher fit our space quite well, but they weren’t the right fit for our style and needs. The fridge had a massive back-coil that consumed several inches of its counter-depth design, rendering the interior smaller than one would expect by looking at it from the outside. And the exterior was black on both sides, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of our airy lil’ home. 

Immediately next to the fridge is the dishwasher, which sits about 6’ or so from my desk, and it was so loud that I never wanted to run it. Plus I disliked that the stainless steel cover and large front-panel of buttons were the first details I noticed every time I entered through our front doors. 

But the stove was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The electric panel kept dropping out of its frame, and the design wasn’t particularly safe for West. Of course young children should always be supervised in the kitchen, but the compact nature of our space means that our 22 month-old West is constantly passing by the stove. We added safety knob covers on the dials, but our son’s proximity to the flames was an issue— particularly with his unruly curls brushing up against everything. Plus we don’t have a vent in our kitchen. Our ample windows and doors move the air constantly, but our burners were always covered in spatter and stray dog hairs. 

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So, in our 7th summer here, we finally swapped out all three appliances. (Hallelujah!) Usually it takes me a while to get used to notable changes in our home— at least a week or so. But I was instantaneously overjoyed with our newest residents: a white GE top control dishwasher, a GE slide-in electric range and self-cleaning convection oven, and a ever-so-slightly deeper but enormously more spacious white GE refrigerator, all from The Home Depot

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The Home Depot delivered and installed the new appliances, and removed the old ones. The entire swap took about an hour, as they had to adjust a few external elements within the kitchen to accommodate the product changes. 

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The GE refrigerator has the most impact on the space. To have an all-white front and sides changes the look and feel of our entire home, since you can basically see the fridge from almost every point in our miniature home. It’s technically not counter depth, so it sticks out about an inch further than our previous model. But It has far more usable space within it, thanks to the fact that there’s no coil in the back eating up precious inches.  

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It’s still very compact, allowing us to store dishes in wire mesh baskets up top. (And, thankfully, the baskets no longer rattle, as they did with our old fridge. They sit tight thanks to the steady and quiet nature of this ENERGY STAR appliance.)

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The GE top control dishwasher is by far superior to our old one. When I first turned it on, I thought it was broken because it was so quiet. I prefer everything about this machine— from it’s cleanly designed exterior to it’s three user-friendly racks inside. Plus it has wash zones, so we can now wash just a half-load when needed.   

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Due to the positioning of the dishwasher, it’s visible immediately when you walk in the house, and the white really brightens up (and thus visually enlarges) our space— even at night.

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Lastly, the range. We are thrilled with it. I know people get really intense about the gas vs electric debate, and I get it. But our new slide-in electric range and self-cleaning convection oven is designed in such a way that it is significantly safer for West to pass by it in our tiny cottage. (Sophee is another matter—she somehow manages to get onto e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.)

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It is SO MUCH EASIER to clean, and there’s no clunky back panel. Folks can continue to grumble over the gas vs electric issue— meanwhile, we’ll be here making eggs on (and clinking glasses by) our cleaner, safer, lighter, and happier lil’ kitchen!

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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. 

Summer Grilling in the Tiny Garden

This post was sponsored by La Brea Bakery. All images, words, and opinions are my own.

Since West entered into our lives, Adam and I have found that our small space entertaining style has changed greatly. 

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Our beachside summers in Venice were once spent hosting cocktail gatherings of up to 60 people here at our tiny home and yard. These days we are much more content to host easy, healthy, low-key meals in the garden with a few friends at a time. 

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In years past, we shared a giant grill with our neighbor across the porch. Over time it slowly fell apart and he decided to get rid of it. Adam and I never acquired a replacement. We usually grill at a friend’s house— it’s always nice to have little adventures beyond the cottage, and I delight in avoiding having to purchase more objects for our home. But every now and again we still grill in the garden, embracing the tiny life with the help of a biodegradable, 100% natural mini grill. (I’m still pretty much a disaster in the kitchen and on the grill, but luckily Adam is a wonderful cook.)

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We changed our dietary habits not too long ago, and we’ve since been enjoying more greens and fruit, as well as indulging in our love of bread. 

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Adam tried our first pescatarian-friendly meal prepared on a grill, and it turned out to be easy and light— the perfect meal for a warm, relaxing summer evening. 

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Our family tries to get most of our food from the Friday farmers market just off the canals. 

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However, we stopped buying our weekly supply of bread from the market a while back. It would either go stale before we could finish it, or we ended up eating way too much of it immediately in order to avoid wasting food. 

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We found our balance with La Brea Bakery’s Take & Bake breads

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They’re easy to prep fresh for any meal, and they’re completely yummy. 

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For our lil’ al fresco meal, Adam made us a grilled peach salad with fruit, honey, cheese and arugula from the farmers market, rounded off with two Take & Bake French Baguettes from La Brea Bakery. 

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(I may or may not have put a few pieces of arugula on the bread and topped it with a cheesy peach and eaten it like an open-face sandwich rather than a salad.) It was simple and delicious. 

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Here’s to slowing down this summer and enjoying healthy, happy meals with the ones we love. 

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INGREDIENTS
(Note: This served 4 of us, and took 40 minutes on the mini grill.)
4 Large Fresh, Ripe Peaches (Halved) // 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil // 2 Sticks of Honey (or 1/4 cup) of Honey // Chopped blocks of herbed Cheese // 1/2 lb Arugula // 3 Tbsp. Softened Butter // Grilled French Baguettes // Pine Nuts (which we got, but then totally forgot to use) // Salt & Pepper

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You can find more summer recipes here!