Tiny House Hibernation

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup: Gifts for the Pups

I’ve received enough requests for a round-up of space-savvy, beautiful and/or eco-friendly pet goods for the holidays that I though the topic deserved a mini-post.

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I unapologetically have stockings for both of my dogs, and even my parents display stockings for StanLee and Sophee at their home in Kanapaha. I think I’m more enthusiastic about giving gifts to our pups than to anyone else, other than West. Our lil’ beagles bring us so much joy on a daily basis— why not return the favor?

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Handmade, Updatable Collars
I wish I’d discovered Ike & Stella collars years ago, as they’re easy to update when parts begin to age or fray (meaning that they don’t have to be entirely discarded over the years).

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

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

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

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Fursatile makes customizable nesting accent stairs/stools that we love. These multi-purpose accent pieces use fabric that is both lovely and durable, capable of resisting stains and spills from pets and kids alike.

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

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Let’s spend more time out and about with our pups (without our eyes glued to our phones)— it’s the most loving gift we could give them.

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

Pet Bowls
We’re currently using stainless steel mixing bowls for the pups since West broke all but one of the ceramic pet dishes when he was little. But there are endless, artfully crafted bowls available via Etsy!

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Pet Beds 
We’ve been skipping indoor pet beds these days, opting instead to use easily-washable, layered blankets. (More info on that here.)  However, we truly we LOVED our oversized pillow from our neighbors at The Wolf Nest when we had it in the front tiny house. (We humans used it as a floor cushion, too.)

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

Food Tins
If you’re cramped for space, nothing can ruin the look of a room (or leave food vulnerable) like an exposed bag of kibble. These tins blend easily into a space, and are available in treat/snack sizes, too. We keep ours on the bottom shelf in the Cottage bath, right next to the water bowl.

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

Housing a Crowd Without Overcrowding 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rolling, Collapsible & Nesting Furnishings/Accessories 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Extra Guest Bed Considerations 

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

Blank Space at the Entryway and In the Bathroom

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

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

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

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

Carefully Considered Holiday Decor

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

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

Toys For Little Ones Living in Little Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUSTAINABILITY
If the item is new, are the materials sustainable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing a Green Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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Green Home

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Gifting

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

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

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

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Green Fashion 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Tuesday

My business is centered upon the art of making small and/or tricky spaces into long-term homes. But there are so many people in this world who have never had a steady home. 

For years I’ve worked with The RightWay Foundation, which supports current or emancipated foster youth. The RightWay Foundation works with youth ages 18-24 because they are preparing to emancipate or have just "aged out" of the system. Many suffer the consequences of trauma from moving house to house or group home to group home in their childhood, lack the support they need to find a job and keep one, and are unable to secure housing after their housing from the County has now been cut off.

Many of Rightway’s foster youth are pushed into the world without enough resources to ensure their success. Once aging out, youth are facing the harsh realities of the general outcomes for foster youth in California and LA County. This is when they come to The RightWay Foundation.

The RightWay Foundation offers job training services, help with housing, therapy, job placement, financial literacy, career counseling, and education to the transitioning foster youth, and provides them with a welcoming and understanding support system.

Please consider supporting The Rightway Foundation and our wonderful foster youth this holiday season. Every donation helps.

Previous Rightway posts:

Above photos by Justina Blakeney, Whitney Leigh Morris, or The Rightway Foundation from various creative give-back partnerships over the years.

S’well Holidays

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

I’m often asked how we manage various holidays in our tiny house. (“Where do you store all the stuff year-round? How do you display everything? Can you host, or do you have to go elsewhere?”) While I definitely understand the inquiries, I also find them a tad bit amusing— because, in actuality, it’s all quite simple. By reorienting our focus towards activities (rather than things) and community (rather than staying being our tiny closed doors), our family enjoys our holiday traditions immensely— they just look a bit different here.

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With every passing day we’re becoming increasingly focused on reducing our household waste— especially when it comes to what we buy and the businesses we support. I’ve shared much of this journey here on the blog and via Instagram, and there’s certainly been an marked uptick in our passion on the topic since reading recent studies regarding the devastating effects we’ve had on the Earth. 

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Microplastics are turning up everywhere— even in the food we eat and the beverages we drink. We can do better. We HAVE TO do better for our bodies, our planet, and future generations. This means evaluating everything we buy and use (and then consider discarding)— from our every day sustenance to our holiday decor. 

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While the climate devastation is a sobering issue, shifting our habits and lifestyle can be downright delightful, as we’ve discovered here at the Cottage. 

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One of my favorite, easy ways to reduce waste and save money is by using S’well bottles, both here at home and while on-the-go.

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

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As such, I was thrilled when S’well invited me to be a part of their ‘It’s a S’well Life’ campaign, and to share with you how we use (and use and use and use) our S’well products as essentials— everyday and during the holidays.

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DECOR
Our son, West, is two years old. Over Halloween, we realized that he is now old enough to be completely fascinated by holiday decorations, even if he doesn’t yet understand why they’re up. 

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But rather than covering our own home and garden with seasonal flair, we turn his love of holiday decor into a family scavenger hunt of sorts. We’ll take the dogs and either walk, cargo bike, or canoe around our neighborhood to explore the festive setups our neighbors have taken care to install in their yards. 

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

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Going to browse potted trees (which can be replanted after the holidays, avoiding landfills and helping manage heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere!), natural or pop-up ice skating or sledding spots, wreath-making workshops, and local light displays are all options that require little-to-no money. And then we don’t have to bring home anything new to display in our tiny home (and then ultimately throw out or store year-round).

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ACTIVITIES
From the library, to night markets, to neighborhood events at the playground, to the beloved annual bridge and boat decorating contest here on the canals, there’s so much to see and do here as an individual, couple, or family. 

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

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

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HOSTING
We LOVE hosting in our tiny house.

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There’s something about a small space that makes everything feel a touch more festive and special— it’s just so cozy and welcoming. 

One of the (many) things I love about S’well is that you can use the same, stylishly-designed pieces in your house and outside of it, minimizing the number of items you own while reducing your dependency on new, single-use plastics and other similar disposable drinkware. 

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Let’s take active measures together to ensure that we protect our planet for future generations— there’s no greater gift we could give them this holiday season, and beyond.

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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.

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 Living & Better Money Habits

This blog post was sponsored by Bank of America. 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.

It’s clear that I love living “tiny.” It reduces my family’s footprint on this planet by requiring fewer resource and belongings, it frees up time, it encourages me to remain undistracted from the topics that I believe matter most, and it saves money in a myriad of ways.

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However, like all folks, we still have numerous financial issues to consider daily. We are a single-income household. We live in a costly city, and in an even more expensive neighborhood, specifically. I run my own small business, and it requires a great deal of money to start, own and operate a company in California. (And, as we all know, some seasons of life require more spending than others.)

Living tiny helps balance out and accommodate all of these other pricey realities. 

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Whether you’re looking to rent or buy, there’s a seemingly endless list to consider when choosing the area in which to live, and how to much to invest in your home or apartment.

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For example, we knew we wouldn’t need a garage if we shared one compact car and relied on biking as our primary mode of transport, which we do— even with the pups and our son. 

Similarly, we opted to forgo moving into a home with a second bedroom when we became pregnant with our son, because we were— and still are— genuinely happy with the idea of co-sleeping/bed-sharing. (Instead, we put that chunk of money away as a starter fund for our son’s education.)

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Such considerations require careful thought and attention. I’ve used Bank of America for business and personal purposes for years, and they offer an enormous number of tips and resources for prospective homeowners and renters through their #BetterMoneyHabits portal on their website and app.

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I use the Goals Tool and the Spending and Budgeting Tool, both of which are highly useful, straightforward, and visually-appealing. 

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When I use these tools, it enables me to better understand when I can responsibly approach improvement projects around the Cottage. The Goals Tool is my go-to. It allows me to easily map out the projects and life-stages for which I’m saving, and set my own timeline for each topic. 

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I’m currently monitoring our savings for retirement, education, family experiences, and home renovations, all on varying timelines. 

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We have two dogs and a toddler, and we live by the beach, so life gets… sandy. Instead of moving to a house with a “muck room,” we decided to budget for an outdoor shower, which we plan to install soon.

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Thanks to the SoCal weather and our coastal lifestyle, I feel like this is a worthwhile outdoor update that we’ll be able to appreciate almost year-round.

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Next I’ll consider modifying the color of the wood on our built-in bed and two pocket doors. I don’t love the dark tone of the stain, which even appears red in certain lighting. This has been on my mind for over seven years, so I feel like it’s something I should finally tackle. Plus it’ll improve the overall look and feel of our tiny house tremendously. 

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I’m still debating between sanding and re-staining (which will be difficult due to the beveling on the wood), or simply painting. I’m on the fence. (You’ll probably find me sitting here twiddling my fingers a year from now. I can’t make up my mind.)  

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Considering an improvement of your own? The Home Ownership resources on Bank of America’s Better Money Habits site offer insight on both home ownership and renting, and determining the true cost and benefits of either option.

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Here’s to keeping our homes simple and smart. Check out these tips for before and after you buy.

Small Space Style - Lil' Giveaway  

Gifting is usually a simple affair over here. I almost always prefer to give food— such as freshly baked bread and grape preserves from the Cottage vine— wrapped in a reusable napkin. Presents such as local food or beverages reduce waste, don’t contribute to clutter, and can easily be adapted to suit seasons, recipients and occasions. 

However, every now and then for special occasions I like to create little gifts made up of a samplings of goods that we have here at the Cottage. I did this for my closest girlfriends before my wedding, and I’m doing it again now in celebration of the release of my book, Small Space Style: Because You Don’t Need to Live Large to Live Beautifully. Some of these bundles are being given to folks who helped me in my career and/or with the book, while others are reserved for a lil’ giveaway as a way of saying thank you to the readers of this blog and my corresponding Instagram account.

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When deciding what to include in this little gift box to accompany a copy of the book, I chose some of the items that I enjoy daily, including:

  • A vegetable tanned leather file folder from Graf & Lantz, handmade here in the USA

  • A blonde wood S’well Bottle (no more new, disposable plastic bottles, folks!) 

  • A natural fiber wrapped pen 

  • A linen hand towel or canvas bag from Maptote (exact styles for giveaway will vary)

  • A set of (toddler-friendly) coasters from Wayfair 

  • A simple handheld fan

  • A handmade raffia bottle cover from Seavibe Design

I am giving away 3 of these humble bundles. Just complete the simple form below to be entered for a chance to win.

Giveaway info + rules: Continental US residents only, please. Giveaway will be closed at 11:59 pm PST 11/01/18. Winners to be announced on 11/02/18 via @WhitneyLeighMorris’ Instagram Stories. No purchase necessary.

If you already bought a copy of the book, THANK YOU so sincerely for helping support our tiny business and family.

Below are images of the giveaway items, paired with visuals of how we use them in our home:

Here’s a snap of Adam packing everything up here in our garden— when I say we’re a small business, boy do I mean it.

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Again, many thanks for helping us share the message that you don’t need to live large to live beautifully.

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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Better our bodies, Better our planet

Some of the primary considerations when it comes to making lifestyle shifts towards reusable goods and healthier foods is, of course, economics and accessibility. Here in LA there is a seemingly never-ending list of restaurants and markets where you can buy local, fresh, organic foods, but they tend to come with a lofty price-tag. While I’ve experienced (and shared) how small homes and reusable goods can save so much money and so many resources, I need some help on the topic of food. (It seems like nearly all of the money I earn goes into our bellies, and I’m really trying to be smarter when it comes to what we eat and how much we spend on it.)

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I aim to make healthy, wallet-friendly, ethical food choices for my family, but it can be tough to check off all the boxes on this list for the majority of folks living on a tight budget in larger, fast-paced cities. By researching how to wisely feed ourselves and our families in a way that reduces waste, costs less, and is accessible to more of the population, we can better our bodies and our planet. 

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I wanted to learn more about this subject, and do so alongside youth and staff members from The RightWay Foundation, which is a local organization that I’ve been involved with for years. The RightWay Foundation works with current or emancipated foster youth to move from a point of pain and disappointment to a point of power, productivity, and self-sufficiency. This topic of healthy and affordable meals is important to many of the RightWay youth who are struggling to budget for healthy foods for themselves or their children, and/or find ways to eat healthy while juggling the realities of shared living spaces and busy work schedules.

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For our discussion, we met at a sweetgreen restaurant, which I chose due their business philosophy and practices. sweetgreen believes that the choices we make about what we eat, where it comes from and how it’s prepared have a direct and powerful impact on the health of individuals, communities and the environment. (Note: This is not a sponsored post.)

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sweetgreen operates with a transparent supply network, they cook from scratch, and they’re building a community of people who support real food. I also appreciate their focus on sustainability, from their brick-and-mortar designs and waste management to the food they serve. Society can’t afford not to think and eat sustainably, and sweetgreen takes steps to positively impact the food system.

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Our specialist for the session was Lily Diamond of Kale and Caramel. Lily is a stand-out voice in the food community, and she uses her blog and social media channels to share her knowledge of ways in which we can invest in self-care without spending a penny, and eat healthy and beautiful foods on a strict budget in all types of kitchens, whether small, shared, temporary, mobile, or professional.

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Lily offered some easy practices that I intend to look into immediately. A few simple highlights are below, but I encourage folks to browse her channels to dive into everything in deeper detail. 

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HEALTHY & AFFORDABLE MEAL SOLUTIONS (a sampling)
by
Lily Diamond

Imperfect Produce
Imperfect Produce is a delivery company sources “ugly produce” directly from farms and delivers them to your door. From their website: “Approximately 20% of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. never leave the farm just because they look a little different. Instead of ending up on your dinner plate, they end up left in the field or trucked to landfill. We think that’s crazy, and we’ve built a network of over 150 farmers and producers who agree. We buy their unloved produce, and they’re rewarded for their full harvest–not just for the pretty stuff.”

Multi-Use Food Staples 
Did you know you can wash your face with honey? And you can moisturize your skin with almond oil or even olive oil— not just coconut oil? And use salt or sugar for body scrubs? The list goes on. While a bottle of oil might cost a bit more money up front than you want to spend, it can go a long way in the kitchen AND when it comes to skincare. (Which can save SO much money AND space.) Similarly, a single, larger container of Greek Yogurt can be used as sour cream, traditional yogurt, and even cream cheese. 

To-Go
Refillable water bottles will save you money. (A leak-proof bottle might cost, say, $20 up front, but can last for a lifetime. Seeing as how a bottle of water can cost around $3, it won’t take long to get your money’s worth.) Having reusable bags filled with bulk-purchase nuts, or carrying stainless steel containers of cut up fruits and veggies in your bag at all times will keep your snacks healthy and your waste minimal. (Carry a reusable roll-up utensil pack at the ready so you’re not tempted to pop into a cafe.)

Store Fruits & Veggies Appropriately
Think about where fruits and veggies are displayed in the market, and store yours accordingly. (For example, tomatoes shouldn’t go in the fridge.) This will help them last longer, and ripen naturally. Use bags like Ambrosia Bags to preserve freshness. They have a price-tag, but will save you money in the long-run by prolonging the life of your food and reducing your waste.  

Make a Meal Last
Add nut butter to blended breakfasts to provide you with more nutrients and to better satiate your hunger, prolonging the amount of time until your next meal.

For Babies
It can be so much cheaper and healthier to steam veggies and then mash/blend them (or fruit) for a baby. You don’t need expensive equipment to do so— a handheld grinder such as this will work beautifully. This also introduces your child to more adventurous tastes, and prevents them from consuming preservatives and other add-ins in processed foods. 

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I look forward to trying out  more of Lily’s mindful suggestions. I also hope to spend some time looking into The Jar Method, developed by E and Roe of @BrownKids (who live in 140 sqft!) in Baltimore.

Sincerest thanks to the team at sweetgreen for welcoming (and feeding) us during this wonderfully productive meeting.

For readers who want to learn more about The RightWay Foundation, or are interested in donating funds for us to purchase produce bags, food storage bags, and reusable travel bottles for the youth, click here to visit the website, or contact the Cottage.

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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Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part VI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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