Minimalism: Trendy Choice or Forced Default?

With worsening housing affordability is minimalism really a lifestyle “choice”

The Toronto Real Estate Board released its December numbers and Toronto house prices rose 16% in 2019. So that “it’s got potential” $762,000 average home you were looking at last Christmas will now set you back $885,000.  The amount of household income spent on a home is continuing to worsen and trending towards affordability issues of the late eighties.

In unaffordable cities it’s fair to ask if living in smaller spaces, even by self-proclaimed minimalists, is a lifestyle ‘choice’ or rather a necessary mind shift to keep smiling through a lack of other realistic options. 

Given home prices, it’s no surprise that condos are the fastest growing segment in Toronto and that condo kids are becoming common place. No longer the high-story landscape of young urbanites and down-sizers, condos are increasingly long-term family homes.  Family apartment living is familiar in other large established centres but new to Toronto. The square footage offered on new condos is not geared to families, unless they ‘want’ (aka have no other option) to embrace minimalism.


https://pixabay.com Victoria_Borodinova

With historically low vacancy rates still driving rents, you won’t do much better in the rental market where average rent increased by about 7% and a 1-bedroom costs $1350 monthly.  People who have otherwise outgrown their spaces can’t move and lose their locked-in lower rents. (CMHC rental market report https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/data-and-research/publications-and-reports/rental-market-reports-major-centres)

We love our neighbourhood, the walkable restaurants, parks and library.   The low chained linked fences that build community across tiny city yards (I’ve passed a toddler to a willing neighbour on many an occasion while I ran inside to retrieve a waking baby or stir a pot of soup).

But I have also pined for a second bathroom. Heck I’d take one bathroom if it was big enough for me to stretch out my arms without touching the walls.   And my family are among the privileged ones with some equity. We bought seven years ago when houses, albeit small ones like ours, could be had for under half a million.  With only 5% down, we now own a good portion of our home thanks to rising prices. Those same rising prices that have pushed family and friends out of the core. 

I do wonder though if my attempt to live more minimally would have happened organically had upsizing been on the table. Would I feel the impulsive need to purge and limit if not for fear of reaching capacity in our home? 

For the planet, for less stress and so many other reasons reducing our consumption makes sense. But who am I to question the knick knacks of suburbanites and moralise on it when really, what ‘choice’ was there behind my lifestyle?    

Coffee Table Alternative

What’s a minimalist when hosting book club with no coffee table

I recently hosted my book club which is one of the few times I regret our decision to give away our coffee table. With a living area that is also our kids rec room we forwent our antique marble coffee table in favour of more room for ride-on toys and floor puzzles.

Image by anapaula_feriani from Pixabay

We decided to go this minimalist route when thinking about baby proofing the sharp corners of our coffee table. With two end tables for our movie night snacks, the coffee table really was one of those items that used a lot of space but that we could manage without.

Most of the time I’m happy with the choice as I watch my kids scoot and run unimpeded. But my beloved book club is 40% about the friendships, 40% about the food and 20% about the book (we always manage to devote some time to discussing the book). Having inaccessible nibbles on those nights is less than ideal.

So, I got creative this past time hosting. I realised the kids’ IKEA art table is kinda perfect coffee table size for our group and once covered in cheese boards and sweets it hid the few artistic embellishes of when non-washable marker strayed from paper.

http://www.smallhousebigcity.com

Sometimes we just accept not having things that we don’t need 95% of the time (sigh, a waffle iron) but it’s also nice when it works out that we can make something do double duty so it’s there for those rare occasions too.

Paring Down on Toys

80% of the kids toys disappeared overnight and their reaction floored us. The feared mutiny to minimalism has never come and we’re all happier.

Before hosting my daughter’s first birthday we stashed nearly all the toys in the basement. Save one small toy basket, play kitchen and a ride-on, the rest were hidden away. All this was done while the kids slept and I steeled myself for the meltdowns in the morning. Except they never came.

Literally 80% of the kid’s toys disappeared overnight and they didn’t even seem to notice. Like didn’t say one word about it.

So we stuck with it, swapping the contents of the basket and larger ride-ons every couple days. Nightly clean up time was reduced to minutes and no one seemed to be too restless with less distraction options.

Image by http://www.smallhousebigcity.com

It’s been six months now and I’m finally comfortable enough that no mutiny is coming to have sold our large toy storage unit and pass along quite a few less-loved items.

Simplicity Parenting

I’ve always tried to keep a thoughtful and small toy collection and found psychologist Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting an accessible and easy read on the benefits to children on having less stuff in their lives. https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/simplicity-parenting-using-the-extraordinary/9780345507983-item.html

Time and again he saw little people that were more emotionally balanced and happier when toys and busy schedules were simplified. And like my own experience, most of the kids he worked with didn’t even comment on a reduction in their toys, despite parents’ fears.

The book gives great advice on how to purge and the pieces to invest in, like kid-size table, costumes, a tent-like space. And those than can go, such as branded character toys with limited creative uses and noisy obnoxious toys (hurray).

Ironically after reading it I went out and bought something new for the kids- a small table and chairs as suggested. It seemed unnecessary but has become a place where both kids are drawn daily for self-directed creative play.

Simplicity Parenting offers no magic number of toys to possess and I never would have thought it’d be as low as our current number but for now its working. As the kids get older we’ll certainly need to adjust but I’m grateful for our little unplanned experiment to realize we can drastically pair down and all be happier.

The Great Media Purge

As a student without cable and pre-Netflix I used to love Thursday night Blockbuster nights. The ritual began with walking the outer store perimeter to review the new releases from A to Z and then trying to convince my friends that my pick was clearly the night’s winner. Don’t bother with the middle aisles, ever.

Next a stop at Metro for Smart Food and M&Ms. Over the years I managed to amass a fairly sizable collection of DVDs largely thanks to Blockbuster’s bins of pre-owned treasures.

Remember two-day rentals and please be kind rewind? Blockbuster has faded to nostalgia thanks to online streaming and I haven’t bought a DVD since getting Netflix but somehow my boxes of DVDs haven’t faded away. I didn’t even bother with a media display when moving into our home five years ago.

Ditto for my CDs which haven’t had a new addition since I discovered Songza and now Spotify.

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Its hard to say goodbye to old friends, isn’t it? How many bed-ridden days has Bridget Jones gotten me through? And Never Ending Story is clearly a classic in my books.

Netflix obviously doesn’t have everything, though more than I’ll ever be able to watch. Thankfully you can also rent movies online of course, that’s how we finally managed to see the latest Star Wars released during newborn baby madness.

There’s also the local library, I headed straight there to remedy the fact that I hadn’t seen or even heard of Lilies of the Field a Sidney Poitier classic, much to my parents dismay (clearly I should have spent more time in middle aisles of Blockbuster).

So I’m ready to let these go, mostly.  Johnny Cash’s greatest hits stays for cleaning marathons, Disney and awesome road trip cds stay too, Princess Bride hangs in there because its my favourite and Bridget Jones stays too because I’m just not ready to let her go.