Kiddie Size Freebies

I ask my three-year old if he would like to accompany me to the dentist and get a quick ‘yes, they have the toy box’. By toy box he means the treasure chest from which he’ll get to pick one or two free tiny toys. Dollar store toys designed to last a day.

While my dentist is lovely and so great with kids, I know its the draw of the treasure chest that in part creates the positive association. Ditto for the hair dresser.

The minimalist in me wants to stop things at the door, but I also know that at this point I can still easily make toys disappear later if they don’t captivate my kids.

But most purged free ‘treasure chest’ type toys are not even fit for the donation bag. The quickly end up having the same fate as kinder egg toys and loot bag fillers…the landfill.

Knowing the devastating impacts of climate change it feels irresponsible to accept cheap toys with a one-day life span.

“We’re facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis…We need to wake up and change everything” Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg

But I’m torn. I don’t want to deprive my kids of the same experiences I had. I loved the treasure chest as a kid. I continued to eat happy meals despite my grandma insisting I was old enough for a Big Mac.

These small delights made ordinary things like dinner and dentists fun. I would feel like an extremist scrooge says ‘no’ to these things.

To avoid loot bags I’d basically have to turn down birthday party invitations or risk a melt down and offending another well-meaning mom by refusing the gesture.

I’ve been thinking of discreetly bringing in my own durable or waste free substitute for the dentist to offer. Perhaps a book that we fell in love when we loaned it from the library or a gift certificate to the local ice cream shop (if that doesn’t violate a dentist code of ethics).

My son won’t get same the thrill of choosing his very own toy from a mountain of toys but I think its still fun and definitely things that he likes.

I’m not striving to be a zero waster but this just might be one small change I can make for now.

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.

Minimalist Travelling with Kids – Mommy Connections Guest Post

Re-posting a guest post I recently did on Mommyconnections.ca. I’ve attended Mommy Connections events and workshops in the past and I am thrilled to be featured on their blog.

Mommy Connections Alumni, Bronwyn Hannelas, shares how she packed for a One-week trip, with 1 Baby, 1 pre-schooler and NO checked luggage.


For March Break our family of four flew to Vancouver for a week.  We spent time chasing waves on Tofino’s sandy Pacific beaches, atop snowy mountains, cycling in Stanley park and touring the city centre. Even with baby in tow we managed to avoid checking any baggage here’s how.

Maximize your Carry-on Limit

Since baby flew for free, we were left with a carry-on allowance of 3 pieces plus 3 small bags. I forwent a purse and opted for a diaper bag instead, the camera bag also did double duty holding some snacks and small toys.

Okay let’s get real with a 3.5-year-old and 15-month-old snacks and toys were inevitably stuffed everywhere but in clear ziplocks to maintain some sanity.  Wearing my daughter in her carrier also avoided the need to find space for that essential but bulky item.

Bring that Stroller

We gate checked our umbrella stroller for free. I travelled alone with the two kids on the flight over and the stroller doubled as a luggage dolly- a real life saver.

Any modest sized stroller that folds seems to be fine and I even saw a couple doubler strollers being stowed at gate.  Just beware as if its too bulky you could be looking at additional fees to check it.

Limit Shopping

We ended up being that family at airport rearranging suitcase contents and shovelling snacks into our kids mouths after our suitcases had mysteriously expanded past acceptable dimensions on the way home.

We planned to buy nothing, but I was the first to crack when I fell in love with Pinterest-worthy dessert bowls at a farmer’s market. We also did a Value Village run to replace some soaked sneakers and succumbed to ‘mom please’ requests for new dollies..

Forgo the Hotel

With Air BnB over a traditional hotel you can scout out a family friendly home that offers more options for meal prep, enclosed backyards and can seriously limit what you need to bring. We made sure to ask questions about high chairs, cribs and kid-friendly dinnerware ahead of time.

While visiting Vancouver Island the home we stayed in had an enviable toy collection that included ride-on toys- a definite hit with our littles. Our lovely hosts also passed along this outgrown rain suit for our daughter which was perfect for the ocean spray on the island’s sandy beaches.

Plan Activities Ahead

Limited luggage for us meant a trade-off in spontaneity. We brought hiking attire for some planned modest treks but opted not to bring swim suits. This meant having to forego the local pool on a rainy day and instead discovering free train rides and a cherry blossom festival at the local mall. Both kept the kids active indoors for a couple hours.

Minimalist travelling requires some additional planning and trade-offs much as it does in our daily family life in our small Toronto home. Ultimately though, keeping things simpler meant having the space and money to focus on taking in more new experiences.

Bronwyn Hannelas lives in Toronto’s west end with her husband and their two young children. She writes about trying to live a simpler life with less stuff at www.smallhousebigcity.com

Clutter-Free Writing Space: Writescape Guest Post

How does a writer stake out creativity space clear of kids and clutter? My recent guest blog post on the wonderful site Writescape.ca

I’m posting my recent guest blog post on the wonderful site Writescape.ca. Their fabulous blog ‘Top Drawer’ is a treasure trove of writing hacks and inspiration.

https://writescape.ca/site/2018/12/the-minimalist-writer/

The Minimalist Writer

Open concept is a must in all modern IKEA-catalogue-worthy homes. The glossy photos selling Swedish furniture promise you zen and relaxation. The reality is, unless you are living in a staged home, the open-concept layout likely means you’re being more overwhelmed by constantly looking at your overstuffed abode.

And for some writers, that can be deadly.

When you don’t have an uncluttered space to disappear to, your ability to hunker down and write can be seriously hampered.

Yes, you can write amid household chaos, but on some level you will always be fighting the distraction. It’s something I’ve had to struggle with until I found a solution.

Writer in a small house

Without a basement rec room, our main floor living space does triple duty:

  • toddler jungle gym
  • adult relaxing space, and
  • hubby’s office

Our cozy open concept dining room/living room always contains a lot of noble to-dos. The clean laundry waiting to be folded, the out-grown toys that can be donated or sold, the droopy plant begging for some water, and a thousand other half-finished projects that “will only take a few minutes.” You can’t feel guilty about not writing when you’ve tackled a stack of six months’ worth of unfiled health insurance claims.

But that’s exactly why we need to create a dedicated writing space. It should be a firm barrier against the rest of our lives’ clutter. No bake sale reminder notes or unpaid electricity bills allowed.

For Stephen King, it was the laundry room. For me, it’s the kitchen.

Choose your clutter battles

Even on our messiest kitchen days, we can get that sucker clean in about twenty minutes.Thanks to minimalizing purges and keeping things simpler, the countertops are clear once devoid of dirty dishes. Just don’t peek in the odds and ends drawer that every kitchen seems to harbour. (Editor’s note: That odds & ends drawer image is what inspired Writescape’s weekly blog for writers: The Top Drawer.)

The chairs may not be the comfiest ones in the house, but my kitchen has a good sized — and most importantly — empty writing surface. The best part? There is no sightline to the main living area — a minefield of emotional and physical clutter despite our best efforts. Once the crushed Cheerios and glitter have been swept up, the kitchen feels light and clear, and so does my mind.

Plus, the kettle is very handy for a cup of tea.

Clear off other distractions

Clutter goes beyond the tangible mammoth expresso machine and stack of Keurig cups eating up half your counter. Better turn off the data on your phone too when you want to have the space to write. The reminder pings of library books to renew and notices of who’s commented on your status go a long way to derail your week’s word count goal.

If you are fortunate enough to have a dedicated writing space, it’s well worth the time-investment to apply a Marie Kondo approach to that room. In a nutshell, keep only items that you consider beautiful or useful (i.e. research is informing your novel – but really, can’t you just digitalize that and recycle the folders?).

Even tackle that mug of twenty random pens picked up from conferences and hotel stays. Yes, pens are useful. No, you don’t need twenty of them stuffed into a coffee mug with an undecipherable dishwasher-faded logo. We all work best when not distracted and stressed by our things.

Sometimes though, life’s clutter can be a welcome creep into our writing havens. The other night, both kids ended up in the kitchen with me for cups of cocoa after a thunderstorm had them calling for “Ma!” Their presence  — a lovely distraction that left sticky cocoa rings and dirty mugs on the table  — provided the bones for this post. So, some distraction can give birth to inspiration.

Just make sure the laundry hamper is tucked out of sight. It’s hard to write a bestseller while folding undershirts.

Old Fashioned Thrift

I have a copy of a 1924 Popular Mechanics for Women magazine that I inherited from my grandmother. And while I don’t suggest you attempt to build the terrifying DIY chicken wire playpen, I was struck by the advice to rotate stroller wheels to equalize wear.

play pen
1920s Portable Play Yard

The short article advised readers that when baby stroller tires are the same size, the rear tires wear down before the front ones. Rotating tires would make it “unnecessary to renew them until all are worn out.”

Thrifty mom saves herself from buying a new set of four tires until all are worn down.  

My Stroller Stash

I own three different strollers- three! The single, the double (which also has jogging wheels) and the umbrella. If one of the wheels were to wear down, I’d shrug and order a new set online. 

There is a connection between how much stuff we own and our sloppy care of our possessions. I’m willing to bet that ‘1920s momma’ didn’t have multiple strollers at her disposal.

Three strollers is actually my pared down minimalizing number. I just gave the single running stroller away as the amount it got used didn’t justify its storage for when we return to being a single stroller family.  The others I just can’t part with yet.

The double is the daily go-to for outings farther than a few blocks. The single does nicely for short runs to the library and nearby parks that are walkable for our preschooler.  The umbrella fits neatly into our packed car for outings and is light to lug onto our inaccessible street car and commuter train.

transit stroller

Taking Stock

The stroller tally doesn’t even include our other wheeled methods of pushing kids from A to B. The small wagon and push car.

I wish I could just let some of these go and clean up our front yard but its all so handy right now. While I sometimes long for a suburban garage to hide things away, I am grateful for the trade-off of living in the city where I can walk to so much.

Suffice to say, if we were in a condo without backyard spill over options our storage locker would be scary. Or maybe not.

With limited storage I’d have refused the kind offer of the push car and sold the single stroller. And maybe with less possessions to care for, after seeing that 1920s article I’d have even gotten out the tool kit and rotated the tires on my umbrella stroller.

No Sock Sorting

I don’t think anyone has noticed but I’ve been wearing the same pair of socks for the last two years.  Okay only kinda. The cashier did chuckle though when I walked to the counter with one dozen individual pairs of mid-weight navy women’s socks and another dozen individual pairs of men’s white socks for hubby.

Minimalism isn’t only about having less, its also about simplifying and turning down the stress in other ways.  Yes, as the chief laundry doer in my house, mismatched socks were a source of stress. There always seemed to be a loner sock that had to be put aside for its pair to appear. And how long should you hang on to the loner before admitting the other sock is simply lost forever to the dyer vortex?

I now spend zero time sorting my socks. An extra sock just means it’ll wait around until the next load of clean laundry. Granted I can no longer express my individualism and personality through my socks.  I actually really enjoy playful socks that say to the world ‘I don’t take myself too seriously’.

No Christmas or St Patty’s socks either. The trade off in terms of no sorting is so worth it.

My little ones have some seriously cute socks and I hope there will be no permanent damage to their development but I’m transitioning their sock drawers to identical socks too.  Neither kid can seem to keep a sock on for a day’s duration.

socks

I’m literally at ten socks without pairs for my toddler and tired of looking at mismatched socks on his feet. So goodbye truck and race car socks and hello a little more sanity for momma.

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.

cd-708479_640

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.