Monday, 15 April 2013

Making a (small) home

This time last year I was browsing the seed catalogues, planning our vegetable garden and berry patch, watching things start to grow in the cold frame. This spring we are still watching the snow fall outdoors, and I am rethinking the whole concept of "garden," not to mention the idea of "home."

Moving from a 2500 square foot century farmhouse on half an acre to a 1000 sq. foot townhouse condo with a back deck and no yard has challenges, not the least of which are mental and emotional hurdles. The stupor brought on by the winter that just won't die is not helping matters. Still, I find it oddly fascinating to figure out how to make the most of our space, how to fit outdoor living footage into the deck and the tiny square of grass that we do have, as well as how to eke out personal space, not to mention personality, out of a cookie cutter condo.

In the farmhouse, we expanded to fit the space. More rooms, lots of nooks and crannies and large open spaces meant we needed lots of stuff to fill it, even stuff we didn't actually need. Before moving across the country, we let a lot of things go in yard sales, selling online and hauling at least 10 trunkloads to donate at the Sally Ann. When we got here, we unpacked only what was really needed and stacked the rest in boxes in the basement, as I wrote about in January. For one thing, we had only signed a six-month lease here, so it seemed silly to unpack just to pack it up again. Over the past few months we have come to realize we don't need or even know what's in those dozens of boxes.

And so, the challenge of living small after years of living large. The crabapple tree, the raspberry and strawberry patches, the big garden and flower beds wrapping around the house are all in the distance now. Container gardening is what comes next.

With less space it becomes easier to get on each other's nerves, especially during these cold months. The girls are used to sharing a room by choice, not by necessity, but they still need their own space sometimes. I've made a point of creating some quiet spaces here, albeit very small spaces, like a chair and lamp in a hallway nook. It just means those in search of a little privacy can find it without having to sequester themselves in the bathroom. Although that does happen a lot, too. We have also had to make each room fill more than one role. Instead of having an office with a door that closes, we have a corner of the kitchen. Rather than having a playroom where only toys live, we have a very messy bedroom. Good storage becomes so necessary, and I finally understand the concept of rotating toys, where you regularly pack up some toys and put them away for a while, swapping them out occasionally. It actually works, cuts down on clutter, and the toys seem much more exciting when they haven't been seen for a while.

Ava's girly space
It is a huge adjustment for all of us to be living in a city. The girls love adventure and are usually game for anything but like all children they thrive on routine and familiarity. There are times when we are all homesick. We struggle to make the girls feel like they have their own space, decorated and arranged the way they want it to be as much as possible.

The logical part of my brain knows that children are raised in cities all over the world, more often in tiny apartments than in big farmhouses. A townhouse would be palatial in comparison. So the only thing to do is to embrace it, to see it as an opportunity for simpler living, less yard work and housecleaning.

Kitchen/dining room/office
When warm weather finally arrives, we've got to figure out how to fit a barbecue, table and chairs AND a deck garden onto our smallish back deck. Or should it be a swing? Or a comfy cushioned bench on which to sit out and have a cool drink? There's not room for everything. I know we can still grow food as long as we have an outside space, so I have started perusing Pinterest for ideas on maximizing growing space and how to make a boring deck into a glorious retreat. Check out my board here for inspiration.

Even the simple act of buying and repotting houseplants goes a long way to making a townhouse a home. Having some green things to look after is good for everyone, and plants are the best way to clean your indoor air in a tightly-sealed newer home. Not a chance of a draft in this place, despite the prairie winds blustering by. I am discovering the joys of succulents, those hardy little funny-looking plants that you absolutely can not kill. Getting a sprouter is on my list as well, so we can try growing some microgreens indoors. It is not just the brain that starts to crave green at this point in the year, but the body craves fresh, local (like local from your windowsill!) green food as well. It is officially a thrill to find Saskatchewan greenhouse-grown tomatoes and cucumbers in the grocery store at last, a sure sign of spring despite the fact that I just heard a snowplough go by.

For years I have blathered (at least to myself, sometimes to others) about living more simply, having less stuff, and focusing on what matters. Now is my chance to see if we can really follow through and come out with a greater appreciation for all that we have.

mysterious succulent
A little bloom inside to focus on (instead of the snow)


  1. Love your blog! You're managing to decorate your home with lots of colour. Hope spring comes soon for you. :)

  2. I can so relate to the part about the boxes. When I was selling my previous home, I boxed up a bunch of things and put them into storage, so the house would look clean and not cluttered. I thought they'd be there for just a few months. I didn't move for 8 months, and by the time I did I realized there was almost nothing in the storage unit that I needed or missed. Donated much of it.

    I think you are right--that we tend to expand to fill the space we have. In spite of wanting to live with less, I can see that we've just accumulated different stuff. That's slowing down lately, though. It doesn't hold the same appeal for me.

    I will be interested to see what you do with your deck space. Like you, I'd like ours to be a retreat, a small outside space that feels good to be in.

  3. You can sprout in a mason jar. Use the ring to hold an old piece of nylons on top (a good way to use a ripped pair). Put a tablespoon of seeds on the bottom, and soak them overnight. Then drain the water. Rinse them 3 times a day and you'll have sprouts by the end of the week, or sooner.