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.
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?
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
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.
I always turn down buying warranties and I have a good track record for coming out ahead. So perhaps I was too smug with the cashier as I wrestled my then eighteen-month-old back into the stroller. “Oh no I don’t need a warranty for the cellphone, I never let him play with my phone”.
For the most part I’ve stuck to my guns and opted to inflict my children on innocent bystanders in restaurants and waiting rooms versus handing them my phone as a distraction. What I didn’t anticipate was my toddler putting an open water bottle in my purse only to be discovered hours later.
There was teasing moment of lit screen before all went dark. No YouTube videos and rice bags could save it. The phone was a decent model when bought but is definitely a few versions behind the times now. Buying something comparable would set me back about $600.
On the hunt for a fix
I decided to try to have it repaired. I first tried one local repair shop and after paying for an assessment and professional-drying I was told “it can’t be saved.” Another repair shop at least gave me a quote of $300- if they could bring it back to life. To which everyone in my life told me “its not worth it”. New and shiny wouldn’t be that much more and I could recycle my old phone guilt-free.
We are a throwaway society and I’m sad every time repair pros tell me to send something to the dump, not because they can’t fix it but because I can get a new one for a similar price.
Moment of reckoning
I ultimately decided to go ahead with trying the phone repair. Thankfully it worked. Since it’s water damaged, no warranty on the work was offered. This time however, I was slightly less smug as I wrestled my three-year-old and one-year old out the door. As I left, I assured the cashier that I’d try to keep my water bottle out of their reach from now on.
Failing that, I guess next time I’ll be shopping for a waterproof model.
One of the pluses of a minimalist wardrobe is buying bigger ticket quality pieces guilt-free. I own one pair of everyday boots that get me through the early spring, fall and most of Toronto’s winter. Being a Canadian I still do own a pair of serious snowfall winter boots mostly for out of city excursions- shoveled sidewalks being a nice perk of big city living. Since I’m only buying one pair I look for something stylish that isn’t going to fall apart. So, I splurge on my Blundstones without any guilt about dusty forgotten ‘cute but man do these pinch my toes’ boots hiding in the back of my closet.
With the days getting cooler and my Blundstone’s soles looking rather sad after five years, it was time to scout out a new pair. I brought my toddler along on the shopping trip to get him his first pair of Blundstones or as they’re adorably called Blunnies.
Up till now I’ve gone the second-hand route for kids footwear but I’ve been finding it hit and miss on the shoe condition presumably because at this stage the shoes are getting more wear before being outgrown. At over $100 I’m really hoping that we will get a few seasons out of the Blunnies- fall, winter and next spring. I also steered clear of the army motif and bought a style that will work well for my daughter to wear as a hand-me-down. By the time she’s three, she might have something to say about overly “boy” clothes.
The Blunnies of course won’t get five years of wear like mine so is the investment worth it or should I have gotten something a little less durable? I’m thinking that at this point quality is worth it as both kids will be able to get a few seasons of super warmth and dryness from these and I expect to get a decent resale value down the line. And while I’m not too into dressing my kids like mini adults, these are just so darn cute. Definitively worth it for the planet too, as I’m sure these are going to see a lot more happy feet before they see a landfill.
After 5 years of line drying almost everything with occasional trips to the laundromat we’ve finally caved and bought a dryer. Part of our family’s minimalist journey is a recognition that more stuff is really not great for the environment. That couldn’t be more true than with the arrival of our first-ever dryer aka the energy hog.
Our first year in the home it seemed doable if unconventional in North America to not have a dryer. But two cloth-diapered babies later, I was starting to dread the idea of another winter of loading myself up with big blue Ikea bags full of towels, nappies and bedding while one handed pushing the double stroller to the laundromat.
I still hope to mostly hang dry and haven’t even bothered hooking the machine up three days post arrival but we’ll see how long we can resist the temptation to reduce our domestic workload. While the machine continues to sit idle for now, the babes are enjoying the arrival of the big cardboard box which so far has been a rocket ship, cave, ocean, fire hall, house and nap space (for both kids and hubby).