How I’m Living Small in a Not-So-Tiny Home

How I'm Living Small in a Not-So-Tiny Home

When I decided to move to Squamish, I knew I wanted this relocation to be different than any of the others I had done in the past. Before, I would have just packed up all of my belongings, carried them out of one home and into another. I wouldn’t have paused to question if I actually liked everything enough to bring it with me. My actions would have been automatic. Pack, carry out, carry in, unpack. Return it all back to its usual places, only this time inside a new home. Recycle the cardboard boxes and put the whole thing behind me, then carry on with life as usual.

Everything about this move felt different. For starters, I wasn’t moving for a job or my family or a relationship or anything else. I moved for me. This is where I want to be. Of everywhere I have lived and travelled, Squamish is the only town I have ever felt like I belonged. In Toronto, I always felt like a fraud – a girl who dressed in black to fit in, but who couldn’t hide the fact that the cement towers didn’t measure up to the mountains. I felt better in Port Moody, with the ocean, lakes and mountains in my backyard. But Squamish feels like home in a way I haven’t experienced before.

For that reason, I wanted every step of this moving process to be intentional. I didn’t want to unpack boxes and regret dragging any old clutter into my new home. I also didn’t want to bring some of the furniture I had owned since my early twenties and once bought for all the wrong reasons. Essentially, I didn’t want to bring anything that would have been at odds with the life and lifestyle I want. Instead, I wanted to bring everything I own that aligns with my values, and piece together the rest as I build a life here. It probably won’t surprise you when I say that one of my values is to “live small”.

What Does Living Small Mean?

If you’re imagining me in a tiny house right now, trust me when I say: I have thought about it! I got a small settlement from my car accident, after I recovered from hip surgery last year, and I did think about building a tiny house or buying an RV. There is no doubt in my mind that I would be comfortable in a small space, and I have seen some tiny houses and shipping container homes here in Squamish. However, as tiny house dwellers will tell you, the logistics of finding a place to park your home isn’t always easy to manage. And I don’t believe you need to live in a small space, in order to “live small”.

Instead, I would say my definition of living small is identical to Melanie’s. It means: living below your means, living with less stuff, making do and mending, prioritizing your life and living more. I would also add getting involved in your community and supporting your local economy to the list. Living small is essentially not chasing “more”, but instead learning to find the more in less. It’s about utilizing the space you have, shrinking your carbon footprint and being an active member in your community (whatever that looks like for you).

How I’m Living Small in 676 sq. ft.

When I started searching for a rental in Squamish, I knew I had a couple odds stacked against me. For starters, Squamish had the lowest vacancy rate in British Columbia last fall, and that remains to be an issue today. The real estate market has also blown up here, and property assessments increased by as much as 70% this year. (Yes, that number was shocking to even those of us who know how crazy the markets are here in the Lower Mainland.) As a renter, that means it’s extremely difficult to find an affordable place to live. I was prepared for my search to take months.

Somehow, it only took a few weeks to find a place to live… and I have to say, I was surprised by how relaxed it was. Of the three places I saw, all three were offered to me – and not a single one asked me to fill out an application, provide references or do a credit check. Maybe that’s normal here? Or maybe that’s what happen when you tell your potential future landlords that your entire life (including all your numbers) are online. My blog is like an insurance policy, haha. (Hi, landlords!) I moved in two weeks ago and truly feel like I’m living small but with a decent amount of space. Here’s how:

I’m Living Within My Means

I would love to say that I’m living below my means here, but the truth is that I set a max budget for myself and that’s what I’ve ended up paying. My search criteria was pretty open: I just wanted to be in a condo downtown. Yes, I have a car and could drive from wherever, but I wanted to be within walking distance of stores, coffee shops, the library and some trails. The place I moved into fits that bill, and is on the top floor of a new building and has a view of Mount Garibaldi. I couldn’t be happier. Oh! And after some negotiation, my landlords offered me a fixed-price contract that says they won’t increase my rent.

I’m Living With Less Stuff

Perhaps the biggest change I made during this move was the fact that I didn’t bring a few key pieces of furniture with me (couch, coffee table, desk). Instead of buying more stuff from IKEA or making any impulse purchases, I am currently living without those things, and making do with what I have while I look for what I want. My hope is that I can utilize the second-hand economy and find the coffee table and desk online. Knowing how many quality pieces I have sold online myself, I know there’s good stuff out there. Now, it’s my turn to find what I want!

Another big change I made was my decision not to bring my TV. I haven’t had cable in years, and only used my TV as another screen to stream Netflix from… but I barely watch that now either. Carrie and I talked about how to define your values on Budgets and Cents last week, and when I think about what I value doing in my personal time at home, it’s being creative and reading books. It is not watching TV. Now, my grand plan is to buy a standup desk for my iMac, which can also serve as my TV stand/TV when I feel like watching something. (Multi-purpose furniture, ftw!)

I’m Getting Involved in My Community

It’s only been two weeks, but I have already connected with a handful of creatives and small business owners here. It also looks like I’ll be one of the first people working from a new coworking space! I’ve met a few of my neighbours, including the guy next door whose dog can squeeze between our two decks to come say hi. I spent probably way too much time chatting with the librarian when I picked up my library card. And when possible, I’ve been supporting local businesses (so far by buying coffee beans from a small-batch roastery, mmm). This is only the beginning of what I hope is to come. :)

I’m Prioritizing My Life and Living More

Finally, this one isn’t hard for me, as I’ve been practicing it for the past couple years… but living small means prioritizing my life, not my home. I didn’t move to Squamish so I could live in this particular condo or furnish it with particular items. I moved here because of everything else it has to offer: the outdoors, the activities and the small town community vibe. Yes, my home is still where I will spend the majority of my time (because I work from here), but that doesn’t mean my home is a priority. Living is my priority. Sharing experiences with people is my priority. So, that’s what I’m doing.

Now, if you remember, I’m doing a year of slow living experiments in 2017. In January, slow mornings changed my life. In February, I shifted gears and experimented with slow money. And my goal for March was to do this move slowly and intentionally. Can you guess how I did? ;)

Experiment #3: Slow Move

  • go through all of my belongings again/only pack what I want to keep – done!
  • sell/donate everything I don’t want to bring with me – done!
  • make a list of things I think I want to buy (like a standing desk) – done!
  • settle into my new home, before actually buying anything – done!
  • reach out and make plans with new friends :) – done!

All-in-all, March was one of the toughest months I’ve had in my personal life in years, but the slow move was a huge success. It also happened at just the right time, as it looks like April is going to be another month where I’ll have my head down in the book. It’s time to do some edits!

Are there any ways you would like to try to live smaller?

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  • A move is a great time to create an intentional fresh start, but most people don’t actually do that. It always gets crazy around moving time and it is easy just to rush to throw everything in boxes and bring it all over with the plan to figure it out later. Congrats on being able to apply intentionality to the whole process. Good luck with continuing to build community connections. Sounds like you are off to a great start! :-)

    • I will say, it obviously helped that I had done so much decluttering in the past… so I only had two small boxes of stuff to get rid of!

  • Hi Cait,

    It sounds like despite the challenging month you had in March, you are feeling grounded and at peace in your new home! I am so very happy for you – it must be such a great feeling!

    I am just over here working on my goals, which these days include making better/healthier decisions with more consistency, and learning when to be flexible and simmer down a bit on my goals (hint: I should do that more often! ha)

    As far as living smaller — well, with the explosion in house prices in our area, this is resisting the urge to want to sell our house and take the BIG payout that would come with it. We are instead choosing to ignore the market and all the craziness going on around us, and just work on paying off our house so we can live here mortgage free. Mortgage free is “small living” to me!

    Talk soon
    Dayle

    • I can imagine how tempting selling must be, right now! I certainly know friends who bought 4-5 years ago that are in similar situations. The values of their homes have skyrocketed. But then the question is: what would you do next? Buy another home that’s even more expensive? Mortgage-free sounds good to me, my friend!

  • Sounds like such a great place and I’m always jealous of your pictures on Instagram! lol! I was wondering what the vacancy rate was there because it seems in most towns like that, most people live in houses or vacation houses? I was just assuming of course. But glad you found a place you love and fits with your personality!

    • There are certainly more townhouses and houses than apartments/condos. I’m grateful to have found the place I did!

  • Yes! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I didn’t have a way to phrase it. Part of my “live small” philosophy is reducing the madness of taking on too many things, or thinking I have to have a project on my plate to be “productive.” I’ve been filling my time with tasks and side hustles that make me crazy. Living small means discerning what’s important and living toward that.

    I also love what you say about the actual condo. I have some angst about my actual house, but when I think about how it allows me to live in this city, where I lead a life that I love, then it makes much more sense. I’m not here for the house. I’m here for the community, the friends, the work that I do. I do think that’s part of living small.

    • And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy your home! But knowing it’s only one piece of the puzzle does help take some of the pressure off of feeling like it needs to be “perfect”.

  • We have a big place. 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2400 square feet. We bought it 2 years ago. I had trouble settling in at first, I found it too big for the 4 of us. But I LOVE my house. I love it, love it, love it!!!! Not for it’s size but for the whole package. That said, I would like to move to something smaller once the kids are out (they are only 5 and 7 now!). Hubby is against it, but will see in times. If I was a single person I would have a really small space. I love tiny houses!!
    Where I would like to “live smaller” at the moment, where I’m putting my energy into, is food wise. On all fronts. Eat less, eat out less, and buy less groceries. I have overflowing freezers, fridge, cupboards and pantry, it’s getting ridiculous. I’m a low-grade food hoarder and I feel insecure when there’s not as much food in the house, but enough with this!! I’m surrounded with grocerie stores (5!), so it’s not like I’ll ever miss food!

    • Ooo, that’s a really interesting topic, Isabelle! Food hoarding, especially the wasteful aspect of it. Have you thought about how you can slowly start to tackle it?

  • Cait,

    Thanks for this post. I always love the way you take slow living as a journey and admit to being vulnerable. There are too many “declutter and then you are done” (and a bit smug!) blogs out there!

    I have just moved from a large expensive loft in London, UK to a smaller apartment by the sea. I gave away loads for the move but unfortunately my husband did not(!) and I couldn’t bear to pare down my books any more so we’re still playing Tetris with the smaller space. I’m excited by the small things – a view of the sea, friendly locals, independent shops, yoga on the door step and a fresh fish market at the harbour.

    I started the simplifying journey about 3 years ago and enjoying the steps….

    • I appreciate you talking about how it’s not just a “one and done” process, Teresa. I obviously did a lot of the physical work re: getting rid of things during my shopping ban, but have certainly found that I am always looking for new ways to simplify – or that my life seems to just naturally becoming simpler, as time goes on. May we both continue to enjoy the steps!

  • This sounds like the most organized move ever. I like that you only packed what you really wanted and purged the rest!

    We didn’t buy any new furniture when moving into our current home. Given enough time, the best deals on the things that fit perfectly into your life will come to you. Often times we even get our furniture for free, just by being patient :)

  • I recently moved from Southern California to a small town of about 4000 people in Missouri. It was quite a change and a bit of a culture shock. But, something in me has always longed for simplicity and community in the way it comes together here. I lived in So Cal for 62 years, but wonder if I haven’t always been a country girl at heart.
    Volunteering is helping me get involved and make friends. The best part though is now instead of constant airplane and street sounds I sit on my patio and listen to birds sing and squirrels chatter.

  • I will be living small in a few years when my husband retires and we downsize from our very large family home we have had for the last 26 years to a condo or townhome. It will be physically impossible to bring all of our stufff, nor would we want to. I look forward to that time as we will have to reevaluate our priorities and choose only those things that add value to our lives.

    By the way, my husband and I have been to Squamish and will pass through there again this summer as we take our annual motorcycle vacation through Alberta and B.C. You picked a very lovely place to hang your hat.

  • Great post Cait! A cross-country move might be in my near future (ON to BC), so packing has been on my mind. If everything works out, I am planning on moving zero furniture with the exception of my bed and my cat’s favourite ottoman – I have a serious driving phobia and the smaller the uHaul I have to drive across Canada – the better! After listening to Budgets and Cents last week, I think it would be awesome to try and live in the new space first and then decide what furniture is actually needed. Thanks for the insight!

    • I know Carrie can definitely relate to moving her belongings across the country, so reach out to her if you have any specific questions/concerns about the process! But I think we would both say that the less you have to move, the better.

  • Moving with the military always provided us a an opportunity for reflection on our stuff. We were really good about going through everything before we packed and when we unpacked (we often didn’t know what kind of place we would move into before after everything was in transit.) But we have had to be much more intentional now that we have stayed put for 5 years. Last spring we did a declutter/minimalism challenge I dubbed “touch every single item.” It took weeks! But we went though every box, every closet, and every hidden corner of our home and touched every item then decided if it was really adding value. Now I keep a list of areas to reevaluate. Upstairs bathroom closet. Toy room shelf. I tackle one space a month. Because I don’t want to hold on to old things just because they are there already.

    I’m glad you are getting settled in to your home and community! =)

    • One space a month sounds like a great idea, especially with a big family! I know J$ likes to do this one drawer at a time ;)

  • My husband and I are moving this month and while it’s not a long distance move, it’s something that I’m trying to be super intentional about. I find that it’s very easy to get wrapped up in a new place, a new apartment, and new things to go inside. Taking things slowly is something that I’m really trying to do with the new place. We just got our keys this past weekend and we have all month to move. We are going through each thing individually and choosing what we will move. I am also making an inventory list of our belongings because it’s not something that we’ve done before and I feel like it would be really wonderful to have in an emergency situation. It’s really eye opening to see how much you truly value something if you have to write it down on an inventory list!

    • Oh my gosh, I am a huge fan of taking inventory. I don’t think you need to maintain it forever, but it is SO HELPFUL when it comes to shopping later, because you can actually KNOW how much stuff you already have. And, like you said, you have to like it enough to actually want to write it down haha.

  • Congratulations on your move! I really appreciate your honesty with yourself about where your priorities are at. It seems like you are intentionally creating the life you want; which takes a level of honesty with oneself that can be hard to develop. I live on the coast too (Gulf Islands) and I know how tough renting can be; I think we generally are making some sort of concession space or location wise. Knowing which concession you want to make goes a long way. Squamish is such a beautiful spot, hoping to do some hiking there this summer; as beautiful as the islands are, there is a wild quality to the mountains of the mainland I hope to know more.
    I am heartened reading the link you provided that I have always lived small. I hadn’t internalized this might be an admirable quality or choice, I thought it came from a place of fear, or being unreasonable with wanting my expenses to be a small part of my income. I live in 600sq feet with my partner, daughter, and pets. It’s a bit cramped and it’d be nice to have my own desk, but giving up my idyllic spot in the woods and paying more rent/taking out a big mortgage doesn’t appeal. I have prioritized travelling internationally over everything except my family, financially, for years. However I want to start both saving money for the future AND travel, so I think I need to learn from you Cait, and curtail spending on clothing. (I also really need a lesson in being less messy, but not sure you can teach that!)
    I really appreciate your writing. You are obviously a financially responsible person, but your budget and increasing your net worth don’t seem to be your driving goal. It is inspiring to see someone who is achieving goals but not consumed with writing about RRSP’s, working/saving, and increasing net worth. It makes financial stability feel possible, to someone like me.
    Best of luck settling in!

    • I think it’s admirable that you have known what your values were – and actually lived in a way that aligned with them – for so long! Your life sounds beautiful, Marlon. Also, if you ever need a hiking buddy ever here, keep me in mind :)

  • This is probably the most peaceful post you’ve ever written. I can feel the clarity and peace in your words. Enjoy your new home. Although you have no photos, I can “see” it.

  • I would like to live smaller by buying smaller furniture. When my husband and I moved in together most of our furniture were hand me downs and two or three were pieces we thought we had to buy to “make our home complete.” Fast forward twenty years and after much decluttering we found we don’t need as many pieces as we thought and some are now beyond further repair. We will only be replacing what we truly need to and will look for smaller pieces. It’s tough to find smaller pieces that suit our apartment though. Most furniture now is made for McMansions and so we will try to source them secondhand if we can.

    • I just had a conversation about that with someone this morning: how furniture is SO BIG now, and often doesn’t fit into condos/apartments/older homes. Second-hand does seem to be the way to go. Good luck in your search, Annie!

  • I’m so excited for you! I’ve been working on making our upcoming (TBD) move just as intentional. As I told PiC, I don’t want to waste time or energy moving anything that we don’t use and love and need. Those things creep in from time to time, despite our best intentions and any time is a good time to pare back but moving time is the best!
    I’ve taken a break because of travel planning and other big goings ons but this post has reminded me how good it’ll feel to do it right. Back on the horse I go!

    • Yes yes yes! It can be a little tedious, but keep the prize in mind and it’ll feel great when you get to your new space. :)

  • This is great. I’ve been doing a lot of similar things with prioritizing life and not work and stuff. My fiance and I share a car when in the Midwest that is unheard of. We rent a big condo, but only use one of the two floors. This has affirmed we’re definitely fine living in spaces less than 1,000 square feet. Less stuff we’ve learned means less clutter and less stuff to clean, leaving more time for other things. I’m glad the move is going well!

    • That was one of the first lessons I learned while decluttering and simplifying my life: that less clutter = less stuff to clean = more time to do other things. And it remains one of the best lessons I have learned. :)

  • I am glad that you are making your new space an intentional home Cait. And the booknerd in me loves the fact that you chatted for awhile with the librarian at your library :) As always, I look forward to your posts!

  • I made a cross country move in December. It was not by choice, but I made it intentional by choosing a town and what possessions made the final cut. Just can’t seem to settle in and feel like home. Meeting new people has been unfruitful. It makes for a lonely new home. Congrats on all you have accomplished!

  • Hi Cait,
    It’s always a treat to see a new blog post from you pop up! A question for you – how did you pick Squamish over a smaller community like Courtenay on Vancouver Island? I ask because I live in Victoria, as you did, and have been contemplating a move as I am finding Victoria is getting so busy and expensive.
    Thanks!

    • Ahhh, good question. I could just say “THE MOUNTAINS” haha… but that’s not quite right. I think it’s the fact that I have spent so much time here and slowly felt the connection being made. I also wanted to be a little closer to Vancouver. I don’t want to be IN a big city, but I do like having access to a larger airport. But I could certainly see myself moving somewhere like Courtenay/Comox later in life.

  • Hi Cait!

    You know I have to agree with Amanda S’s comment “This is probably the most peaceful post you’ve ever written.” It looks like you’ve finally found your “forever home” or at least the community that holds it. And I agree with others who say, now your goal should be to get out and meet others within your new community (which I see that you’ve started to do). All the very best, my friend, and thanks for sharing your life’s adventures with us.

    • Thanks for reflecting what Amanda said, Rob! I don’t think I realized it, until writing this post and then reading your comments, but I feel as though “Squamish life” aligns perfectly with all of my values now… so it does feels great to be here. :)

  • Love your definition of living small. It really resonated with what I’m trying to do over at Much More With Less, although it’s a work in progress. I’m still struggling to articulate the combination of contentment with what you have, not being driven by the pressures of materalism, minimising environmental impact and engaging with the local community, but it’s in there somewhere! Great choice about only bringing stuff you really wanted. Really wish we’d made our move to the country with less clutter, although we’re gradually shifting some of it. All best wishes for your new home.

  • I would love to live smaller by making better use of my time. I think it is fair to say that we all jump to the phrase ‘I don’t have enough time’ and I certainly do that a lot. The truth is that I do have time, plenty of it in fact, but when I finally get that time, I feel tired and unmotivated and don’t spend my time well. Instead of reading, or painting, or going for a walk, I decide to sit and watch YouTube (thank goodness we don’t have cable or Netflix because that would be an even bigger problem). Then by the end of the evening I look at the clock, realize it’s 11:30pm, realize I’ve wasted the past 4 hours and that that is another night gone, and another night I won’t get back. I don’t know how to get my motivation back/my butt in gear to force myself to do things even when in the moment I don’t want to. That’s how I would like to pursue smaller living.

    • So it sounds like you want to a) decide what you would rather be doing with your spare time, and b) do more of that. Have you thought of keeping track of your time and/or keeping track of the tasks you do? That’s one thing that helped me do things like read more and do more yoga. I created a sort of spreadsheet where I put an X on each day that I have done those tasks. So even if I don’t do them daily, or waste some of my time watching Netflix, it still feels good to get to the end of the week and see that I read 4x that week or did yoga 2x.

  • Hi Cait! I’m glad to hear you got through March and your personal issues. Sounds like you have been settling in quite nicely. Our home isn’t that big. A little over 1000 square feet. But filled with too much stuff. I have been picking away at decluttering for awhile now. My kids are old enough now that they agree with me when I say they can get rid of “X” because they no longer use it. My older daughter wanted a new gaming console for her birthday (which we could afford to buy her) which was $400. We told her it was too much money for something that she already had similar to it. So she decided to sell some of her games she didn’t play anymore, to help pay for it! I think living small means keeping only the things you use and need and while having room to breathe. Just because your home is “XXX” square feet, doesn’t mean you need to fill every inch of it.

    • YES to your last sentence! Even when I eventually get a couch, coffee table and desk, my space will still look a bit empty… and I will keep it that way. There’s no reason to fill every inch, and I think there are a lot of benefits of not doing so. For starters, I swear that open space helps me create internal space to be more creative…

  • A move is something stressful and exciting at the same time, I’m sure you’ve done great choice for you, For new furnitures well why don’t visit some second hand/thrifty stores? I’m sure you’ll fin deverything you need soon…enjoy the new adventure!!!

  • Loved this post Cait! I started listening to the Budgets and Cents podcast a few weeks ago and I am working my way through all of the back episodes. I love your laid back approach (and I also think your laugh is just fine!). You and Carrie have an awesome thing going – your debt repayment story and you’re SLOW posts this year have made a huge impact on my life. I have a long sad story of bad choices when it comes to money and after listening to the podcast and reading your blogs you have certainly inspired me to start my debt repayment journey and even start a shopping ban. I also work from home and own two businesses so I feel like I really connect with your stories. What you do makes a difference. Thanks for all you do…oh, and I can’t WAIT to read your book!

  • I appreciate your comment on living small could happen in any size space. I’ve lived in spaces the size of two twin beds to a small 400 sq ft. home on a camp property. Now I live in a 6X9 ft cruise ship crew cabin! I am happier with my minimal four pieces of luggage than when I go home and have the remnants of my former life all stored on boxes and cupboards. Contentment with who you are leads to contentment where you are and with what you have. Thanks again!!

    Trisha

  • I’m married with four kids (family of 6, plenty of beds and comfy chairs and dressers, etc.), and we have bought (or been given as hand-me-downs by family members) over 90% of our furniture second hand. We did buy new mattresses, and about half of our soft furnishings (the other half are from the previous owner of our house) but every table, dining chair, bedside table, desk, dresser, etc. was a second-hand find. And they’re lovely, and much better quality than anything we could afford new. So, just saying you’ve made a good decision there. :)

  • I love everything about this post and it really makes me want to do a pretend house move so that I can get rid of everything that doesn’t fit my life now. Unfortanatley that is not how my husband thinks, but one day….

  • Great post. I live in a small 800 sqft home and I’m really appreciating the things it’s been teaching me. I don’t need a lot to stock it up, appliances or otherwise. Enjoy the place fully.