Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Latest Plan For Dishes

A while back a little craze for "silverware cozies" or "silverware pouches" got started.  The idea was that you could bring your silverware to potlucks and such so as not to use the plastic disposables. 

My sister wrote about making a cute one for herself a couple of years ago on her blog: Cute DIY To-Go Ware.  I've also seen them on a regular basis over at Etsy.  Here's a lovely one at a very cool Etsy shop called PattyPanShop:

Utensil Cozy - Simply Black and White  DC-10

I don't know what brought these to mind, but I started thinking about them today, and I had an idea.  As I've mentioned, our plan is to have one set of dishes (plate, bowl, cup or mug, fork, knife, and spoon) per family member.  Because our kitchen is tiny, this will save on storage space, and since we won't have a dishwasher, a side benefit is that we will have motivation to each wash our own dishes after every meal.

My thought is to create from fabric a long rectangular panel to hang on the wall.  The panel will be divided into four sections, and each section will have pockets or elastic holders for one person's dishes.  If it is hung vertically, the lower ones can be for the kids and the higher ones for the adults. 

If it is made from thick fabric, or put together quilt style with adequate batting, I'm thinking we should be able to put our dishes away and let them dry in their permanent spots rather than having them dry on a space-hogging drying rack in the kitchen. 

The panel can then be hung as wall art in the living room near the dining table (which will probably be the table with the leaves that drop down so we can push it against the wall to use as a practical or decorative table between meals), taking it out of the tiny kitchen entirely and leaving more wall space in there for things like art and magnetic hanging knife holders.

I'm imagining a mix of fabrics, sort of Oilily style.

Friday, December 3, 2010

So Let's Talk About Downsizing Christmas

This is a toughie.

Let me start by saying that we haven't done big holiday celebrations in years.  We have long been intentional that the holidays shouldn't be about stuff, and finances have been limited for a few years anyway.

Last year some relatives and friends bought our kids some store-bought items, but aside from what was in the kid's stockings, they received nothing from us that wasn't made by us.

I have absolutely no craft skills, and amazingly, I was able to find things to make and it was a lot of fun.  We made such exciting things for the kids as:
  • A rope ladder (made with repurposed materials)
  • Balance beams (made with repurposed materials)
  • A stationary kit
  • A writing-practice book
  • A "phone book" with photos of their loved ones and their phone numbers
The kids made such exciting things for each other as:
  • Cookies
  • A bracelet
  • A "flaming chalice" (religious symbol)
This year just feels tougher for some reason.  I think part of it is that I used up so many of my best ideas last year.  I feel stumped.  And part of the reason I am stumped is also that we are moving into this dinky little apartment and really won't have room for more stuff as of this summer.  In fact, the kids are now aware of our plans to downsize, and this has them all worried about Christmas. 

I keep trying to think of things that will be exciting but not take up space, and everything I can think of takes skills to make that I don't have.  Not to mention that there is an issue with our kids becoming older and facing more conversations with peers who are looking forward to a wide variety of expensive store-bought items.  It makes me glad about the fact that even though my kids invest in the game of pretending Santa is real, they also know that it is a game.  It is easier to explain why "Santa" is giving several friends a big, blowout Christmas, and Santa is bringing them just a few little things.  They never asked about it in years past, but they had the privilege of being younger and not hearing so much from their peers.   This year has been rough, rough in terms of peer-to-peer conversations.

So I'm combing the internet for a few things I can manage to make that will be functional but not take a lot of space.  I'm most hoping to come up with something really fun for the kids to do physically indoors (like the rope ladder) that doesn't take a lot of room, as I know in a tiny apartment that we need to be intentional about providing the kids ways to burn off energy when the weather is bad outside.  Otherwise, we have cabin-fever to fear. 

Ideas welcome!

This lovely picture was taken by Sweet Boy by a camera given to him by my parents.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cookbook Debate

My wife and I have a solid collection of cookbooks.  In fact, we have inhereted a number of them from other people who were downsizing or moving.  And despite the number of recipes available on the internet, we actually use our cookbooks.  We like the particular mix of books we have, and there are some recipes we go to again and again.  The use each book gets falls into three broad categories:

1.  Once in a blue moon or less often: these are the cookbooks that we thumb through every now and then when we need to get inspired.

2.  A handful of times each year: these are the cookbooks we use on occassion for reference, or cookbooks that have particular recipes we don't make often but that we like to have available for when we do make them.

3.  At least monthly: We have at least two cookbooks that have really become our staples in the kitchen.  One is a very old Betty Crocker cookbook.  It contains the recipes we use for making bread, pie crusts, many desserts, and more.  It also contains instructions for things like cooking different types of beans and different types of rice.  We use this probably weekly, and sometimes more than once a week.  The other is a three-ring binder of recipes we have collected from various sources such as family members, magazines, and so forth.  We consult this binder at least monthly, sometimes more.

I suggested to my dear wife that we consider doing the following...

For books we use once in a blue moon or less often, and even for books we use a handful of times each year: Go through these books and purge those we can pass on to others.  Pack away those we want to keep and put them in storage (currently my MIL's basement). 

For books we use at least monthly: Scan the books (neither of which are available on Google Books) and keep an electronic file on a thumb drive as well as on our computer.  Pack away these books and put them in storage (currently my MIL's basement).

My dear wife does not like the idea of having her most precious and well-valued cookbooks in electronic form.  It makes sense, as we have been largely computer-free at home now for about a month due to computer malfunctions, and this seems to happen often enough that she is worried she won't be able to get to her recipes when she needs them. 

I reminded her that we will be on or close to my school, where there will be computer labs if needed...and that this would be the whole point of putting the files on a thumb drive.  She said, though, that she also likes to have the books with her in the kitchen without having to worry about spills like she would if she had a laptop in there.  She just likes the security of those books.

Part of me thinks, why not just try the electronic format?  We can always get the books and bring them back to our apartment if we find we can't live without them.  While only two books would be necessary, they are large and will take up space that is so precious.  Besides, we'll likely need to start cooking very differently once in the tiny kitchen, and will thus most likely be searching the internet more regularly for our recipes.  The other part of me thinks, if the security of having hard copies of the books is helpful for our family, why make a big deal about the space that just two cookbooks would take?

Funny the things that get debated when space is limited.  It sort of reminds me of back in the days when I was trying to learn to be a serious backpacker, and people would talk about cutting off the ends of the handles on their toothbrushes because every gram and ounce would count in the ease of carrying their necessities on their backs.  It sounds so silly!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

We Salute You!

This post is a salute to creative design ideas that make rooms interesting and engaging, and are inspiring even for those of us in small spaces (even if we could never get away with any design concept so noisey in our dorm fact, I wouldn't be able to tolerate the noise either). 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook might have guessed that I am obsessed with engineering and design concepts.  I may not have the mind or heart of an engineer or artist, but I definitely have a heart to appreciate both. That's why I find this type of thing so inspirational, even if these types of innovations are cost and student housing-rules prohibitive:

Transformer Furniture

This has got to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen.  I especially love the inclusion of a dining table and seating for twelve!  Not that I really need more things to buy (this is the fun part of moving, saying, "oh, maybe I could get this," which of course in most cases isn't possible...and the truth is that I should really focus my energies on getting rid of stuff, not collecting stuff), but I am all bummed out it isn't commercially available yet.  Apparently the designers of this lovely piece are looking for produces and business co-operators.  Check out more here

A friend of mine pointed out that all the shapes seem pretty basic, and that maybe I could have somebody make this for me.  I like the idea of being able to customize it, but I can't imagine that building it wouldn't take a ton of time!  I have a hard time imagining that it wouldn't cost a pretty penny that I don't have, but it's fun to dream. 

I love transformer furniture!
I adore this concept:

I'm not confident that the chairs would be particularly comfortable or sturdy (mind you we have two very active children), but if I got the table with the leaves that drop down, wouldn't these be great chairs to go with it?

Because really, that's half the problem with the dining table in the living room.  Even if it can be placed away to the side of the room, there's the question of what to do with the chairs.

What I am interested in is actually designing my living space, not just moving into it.  So I am specifically looking to set up my home so that everything has both its function and its beauty.  This chair fits that bill.  Its from Studio Dror, but the website keeps shutting down my computer, so I can't link to it.  What I would like to know is how much these cost and where they can be purchased.

Oh, wait, nevermind. Look.

Pots and Pans

For some reason, pots and pans seem easier to get under control than appliances.  Maybe because there are so many choices for pot-hangers... 

...and lid organizers...

...and even combinations of the two...

I wonder what system would maximize the space use the best? I also wonder what people do with their really big pots?

I know I said I don't like to spend a lot of time on, but they do have some resources for small kitchen organization (as well as small kitchen renovation for those who, unlike me, have the freedom and ability to renovate).

Tables and Counters

Our living room may end up being our only space for dining in our apartment, so one challenge we are going to have is how to have a place to dine in our living room

Before having kids, we once spent a year living in a tiny apartment with no place to dine, and we would sit on cushions on the floor and eat at our coffee table.  I don't mind eating like that as a general rule.  It's a Japanese dining style, right?

But I do have some concerns about whether the kids will be unhappy about the change. 

Another consideration I have is that a table can double really nicely for a counter.  Tables make productive workspaces when not allowed to get cluttered with other stuff as our dining table does in our current home. 

The other day I found myself looking at this piece, sold at Bob's Discount Furniture:

Branson Drop Leaf

It can't seat a big crowd but can seat four, and I really like how easily the leaves drop and then get propped up again:

Branson Drop Leaf

I think (??) the whole set, including chairs is $200, which we could probably swing if we made it a savings priority over the spring (did I mention we are downsizing with no money to do it?).

What I don't like is that it is dull.  From a design standpoint, it doesn't make me say, "oh, I love that table!"  But I might be willing to live with that.  I can imagine the table between meals, leaves down, against a wall in the living room with a nice cloth runner and some pretty flowers to bring some of the outside in.

On the other hand, what would make me like it even more would be if the same design had a table surface that could double as a cutting board, so as to free us from having to store cutting boards.  It's too bad marble, granite, etc. is so heavy, as I think people don't see it as drop-leaf material.  The below, also from Bob's Discount Furniture, isn't my style, nor would it seat four very well, but it would be a great counter-table double.

Montibello Pub 40

It's too bad IKEA doesn't have a better website.

First Musings on the Kitchen

So, as you can see from the pictures of our current house, the kitchen we have now is not huge.  The counterspace you see in the above picture is indeed all the counter space we have.  However, we are working with a full-sized stove and oven, a double-sided sink, and we are able to get additional storage space on shelves going down to our basement through a door in our kitchen.  There is also room in the kitchen for a small island or table for additional workspace.  The previous owners, as you can see, were smart by putting into the space a granite or marble-top table of some sort that could essentially double as a counter/workspace.

Contrast this to the photos the school sent us of one of the apartments we might end up in.  Apparently, the kitchen wasn't even worth a photo, but I think the fact that it has a mini-oven is pretty telling. 

When I visualize what the kitchen might look like, I often think of the Smitten Kitchen.  I love seeing how someone else is making do with a small kitchen.

For some families, I imagine, a small kitchen wouldn't be a huge challenge.  For us, it is probably going to be one of the biggest challenges of downsizing.  Over the last few years, we've worked hard to learn to cook almost everything we eat from scratch.  Any day of the week in our home, you can smell fresh breads or tortillas, stews or soups, quiches or enchilladas, all made by hand.  The only thing we are still buying prepared on a regular basis are noodles, as we don't yet have the pasta maker attachment to the KitchenAid we are so thankful to have received as a wedding gift way back when (where will THAT thing go in our new tiny kitchen?).

Cooking from scratch is a big deal for us, for a number of reasons:
  1. It's the only economically feasible thing for us to do, and when I am a student, this will be even more important (afterall, isn't that one of the benefits I claim to downsized living...lower costs?).
  2. It helps us ensure a healthier, more rounded diet than would be available eating more pre-prepared foods or eating out on something even close to our budget.  Our food at home is minimally processed and made from whole grains, for example.
  3. By being part of a family that cooks, our kids are assimilating important life skills. 
  4. A lot of times, it tastes better. 
One thing we are trying to do in making this move is to shape a life around our values.  Part of the use of this blog for me is the space to explore different ways we might express our values in the choices we make regarding our living space.  Nowhere is that more important to me, than in the kitchen. 

By the Way

If anybody is reading my blog because you know me, well, you know where I live.  If you want my house, or know somebody who might, let me know.  We'll consider offers to rent or buy, as long as we don't lose the money we put down on the place three years ago.  We're in a great neighborhood, a terrific location that is walking distance to a ton of stuff.  As you can see, we also have a pool.  It is really lovely. 

Friday, November 12, 2010


Welcome to my blog on my family's move to a very small apartment.  You can click any of the tabs (who, what, where, when, and why) above to get more information about me, my family, and our move. 

My inspirations include people like Jay Schafer of Tumbleweed Houses, but I can't help but wondering how someone might go about doing a major downsize with kids.  And then I remember that people all over the world have done been living in tight quarters for thousands of years, and I think of how unhealthy and problematic the modern Western lifestyle is for families all over, and I feel hopeful and excited again.  I love warm historical novels involving families living in tight quarters but having the most wonderful, interesting experiences.  My hope is that smaller family living can be designed in such a way that it promotes family values.

I do not like spending too much time on because most of those houses/condos/apartments are at least two or three times bigger than what we might end up working with, and the only people I've ever noticed with kids on there have one baby or toddler.  That's so not inspiring.  I'm starting this blog because I know other families may be doing major downsizes like we are, and I figure we could all use the inspiration.

Here is an idea of what my current home looks like (only now it is much more crowded because this is the previous owners' stuff when they had it all staged for sale), so um, yeah, this is going to be a big change: