Tiny: A Story About Living Small

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about paring down my possessions and buying items more intentionally with the hopes of living a simpler, fuller life. Since that time, Nick and I moved from our 2-bedroom apartment into a larger 3-bedroom home and had a baby, which meant acquiring a whole new breed of stuff. (Boppies, Bumbos, and bassinets, oh my!) Even so, we tried to be conscious of what we were bringing into our home, borrowed some larger baby items that could be returned to their rightful owners when we were done with them, and generally tried to continue being conscious consumers.

But still. When you move into a house with a basement — that wonderful, unfinished cavern of spaaaaaace for storing belongings out of sight — thing slowly start to pile up. A few baby outfits turns into bins of baby outfits, turns into disassembled baby gear that was used all of five times, turns into seven bins full of stuff that your mom brings over from her basement now that you have your own basement in which to keep the entirety of your childhood memories…

It adds up.

Over the last few months I’ve attempted to tackle a new room or space each weekend and unclutter a bit, and it’s felt good. Really good. Nick even noticed a change in my demeanor after the basement and mudroom, two of the spaces that were getting to me the most, were majorly cleaned up. I donated a bag of my clothes to Goodwill, sorted some of Graham’s clothes for consignment, got rid of a bunch of plastic things in the kitchen that we’ve slowly been replacing with glass and stainless steel anyway, and generally felt like I could breathe again after freeing up a little space in our home. It felt liberating, and again forced me to reflect on the fact that we actually have far more space than we truly need; it’s just that our space is not always being used to its full potential because of the things that we choose to put in it.

This past weekend, we watched a documentary on Netflix called Tiny: A Story About Living Small, which follows the story of a man who builds his own “tiny house” to live in — a 130 square foot house built on a trailer bed — and tells the story of several others who have decided to live in tiny houses. Apparently, there is a whole tiny house movement happening; these are not mobile homes or RVs or small vacation getaways, but genuinely tiny houses that are lived in year-round and have been planned out in such a way that every inch of space has a purpose. They are often built on trailer beds because that allows the owners to get around building codes (most towns have a square footage minimum that must be upheld for new construction), but for the most part they stay in one place.

Tiny: A Story About Living Small via Claremont Road blog a tiny house | source

We loved seeing how people used their spaces creatively, how they still managed to make them feel warm and uncluttered, and how genuinely happy the homeowners were to be living in such a small space. Some chose to live in a tiny house because of financial reasons while others made the decision based on environmental impact, but the overarching theme was one of a peacefulness and contentedness that the tiny house owners shared.

So… we’re building our own tiny house!

I’m kidding. We’re definitely not. It’s cool and all, but whoa. We couldn’t do it, especially with a toddler. Admirable, for sure, but a bit too extreme for me.

Watching the documentary has further inspired us, though, to strive less for a bigger space and more for better use of our existing space. It’s a conversation we’ve had a lot in the last several years: preventing ourselves from feeling like we “need” a certain amount of space because it’s what others have, and how thoughtful planning and being fully conscious of every item we bring into our home can make all the difference in feeling like we have enough space. It’s so easy to get caught up in feeling like our home should be a certain size based on how others around us are living; when our parents were kids, didn’t their parents buy a modest home when they got married and just pack in as many kids as they ended up having? Today, there seems to be some unwritten rule that you start out with a starter home, and move your way up to a forever home, and the amount of space you have is much more important than the way you fill that space.

Tiny: A Story About Living Small via Claremont Road blog the interior of the tiny house from the documentary | source

The most important factor to us in where we choose to live is our quality of life. Because of that, we currently rent a 3-bedroom rowhome in a town that we love. Now, don’t get me wrong: 3 bedrooms is plenty of room! I fully recognize that it is much, much more than so many people have. Still, to some, our home would probably be considered a starter home because of its square footage, the lack of a garage, the small yard, and the fact that we share walls with neighbors on either side… but the more we’ve thought about it and talked about it, the more we’ve realized that we could continue making it work for us for many years. We want to make it work for us because we love where we are geographically, and that happiness is much more important to us than any walk-in closet or 2-car garage could be.

We could certainly have a larger home in a town that we love less, and we could maybe even own that home, but what would be the point? If having the ability to walk to the market, the park, the post office, and my favorite gift shop all in one fell swoop makes us happier day in and day out, and that means renting a slightly smaller home, we think that is a pretty amazing trade-off.

We may not live in a truly tiny house, but I look forward to making it feel tiny in all the ways that really matter.

productively unproductive

Modern technology helped to keep my sanity intact in the early days of motherhood. Hours and hours spent nursing and unable to move were made less monotonous by the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest apps on my iPhone. I could text and email with friends without having to be in front of a computer. I watched the complete “Friday Night Lights” and “Felicity” series’ on Netflix, either on our living room television (via AppleTV) or my iPhone with earbuds in, depending on where I happened to be nursing Graham or where he fell asleep on me.

iPhone selfie (while tiny Graham slept on my shoulder)…
in between checking Facebook and Instagram, I’m sure

Don’t get me wrong: there were lots of moments of quietly admiring my little one and watching him peacefully nurse or sleep in my lap. Those moments of early bonding were very important and we had no shortage of them… but when you’re nursing for what feels like 12 hours a day (actually, according to BabyConnect I believe our max was nearly 8 hours spent nursing over a 24 hour period), you also still need something to make you feel connected to the outside world when your life as you once knew it has been completely turned upside-down. When I otherwise might have felt overwhelmed by the monotony, I was able to stay connected to some sense of normalcy by seeing what friends had been up to, ask questions of my mom friends when I was dumbfounded by my new responsibilities of being a mother, order diapers or other sanity-saving baby gear on Amazon in a matter of seconds, or just get lost in the sweet and honest relationship of Eric and Tami Taylor for 42 minutes at a time.

As with most things, though, there is a good side and a not-so-good side.

While modern technology made me feel connected when I needed it most, it also continues to keep me connected when what I need most is to be disconnected. When catching up on some blogs today (on my iPhone while nursing Graham, natch), I came across this post on Unclutter and it immediately struck a chord with me. “We’ve Cured Boredom and That’s Not Good.”

Yes.

In particular, this quote by Scott Belsky stood out:

Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world’s information at our fingertips.

(I encourage you to read his full article entitled “What Happened to Downtime: The Extinction of Deep Thinking and Sacred Space” via 99U when — you guessed it! — you’re avoiding boredom on the mobile device of your choosing.)

This insight from the original Unclutterer post also resonated with me:

It’s impossible to generate a truly creative thought while the incessant barrage pelts us. It’s like complaining that we’re not dry while standing in a rain storm. You won’t dry off until you go inside and get away from the falling water.

What has prevented me from boredom while nursing my little one has also infiltrated what used to be my sacred moments of introspection, brainstorming (intentional and unintentional), plain old quiet, and general unplanned creativity. I’m filling up any limited quiet time I do have — what with an infant around now, and all — with a whole lotta noise. In the last few years, I have probably had more ideas for products or projects than I care to admit that I have not pursued because my mind was too distracted by so much figurative noise to really focus on them. In being what I feel is “productive” with my downtime, I’ve become unproductive where it matters most: my creativity. My mind no longer really has any isolated time to just be. And I’d like that to change.

I’ve seen online friends commit to having social media-free weekends; perhaps I need to give that a shot (though it seems inconceivable to me — probably all the more reason I need to try it). It needs to go beyond weekends for me, though. I need to change my habits for the long term. While there is so much good that has come from the connectedness of technology and social media, I desperately need to find the balance of reaping its benefits without letting it infiltrate every waking moment and limiting my true productivity and potential.

When I close the Instagram app, I need to not immediately open it again out of habit (I have done that more times than I care to admit without even realizing it).

Have you become productively unproductive due to modern technology? If so, what have you done (or what do you plan to do) to take back some quiet time for your mind?

happiness and sadness: a story of parallels

At nearly 23 weeks pregnant, the reality of what’s to come is setting in more each day. I have a growing belly, and I feel kicks (so many kicks!) pretty regularly now. I may actually believe that there’s a person growing inside of me now, whereas for so long it seemed like it would never really be REAL. I had a somewhat miserable, nauseous and exhausting first trimester, and while at that time I couldn’t possibly understand those women who claimed to loooooove being pregnant, I must say that I’m enjoying it much more at the moment. No, I don’t enjoy the middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks, or the back pain, or the expanding boobs, or feeling completely winded every time I go up stairs — but overall, I can finally grasp their enjoyment just a bit more.

The reality is that despite the negatives, I’m just so grateful to be pregnant. Because last November, Nick and I suffered the unimaginable loss of our first baby. On November 10, 2011, at ten weeks pregnant, I was told by a very apologetic stranger that our baby no longer had a heartbeat.

It was shocking, devastating, heartbreaking, unimaginably bad news.

I had had no symptoms of a miscarriage — the heartbeat simply stopped. On November 11, I went through the terrible process of having a D&C. The hospital staff was incredibly nice and sympathetic, but waiting around for hours on an empty stomach in a paper hospital gown and ugly socks that did nothing to keep the rest of my shivering body warm, all for a fifteen minute procedure, was not my idea of a good time. I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry and eat ice cream and be with my husband. It was a horrible, horrible day.

The weirdest thing about the D&C was that when the anesthesia wore off and I woke up, I didn’t feel like anything had happened. If you hadn’t told me why I was there, I wouldn’t have known. I essentially just felt like I went to sleep pregnant, and woke up knowing I was no longer pregnant. It was very strange, and very disheartening. I felt no pain or physical discomfort — I simply just wasn’t pregnant anymore.

Ironically, the day that followed, November 12, was the “Meet Ginger” party my mom and I had planned for extended family and family friends who had not yet met my niece. Nick and I got through the party, and it was actually a good distraction to talk to people who were mostly oblivious to what we were going through (save for the obvious immediate family members), but it was also very draining at the end of the day. I love my niece more than anything, but there’s no avoiding that the timing of this celebration was painful.

The weeks that followed were not great. It’s amazing how attached you can become to something in such a short period of time, but we never thought the worst would happen to us, so why wouldn’t we have gotten attached? I had what I referred to as “the sads” for a while; so did Nick. We usually took turns having bad days, which allowed one of us to be the strong one while the other was a mess. I got through Thanksgiving with Nick’s huge extended family okay, but simply could not stop crying the next day and had to stay in bed while Nick explained to everyone at their day-after leftover extravaganza why I wasn’t there. We moved on December 2, which was pretty much the worst timing ever. Suddenly the bedroom that was supposed to become the nursery was just another bedroom, and we were buried under boxes that we didn’t have the emotional energy to unpack.

We had already agreed to keep Christmas low-key with our families, so thankfully we did not have to do a lot of holiday prepping. We all bought gifts for my niece, Ginger, but otherwise kept it pretty simple. I don’t think I could have handled much more that month. Nick and I exchanged gifts that were thoughtful but not overly elaborate, and we were both blubbering messes while opening them; they felt like hopeful tears at that point, though, and we just felt lucky to have each other.

Things started to look up a little bit around Christmas as we continued to cope but felt a little more of a push to move on with our daily lives; while the doctor had advised us to wait a few cycles to try again, we (ignorantly?) didn’t really listen.

On January 4, I just felt a little different. I felt like something was up. After the third or fourth night of having really weird, vivid dreams (which I had had during my first pregnancy), I sent Nick out for a pregnancy test and my hopeful suspicions were confirmed. I was pregnant again!

We were happy… but not yet excited. We just couldn’t let ourselves be hurt again and we didn’t want to set ourselves up for disappointment and heartbreak. I suddenly felt really dumb and worried that maybe we should have heeded the doctor’s advice and waited, even though I was given a clean bill of health shortly after the D&C — I didn’t want to put myself or our baby in any danger.

Fortunately, everything seemed to be okay and, now almost 23 weeks in, I can say that it has been a fairly uneventful (in the best way possible) pregnancy. I know how immensely lucky we are that it happened again so quickly — I know some people try for years with no success, and here I was, pregnant again less than two months after a miscarriage. We have not let our good fortune go unnoticed.

We were cautiously optimistic for so long at the beginning of this pregnancy, but hearing the heartbeat at 10 weeks felt like the biggest milestone ever and we finally let ourselves celebrate a little. Seeing our baby bouncing around at the 12 week ultrasound was unreal; learning that “it” is a healthy little “he” at our 20 week ultrasound was downright euphoric. And it finally started to feel really, really real.

But… there’s always a but…

The joy of this pregnancy and this baby has not washed away the sadness of the first baby that we lost. Not at all. It’s something I never would have understood had someone explained it to me a year ago, but now that I’ve lived through it, the best way I can explain it is that our sadness and our happiness both exist and are parallel to one another. After all, when someone dies, we don’t just find a replacement for them; this situation is no different. While this pregnancy happened so quickly after the miscarriage, it does not erase the memory of what we lost. We’ll never forget that first baby. We are still overcome with sadness sometimes for the little one we’ll never meet, regardless of how elated we are to meet this new little one in September.

I often see other women who are further along than I am and the memories of my first first trimester and those horrible days of bad news and surgery come flooding back. I was supposed to be them. June 6, my first due date, will be a very sad day this year. Will the joy of our baby’s birth in September overshadow that? Of course. But it won’t make it go away. It’s not that simple.

A miscarriage is truly the loss of a loved one — there just isn’t that physical recognition of the person being mourned. So many people keep it private and never tell those they surround themselves with what they are going through. We decided to approach our miscarriage as we would any other devastating loss — we told people. We told the family and friends who knew we were pregnant, and we eventually told the family and friends who had not yet known we were pregnant. And honestly, it was the best thing we ever could have done for ourselves. Friends brought us food so we didn’t have to think about cooking when all we wanted to do was sit and cry. People sent cards and checked in on us. Friends and family cried with us and let us cry to them. We weren’t looking for pity, but feeling the love and sympathy from those around us was really important.

I joked with friends at one point that, while we were talking about it, I wasn’t going to post about the miscarriage on my blog or anything. But after several months of perspective and hearing so many stories of people I know who went through the same thing but never talked about it, I thought that maybe sharing our story would help someone else. Talking about it is not easy or fun, but for us it was the best therapy we could have asked for during a very sad time.

settling into 2012.

Happy New Year, friends. There’s lots of settling in to be done at the moment — continuing to get settled into our new home, settling into a new year that hopefully has lots of goodness in store, and settling into winter (t’was a frigid 27 degrees here today… brrrr!). It’s only the third day of the year and already three pleasant surprises have landed in my lap (details later, depending on how things pan out), so I’m hoping that 2012 continues to be so splendid and wrought with good things.

Somewhere in the last year, I’ve become hesitant to blog and have also just been so very busy (you’ve heard me promise several times to get back in the swing of things here, but it hasn’t quite happened yet). During my quietness, I’m sure I lost a lot of readers, and blogging without comments is just not as fun. However, this blog has always been for me, and comments and connections with others have just been a bonus, so I’m going to try to keep that in mind as I attempt — once again — to update more regularly.

On that note, here’s a little peek into my world of late. I got a new iPhone in late November and could finally get into Instagram (since my iPhone 3G camera tended to hate me, which it expressed often by freezing, being generally slow, and taking horrible pictures). So for now, I leave you with some of my favorite pics from the last month. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can follow me — I’m claremontroad — and we also created a curiousandco business account for the occasional sneak peek into our workdays.

top: packing up some Curious & Co. orders from our new online shop; sunset view from my new home office
middle: tire tracks from the year’s first snowy dusting (this morning!); new chevron rug from Urban Outfitters
bottom: sunlight streaming in through our new front door; enjoying Christmas morning with our niece, Ginger

101 in 1001: the verdict

Remember in early 2009 when I began the 101 in 1001 project with gusto and determination? Well, 1001 days came and went faster than I ever imagined they could, and my 101 in 1001 officially ended last month.

The verdict? I completed 58 out of 101 items.

I’m happy with this number and proud of myself. I did a lot of things I may not have attempted had I not set the goal for myself, which is awesome. There are also a bunch of things I didn’t do, either because they became not as important to me after 2.5 years, they were difficult to keep track of (like doing something X number of times in X days/weeks), or I simply didn’t have the time for them. There are some things I’d still like to accomplish soon, like plan better for retirement, finish (or start!) putting together some photo albums, and be better about keeping in touch with my friends who live far away, so I’ll continue keeping those things on my radar.

Not to toot my own horn, but I also think it’s worth mentioning that I accomplished some things that weren’t ever on my list, like getting published (in a little magazine called Martha Stewart Weddings) and becoming an aunt! Okay, so I didn’t put a lot of work into that last one, but if spending time with my niece prevented me from checking more things off my list, I can certainly handle that. Spending a week playing with her down the shore was much more fulfilling than watching all of AFI’s top 100 movies, without a doubt.

I’m not sure if I’ll create another 101 in 1001 list, but I do like the idea of having a physical list of goals to stay motivated. Have you done your own 101 in 1001 project, or something similar? What was the outcome for you?

If you’re curious, below is my original list with completed items marked in yellow! You can also learn more about the project on my original post.

Continue reading

10 years.

I still have the New York Times from September 12, 2001 tucked away somewhere in a box under my bed. I may never look at it, but it’s there. I posted about where I was on 9/11 last year.

Some people avoid television and social media on the anniversary of 9/11; they lived it once and don’t need to live it again. Maybe I’m silly to replay the day’s events in my mind and soak up news stories and documentaries each year that are just so, so sad — but I feel like it’s important to remember. And I can’t help but think that even 30 years from now, it will still feel impossible to believe that it was that long ago.

living simply to live fully

I’ve gotten out of the habit of blogging regularly for a small handful of reasons:

1. I am reaaaaally busy with work. As Martha says, “it’s a good thing!” I am grateful, but let’s be honest: I am tired. Really freakin’ tired.

2. I don’t feel like we’ve done many super exciting things lately, and while I’m certainly not complaining and I’m enjoying my summer very much, I don’t know that anything I have to share is particularly interesting to anyone else. (To be completely honest, pretty much all I want to post about is my adorable niece 24/7, but alas, I resist.)

3. I’m sick of this blog design and ready for something new… I just haven’t had the time to tackle a new design. The curse of being a designer — never completely happy with anything and always wanting to change/improve upon things.

4. I started to feel like a hypocrite posting about cool products and clothes that I have no intention of buying. And I guess that’s the big one.

While I have my moments of wishing we had a house and wishing I could shop like I used to for cute clothes and wishing we could travel more, I am still very at peace with my decision to take the leap to self-employment early last year and the sacrifices that came with that choice. I know it will pay off, and exciting developments and growth have already happened in the year and a half since we started the business, so that’s a great motivation to keep going full steam ahead. The changes, however, have greatly opened my eyes to just how frivolous I used to be with my money, and how much more I truly value every penny now.

If I won the lottery five years ago, I probably would have bought a huge house that I would have filled up with a lot of stuff and gone clothes shopping to my heart’s content. If I won the lottery tomorrow… okay, who am I kidding: I’d still splurge a bit. But I now genuinely have no desire to have a closet that is overflowing with clothes and shoes, or a house bustling with stuff. I still value high quality items very much, and of course I’d like to have a few more of them, but I have seen a lot of value over these last few years in living more simply. I’m really starting to believe the whole “less is more” theory.

When I used to shop for new clothes pretty regularly and could never fully close my dresser drawers, I can bet that I still had the same 10 or so outfits on regular rotation. I’ve never been very good at playing with fashion (though I’d love to have a knack for putting pieces together), and I’m a creature of habit, so it makes sense that I would remain pretty content with a handful of favorite standbys, intermixed with some other less-worn items. It’s not much different now that I shop less and have weeded out a lot of clothes I don’t wear — I just have fewer of the less-worn items taking up space in my dresser.

I used to buy stuff — just random, random stuff — all the time. Now, I really think about if something is going to add value to my life, my space, and my time. Will it lose its cool factor the minute something goes from my shopping cart to my living space, where it is really only taking up space? I hate buying any old gift for someone just because it’s their birthday or Christmas and I’m “supposed” to. I love giving gifts, but I like to give things that are actually useful to the recipient, rather than just something that’s going to get shoved in a closet and forgotten about.

I have learned a lot from my brother and sister-in-law. While having a baby has added a few more possessions to their space, they are still very strategic and thoughtful about bringing any item into their home. It is a beautiful home, generously sized by New York standards, but modestly sized by mainstream standards (particularly to we suburbanites who are used to more space). They don’t have a lot of room for clutter, so they choose their possessions carefully. It makes the things they do have that much more meaningful, and each and every item is there for a reason.

I turned 31 last week (yay?) and aside from a super cool bike and a super cool dSLR, I could not think of a single thing that I really, truly wanted. I looked through my blog wish list, my Pinterest wish list, and thought about it for about a week. In the end, Nick took me out to a nice dinner, my mom got me some gift cards for dining out while we’re down the shore, and I was perfectly content. (Okay, I would have loved to get the bike or the dSLR, but I don’t really expect anyone to spend that much money on me.) I have everything I need, and many things that I don’t need. Too much beyond that is just excess that is adding zero value to my life and taking away from my ability to live fully — free of physical distractions cluttering up my space and, ultimately, my thoughts.

I see items on blogs and Pinterest that are really cool pretty much every day. But I feel a little silly sharing these items with my readers when I am really leaning towards living more simply these days. I’m sure some items will pique my interest enough that I’ll share them with you, and maybe I’m just going through a particularly cynical phase; but rather than just looking for things to post about for the sake of posting something, I’ll probably put more focus on blogging about the things that really, truly interest me.

This is not the first time you’ve heard me ramble about uncluttering my life and my space, but it is a topic worth repeating as it’s something I think about a lot lately. What do you think about the idea of living simply to live fully? Is it the way you live? If so, have you always been a less-is-more person, or have you become one over time?

(And okay fine, just one picture of Ginger with her Aunt Brooke and Uncle Nick, for good measure.)

what’s so wrong about a fairytale?

Early Friday morning, I was glued to my television as I watched a “commoner” become a Princess.

images via People.com

I also saw a range of responses across Facebook and Twitter — from people who woke up at 4am to watch (I wasn’t quite that committed!) to people who were tired of hearing about a wedding of people they don’t know.

I do not know them, nor do I live in their country. Every move of the day was a carefully calculated (and timed) one, and it was far from being the kind of laid back affair where the couple express their emotions through tears; they took great care in behaving like royals should. Millions of dollars (er, pounds) were spent to be sure that every detail was up to royal standards, at the wedding itself and throughout London.

It is far from normal… and that is what makes it so appealing to so many of us.

In the US, we don’t have a royal family. For us, princes and princesses were people (or cartoon characters) we watched in Disney movies. So to be able to witness a real prince marrying his princess after years of courtship, regardless of where they live, well… it’s easy to get caught up in it all. Not to mention, with all of the wars, natural disasters, political controversies, and crime we hear about on the news day in and day out, it’s refreshing to have a distraction in two beautiful people celebrating a momentous day, and watching an entire nation join them in celebration. Happy news is still news, and I don’t see a thing wrong with the excitement surrounding it.

To the cynics, I ask: what’s so wrong about getting lost in the fairytale of it all?

the world and stuff

I’ve been a bad blogger this week. Sometimes, I can’t find enough time for all the posts I have drafted in my head. Other times, I can’t think of a thing to write about. This week has fallen into the latter category!

The truth is that I usually write about pretty light and fluffy stuff on here, and it’s hard to keep it light and fluffy when I am feeling sad about the world. As much as I always try to focus on the positive, there’s no denying that there’s also a lot of negative going on around us. Saturday’s tragedy in Tucson is just so, so heartbreaking, and it left me feeling very disappointed in our world. I know there are much worse things happening in other countries every day and I am extremely fortunate to live the life I live, but sometimes that makes me feel even more sad for the things I can’t fix.

I don’t watch the news too often because it just gets to be depressing and I take so much of it to heart, but I don’t like feeling naive about what’s really going on in the world, either. It’s hard to find a balance of feeling informed while not completely losing faith in humanity in the process.

So. That’s what I’ve been feeling this week. How do you all follow current events and learn from them without letting it get you down?