Small Home Tours: Robin and Family of 4 in 900 square feet

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Today on the blog I have a patiently awaited for Small Home Tour with the incomparable Robin of @Twentyventi. I have long admired her approach to parenting, design and living well. When I am feeling overwhelmed by motherhood or messes Robin often has the words to put me at ease or refocus my priorities. I truly find her to be an authentic and bright light in this strange social media world I find myself in. Beyond her words, her photos capture childhood and motherhood in a way that always leaves me impatiently awaiting her next photo. Her beautiful captures of the everyday are - as I mentioned in the first sentence -incomparable. I am incredibly grateful that she took the time to give us an in-depth look into her home and for her thoughtful words regarding small living as a family of four. I’ll leave you with Robin

Meet Robin…

My name is Robin. I live in a suburb of Toronto with my husband, Patricio, and two daughters. I worked in childcare for over a decade as an Early Childhood Educator — and have been home full-time with my girls for the past two and a half years.

What I share on my blog and social media is quite a mixed bag of my personal interests and everyday life - creative projects, respectful parenting, motherhood, low-to-zero waste living, homeschooling, slow and sustainable fashion, and whatever I'm currently reading (usually parenting or social justice titles these days).

How big is your home and what is the layout?

We live in a 905 sqft two-bedroom apartment flooded with natural light from ceiling-high wall-to-wall south-facing windows in every room.

Half the apartment is our living/dining area and a little outdated corner kitchen. We spend most of our time together in this half of our apartment, cooking while the girls play, having family dance parties, mini yoga sessions, curled up together on the sofa reading, puzzles, painting, obstacle courses. We intentionally left our living space fairly open and sparsely furnished to accommodate two young children who need lots of space to run around and play.

On the other half of the apartment are the bedrooms, and a tiny bathroom. The smaller bedroom belongs to our older daughter, and the larger bedroom is ours, that we currently share with our toddler.

The only pieces of furniture in our room are our bed and our dresser, which we pushed into the space where our closet used to be (we removed the doors two years ago). Because our room is so bare, we've actually been talking about putting a Murphy bed in the living space and turning one of the bedrooms into a studio (my husband is an artist), but that project has been put on the shelf until we move the girls into the same room. It's nice to know we have some flexibility and room to grow here.

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Who lives there?

My husband, Patricio, myself and our two daughters who are five and two and a half years old.

Tell me about your choice to live small as a family. Was it a conscious decision or did it just evolve?

I don't actually consider our apartment to be that small compared to other small homes, so I don't know that I've ever consciously made the decision to live small (in terms of space) - but I have consciously decided to live with less physical things, and to be intentional about what we own, which definitely is a good fit with living in a more modest space.

Is there a piece of furniture or accessory that you couldn't live without that makes living in your space easier?

Early last year we built a wall of cabinets across a 12-foot wall in our living room. That same space used to have wall-to-wall open-shelving, which was beautiful in theory, but I couldn’t take the visual clutter on such open display, even when it was organized. We do have a lot of storage in our apartment, but we wanted everything that we frequently use within easy access in our living space, without having to dig through a closet (i.e. books, craft and art supplies, puzzles, our turntable and records).

Assuming you keep toys edited are there any you recommend that have survived many purges and provided entertainment?

We do keep toys fairly edited down, though I'd still say we probably have more than we really need - enough that I can rotate our collection ever so often so that the same items still have novelty again and again.

The toys that have been most used, and that have survived many ruthless purges, are the open-ended ones that have grown along with our children, such as wooden blocks and play silks, as well as anything home-related - dishes, toy food, bowls, spoons, baby dolls.

I tend to gravitate towards toys made from natural materials (though we do have some plastic, like lego), partly because they are generally better quality, but also because I think when you live in a smaller space that can get cluttered quite easily as your children play, the mess, at least for me, bothers me less when the toys are, by my standards, beautiful. The girls have a say in what we donate or sell, so for any toys that I'm not too keen on, it helps to have pretty natural baskets to store them all in.

What is something you love about living small?

I feel like this has been a common answer from the other families that you've interviewed - but I love how little time it takes to clean. Yes, it can look messy quite quickly, but 10-20 minutes is all you really need for a good surface clean, and maybe an hour to deep clean.

I also love that it forces us to really "face" our belongings and to fill our space only with things we love or truly need, and get creative about the rest. I think that people mistakenly get the impression that I'm a very organized person when in reality, I've learned that having less helps me combat the fact that I'm terribly unorganized and scatterbrained - it allows me to focus on the things that are truly important to me and my family.

And, of course, I love that we’re always close by no matter where we are in our home - as hard as that can be as well, it’s nice to always know where the kids are.

What is something you hate?

Honestly, I don't really have many complaints about living small in our current apartment - it feels like exactly the right amount of space for us. Sure, I could say that sometimes I want a little more personal space and quiet, but I think that I'd have that same feeling while raising young, energetic children even in a bigger space.

Most of my frustrations about our home have to do with the fact that it's a rental (which limits what we can do), and a high rise apartment without a yard. I often say that I wish we could move our exact apartment to a plot of land, where we could have a vegetable garden and some fruit trees, hang our laundry to dry on a clothesline and let the kids run wild.

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I know for us, having walkable kid-friendly places in the neighbourhood really helps with small living. Would love to hear some of your favourite places to get outside with the kids in Toronto?

Getting outdoors every day is a pretty high priority because we don't have a yard. We chose our neighbourhood because it is walking distance to so many great parks and walking trails, and just a short drive to Lake Ontario, where we go quite regularly to walk along the lakeside trails and play in the tide. This year we didn't spend any time in the city, but normally we love to visit High Park or anywhere along the harbourfront.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to have a positive space about living small with a family and hopefully have people let go of the shame associated with it. Thank you soooo much for being so open with your beautiful home and life. Is there anything you would want to say to someone who wants to stay in their small space with a child/baby but are nervous or feeling external pressure not to?

I think that you can build a beautiful life anywhere if you truly want to. To some, living small may seem like a life that is lacking, but to others, they see an environment that can really foster creativity, intentionality, and prioritizing human relationships over material things (or space). So I think that our personal attitude towards living small is what makes or breaks it, whether we think our children can only thrive if they have lots of space and a room of their own, or if we can recognize that children can flourish anywhere - and that truly, in these early years, what children often want most is to be closeby their caregivers anyway, whether you live in 400 sqft apartment or 4000 sqft home.

During this pandemic do you find you have changed or used your space differently?

Yes - though mostly small things like changing the direction of our dining room table, rearranging a few cupboards, switching the rug in my daughter's room, hanging book ledges in the halls for the girls overflow of picture books. Little changes that have made spending extra time here a little prettier or more functional for our current needs.

These past ten months have deepened our appreciation for our space, and helped us recognize how privileged we are to have it - and more than ever we've seen how the only thing we really feel we are lacking, in terms of space, is a yard. But we made what we have work for us - putting a swing in our living room for the girls to release some extra energy, in addition to a Pikler triangle we got two Christmases ago that we keep out for climbing.

We hadn’t used our balcony much in the past, but during the pandemic, we bought some seedlings and started a few plants from seed, and made our first small balcony garden. It was always in my head that we needed a yard to have a real garden, so it was a wonderful experience for all of us to adapt to use what we already have to fit our current situation — and now we are quite looking forward to having an even bigger balcony garden this year.

Thank you again for opening your home and heart to us! I resonated with so much of what you said! And as we are about to move into 900-ish square feet I am encouraged to hear that it is the perfect amount of space for you. Also call me when you want to talk wallbeds! I have so many thoughts (mainly, yes you should! whether the wall bed is in your bedroom or the living room is the bigger questions I want to discuss!). You can find Robin on Instagram and her Blog!

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