October 2019

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less stuff means more time

THERE MORE THANone way to swim against the consumerist tide. The latest word from Statistics Canada is that Canadian household debt is at record highs, and rising faster than disposable income.

In the Lower Mainland, that’s reflected in little houses being bought and levelled to build bigger houses, while those who can’t afford to buy those bigger houses drive their SUVs east to find cheaper big houses in Surrey, Langley, Maple Ridge or Mission.

“Driving until they can afford something that’s the expression we sometimes use,” said architect Michael Geller, also an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University’s centre for sustainable community development. At the end of that drive comes the urge to fill those big houses with stuff hence the results of that StatsCan quarterly report on debt from December.

But a lesser known group is bucking that trend: people who for various reasons are choosing to live smaller, opting for less living space, less stuff, more walking. They’re raising families in apartments or setting up house in little homes squeezed along lanes.

“That is a definite demographic, a real demographic,” said Geller. “You just need to stand outside the child care facilities in downtown Vancouver to see them, and I think we’re going to see similar things happening in Burnaby and Richmond.”

Immigration from countries where it’s not unusual for families to live in apartments is part of the reason, Geller said.

Also underway is a shift in municipal zoning rules to allow smaller houses to be built along lanes in single family neighbourhoods.

Jake Fry, a builder and designer of laneway houses through his companies Smallworks Studios and Laneway Housing Inc., has built 100 such homes ranging in size from 380 to 1,000 square feet.

Since Vancouver gave the green light to such houses in 2009, 1,082 have been either built or approved in the city.

Then there is extreme small, thus far more popular up country, around Nelson and on Hornby Island, for example.

Tiny houses of less than 200 square feet, often small enough to be put on wheels, have made some inroads closer to the city but, said Fry, “It’s not something that is going to lend itself very well as any sort of building solution within an urban area.”

Abbotsford tiny house resident Kayla Feenstra would disagree, as we found out when we checked in with four households living small.

Couple and one cat in 400 square feet

STEPHANIE WILLIAMSheld up her mobile phone, a flip model of the type once used by Neanderthals to warn each other of mastodon attacks.

“I got this last summer and I’ll probably keep it for three or four years,” said Williams, 28, a clerk at a downtown Vancouver law firm.

“I think smartphones are one of the worst things for the environment honestly, the minerals and things they make them out of.

“Some people might need smartphones but 10 years ago everybody had these,” Williams said, pocketing her phone.

She and her live in boyfriend, Celestian Rince, a 26 year old administrative assistant at a property management company, are among those people who are choosing to live small. They’re opting for less floor space in their homes and shucking off the need to trade their old things for new things.

For Rince and Williams, the reasons are a mix of concern about the consequences of over consumption and the desire for economic freedom, including plans for an early, travel oriented retirement.

“Our whole goal is to spend as little as we can because the less you spend, Adidas Boost Malaysia the sooner you retire,” said Williams. “You save enough money and you’re clear. It’s a combination of that and the environmental aspect reducing consumption as a whole. We don’t drive. We try to avoid buying plastic things if at all possible, or anything that’s going to end up in a landfill.”

Rince and Williams live in a 400 square foot bachelor’s unit in a Gastown co op housing project within walking distance to both of their offices.

What Celestian Rince and Stephanie Williams gave up to go small:

“Our couch. We had a sizable couch that took up too much space. We mounted our TV on the wall at the foot of our bed rather than having it in front of the couch.”

“We had a pile of rarely or never worn clothes hanging around in our closets, which we donated shortly after moving.”

“We got rid of some of our older books and have mostly shifted to e books. As a bonus, we also were able to toss the shelves the books were on!”

“Kitchen appliances. We got rid of a bunch we don’t use: juicer, toaster (we have a toaster oven), Adidas Superstar Unisex White Black Serpentine Factory Outlet Malaysia grill, bread maker.”

ACROSS TOWNin Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood, Akua Schatz, 36, and Brendon Purdy, 37, are raising their two and a half year old son in a 640 square foot laneway house they built largely on their own in Purdy’s parents’ yard. The little house was designed by a company that specializes in such homes.

“Coming from the environmental sector, a priority for me was to have a green home natural as much as possible,” said Schatz, 36, who spent six years working for the Suzuki Foundation before taking a position with the Canada Cheap Nike Air Max 2016 806771-013 Men Black Green Malaysia Building Council, which does LEED certifications. They picked countertops, for example, made from organic materials.

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