Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is Bigger Better?

A friend asked me recently if I was planning on staying in my current home for much longer. Apparently, she assumed I would want to get a bigger house, especially now that I have a kid. But how much room do kids really need? How much room do WE really need? Am I depriving my child by not providing him with his own playroom or home theater?

My younger sister and I spent the first 6 years of our life in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment with the laundry facilities in the basement of the complex. My grandmother moved in with us for a short time when my sister was born and my family of 4 shared ONE bedroom so my grandmother could have her own room. When I turned 6, my parents saved up enough money to buy our own house so we "upgraded" to an 820 sq ft home with a big backyard. We still only had 2 bedrooms so my sister and I shared a room and all of us shared the tiny bathroom. Do you think I ever felt deprived of a single thing in my childhood? Never. Do I look back and wish I had more? Nope. I didn't even know what I was missing. The way I saw it, I had a nice clean place to live, toys to play with, a backyard to run around in, and a comfortable room to sleep in.

When I was 9, we moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and rented a duplex apartment with again, 2 bedrooms, while my parents figured out whether this would be a good place to settle down, as well as determine if the restaurant was going to be successful or not. A couple of years after the grand opening, it was clear that Coeur d'Alene would be our "home" so we looked for a bigger, permanent house for our family. We settled on a 4000 sq ft home with nearly an acre of land located on the lake with a swimming pool and a basketball court. This was quite a step up from what we were used to. But, over half of the house went unused. We were always hanging out in the kitchen, the family room or our bedrooms. I remember walking into our formal living room and dining room and feeling uncomfortable because it did not feel lived in. Unless we were practicing piano, no one liked being in there. We had one t.v. but no cable (my mom didn't believe in it) so we had maybe 4 fuzzy channels to choose from. We did have a "Nintendo" but only a handful of games. My sister I spent a lot of time outdoors, riding our bikes all over town, playing sports, reading, and volunteering at the local hospital. We also had many responsibilities at home since my parents were always working. In addition to household chores, I was in charge of baby-sitting my little sister, helping her with homework, defending her against bullies (it was not easy being one of the only Asian kids in North Idaho), and also working at the restaurant. I look back on my childhood with fond memories and am thankful my parents encouraged us to learn new skills, develop a good work ethic, and taught us to conserve and save-- monetarily and thus, ecologically. These are the things that stand out in my childhood. Not toys or fancy birthday parties or media rooms.

I know that the American way is to "go big" but I am actually quite content in my 1800 sq ft home. I don't have a playroom, or a theater, or a wine cellar, or even a formal living room. Would I like to have a bigger house and have all those extra rooms? Sometimes. But then I think about the additional cleaning, money, and maintenance involved and I'm glad I don't have to waste all that time taking care of rooms I don't need. It makes me happy that every single room in our house gets used.

What do I get for "sacrificing" more space? I get to live in a wonderful, close-knit neighborhood with small kids up and down our street. We're in a cul-de-sac so Owen can ride his bike and run around without worrying about traffic. Our fence opens up to a park right behind our house. We are 2 blocks to the grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants, and more. There is a trail system that runs throughout the entire 900 acre community along with pools, tennis courts, and parks. Our schools are some of the best in the nation and they're public. What more could I ask for?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Less is More

In honor of Earth Day, I wanted to pass along a post entitled, "Less is so much More" from my new favorite blogger and mentor. I was introduced to the Zero Waste Family 3 months ago while I was in Santa Cruz visiting my sister-in-law. She shared an article with me from Sunset magazine about this family in Northern California who produces nearly zero waste in their household. Just a small handful of garbage in 4 months. Furthermore, this family lives a beautiful, simple, and clutter-free lifestyle and because of this, they have time to enjoy the things that really matter... spending quality time with family and friends, enjoying nature, eating healthy food, and being respectful to our planet.

I was immediately inspired and along with my sister-in-law, started thinking about the many ways we could start reducing waste. We, like many others, had already stopped using plastic bags at the grocery store but wanted to find ways to do more. We decided the next step was to stop using paper towels and napkins completely and instead start using cloth wipes as well as cloth napkins at dinner. That weekend, Laura and I scoured the antique shops in Santa Cruz for vintage linen cocktail napkins and dish towels (besides being really cool, buying vintage or second-hand is a great way to recycle and reduce unnecessary resources on new products). My favorite cloths for wiping up spills are "Trader Joe's Super Amazing Kitchen Cloth". You get 2 in a pack and they hold up great in the wash and absorb lots of liquid (although they do shrink a bit after washing).

When I got home from my trip, I pitched the paper towel idea to my husband who was confused as to how this would work out. This was the person who probably used an entire roll of paper towels per day, just by himself. But...he was willing to give it a try and that's all I ask. We went cold turkey- we had maybe half a roll left and after that was gone, it was gone for good. For the past 3 months, my paper towel holder has been empty. I should just remove it from the wall but sometimes I like to look at it as a reminder of our zero-waste goal. Was it difficult? Absolutely not. Ask my husband. Every time I went to reach for a paper towel to dry my hands and it wasn't there, I just grabbed the kitchen towel that hangs right above my sink. Every time I went to grab a paper towel to clean up a spill, I opened up my kitchen drawer and used a cloth instead. Out of sight, out of mind. Seriously. I've since moved on to other zero-waste methods but I'll go into that in future posts. For now, I ask that you just consider trying something different.