Trevor and Alison live in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver with their toddler, Theo, and baby Mae. They live in a 600 square foot, 1 bedroom home (!!), and are making a conscious choice to live small and raise their family in the city. Trevor works as an Occupational Therapist, and Alison writes about “living small and thoughtfully in the city” on 600sqft.com.
Mandalyn: Tell me about your family—what’s your story, how did you find yourself in Vancouver, and how did you start 600sqft.com?
Alison: I’ve lived in Vancouver my whole life. I feel like that’s kind of boring, but it’s such a beautiful city! Trevor grew up in a small town in northern BC and he loved small town living. He moved to Vancouver to attend university. We met here and have always lived in a small space. We bought this apartment 8 years ago and even then people told us it was too small for the two of us! But we loved the Mount Pleasant neighborhood and loved being in the city. When we had our first child, Theo, everyone said we were crazy not to move. But it still made sense for us, so we decided to just try it to see if it could work. Before we knew it, Theo was a year old and we were still enjoying living in a small space in the city.
That’s when I decided to start a blog. I could find home tours and photographs of people living small with kids, but I couldn’t find anyone sharing exactly how to do it. I wanted to address the things like what it means to live small, what you have to live without, what does it bring to your life, and what does it take away. I thought if we can do it—if we can live small with a child and actually enjoy it—then I’m going to share it!
Now we have a daughter, Mae, and I’ll be honest, it’s way harder with two! But I hope by sharing my experience that others who may want to try the same lifestyle won’t be afraid to do it. If I had let the comments of others stop me from staying in our “too small” home, I don’t think we would be as happy.
Mandalyn: What keeps you in the city?
Alison: I like having everything at my fingertips. I like to be able walk everywhere. I like that when I’m out with the kids and the stroller, I can do all the errands in one spot. I really care about a good cup of coffee, and I care that I can get the best croissant in the city! All of that is within walking distance—we’re pretty lucky.
There are also so many resources for the kids at our fingertips in our city. We have beautiful parks and community centers, the forest is a ten minute drive away, we can drive to the the mountains in twenty minutes and the ocean in ten. The inner harbor is within walking distance. We take the kids to Science World regularly, and it has become their play gym! It’s a beautiful place that is typically a big treat, but since we live so close it has become their space.
Mandalyn: When do you thrive on city life as a family? Do you ever have times when you feel like you’re merely surviving?
Alison: Thriving and loving the city is definitely our default. When I’m walking to my cooperative space to work (I quit my full time job and I’m doing more freelance work now), or when I’m taking Theo to his beloved preschool, or spending a few hours alone with Mae and then being able to work for a few hours—those are the moments I feel like I’m living the dream. It’s not always like that, of course, but the days when the house is somewhat clean and the sun is shining and I’m walking to all the things and getting a good cup of coffee on the way—those are the really good days.
Thriving in and loving our city life is definitely the default for our family.
We were in survival mode when Mae was around three months old. You know, the phase when everyone is exhausted because of the lack of sleep. I remember a particular day when it started snowing—it doesn’t snow much in Vancouver so the city just shuts down—and I had to get around the city with the kids in my stroller that couldn’t move through the snow. We were wet and cold. At the same time I was trying to get Theo into swim lessons and I missed the 6 a.m. registration time because I was exhausted from being up with the baby. I was sure he wouldn’t be able to do swim lessons, and then I started thinking of how hard it is to get in to daycare and that snowballed into thinking about how everything costs so much more in the city. I remember feeling like it was all too hard. The city is too hard. Maybe we can’t do this after all.
In hindsight I think it was a little postpartum depression and maybe some seasonal affective disorder kicking in. And things got better—Theo made it off the waitlist to attend swim lessons and it was affordable and wonderful, and we found a spot at a daycare we loved. We didn’t give up and Mae got a little older and the snow stopped and we just reframed our perspective to remember the wonderful things that are part of the city. We also booked a trip around that time, and I think that is a great way to reframe your perspective.
Living small and within our means in the city allows us to travel more and this is something we really value and consider a true benefit of our smaller living city lifestyle.
Mandalyn: Our family has experienced the same thing. Leaving the city is a foolproof way for us to fall in love with it again! We get that excited feeling when we’re driving back into the city and seeing the skyline or catching the first glimpse from the airplane window.
We did a lot of camping this year too—it’s another way for us to love the city all over again. Get out into nature for a while, let the kids run around like savages, and then you’re so glad to be back in the city! I think both environments are really important.
My biggest fear is that people will move away. We still have a community of wonderful friends who are trying to make it work with kids in the city but I basically live in constant fear that they will leave! I’m always recruiting people and saying you can do it! But the reality is that not everyone can.
If we have to find friends in other cities that we connect with over a shared goal of raising our kids in the city, then great! I just don’t want to give up on it because it’s challenging. I think this season of our lives—the kids are young and we’re both working and trying to hang onto a sense of self—is challenging. It’s wonderful and challenging we aren’t giving up on any of it.
Mandalyn: What’s a typical family day like for the four of you?
Alison: We’re not very scheduled; we’d rather just feel it out. Some days are trade off days—I go for a workout and coffee with girlfriends while Trevor keeps the kids and then we swap so he can go out later. Then we might end with dinner in the evening with friends and their kids. You know—an early dinner where everyone can be home by 9:00pm. That’s a typical Saturday, and Sunday is for getting out, like going on a hike or making a Costco run. We’ve started meal planning lately (I was always totally against it) and it really helps! We’re not great at it yet but on Sundays we try to buy groceries, make a meal or two, and make a plan for the week. It helps with organization and keeps us from needing to go to the store every day. We can do that in the city because we just walk to get whatever we need, but it can be a waste—of both money and time.
Mandalyn: Does your city have any challenges?
Alison: Similar to NYC, housing costs in Vancouver are really high. It’s difficult for everyone. Getting just one more bedroom is not a simple decision for us; it’s a huge one. The cost of living is higher too.
As a city, Vancouver not really set up for families as much as we could be. Especially for a city that has four seasons and a very long rainy season. We could use more indoor play areas for kids of all ages. Am I doing anything to help? I’m spending my money at those places! There’s a little play cafe a bus ride away from our house, but I think we should have one every four blocks! More indoor play spaces would be so helpful; places where the kids can run around get their beans out.
Mandalyn: I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit in you just because we’re both doing the city thing even though we’re so many time zones apart! If you can do it, so can we.
Alison: We can all do it! We just need to have each others backs.
Mandalyn: What are your favorite kid-friendly spots in Vancouver?
Alison: Le Marché St. George for delicious crepes, coffee, sidewalk hanging, and backyard chickens! Next stop is the park up the street. Science World is hands-down the best rainy day cure for kids in Vancouver, and Collage Collage is a lovely shop with the best kids books, diy craft kits and artist-led classes for kids. It’s a real gem in Vancouver!
Raising our family in the city is wonderful and challenging and we aren’t giving up on any of it.
Read more about Trevor & Alison’s decision to live small on 600sqft.com. You can also follow Alison on Instagram @600sqftandababy for a peek into their daily life. Say hello and give them some #cityfamilysolidarity.