Alison Mazurek lives in a 600-square-foot Vancouver apartment with her husband Trevor and their two children, Theo and Mae. “Playing hide-and-seek in our house is hilarious,” said Alison. “Theo always initiates the game, but there are literally four places you can hide.” Here, she shares her tips for small spaces, the magic of Murphy beds, and the $30 item that changed her life…
On finding a home: Trevor and I moved here nine years ago. We loved that it was a ground level apartment with big windows and high ceilings — they’re 11 feet tall in the main room. Even at that time, we were wondering if we should buy a bigger place, but we were like, ‘This is good for us!’ Then we had Theo and everyone we knew freaked out wanting us to move. But we didn’t listen. We were happy here.
On making things work: When Theo arrived five years ago, he slept in our living room in a mini crib. We would turn off all the lights, and just sit there in the darkness! After he started sleeping more, we realized that our setup wasn’t working, and we needed our life back. We researched ways to make it work, but building another bedroom was a lot of money. Finally, we decided to get a wall bed for the living room, and give Theo our bedroom. It felt like a big decision, but it worked right away.
On a growing family: Now that we have two kids, they share a bedroom. It helps that Mae worships Theo! Their conversations are hilarious. They’ll be in their room together at night, and Mae will pass Theo stuffed animals. ‘Nother stuffie, Theo?’ she’ll ask in her raspy low voice, until she’s handed him all of them.
On Murphy bunk beds: We recently got these fold-down bunk beds. I like that they’re so sturdy. Our kids are monkeys and hang off things, but we never have to worry that they’ll break their beds — just themselves!
On creating room to play: We fold up the bunk beds when their friends are coming over, so we can use their whole room to play. One thing I’ve learned about small spaces is that as soon as we’re done with baby gear or toys they don’t play with anymore — sometimes even before — I’m looking for someone else who can use it. My friends and I rotate through things so we don’t have to store anything.
On reading rituals: One thing we do make room for is children’s books. We have so few walls in our apartment, so our bookshelf becomes the art. Today by Julie Morstad is Mae’s absolute favorite. Her illustrations are dreamy and the kids love making the choices. And we’ve read Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat thousands of times. Little You is the book I give to new babies, and Julie Flett’s books are beautiful.
On holiday rules: We ask for no gifts from friends and family for birthdays, and very limited gifts at Christmas. Kids don’t have to open 20 gifts to feel joy. We do have a deal that Grandma can buy as many large toys as she wants, but they have to stay at her house. Needless to say, the kids love visiting her.
On rolling with it: I used to think that in order to live in a small space with kids, they would have to be the type to draw quietly in the corner. Those are not my kids! Our house can be destroyed in five minutes, but thankfully it’s quick for us to put back together.
On finding alone time: Theo uses his top bunk for quiet solo play when he needs to escape from everyone. I’ll put on headphones and watch my shows in the sofa corner. I binge teen dramas I’m probably too old for, like Friday Night Lights.
On the joys of a fold-down bed: I put up our bed every morning. Theo and Mae eat breakfast at our dining table and the second they’re done, they are running over to jump on our bed with their peanut butter fingers and orange juice faces. So I have to get that bed up first thing! It’s basically just making the bed and pushing it up with the help of hydraulics. It is nice to crawl into a made bed at the end of the day.
Wall sconce: vintage, similar.
On minimal living: Trevor and I get our books from the library so we can return them after we read them. And, overall, we believe in fewer, quality things. Each person has one raincoat, one winter coat, that’s it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to last. We only have one set of sheets for each bed. (We just wash them during the day.) We don’t have space in the linen closet — I call it a linen closet but it’s an everything closet. If something is coming in, what’s going to go? But we still have our stuff. My husband has seven water bottles. And I have too many pillows.
On learning about yourself: In the past, if I was down, the best way I knew how to care for myself was to shop. But in this home, you are confronted with your possessions constantly, so if they’re wasteful or useless or don’t make you happy, it’s not a great feeling. It’s been a long lesson for me to learn how to look out for myself in other ways. In day-to-day life, this has meant things like taking a workout class, meeting up with a friend, or finding a magazine and the time to read it.
On overnight guests: We’ll sometimes have house guests — like a friend or my mom — and they sleep on our big couch which is basically at the foot of our bed. It’s quite awkward and hilarious. No one usually stays more than one night, haha.
On easy entertaining: A couple times a month, we’ll have friends over for a 5:30 potluck dinner. Usually I’m just in charge of the wine or ice cream. It’s madness! The kids are piling on us trying to eat and the adults are trying to hold a conversation. Everyone is home and exhausted by 9:00! We recently got a portable projector to shine on our wall bed and we realized we can put on The Mighty Ducks, and all the adults can finally talk on the couch.
On genius inventions: I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of small living. I recently went to my friend’s house and she had this teeny tiny garbage can tucked between her toilet and cabinets, and I was like, ‘WHY DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS.’ It was skinny enough to squeeze right in. Ours had been sitting in the middle of our bathroom for years. I ended up getting one, too, and it’s life changing.
On taking breaks outside: I joke that we’ve raised our kids in coffee shops, because anytime we need to get out of the house, that’s where we go. But, really, it’s just getting outside that matters. When you’re a kid, any walk is an adventure. We take our time getting places. We’ll also go to parks or community centers — we have to get out or we will all lose our minds.
On weekend trips: We love Vancouver. We live 15 minutes away from the beach and 20 minutes from the mountains, so camping is a big part of our lives. And Tofino, on Vancouver Island, is a ferry ride away, and it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. The ocean is all around you and there are delicious places to eat.
On knowing yourself: More than any other question I get asked about our life is, ‘When will you move out of a 600-square-foot apartment?’ We have taken a wait-and-see approach. I get the feeling we will know when our time is up. But right now, this makes sense for our family. We feel really lucky to be here.
Thanks so much, Alison!
(Photos by Britney Gill for Cup of Jo.)