Does This Mean We're Minimalists? ~ A Tour of Our Chalet

Now that we are all settled into our chalet I thought I'd take you on a visual tour of our home. You can the see the before and getting organized photos here & here

To say we love this space is putting it mildly.

When Damien and I found the chalet in early October we told the landlord on the spot, "we'll take it - now". As we walked through the space together that fateful October day (indeed, it was fate or God, as we believe, who led us to this sweet cabin) we had visions of what living here might look like. So far the chalet has been everything we'd hoped for and more.

A few facts about the chalet and the area:

  • Damien paced the side and front of the perfectly rectangular chalet and determined the area to be approximately 750 square feet. Not the most precise measurement so let's say 700-800 square feet of living space.
  • For the first time in six years I have dryer. And I use it. There is not much space in this little house for hang drying laundry and no outdoor line (and no, we're not rigging something up for the few months we're living here). I love that dryer. Even so, we have a drying rack set up for all the wet winter gear that needs to dry each day after being outdoors. You'll see it in the photos. 
  • However, the dishwasher serves as storage space and is used on special occasions only, like post-Christmas dinner. Our small kitchen space does not allow tons of dishes to be stored so we keep out only what we need, five of everything, and wash up right after meals. I LOVE this system. It's what we were trying to achieve over one year ago when we started hand washing our dishes (we stopped that during the winter months of 2011, getting ready for our move).
  • The transition to a smaller space has not been without bumps. Being in such close proximity with each other, all day, brings differing personality and character traits into sharp relief. We all rub edges sometimes but we honestly feel that this is a good thing. Learning to treat each other with love, respect and kindness, regardless of circumstance, are some of our core family values. We get to practice those each and every day! I don't want to speak on behalf of our children, that is their story to tell, but Damien and I believe this character refining process and working out systems of small space living is very valuable for our family.
  • We live 10 minutes from the centre-ville of the biggest town in the area. We are not isolated in the back woods somewhere, though we are surrounded by field, wood and river, with lots of space to roam.
  • The chalet is actually located in a small village consisting of a post office, fishing outfitter and museum (salmon fishing is big around here), a couple churches, an outdoors store/cafe, a bar, a greenhouse/nursery, a balsam wreath maker (don't ask me what they do in summer), town hall, the Legion, a couple other at-home businesses and altogether maybe 700 souls who call this place home.
  • We are only here for the winter, till the end of May, since this chalet is used heavily as a summer rental for all the tourists that come to this gorgeous area.

On with the tour

A lot of the minimalist stuff you see out there - people who whittle their personal belongings down to 100 items (huh?) and live in a white Ikea-like cubicle and eat out all the time because they have no kitchen, etc. - seems just so not family friendly.

I mean, really - we are a family of five creative and active individuals. We craft, learn, work, cook and eat at home. Every day. We make mess, all the time. How can you truly live (love, eat, create) without making mess?

In a small space this reality is simply amplified. Coming to terms with the creative clutter is one of my life lessons in this move. There is no separate studio space for sewing. Games, crafting, "school" activities, they all happen right where we live. It's truly a "living room".

What this means practically is that the dining room table never looks like this.

Except maybe at the end of the day. Often, the whole day it will be full of "life" and we'll eat our lunch at the tiny peninsula in the kitchen instead. You learn to roll with it.

Bins. Bins are my friends. I'd love to have all natural baskets in some beautiful shelf, but there isn't even any wall space for a shelf like that so we adapt. We keep bins under the kids' beds and a stack like this in their room.

All of the kids stuff is stored in bins - crafts, toys, activities. They can bring out what they need for the day or a few days but everything has a home in a bin.

If we lived in this space permanently we would arrange the beds differently. Essentially the kids bedroom has 2 double beds taking up floor space. Which is overkill for their small bodies. But this isn't permanent so we make do.

I plan to write a separate post in the new year about book storage. For now, I'll tease you with this - we are creative in how we set up bookshelves.

Our bedroom is where Damien's "office" is but the details of that are also saved for another post, probably at Toe Salad. His office takes up about 18 sq. ft. at the end of our bed. And get this... he exercises while he works.

Intrigued yet? If you ask in comments I'll give you a hint of how he does that. And no, it has nothing to do with that adult activity that is usually reserved for bedrooms (though can you imagine working while doing that? Talk about multitasking...).

In our bedroom, in the dresser and wardrobe (pictured above), is where we store most of the craft supplies. This is also where Damien and I keep our clothes. Just to be clear, there are more craft supplies than clothes. Which is just fine with us.

This is our kitchen. I love it, especially that window over the sink.

I had no idea how huge my kitchen in Maine really was. This kitchen is easily half that amount of space. Which has caused us to simplify our kitchen goods - yipee! That whole bank of cupboards above the stove is pantry space. I value food more than tons of dishes.

I keep all my herbal and soap making stuff above the fridge. I am so thankful for that deep cupboard up there.

School stuff (and some other miscellaneous craft and technology gear) is stored in the white hutch you see behind Celine in this photo below.

Next to the hutch and behind the futon is my desk and computer - command central. This is where I keep all my home management stuff. Files. Binders. My books.

I love this desk. I look out the window on the field and woods while I write. Very inspiring.

It's key feature - it's centrality - is also a pain when I need quiet for writing. One reason for getting up early. Ear plugs is also a good solution. Or, on the weekend I will use Damien's laptop and hole up for a couple hours in the bedroom.

Our shoes & boots are kept by the front door in 5 (one for each of us) not-so-pretty and cleverly stacked crates. Our winter gear goes in a chest behind the couch. Adult jackets hang on hooks by the door and the kids use a coat tree in their room.

Wow, this sounds like we're kind of (cosy and creative) minimalists.

Ha! See that black trailer out there?

This is where "the rest" of our stuff is stored! There is no storage space in our chalet. No closets, no eaves, no basement. Well, there is a "trap door" type cellar but we're not storing stuff down there.

The trailer is where we keep outdoor gear not used all the time - tents, sleeping bags, etc... In the trailer we also keep our boxes of photo & memory albums, extra guest bedding and linens (a bin or two of those), Damien's tools, our goodwill donation bags and boxes (quite a few of those), and other stuff I can't remember right now. As well as all the stuff we took out of the chalet, as it came with a fully furnished kitchen and we removed that to move our stuff in.

So, are we minimalists? I don't think so. But that's never been the goal.

A journey towards lighter living is our goal. Living in a small home in a beautiful place - adventuring, learning, working, creating together - that's the goal. And if we have to store extra stuff in a big black trailer in our driveway that's ok.

PS. The bathroom is between the kids' room and the dining room. And we are bathroom minimalists. Everything we use and need, except toilet paper, fits into one small vanity cupboard.

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  • desilou

    desilou on Dec. 21, 2011, 3:39 p.m.

    THANK YOU for sharing this fun tour of your chalet! I love peeking into other people's home ideas. More & more my husband are finding ourselves with goals similar to the ones you've been sharing - "A journey towards lighter living ... adventuring, learning, working, creating together" exactly! It is very encouraging to see what you've accomplished as a family and what you are working on :)


  • Angela Palmer

    Angela Palmer on Dec. 21, 2011, 4 p.m.

    That is so great! We lived in a finished section (430 square feet) of our "barn" for a little over a year while we built our home. We also have three children about the ages of your children. I had so much fun paring down and organizing our stuff into that space. We truly enjoyed living in our tiny home for months, but it turned out to be a bit small for prolonged contentment. I think we would have done well with twice that - about what you have. We too had the "black trailer", which was the unfinished side of the barn. We continually work on living more lightly and more gently on the planet, trying all the time to balance simplicity with keeping what we need to do the things we love to do. Makes the mind ache sometimes!


  • Penny

    Penny on Dec. 21, 2011, 4:05 p.m.

    This is wonderful - thank you for sharing, and no doubt inspiring MANY a New Year's resolution :)

    Happy Holidays Renee, I know you have NO idea who I am, but I have always loved your blog, and appreciate your honest sharing. I am just thrilled for you and your family as you make your dreams come true (Hear the applause? That's me!).


  • Constance

    Constance on Dec. 21, 2011, 4:10 p.m.

    Wow, what a great place! You really do have fun in your backyard, now! Compared to the rest of us, you are definitely minimalist but it looks so warm and cosy. Very Christmasy! I am envious. I would love to read how you find space to work at home as we are both doing that now. Merry Christmas to all of you!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 22, 2011, 11:23 a.m.

      Neither of us need much "space" for working. Admittedly, most of my work is in the kitchen and I've got that covered. My writing happens on my computer. Damien just needs a space for his laptop and can work anywhere. More than finding space the challenge has been working out schedules and routines that give our family both the freedom and structure we need to achieve our goals. 


  • Shelley R.

    Shelley R. on Dec. 21, 2011, 4:51 p.m.

    What a warm and cozy chalet! I'm curious about those bookshelves though, we have piles and piles of books and one thing that confounds me is what to do with the books we own when we move. Any tips on how you began sorting through your belongings in order to decrease the amount to the essential?


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 29, 2011, 11:46 a.m.

      I am not a keeper of books so I might be wrong person to ask. I'm always giving away and getting rid of my personal books. I keep a few reference materials and non-fiction I truly, truly love and might read again. In our old life we were huge library users. I have yet to see how that will work here in a French speaking province. We do keep a fair amount of kids' books (homeschoolers and all). We haven't made it to the library here yet since moving and Celine has been reading for the third (and fourth) time some of her favorite classics in our collection. I wrote about the homeschool/kid books we own a couple years ago. Since that time I've added more classics to our collection and I'm always culling out books the kids have outgrown. Celine also owns a Kindle which is our techie answer to having less book shelf space! As for tips on sorting and downsizing... that's a book - I may or may not write (smile).


  • Naomi

    Naomi on Dec. 21, 2011, 10:26 p.m.

    Very cool, Renee! It must have been fun, and challenging setting up everything the way you wanted it. And I agree, crafts are more important than tons of clothes! And food over dishes... Can you believe, my small cupboard for cooking dishes recently got decluttered, so now it holds just the bare essentials, and it is so much more fun cooking that way I think.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Dec. 22, 2011, 2:22 a.m.

    Learning to live with the mess on the table! Yes, yes, yes! this is also my personnal challenge... We also downsized house quite a bit and now that we are traveling and renting houses (and living with what fitted in 6 suitcases...), I thought there would be less mess... but you know what? NO!!! There is still as much mess on the table and in their bedroom... I just have to learn to roll with it and see the beauty in their amazing creativity!

    I LOVE that little chalet! It is so cute an cozy! And I want to know more about Damien working AND exercising at the same time!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 22, 2011, 11:27 a.m.

      He walks on a treadmill while working. It's quite ingenius and he's not the first to think of it as it's a little "movement" that seems to be growing with people like him, who rely on sedentary computer work for their livelihood.  He does intend to blog about in the new year and I believe explain how he converted the treadmill to a standing desk. The whole contraption sits/stands at the end of our bed. He works in our bedroom so he can close the door when he's talking to clients etc... and mostly so that eyesore (a treadmill/standing desk is not pretty to look at) is out of the living area. There isn't an inch of space for it in the living area anyway. 


  • Francesca

    Francesca on Dec. 22, 2011, 3:12 p.m.

    I love how you made that chalet in the woods your home, Renee. Had I not seen it, I wouldn't believe possible the "exercise while he works (in a small chalet!)" - so, so brilliant! All in all, perfect and creative use of your space.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 22, 2011, 3:45 p.m.

      It's really so ingenius (Damien's like that - very gifted for finding solutions to problems) since D's work is quite sedentary. My own job as homemaker has me moving quite a bit. Like this am I'm cleaning up a storm for my parent's arrival - good thing cleaning the whole place only takes a couple hours! I only sit when I write a couple hours a day. D wants me to give the treadmill a try someday but I don't know if I'm co-ordinated enough to walk and type and think all at the same time! PS. such a treat to see you "in person" yesterday.


      • heather

        heather on Dec. 22, 2011, 5:20 p.m.

        i would like to add how excited i am to hear more about damien's set-up. much of my non-homemaking type work involves sitting as i write and i'd love to turn some of that time into movement! in our new home we have an area that we'd like to turn into a home gym... while i resist the idea or "organized exercise," i also dislike the amount of sitting in my days, currently. i miss the constant movement of my waitressing days! at times, that job had me more active than teaching yoga! :)


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Dec. 22, 2011, 8:52 p.m.

    I LOVE that idea! I am sure my husband would love that (he is a runner). We work less and move more while traveling, but it is great for when we will be back home (maybe one day!). I would need practice to type and walk at the same time!


  • Claudia

    Claudia on Dec. 22, 2011, 9:59 p.m.

    Renee, I am so happy for you that you get to experience your dream home! It sounds like the perfect place at the perfect time. We too found serendipity in our new home, and the joy in that is simply incredible.

    Thanks for sharing this tour of your current life! :)

    Hoping your solstice is peaceful and includes lots of skiing in that gorgeous backyard (can you believe it was over 50 in Maine today?!)


  • Chloe

    Chloe on Dec. 23, 2011, 2:13 a.m.

    Renee-- I love seeing how you marry the 'stuff' that comes with an active, creative family of five with the simplicity that's necessary in a small, temporary home. I'll be keeping an eye on how it develops since our 2012 will include a little small, temporary living, too!


  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Jan. 29, 2012, 7:36 p.m.

    What a Beautiful home, I loved the tour. Thank you. Can I subscribe to your site? Love all the information, not just about 1 thing but alot of ideas. Thanks again.


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