April 20, 2016
This is the first post in my Montreal apartment tour series.
Damien and I have lived in fourteen homes in our almost twenty year marriage. I never set out to move a lot, I'm a person who depends on security and stability so moving was never my goal, but it was one of the tools to make the other goals and dreams happen - establishing a career, living in beautiful places, having adventures etc.
I had very straightforward and "traditional" dreams as a young woman - finish my education, get married, make a home, have babies, take care of those babies. I had no idea that life would take me the places it did and that at forty years old I would be living in Montreal with my three teenaged "babies". Growing up in rural Alberta, Montreal was a world away. I am still delightfully surprised that I live here.
One of the cool things about having lived in a few different places is that I appreciate the diversity of different living situations, homes, and dwellings. In my middle class western Canadian upbringing families did not live in apartments. And then Damien and I moved to New Jersey, Maine, and Quebec. We've lived in urban residential neighborhoods, small-ish cities, bigger cities, in the woods, mountains and by the ocean. We've lived in side-by-side duplexes, multi-family homes, single family homes, cabins, and chalets. Life is bigger, more varied and diverse, than what I knew as a child growing up in small prairie town.
In the course of my adult life, my housing perspective has broadened but also my values have shifted. As we've grown through our adult years and come to understand who we are as a married couple, Damien and I realize there are trade-offs with housing, as there is with every decision we make.
For us, deciding what size of house and where to live comes down to the weighing of two factors: what you get and what you give.
"The get" of course is the amenities that house, location, town, city, area offers. These could be many things: proximity to family, space, good schools, safety, decent neighborhood, mountains, a view, 4 bedrooms, etc...
The give is what it costs to achieve that, and not all cost is financial. All costs come down to time. The amount of time you have to work to afford the house you live in, and also the amount of time you must invest to maintain and manage that dwelling.
Some people want to spend a lot of time on their house, either in the amount of hours they work to pay for it or in the building and upkeep of their home and property. (And I realize a lot of people have little choice, and because of low income must spend a lot of time working for shelter, even substandard shelter.)
Ultimately, these decisions, evaluating what you get and what you give, are made in the context of your life circumstance and your values.
Families living in apartments is the norm in many parts of the world, especially considering that over half of the world's population lives in cities. And apartment living is certainly the norm in my vibrant family-friendly neighborhood, but it's not how I grew up and it's not the norm in many parts of middle class North America.
We live in a three-storey, four-plex apartment building. Two or three storey apartment buildings are common, both in our neighborhood and in other older parts of the city. Many of these buildings, the ones closer to downtown especially, were grand homes built in the 19th century. The buildings in my Rosemont neighborhood are circa post-WWII housing boom.
Buildings are owned by landlords (who may or may not live in the building), or co-operatives (something I'm not really familiar with). Buildings sit smack dab against neighboring buildings, sometimes with alleys or driveways between, but the "building" remains a discrete unit of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, (more?) apartments.
Our three-storey building has four apartments. Two above us, side by side, and one below us. Ours is the main floor apartment and usually the main floor apartment gets the backyard, if there is one.
What do we get from apartment living? The experience of living in Montreal. Access to everything Montreal offers, out our door, within walking distance from our house. I love the city. I love living in the city. We moved to Montreal to be in Montreal.
We wanted to give our kids a city experience, with everthing a city offers in terms of arts, culture and education opportunities. We didn't even consider the suburbs as an option, though we could have afforded to rent a single family house, or at the very least a multi-level duplex in those far flung neighborhoods.
We are lucky because our apartment has a great backyard space (in need of love and flowers), a garage and a driveway which is nearly unheard of for most of Montreal apartment dwellers. And we were the first renters after a complete interior renovation. That's a first for me.
What do we give? We give up a certain amount of privacy, we can hear our neighbors and they can hear us. And if our neighbors are having a big pot-smoking party we smell it and breathe it. Yuck.
We gave up living in the woods, and we all miss that from time to time. Our homeschool co-op meets on the West Island and we have to drive the freeway to get there, twice, sometimes three times a week. Since Damien works from home, this is our "commute". That is something we give.
We give up three bedrooms for three kids. There have been seasons of life when all three kids shared one room. This is not that season.
I'd love to give the girls their own rooms, but it wasn't possible in our price range, location, and condition of house search requirements. We give up having a dedicated space for guests. I'd love a guest room to make hosting people easier, but we manage. We're not going to make a housing choice based on something we need less than 10% of the time.
Damien and I prefer small space living, our goal is to live small wherever we live. We still dream of owning a yurt. We prioritize unique and interesting experiences (with attention now to the security and stability I need to thrive), hence the Gaspe Peninsula, Appalachian Trail, and Montreal.
In this life stage we don't want to spend time a lot of time on our house and we want to live in something finished.
Those are our values and our preferences. We don't feel we give up much by living in a Montreal apartment. For us, the get far outweighs the give - location, simplicity, and less time spent on maintenance.
We like our apartment and it's completely within our comfort range for what we want to spend on housing in relation to our income.
We spend less hours on the house (both in maintenance and earning hours) which means more time for other things. Time to build a business (Damien's focus right now), time to support our kids' interests, and time spent enjoying the city. E.g.: Damien and I would rather spend a day exploring the city together or driving to the mountains to hike than working on a house project.
A Montreal apartment is a good choice for who we are in our early forties, raising three teens, and building a business. It fits our lifestyle and it fits our values. It's not perfect. It's not without challenges, but it works.
This week on the blog I'm going to give you a tour of our apartment with some small space living hacks. Cool furniture finds and other tips that make apartment living not just affordable but comfortable for our family of five.
Now tell me, where do you live? And if you have an international perspective I'd love to hear it!
The photos in this post, except for our kitchen, were taken while going for leisurely walks or doing errands (fruiterie, bibliotheque, boulangerie, pharmacie, etc.) in our Rosemont neighborhood.
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Kristy on April 20, 2016, 1:52 p.m.
I appreciate this. We as a family of 5 have a very non-traditional living arrangement. We share a house in town with a 92 year old widow with no family. She's downstairs, we're upstairs....but we share a life...more so now that Mrs. T is getting older and needs more assistance. The Bible says care for the widows and orphans...we're covering the first part :). I grew up in the country. We've lived in apartments in cities, a large house in the suburbs of Boston and currently have a house (that hasn't sold) on the coast of Maine which forced us into landlording to pay the bills. Almost daily my thoughts fight each other "I want a house in the country all to ourselves", "My kids are gaining a Biblical perspective on how we are to live...not for ourselves", "Oh how I want a new kitchen and a farm table on the first floor", "This world is not my home, don't build up treasures on earth..."....almost daily...yes...my carnal mind. Not that any of it is wrong....a home to yourself with a farm table :). (and on the flip side there can be everything wrong with a living situation like ours if the motives and attitudes are wrong). But I'm so learning the "what you get and what you give part". Some days it seems like we're giving (up) so much and other days I am constantly reminded of what we are getting. Making these decisions...."yes we will share a home with you so you can stay in it as your age and we can live less expensively" or "yes, we will sponsor two children through compassion monthly" is sometimes emotional and most of the time "in the light" and with God honoring intentions....but when the dark comes, the annoyances, the "downside" ...you question those decisions......its hard to live intentionally. Its a daily struggle. Some days I wonder why we make life so hard on ourselves....why not just live in the moment. But then I remember that the moment is fleeting and its the eternal we're investing in. Its a hard balance....and we definitely don't have it mastered.
Alison on April 20, 2016, 4:49 p.m.
I am very much looking forward to your apartment tour.
We moved 1.5 years ago to our "dream home". It's nothing too fancy, but it's a large suburban house, with a large yard. It's an older home so our weekends are full of home and garden projects which we are loving! We are able to have the big garden and chickens and autonomy, while remaining close enough to my husband's job and the kid's activites. We live in the DC suburbs.
I am having to get used to being more tied down. We homeschool, but the kid's activities tie us down and now the chickens do too. I told my husband we should get a dog while we are living this less travel-friendly life.
Kathleen on April 20, 2016, 6:01 p.m.
What an interesting topic and something I've done a lot of reflecting on lately. We are in the process of selling two homes in one city and buying a new home in another city (all are under contract at the same time, which we are very grateful for, but the paperwork is ridiculous!!). We are moving to a city with much higher housing costs but we are doing it so we can be closer to my family (my parents will be 5 minutes away) and close friends. We are buying a bigger home on a larger lot (although not huge by some standards) because we are hoping to be in this home until our children are grown. We've been trying to think long-term and want to establish ourselves in a community for the rest of their childhoods. While we do hope to travel more in the years ahead, it will likely be camping trips and road trips which is our speed of travel. We are intentionally buying a home that is fairly "move-in" ready because we also don't want to spend all our weekends on house projects. I'd rather be out taking a hike or spending time with friends. I look forward to your apartment tour this week - thanks for sharing!
Susan on April 20, 2016, 8:53 p.m.
We live in a small town in Virginia. It is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is in the outer DC area so we are able to go into the city. The town was voted the second safest place to live in Virginia so my 14 and 11 year old sons are able to freely roam. We can walk to some stores but need to travel for most things.
Nancy on April 21, 2016, 3:40 a.m.
I've always said that I don't want a big house because of the extra maintenace and cleaning. We lived in a small studio apartment in NYC with two kids, then we moved to a tiny two-bedroom cottage in semi-rural Connecticut, then moved to a larger three bedroom house with a finished basement and a real dining room. We've rented the whole time we've been in CT and I can say that my original desire for a smaller house still exists. I don't like living in this three bedroom house, even though we have three kids now and we need the space. Our forever home, which is in progress, is smaller but still has three bedrooms. I'm looking forward to it.
Anne on April 21, 2016, 3:05 p.m.
This post really spoke to me! We are currently considering selling our single family home in Ottawa and moving to an apartment or condo for these very reasons. We prefer small spaces and would rather spend our time having adventures with our family than maintaining the house and yard. But I struggle with the "alternative"-ness of this plan. We currently have two young children (ages 3 and 5), and talk a lot about what it would be like to live with them as teenagers in an apartment, so this is very useful! Thanks.
Jamie on April 21, 2016, 4:12 p.m.
This is all very different from where we live (and I've never lived in an apartment) but I'm loving this and looking forward to your other posts about it. I've been meaning to share more about our home and town, too.
renee on April 21, 2016, 4:20 p.m.
Jamie, I'm loving all the glimpses of island life that you share (I follow your blog through your weekend email/newsletter). I'm digging all the blue your world. yes, you should share more about "your normal".
What's so interesting is that my normal (which is still pretty "pinch me is this for real" somedays) is exotic for someone else. Your normal is exotic and intriguing to me - an island! The beach!
Sharing glimpses of where we live and where we make home helps us learn about (and appreciate) the wide world and our homes that much more.
Heike on April 28, 2016, 10:39 a.m.
We live in Cape Town, South Africa, with our 2 teenage children. In 2014 we, as a family, spent 9 months travelling around Europe - an amazing experience! Before we left, we had been living in a large 4-bedroom house, with garden and swimming pool. However, our time in Europe was spent living in small spaces, with mostly only 1 bathroom and no garden .... and we loved it. So when we returned to Cape Town last year we decided to seriously downsize, into a small 2-bedroom apartment (62 square meter small!). It required some innovative thinking, but we have created a warm and comfortable space to live, with minimal housework required. The children each have their own rooms upstairs, and the main room downstairs has become multi-functional : lounge / office (my husband and I are both home during the day) / dining room (we built a fold-out table that can seat up to 8 people comfortably) / and bedroom (with a fold-down Murphy bed). As you say, there are trade-offs, but we are loving the extra time this small living has afforded us to do the things we love.
renee on April 28, 2016, 11:45 a.m.
Heike, that is so cool! I'd love to see photos :) I love small space living design. 62 sq. meters is about 670 sq. feet - go family!
Love the fold out table idea. I too love minimal housework, especially since the three kids do most of the cleaning anyways :)
I love your story. These are the kind of stories that inspire me.
Alaina on April 29, 2016, 12:10 p.m.
I agree that living in different places (both in style/type of home and in location like country, city, town) really broadens your horizons. Since getting married we have lived in a variety of situations too. It also helped us narrow down what we wanted when we bought our current house. We've lived in apartment buildings with our own access, basement apartments, very small houses, townhouse, and single family homes. We've lived without any yard of our own and we've lived with big (about 1/2 to 1 1/2 acre) lots. We've lived in small isolated towns, isolated cities, big cities, small cities, in the country outside of the city, and small towns. My preference is small town nearby a small to medium sized city with most ammenities, but living on a big town lot. I like having neighbours around me but not squished in. This is how we currently live. I also like room for my kids to roam around and play outdoors. Having had this and not had it (and had times with kids where we had and then didn't have it again) it has made me work on contentment in my life. There are good sides to every living situation even though it may not be ideal.
renee on April 29, 2016, 12:30 p.m.
You've had a lot of experiences! What I was thinking while reading your comment is that when my kids were younger I wanted more outdoor space for them, similar to what you describe. And our move to the Gaspe peninsula was largely about that. Now that they are older, I like the mobility and access we can give them in the city, and the freedom I also have here, my kids are more independent and so am I. In our case our housing needs and location desires changed as our kids grew, moving from country to city.
Having the freedom to make that shift is nice but it also makes you less grounded to a particular place, which has it's benefits also (stability, continuity, etc.)
I agree completely, there are good sides to every situation and nothing is perfect (and we've never lived in the "ideal")