Friday, March 31, 2017

Navigating Shared Living Space

Living in a condo, high rise, or townhouse development means living in close proximity to many different people.  This can, of course, be a wonderful experience; as this kind of density allows you to continuously meet new people and become part of a strong and neighbourly community.  However, living so close to so many people also means that you need to know how to manage and respect your shared living space, and how to navigate the community in which you live.  Here are a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself struggling to understand the written and unwritten rules of the fitness rooms, pools, and elevators of your building.

Know your Community
The first step towards respectfully engaging with your living community, and its shared areas, is to understand the kind of culture your building has.  Different buildings have different vibes.  There are some buildings where people really want to keep to themselves, and there are others where neighbours routinely knock on each other’s doors.  By following the tone set by the building’s community you’ll find it much easier to establish your own space within that community.

Hallways, Elevators, Lobbies, and Common Rooms
Public spaces, like hallways, elevators, lobbies, and common rooms, are the main arteries of your building, so it is crucial that you remain courteous and respectful in these spaces.  This means, holding elevator doors, keeping voices down in hallways, picking up after yourself in the lobby, and adhering to the rules and regulations of common rooms.  When booking or reserving a common area, like a party room or a garden terrace, be sure to verify the rules governing its use.  You want to make sure that you clean up after yourself, keep the noise down to accepted and agreed upon levels, and ensure that you clear out on time.

Fitness Areas and Pools
If you happen to have these wonderful assets in your building you already understand how important it is to keep them clean and functioning, and how off-putting it can be when a fellow resident does not.  Again, your guide to these spaces are the rules the building has laid out, but generally speaking remember to clean up after yourself—this includes returning fitness gear to its rightful place and wiping equipment when you are finished with it—to respect others in the room if you are playing music or watching TV, and to respect and abide by the hours of operation.  It is even more important to follow rules surrounding pool or sauna use, because of issues surrounding safety and hygiene.  Remember to keep these areas clean, to take any towels or other personal effects with you, and to respect people’s privacy. 

It can be a challenge sometimes to live among so many people, but if you can remain conscientious of public space, and maintain a kind and respectful relationship with your neighbours you will find that these communities really make living in a dense area or city worthwhile.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How to Host a Party in Your Apartment

Hosting family and friends in your apartment or condo can be a bit of a challenge.  Issues of space and worries over planning can often act as barriers to you opening your doors to your favourite people.  However, it is important to have people at your house—no matter the size.  Hosting friends and family solidifies important bonds and allows people to see who you really are.  Here are a few guidelines to help you have great and stress-free social gatherings.

Keep it Simple
A lot of hosts burn themselves out by trying to provide everything for their guests.  This can often mean running around for days to various shops and spending way too much money.  Instead, simplify your vision, and remember that less is more.  Your guests want to see you, and not gorge themselves, so a nice but modest array of food and a few drink options is more than enough.  Your party is a reflection of who you are, so prepare one or two things that represent you, and don’t get caught up in trying to offer everything under the sun.

Party Plan
By re-arranging your furniture and re-envisioning your apartment you can better orchestrate how your guests use your space, and better accommodate them as a result.   For instance, you can repurpose rooms, like a bedroom or office, as alternate gathering spaces, so as not to cram everyone into your living room or kitchen.  By shifting a bed out of the way or converting it into a couch, by converting a desk into a buffet, or by placing appetizer, sweets, or drink trays in out of the way places, like end tables, halls or foyers, you can create a sense of flow and movement to your limited space.  If you have a deck, patio, or garden, fold that space into your party as well, by setting up seating and placing food or drink outside.

Enjoy Yourself
There is nothing worse than missing your party because you have spent the whole time slaving away in the kitchen.  To avoid this, prepare as much as you can beforehand, or go for food options that require little to no preparation time.  Boards of chopped vegetables with humus and dips are quick and easy, as are cheese and charcuterie boards served with crackers or sliced baguette.  If you want to include something warm, samosas, or dumplings, or spring rolls from your favourite takeaway can be picked up the day before, and then quickly reheated in the oven for serving; or, find an easy slow cooker recipe—like a vegetarian chili, or a nice pulled pork—that can slowly cook and then stay warm while you enjoy hosting.
Hosting is wonderful, and need not be overwhelming.  By keeping things simple, and focussing on you and your guests’ enjoyment you can have a great party without all the headaches.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Condo Kids: How to Truly Embrace Parenting in Apartments

For those of us who grew up in suburbs and small towns, the prospect of bringing up our kids in downtown condos and apartments seems a little daunting.  When you think of the garages and driveways, basements, and backyards of your youth it is hard to imagine having kids without this ample play and storage space.  Also, the busy and bustling downtown streets seem out of step with cumbersome strollers and bumbling toddlers.  However, more and more people these days are forgoing space for convenience and quality of life.  Living in a smaller downtown unit might mean less space, but it also means less time commuting, and more time with your kids.  That said there are a few challenges to overcome as an apartment parent, so here are a few things to keep in mind.

Managing Kids in a Small Space
Between diapers and high chairs, clothes and toys, strollers and tricycles, kids can take up a lot of room.  If you’re living in a condo or an apartment you flat out don’t have the space for all of this stuff.  However, this is an opportunity more than a crisis.  Confined space forces you to make wiser purchases, and to avoid any hoarding tendencies you may be harbouring!  By keeping only what your children need at any given moment—and this changes frequently as they develop—and by stowing what they do need with some smart storage solutions, you can embrace a more downsized style of parenting that frees you up to do things with your kids, without being overburdened by stuff.

Respect Your Neighbours
Your kids are wonderful; however, not everyone feels that way.  The smaller, shared spaces that come with apartment and condo living puts an added urgency upon teaching your kids to be quiet and respectful of their neighbours and of their shared space.  It might be a challenge at first to keep your kids from running and shouting in halls and elevators, or running wild in common areas, like lobbies, pools, and fitness rooms, but if you can show your kids the value of being respectful to those they live among, the whole building will smile on them, and they’ll learn some great lessons in community living at an early age.

Embrace Your Downtown Density
One big advantage to living downtown is the multiplicity of people and cultures you experience.  It might seem like the high-density neighbourhood you are living in is better suited to twenty-somethings than to five year olds, but raising kids downtown opens their eyes to so many different ways of living, and truly broadens their horizons.  High-density living ensures that music, arts, culture, and cuisine are all steps from your living space.  This allows you and your family to think of the city as an extension of your apartment.  Walk to the park on Saturdays, to the markets on Sundays, check out free weeknight events, and have your pick of restaurants and cafes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Renting is the New Normal

For many of us, the idea of owning our own home is hardwired.   Despite this, changes in the economy and the seemingly unstoppable rise of housing prices have many people rethinking this deep-seeded assumption.   I always marveled at how people in New York or London seemed free from the pull of home ownership—it was just plain too expensive, and so rent became a fact and a cost of life, like food or transportation.   As this reality sets in, and increasingly becomes the new normal, there are some real advantages to renting for life that are starting to come into focus.  

Flexibility and Mobility:Renting affords the flexibility that owning simply cannot.  As a renter you are free to pick up and go as you see fit, whether that means changing apartments, neighborhoods, or cities.  You can of course move once you buy home, but renting keeps your mind open to other possibilities—like travel, change of occupation, or a work exchange—without having to worry about property taxes, renovations, or repairs.  It is an increasingly mobile world, and renting really helps to facilitate that mobility.

Accessibility and Community:People have been realizing for a while now that community and accessibility are important to them.  Sacrificing things like a manageable commute, or a great local coffee shop, market, or library just to be able to own your own home is looking less and less appealing.  People have been steadily moving back downtown for exactly this reason, but they’ve also been moving to regional hubs so they can walk or bike to work, remain close to restaurants and bars, and have a sense of neighborhood.   

Finances:While interest rates are at historic lows, housing prices are at historic highs—and interest rates will eventually go up.  Buying a house is no longer a sure thing.  The gains in property value might not match the risk, especially when that investment is offset by the numerous expenses that come along with owning your own home.   Renting allows you to stay flexible with your money, and with the property market—moving your investments or yourself as you see fit.

The notion of renting for life does require a shift in perspective for some of us, but once you start thinking a little differently about how you want to live your life renting makes more and more sense.   These are strange economic times, but the biggest and most immediate benefit is a newfound sense of freedom in how we work and how we live.  The financial gains might not be the same as they once were, but we have gained a lot in self-determination, and renting is the living solution best suited to maintaining that independence.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to Cook like a Chef (in a Confined Space)

There has never been a better time than now to develop and cultivate your culinary skills.  An abundance of easy online recipes and a new availability of fresh and formerly hard to find ingredients allow us all to easily get in touch with our inner Julia Childs and Jamie Olivers.  However, our cozy apartment kitchens often make cooking like a chef a serious challenge.  But before you go running to the frozen pizza aisle in defeat, here are some tips to help you cook like a gourmet when space is at a premium.     

Organize your Ingredients
Food packing can take up a lot of space.  By storing your dry ingredients in clear jars you can maximize storage, and clearly identify what you have in stock at the same time.  This works really well for dried beans, nuts, fruits, and seeds, as well as for flours, spices, and noodles.  Shifting your shopping habits can also help you free up some space.  Instead of sticking with the more traditional large weekly shop, try to pop out a few more times per week for slightly smaller but more targeted shopping trips.  This helps you maintain a running awareness of what is in your fridge and pantry, and forces you to buy fresh.  Big shops tend to lead you to over-buy, which results in ingredients getting buried in the backs of crispers and going off before you get a chance to cook with them.  

Re-jig your Real EstateThere are several tricks available to help you take back some much needed counter and prep space.  A wall-mounted, magnetic strip that allows you to store all of your knives is a great—and cool looking—example of this.  Another prep space solution is to invest in a slightly larger cutting board.  This seems counter-intuitive, but a larger cutting board can fit across your sink creating a whole new counter space in the process.  When you can’t build sideways, build up—which is why a small-sized, multi-layered cooling rack is essential.  These little racks allow you to cool and rest prepared food strait from the oven, but they can also double as storage for prepped ingredients, or for plates that are in the process of completion.  Finally, maximize your space by using that nether zone between the kitchen ceiling and the tops of your cupboards.  This is a great little shelf to store cookbooks, baking racks, pots and pans, and those kitchen gadgets you hardly ever use.  

Clean as you GoIt was true in home economics class and it remains true today—if you take the minimal time to clean and clear as you go you’ll find cooking in small spaces to be a much smoother process.  A few little tricks can help you achieve this if it doesn’t come easily.  First, peel your vegetables strait into your compost bin, and keep it open and at the ready to sweep remains into as you go—a freshly emptied compost bin makes this much more pleasant.  Also, if your sink is free, keep a small amount of warm soapy water in the basin.  This will allow you to quickly clean knives or utensils as you use them, and to quickly rinse off plates, pans, or pots to keep your area clean, and to keep you up and running.  A cluttered cooking area can really de-rail your culinary creativity.  If you clean and clear as you go, your mind stays open to the process of creating and allows you to prepare your best dishes in the smallest of spaces. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Minimalist Apartment

 There has been a lot of buzz recently about minimalist living.  With increasing economic insecurity and rising concerns about global warming people are choosing not to pursue the consumer lifestyle they had taken for granted.  Instead, these new minimalists are downsizing themselves, and trading in their demanding and precarious careers, and all the consumer trappings that go with them, for simpler and more thoughtful lives.

How to Live a Minimalist Life

Purists argue that to be a minimalist means to own nothing more than 100 objects; however, the spirit of minimalism simply strives to empty life of all things non-essential.  This idea can allow you to really free up your living space—a massive asset for renters.  Those drawers filled with miscellaneous junk can be emptied for good; closets bursting with clothes seldom or never worn can be cleaned out at last; cupboards and storage bins filled with things never use can be reclaimed.  
Minimalist living allows you to claw back some much needed living and breathing space in your apartment—and ensures your next move will be far easier.

Curate your Apartment

Minimalist living allows you to streamline your living space by only keeping what is important to you.  This means treating your apartment almost like an art gallery where you, or your life, are the exhibit.  When people enter your living space they get a clear sense of who you are, where you have been, and what matters to you, as each “piece”—each thing you own—reflects who you are.  A painting, a bowl, a vase, some golf clubs, or a bicycle all have their place in your apartment in the same way they have their place in your life.  This simplicity and honesty in how you arrange your apartment allows you to really consider what is important to you. 

Living with Less Means Living More

The idea of minimalism is that a clearer space and a de-cluttered life frees you from the demands of material things that weigh you down and occupy your time and concern.  By emptying your life of these distractions you are free to focus on what is truly important to you.  This means rather than endlessly cleaning and organizing your apartment you are free to play, be with your family, write, think, exercise, paint, hangout or do whatever it is that really gives your life meaning.  Living minimally allows you to live more fully.

While minimalism might be a rising trend, the ideas are not new.  In the nineteenth century William Morris wrote, “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  However today, as we’re increasingly on the move and increasingly in search of who we are, these words might hold even more meaning.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How to Green your Rental

It can sometimes be a challenge to go green as a tenant.  When considering how to live in an environmentally responsible manner we tend to think of the larger initiatives reserved for property owners, like the use of energy efficient building materials in construction and renovation, or the installation of solar panels or low-flow plumbing.  However, there are numerous ways in which renters can live a greener life.  By remaining conscious of your energy use, taking advantage of your outdoor space, and making use of your urban density, you can do a lot to remain environmentally responsible while renting.

Use your Energy WiselyRemember when your parents yelled at you for leaving the lights on?  They were not wrong.  Small measures, like turning off lights in empty rooms, powering off computers and devices, and unplugging chargers when not in use, greatly improve your energy efficiency and save money in the process.  Also, by saving more energy-intensive tasks, such as doing laundry or running the dishwasher, for off-peak hours—generally from seven in the evening until seven the following morning—you can greatly diminish your household energy expenditure.

Enjoy your Outdoor SpaceIf your lease happens to come with a balcony, deck, yard, or outdoor space then you have some real opportunities to live a greener life.  Keeping a small garden, that lets you grow some of your own food, can go a long way towards offsetting your carbon footprint, and towards keeping your local bee population healthy.  Additionally, cooking outdoors on a barbecue is more energy-efficient then heating up an oven—especially during the summer when fans or air conditioners are needed to offset the heat generated by the oven.  Also, the simple enjoyment of your outdoor space lets you live greener.  Whether you are reading outside on a sunny afternoon, or sitting out for dinner with family and friends living outside keeps you engaged and entertained without having to resort to the more power-draining entertainments of television or computers.

Take Advantage of your Density Renting in more densely populated areas can grant you access to some wonderful and environmentally friendly services.  Community initiatives, like farmers markets, clothing and furniture exchanges, and community sales and barbecues offer local and sustainable food and shopping options with little or no environmental impact.   Also living in more densely populated areas can often allow you to walk, bike, or take public transit, rather than having to rely on the sizable carbon footprint that comes with owning your own vehicle.   

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Decorating on a Dime: How to Adorn your Apartment for Less

Decorating your living space is vital in defining your sense of home and yourself.  But with today’s high cost of living, it can sometimes be a stretch to find extra room in your budget to spend money on home decor.  While shopping at some of the more high-end home stores or design studios might not be in the cards, there are still several options available that can allow you to truly make your space a reflection of your life.

The Ikea RouteIkea strikes a great balance between solid contemporary design, and great value.  You can find anything and everything at this Swedish giant, and they generally offer their products across an array of styles—from rustic and county to sleek and modern—that suit almost every palate.  Ikea also has more and more delivery options available, making them a great pick for the vehicle-less, and there are also installation and assembly services available these days, in case tiny Allen keys send you running.

VintageIf you are on a tight budget, but still want some truly unique pieces for your home, then you can’t go wrong with vintage.  The past is awash with wonderful style, and wonderfully made pieces, and if you keep a keen eye and an open mind you can find some truly exceptional items.   Antique stores can be quite expensive, but antique markets tend to be cheaper, as you can often haggle with vendors for a great price—especially near the day’s end when vendors are extra motivated to offload their goods.   Another great option for vintage, and one that is more likely closer to home, is your neighborhood thrift or charity store.  Stocked by the random largesse of donators, these Salvation Armies, St. Vincent de Pauls, or Bibles for Missions are all treasure troves for home d├ęcor items like paintings, pottery, plates, and curios. 

The Sharing EconomyAnother budget friendly option for home decor is to take advantage of the increasingly growing sharing economy.  There are more and more online spaces these days devoted to trading, and these can be wonderful places to pickup furniture, art, or anything at all for your apartment.  Through sites like Bunz Trading Zone you can troll through the posts to see what’s on offer, or create a post of your own if you are looking for something in specific.  Trading also has the added advantage of allowing you to offload something you might be keen to get rid of at the same time.