Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Joys of De-cluttering Your Apartment

In today’s consumer society it is easy to find yourself buried in stuff.  Whether it is clothes, linens, shoes, half-finished packages of food, or an overstuffed medicine cabinet, it is an almost constant battle to keep the stuff we use for our every day lives under control.  By taming the beast of clutter you can simplify your daily routines by having less stuff to sift through, and you can restore a greater sense of peace and well being to your home in the process.  Here are a few guidelines to getting the clutter out of your apartment and to getting some peace of mind back into your life.

The Kitchen

It is easy to acquire food, spices, oils, condiments, plates, and cookware without having the proper storage to accommodate it all.  Generally, if you have not used something—whether it is a fondue set, a blender, or that Thai spice mix set you someday intend to use—get rid of it.   One way to ensure your kitchen stays manageable is by making a few smaller shops per week, rather than one big stock up.  Buying less items more frequently keeps you in touch with what you do have, and allows you to keep fresher ingredients on hand while preventing waste through spoilage. 

The Bedroom Closet

Clothes can be particularly tricky to manage because of the sentimental value we often place upon them.  A particular sweater, t-shirt, or coat can live on in our closets well after it has ceased to be worn simply because it reminds us of a particular time and place.  As a rule of thumb, if you have not worn a garment over the last year then it is time to put it out to pasture.  Once you pare down your wardrobe to a manageable amount, be sure to arrange and present your clothes in a clear and organized manner, so you can keep daily, visual tabs on what you have.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms are magnets for almost empty bottles of shampoo and conditioner and old medications, combs, and tubes of cream that never get used.  Again, if you have not used something in a year then it is good to go.  Think of what toiletries you would pack for a trip—i.e. what are the essential things you need each day—and reduce your bathroom stock to only those items. 

If you clean as you go, and keep your counters, cabinets, and drawers free from becoming dumping zones, than a de-cluttered apartment is easy to maintain.  Remember, thrift stores, charities, and food banks are always in need of good items, so pass your stuff along, and keep yourself and your apartment organized and orderly.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

How to Party in your Apartment Holiday Style

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or none of the above, December is a wonderful time to get together with friends and family.  As the weather grows cold, and the days become shockingly shorter, the holiday season is the perfect time to open your hearts and you home to those you love.  Apartment parties, however, can be a little trickier to pull off, so keep these tips in mind as you make merry this holiday season.

Use Your Space

Just because you have a one bedroom or a basement bachelor doesn’t mean you can’t host a perfect holiday party—you just need to maximize your space.  You can start by removing any extra clutter you might be harboring in your apartment. Move any extraneous and clunky objects out of the way by storing them temporarily in a closet, or, weather permitting, on a balcony or deck, in order to make room for your revelers.  After you free up some space, create a sense of flow in your apartment by setting up a few different “hubs” or gathering spaces.  By placing hors d’oeuvres or snack trays in unexpected spots, like a home office nook or hallway table, or by placing a self-serve drink or punch station in a less-trafficked part of your living room, you can naturally disperse your guests throughout your apartment.

Don’t Slave Away

There is nothing worse, for you or your guests, than spending the entirety of your party holed up in the kitchen cooking feverishly.  Instead, select menu items and snacks that are quick and easy to prepare.  Cured meats, veggies trays, nuts, chocolates, and quickly warmed finger foods are all great ways to avoid excessive cooking.  The best part about holiday parties is sampling all the different items—so definitely opt for a variety of easy to prepare snacks over a labour-intensive meal.  If you do insist on having something on the stove, try making a warm drink that your guests can serve themselves. Hot apple cider or hot chocolate are wonderful nonalcoholic drinks, while hot buttered rum and mulled wine are perfectly seasonal alcoholic options.   

Dream up a Theme

Feel free to spice your party up with a theme!  There are numerous seasonal themes to draw from (apres ski, tacky holiday sweater, or come as your favourite holiday), but you can take themes to the next level by building an activity into your party.  Whether it is a gingerbread house making contest, a tree or apartment decorating activity, a holiday treat bake-off, a bring your own gift-wrapping party, or a holiday song karaoke jam, incorporating a theme into your party can help break the ice with your guests, and can really make your holiday party a fete to remember.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

How to Put on a Great Fall Party

Fall can often feel like a sad and somber time, but in many ways fall is the best time of year.  With its brisk sunny days, its vibrant colours, and the excitement of change in the air, fall is the perfect time to get together with family and friends.  Whether on your balcony or patio, or nestled snuggly in your living room, a party is the best way to celebrate fall together.

Get Outside

Don’t let the slightly cooler weather deter you—hosting your family and friends outside can make for a truly memorable fall gathering.  To keep the chills at bay, put out some blankets for you guests.  Also, hosting outside allows you to get in one last BBQ as you entertain.  Nothing says fall like grilled seasonal vegetables, sausages, or halloumi, and the flames from the grill add an extra element of cheer to the gathering.  Another great way to offset the crisp air is by providing a nice warm drink.  Hot apple cider or hot chocolate are great for keeping your guests warm as you take in the fall colours. 

Be Seasonal

Whether you are outside or in, decorate your apartment in the colours of the fall. Adorn your table with colourful fall leaves, and select decorations and napkins with fall hues—like pine green, cranberry, mustard yellow, or the classic oranges and browns.  Candles, or a fire—if you are lucky enough to have one in your apartment—also go a long way to warming your guests’ hearts.  The best parties are always interactive, so organizing one or two seasonal games can really take your party to the next level.  If you are outside, consider a game of horseshoes or croquet, or, if indoors, classics like trivial pursuit or charades really get the party going.

Harvest the Bounty

Fall abounds in wonderful seasonal foods, so make food central to your party by using flavours like pumpkin, cranberry, and apple.  Fall is also a great time to break out the slow-cooker.  Put on a vegetable or beef stew or chili to slowly simmer as your guests arrive.  When it is time to eat, guests can serve them-selves with warm baguette or corn bread as the evening unfolds.  If you aren’t a baker grab a pie from your favourite bakery and warm it slowly in your oven, or put out the supplies for smores and allow your guests to make there own.

Don’t let the fall turn you into a shut-in.  By embracing the fresh weather and availing yourself of the season’s produce, gather your friends and family together one last time before the snow and ice makes it that much harder to go out.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Finding a Great Rental on a Budget

The cost of living is pretty steep these days, and rent is no exception.  Stories of scarily high rent for less than ample living space—stories that used to belong only to the likes of London, Tokyo, and Manhattan—now seem to be the norm for much of North America.  While high demand in the housing market is keeping rent high, there are still some great, affordable spaces out there if you happen to be apartment hunting on a budget.  Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are looking to snag a great rental on a dime.

The first step towards securing an affordable rental is to determine what “affordable” means for you.  Generally you should look to spend about 30% of your income on rent, so look at what you are bringing in and determine exactly what your optimal rent range should be.  When you know what you are comfortable spending draw up a list of your priorities, so you can best match what you need with what you can spend.  You may want a parking space, a balcony, a fireplace, a backyard, an eat-in kitchen, on-site laundry, a dishwasher, and a ten-person hot tub . . . but, to budget you need to prioritize what you absolutely cannot live without.  Once you determine your price range and your mandatory requirements affordable apartment hunting becomes much easier.

Think Outside the Neighbourhood Box 
 One way to guarantee that you will find a more affordable rental is by looking in more “off the radar” neighbourhoods.  We all have our preferences when it comes to city living, but try to expand your horizons.  These more “up and coming” neighbourhoods offer exciting renting possibilities, and often list rentals at more affordable rates due to slightly lower demand.  Not only can you save money by thinking outside the neighbourhood box, but you also get the chance to see a whole other side of your city.  Alos, at the rate at which development takes place in most cities these days, moving into an “off the radar” neighborhood allows you get in on the next new hot spot with a lease you can afford.

Use All the Tools at Your Disposal
There are many great tools to help you in your hunt.  Rent Compass allows you to search directly by neighbourhood and price range to give you a comprehensive view of all of your options by location.  In addition to this powerful apartment hunting tool, friends, family, and coworkers are an invaluable resource in helping you locate a great rental at a great price.  The direct contacts offered through your network can allow you to connect directly to property renters, which can often save you money and time.
Rent can be costly in this day and age, but if you keep an eye on your priorities and keep an open mind in terms of where you want to live, you can find a great apartment at a great price.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Add an Entry-Way to your Apartment and Make your Rental Feel Like Home

One big advantage houses have over apartments is the wonderful sense of an entrance they tend to provide.  When you step inside a house you are generally greeted by a receptive and welcoming hall that accommodates your shoes and outerwear, and acts as a welcome decompression chamber from the outside world.  Apartments, more often than not, open directly from the outside world onto one’s living space in an abrupt and jarring manner.  However, apartment living need not do without the soothing middle ground of an entry-way.  Here are a few tips to help you set up your own grand entrance.

The challenge in adding a good entry to your apartment is to maximize the feeling of a separate area, and to minimize the space you take up in your apartment while doing so.  A good first step is to provide a space for coats.  Depending on your space you can either arrange and mount several decorative looking hooks—antique markets sell old hooks, door knobs and other interesting items you can use for this purpose—or mount a proper coat rack.  Some coat racks come with a row of hooks, as well as a series of little cubbies to store hats, gloves, and push button umbrellas—these are great.  Another option is to install and adapt a thin book case.  By removing the shelves and installing some hooks, you can create a wonderful, space-saving wardrobe, complete with room at the bottom for boots and shoes.  A place for coats and outdoor things is a wonderful way of establishing a sense of entrance into your apartment.

After building in some space for you and your guests’ outdoor wear, you will want to add a little piece of you to your entry-way.  An entrance is, in a sense, a first impression of your home, and you want that impression to clearly reflect who you are.  The addition of a few small signature items can really help pull this off.  One or two objects, like a chair, a photograph, an umbrella stand, a painting, or an end- table work wonders in conveying who you are in your entry-way.  These little furnishings transform your door way into a distinct entrance into your own space.  Furthermore, the functionality of these furnishings gives your guests a place to take off their shoes, stow their coats, or throw their keys. 

Whether it is a shoe rack, an umbrella stand, or some photographs or a painting, by adding an entry-way you can better convert your rental into a home.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to Pull Off the Perfect Move

There are few things in life that are as trying, aggravating, and all around grueling as moving.  We never realize just how much stuff we have until we are forced to pack, load, transport, and unload it all in one frenzied day.  However, like most things in life moving can be greatly simplified with some solid pre-planning, preparation, and organization.  Here are some guidelines to ensure that your next move is as smooth as they come.

Organization is Everything

You can greatly reduce the stress of moving by generating—well in advance—a detailed to-do list.  A good list allows you to identify everything you require, from movers, to friends, to truck rentals, to boxes, and it lets you get a handle on when things should be booked or reserved.  Planning in advance also gives you time to start acquiring the numerous boxes you will invariably need to get moving.  Once you have boxes in your place, you can get a great head start on your move by pre-packing and stacking anything and everything that you don’t absolutely require in advance of your move.

Leadership and Coordination

A good move will require leadership and coordination to keep friends and movers busy, and to ensure that all is running smoothly.  If you have movers, be sure they have all the requisite information about your new home including information about keys, parking, and unloading.  If you are relying on the kindness of friends, be sure to maximize their strengths by getting the best packers packing and the best loaders loading.  Another tip is to label your boxes clearly and simply—“upstairs bathroom” or “basement”—to keep your movers self-directed while you attend to the other details at hand.  Moving is also a wonderful opportunity to purge things you no longer need.  When under the pressure of having to load a truck, the decision as to whether or not you’d like to hang on to that oversized hand chair is greatly simplified.  

Unloading with Ease

If all goes to plan, unloading should be the more enjoyable part of your move.  Make sure that you are fully aware of any and all rules and regulations regarding moving at your new location.  Double check if parking is an issue, and whether or not you need to reserve the elevator for the afternoon.  Also, to ease your transition, make sure that everything has been cleared with your new landlord, and that your move is in full compliance with the rules of the house or building you are moving into.  Moving day is a wonderful opportunity to befriend your new neighbours, and there is no better way to do this than by observing the house rules on moving.  Finally, be sure to keep your movers happy (and productive!) by feeding them.  Moving is incredibly taxing for all involved, so when you are done be sure to kick back, feast, and congratulate your movers on a job well done.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to be a Great Tenant

As more and more people look to renting and leasing homes instead of owning, the need to develop strong professional working relationships between tenants and landlords becomes all the more important.  A clearly defined, respectful rental relationship is mutually beneficial.  Landlords gain from having tenants treat property with the care and respect it deserves, and tenants benefit by cultivating a clear channel of communication for any concerns they may be having with the property.  By following these guidelines, you can ensure that you are doing your utmost to be the best possible tenant you can be.

Know Your Lease
By signing your lease you are committing to conduct yourself in the manner specified, so be sure to read your lease in detail.  Make sure you understand what it is that is expected of you as a tenant, and be sure you can live up to your end of the arrangement.  Also, double check that the lease outlines anything you might expect from the landlord in the rental agreement.  If you have any questions or concerns about maintenance, parking or pets, houseguests or gardens, raise them with your landlord as you negotiate and sign the lease.  Establishing a clear and open channel of communication in the signing of your lease is a great way to commence your rental agreement.

Pay Your Rent On Time
Paying your rent on the agreed upon date is crucial to being a good tenant.  With property taxes, utilities, and mortgage payments, property owners need to be sure that they can make their payments on time.  Pre-written cheques given to your landlord in advance are a great, and hassle-free way to ensure your rent always goes through on the agreed upon date.

Treat Your Rental like a Home
Your apartment is your home, and treating it as such pays dividends.  Maintaining your property, ensuring your garbage and recycling are deposited properly and on time, and keeping your apartment clean and in order are great ways to let your landlord know that you care about where you live.  Treating your rental like a home also means being a good neighbor.  When you rent you become the face of the property, and by being cordial, friendly, and respectful you keep your landlord free from having to dissolve any squabbles, and you keep the property owner’s relationship with the community in good standing.

Ultimately both landlords and tenants want the same thing: a mutually respectful, professional relationship.  By being the best tenant possible, you do your part to make this happen, and you reap the benefits as well. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fast and Effective Apartment Workouts

Keeping in shape can be a challenge.  After meeting our work and family commitments, our own personal health and well-being, which comes with exercise, tends to take a back seat.  One big hurdle to overcome in the fitness battle is the challenge of getting yourself to the gym on a regular basis.  Whether it is in your building or in your neighbourhood, hitting the gym after a long day at work takes serious commitment—a commitment that sometimes you just don’t have.  However, the demand for “going to the gym” is often the very thing that keeps us from jumping up and getting fit in the here and now.  There are several fast and effective workouts you can do in your own apartment to keep you healthy and fit.

Use Your Own Body

We tend to think of fitness as an equipment heavy enterprise that requires bikes, treadmills, weights, and machines.  Using your own body, weight, and resistance, however, can get you in great shape without all the gear.  Push-ups are a perfect example of this.  This simple—yet extremely challenging—exercise tones and works muscles in your arms, shoulders, chest, and back.  No other single exercise can do as much for you as a push-up and starting with ten a day and then building on that amount, they take no time at all.   Spider lunges are another fantastic way to use your own natural resistance to build muscle.  Begin with a standard push-up formation, and then simply take turns bringing forward and bending each leg so that each foot rests beside each hand.  This exercise works your lower back and legs and builds strength and flexibility.

Get Your Heart Rate Going

Flexibility and muscle training are crucial, but so too is solid cardio-vascular work.  Jumping jacks are perfect on the spot, gym-free cardio exercise.  Jumping jacks allow you to get your heart pounding, blood flowing, and burn fat, and they let you tone and shape your leg, arm, and back muscles.  Another great way to get some more high impact activity in your own home is by doing jumping lunges.  Place one leg forward and bend to the knee while your other leg is extended straight behind you.  From there jump as high as you can and land with your other foot forward, which you can then bend again down to a 90-degree angle in preparation for your next jump.  These lunges build strength, agility, and flexibility all while providing you with a good cardiovascular exercise.

Walk, Bike, Run

One massive benefit of dense, urban living, is that great trails, bike paths, or wonderfully scene-filled sidewalks abound, so you can leave your apartment and get moving.  If you find the process of packing, planning, and commuting to the gym to be daunting enough to keep you firmly planted on the couch, then throw on your runners and take a great city walk or jog; or grab your bike and hit the road.  Walking, biking and running are great ways to get in shape and to explore your city and check out your community at the same time!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Roommate Etiquette

Having a roommate can be a truly rewarding experience.  Sharing your living space helps keep costs down, and gives you someone you can really share your life with.  However, if you and your roommate are not on the same page when it comes to such key things as cleanliness, noise, and houseguests, having a roommate can just as easily be a living nightmare.  To ensure you and your roommate have a solid and functional relationship here are a few things to keep in mind.

Always begin with a frank and honest conversation about how you like to live, what you need in a roommate, and what you simply cannot live with.  We often assume people are exactly like us, but it takes all kinds to make a world, and one person’s understanding of cleanliness is another’s version of total squalor.  As you approach the prospect of moving in, sit down together and really lay your cards on the table.  Remember to be totally honest—this is no time to hide your less than perfect clutter problem, or your unabashed love for ABBA.  The more honest and open you and your roommate are with each other the quicker you will come to a functioning living arrangement.

One of the biggest problems roommates have is cleaning.   A cleaning schedule is a fair and transparent way to keep roommates accountable and aware of who is doing what, and when.  Work out together what each of you expects, and feels capable of doing, and do your best to keep to it.  Beyond these larger cleaning tasks, make sure that you pick up after yourself, and that you clean as you go.  Think of what you would like to see when you come into the bathroom or living room, and try your best to maintain that same standard for your roommates.

This is especially the case in maintaining the kitchen.  After you prepare food be sure to restore a minimum amount of order to the kitchen.  You don’t always have to clean the kitchen from top to bottom immediately after eating, but it is a great idea to ensure that counters and stovetops are wiped, and that pots and pans are soaking.  It is also a good idea to have a mutual understanding about food sharing and communal cooking.  Some roommates fully shop and cook together, others write their names on food.  Whatever your arrangement is make sure it is mutually understood, and that you abide by it.

Finally, be respectful of each other’s right to the apartment.  Do not monopolize the television or the bathroom, do not play your music loudly when your roommates are sleeping or studying, and do not freely entertain guests when your roommates are not into it.  When it comes to roommate etiquette, the more you give, the more you will get back.  If you do your share of the heavy lifting, and remain respectful, and conscientious, your roommate will do the same, and you will reap the rewards of function and friendship that a great roommate provides.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tips to Working from Your Apartment

These are strange but exciting economic times.  The traditional idea of going to work in a downtown office is fading fast, as more and more people are working remotely, or forgoing office life altogether to try their hand at running their own business.  This economic shift means that more people than ever before are working from home.  Working from your apartment or condo can be a wonderful way to feel more connected to your work and to better manage that biggest of challenges: the work/life balance.  However, there are a few important things to keep in mind as you embark on a work from home routine to ensure you remain balanced and productive.

Stay Focused
Home, as you know, is full of distractions.  Most of us can hold our own when it comes to resisting leisurely distractions, like movies, TV, books, or naps, but the more challenging distractions are the domestic ones.  Since you are already home, you had might as well get the laundry going, and, while you are at, tidy up the kitchen, pop out for cat food, groceries, get dinner started . . . and on it goes.  These kinds of domestic distractions are really had to resist because they are productive; but this is, of course, a misplaced productivity.  You have to remember that this is your time to work on your work, and not to work domestically.  

Results over Schedules
The traditional way to keep one’s self on track is by setting up and following a structured work schedule.  This works for some people, but schedules can come to seem arbitrary and stifling after a while.  Instead, a good technique is to think about the larger aims of your work and devise goals that can be broken down by session, by day, and by week.  This allows you to focus more on results and less on simply time logged.  A results-driven work process keeps you more directly connected to the larger priorities of your job, and keeps you motivated. 

Carve Out Your Work Space
We’ve come a long way from the “home office” of the 90s that tried to reproduce the “macro” office format in the “micro” home setting—complete with clunky printers, and piles of largely useless stationary.  However, the impulse behind the home office to try to draw a line between home and work is still an important thing to keep in mind.  Depending on the amount of space you have to work with, try to find a workplace in your apartment or condo that is physically or even conceptually different from your relaxation space.  Working from your kitchen table or pull-up counter, or setting yourself up in a chair instead of on the couch can help your click out of home-mode and into work-mode a little more readily.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gardening in Small Spaces

With the weather improving daily, condo and apartment dwellers’ thoughts are turning more and more to the great outdoors.  Spring and summer can bring new life to your rental with the reintroduction of your outdoor space, and there is no better way to take advantage of that outdoor space than by keeping a little garden.  Gardening can be intimidating—it might feel as if you need a large plot of land, a tool shed, and a lot of know-how to make it worthwhile.  However, if you keep a few things in mind balcony and deck gardening is really rewarding. 

Why Garden?
Gardening is a powerful stress reliever.  Creating your own little oasis allows you to become better attuned to a more natural flow of life.  Nothing helps you forget about the hassles of urban life like raising plants from seed to flower, fruit, or vegetable.  Also, keeping plants on your balcony greatly helps your local bee population, who need all the help they can get these days.  But perhaps best of all, keeping your own garden gives you the chance to grow your own food.  There is nothing better than greens, herbs, tomatoes, peas, or beans from your own garden—fresh and free!

Getting Started
The first thing to keep in mind is to keep it simple.  If gardening is not enjoyable than it is not worth doing.  There is no need to run out and purchase hoards of supplies, instead use what you have on hand.  Gardening gives you a great chance to reuse your recyclables.   Old yogurt or cheese containers are perfect plant pots, as are old soup, tomato, or bean cans—be sure to puncture a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  An old eaves trough works perfectly to grow a row of lettuce greens or an herb garden in, and you can repurpose old buckets or tubs for root vegetables like carrots or fingerling potatoes.  After that, all you need is some potting soil, a pitcher or pint glass for watering, and an old soupspoon to help you transfer plants or dig up little weeds.     

Once your gardening space is set up, you need to get planting.  You can buy plants that have already been started for you from nurseries, grocery or corner stores, but a cheaper and more engaging option is to start your own plants from seed.  With a small bag of potting soil and some eggcups—old egg cartons work wonderfully—you can sprout your own plants.  You can start this process as early as late March (provided the seedlings get lots of window sun time), so your little seedlings are ready to be transferred outside when the nice weather arrives.  Growing plants from seed allows you to better curate your own garden, and to choose the varieties of food or flower you really want—including some really cool and flavourful heirloom varieties.

Keeping a garden is a wonderful way to enjoy your outdoor space, and to cut back on your food budget.  Happy Spring!

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.