Photography by Michael Dyrland
"Being indebted to a bank for the majority of my life was never my plan."
Stevie Quinney was tired of her Vancouver lifestyle. Only 22 at the time, she was paying $700 a month for a bedroom in a shared basement suite and struggling with student loans. Then, she started reading The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams, a tiny house guru of sorts, and something clicked. "It sparked the idea that I could move to a small house, that it was doable," she says.
So doable, in fact, that she contacted her mother in Winkler, Man., about 90 minutes southwest of Winnipeg, and told her that she wanted to move back home and create her own little house—out of shipping containers. Her mom and her stepfather were immediately on board, but the real seal of approval came in March 2015, when, for Stevie's birthday, they bought her two shipping containers to get her journey started.
Steve Quinney in the kitchen of her small house in Wrinkler, Man.
More and more people are embarking on a similar path. Covering everything up to 1,400 square feet (see Small Talk, page 54), the tiny house movement has been gaining momentum. But what's the big attraction?
It's a few things, explains John Infranca, assistant professor of law at Suffolk University's law school in Boston and research affiliate at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. "We've got a demographic trend of people living in smaller households," he says. "People live as singles for longer periods of time, married couples delay having children or aren't having children at all, seniors are living longer after being widowed and people are divorcing at higher rates. These smaller households are drawn to smaller homes."
At the same time, he says, there's a movement toward owning less "stuff," which has been made easier by technology, as we don't need as much space to store books, music and movies as we once did. Finally, there's the environmental aspect. "The idea of a smaller footprint and less energy-intensive usage is attractive to a lot of people."
That was certainly the case for Stevie. "I've always been conscious of being eco-friendly," she says. "I really like the idea of not having more than you need."
She also liked the idea of owning her home—no mortgage—and designing it to suit her lifestyle. With the shipping containers already purchased, Stevie started researching floor plans online. She'd never done one before, but after looking at some container-house layouts, she drew her own and sent it to her stepfather, who refined the drawings even more.
Stevie built her small house out of two shipping containers given to her by her mom and her stepfather.
He helped with construction as well, along with his brothers, all of whom had experience building sheds, workshops and barns. "They knew a lot about how to do the plumbing and electrical work, so we didn't have to hire anybody," says Stevie. Six months and about $50,000 later, she moved into her 600-square-foot home.
At first, it was rough going. Unlike tiny homesteaders in California or Oregon, Stevie had the Canadian climate to contend with. "The first week, the pipes froze, so I was hauling water from my mom's home," she says. And because there wasn't time to install the wood stove she bought, she had to use a small electric shop heater through the winter. But eventually, warmer weather arrived, and now, Stevie says the place is looking good. "It's really nice. I've got all of my furniture, and my living room is set up."
Beyond the physical comfort of her own home, though, she feels a great sense of accomplishment. "I'm at a stage now where many people my age are getting married, buying houses and having children. It's wonderful, but it's also very expensive," she says. "Being indebted to a bank for the majority of my life was never part of my plan." She values flexibility and life experience over a big house and a mortgage, and she believes that even more tiny houses are on the horizon for those in her age group and younger. "This small house movement is turning into a very big thing."
The home looks out over the Manitoba Prairies.
The pros and cons of tiny living
Affordability: You can build your home for much less than the cost of a regular-size home—think anywhere from $5,000 to $70,000, as opposed to more than $1 million in Vancouver or Toronto—and live mortgage-free. Low utility bills: Your heating, cooling, electricity and water usage will cost less than in a regular house.
Planet-friendly: Little homes use fewer resources and take up less space. In addition, many owners use solar power, compost toilets and other environmentally conscious options.
More social time: A tiny interior space may send you out into the world more often. The local coffee shop, for example, could become your home office, or you may be more inclined to go out with friends.
Land costs: Your house may seem like a steal at first glance, but land costs could bring the overall expense of your home to much more than you imagined.
Little to no storage: A tiny home is not for those who like to collect books, shoes, clothes or knickknacks. There's just no room for nonessentials.
Less personal space: Though some families do live—and thrive—in small homes, many people would struggle with sharing less than 500 square feet of space with more than one person.
<p>Image courtesy of Amber Funk</p>
These cute dogs from around the world have found homes in Canada through rescues such as Save Our Scruff. Check out their adorable faces and read what their adopters have to say about their pasts, personalities and adorable quirks.
"From the streets of Cancun Mexico to the Beaches of Toronto—meet Nalha! We fostered this pretty girl and right away she stole our hearts, so we went through with the adoption. In the matter of days she was house trained, plus she sits, lies down, shakes both paws, spins, plays fetch and loves to play with all the other dogs down at the beach. She is the best thing that has ever happened to us." –Megan Evans
Follow Save Our Scruff on Instagram.
"This first year with Frankie has been an amazing, crazy rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve never felt purer love or had more meltdowns. I feel so lucky to have been on the journey with him. His favourite thing is to go on off-leash walks and the second he hits grass or fresh snow he gets crazy zoomies and bounces like a little bunny. It’s adorable." –Lauriana Mandody
"Sofia is chill. She sleeps most of the day and is pretty calm (except for her nightly bout of energy that lasts about 10 minutes before bedtime). She also sleeps in! I can’t imagine my life without Sofia and I guess that’s the bittersweet part about adopting a senior dog. We won’t have as much time with her as we would with a younger pup, and so we cherish every single day.” –Justine Iaboni
Follow at @schnoodlesofia
“A small puppy was recently delivered to my door after a long journey from Texas. Malnourished, weary-eyed and incredibly cautious, the little Belgian Malinois had no idea how lucky she was to be alive. With a reserved yet endearing disposition, her big pointy ears and kangaroo-like bounce, she got a lot of attention. In fact, when I said I was "just fostering" people responded, "You're in trouble.” It was after several of these encounters that I realized my naiveté. In less than one week I had pulled a classic "foster fail" move and signed the adoption papers. Best fail ever.” –Anon.
“We’ve had Abl in our family for 14 years now and he is the sweetest old man. Even though he’s getting up there in years, he still loves to go on long walks on the outskirts of Winnipeg. He’s always had a strong hunting instinct and is very loyal. I love visiting home because I get to see him.” –Andrea Karr
"We went to the shelter to visit with a dog we'd seen online, but were encouraged to look at Reggie, a five-year-old black Lab-border collie mix who'd been with them for more than four months. Having two young kids, we worried and wondered what was wrong with him; why had no one adopted Reggie after so much time? It's a fact that black dogs and cats are often overlooked, and that had been the case with Reggie as well. He is the gentlest soul. We tried everything we could that day to rile him up—covering his eyes, holding his muzzle—and nothing did. In the five years he's been with us, he's been the perfect protector (code for: he barks loudly when people he deems "suspicious" walk by the house, but we don't mind) and our constant companion." –Sandra Martin
"After having such a great time with Reggie, the mature dog we adopted three years before, I started to feel familiar pangs, not unlike the tickle in my insides when I thought I might be having second thoughts about my own personal one-child-only policy. In the end, I had a second baby—and adopted a second dog. Bailey is the most universally beloved pooch I've ever met, absolutely thrilled to meet every dog and human we come within 100 metres of on our twice-daily walks. Bonus: he's brought out Reggie's playful side. Now, just as I couldn't imagine not having two kids, I can't imagine not having two dogs." –Sandra Martin
“Cash and Cannon are two loyal brothers from Alabama that currently live north of Toronto and are learning to track and retrieve ducks. They always have their noses to the ground—I believe that’s the coonhound in them. At only 10 weeks old, they are teaching me more about loving and caring for something than I’ve learned in the last 30 years of my life. Cannon is the perfect sidekick. He’s the fastest puppy I have ever seen. Cash is the definition of dominant and sets the pace so Cannon doesn’t get too carried away.” –Joshua James
“Mu has brought so much joy and love into our home. My daughters are learning about responsibility, patience and, best of all, about giving and receiving unconditional love. Mu's calm and gentle demeanour suits us well and she has settled in easily and gently. She is my first ever dog and I was unprepared for how heartwarming, how joyful and how beautiful this would be. What an incredible surprise and such a wonderful gift to our family.” –Susan Dawson
“Rookie and Rolland are the perfect black-and-tan duo. Rookie has been with me since a young pup and has had many foster dogs come and go over the years, but we all knew Rolland wasn't going anywhere once he came into our home. These two have quickly become the best of friends. They enjoy long walks, stopping to sniff anything and everything. They are super low maintenance, very easygoing and cuddle the perfect amount.” –Allison Wills
“It always brings us such joy to see Riley make small milestones. In this case, walking on metal surfaces like the grate in the photo. It terrified her a few months ago.” –Kate Duncan
"Our first few months with Rowdy were tough. Over the year, we've done obedience classes, socialization and private lessons. With lots of persistence and even more love, he's slowly become more comfortable and confident. We've also learned that Rowdy loves to do tricks. He gets so excited seeing us cheer him on after he’s mastered a new move. Adoption turned out to be a lot more work than we ever expected, but it's also been so much more rewarding and we can't imagine our life without him." –Anon.
“We offered to escort two pups home to Toronto from our honeymoon in Mexico, never expecting anything other than a good deed well done. Then we met Jello at the Cancun airport covered in ticks but so happy and full of nothing but love. She came home stowed safely under the seat in front of us and has been a dream since then. She loves all the littles in our family, is completely head over teakettle for her tennis ball, and is learning to stay home by herself. We love her!” –Courtney Roytberg
“We got Rocky just a few days from NYE as foster parents and knew within that week that he was too special and adopted him right away. He came to us with a ton of awful hot spots, half a chewed-off tail and major anxiety issues. Lots of training, love and attention and Rocky is doing great and is part of the family like he has always been here. He has the most gentle, sweet personality.” –Henna Chaudry
“We welcomed Kona into our family after she was rescued from Northern Quebec. She enjoys playing in the creek, nibbling toys, meeting new friends and going for long walks in the park. She is so smart.” –Brianne Gardner
“From day one, Mouse claimed this chair as her throne!” –Sardé Lynn
“When I get home, Cleo twerks for me. She gets really amped up and does this amazing butt dance. She’d be great in an R. Kelly music video. Honestly, she’s the best decision I’ve ever made. When I get home, we battle each other. How excited would you be knowing that when you get home from work there’s a dog hiding somewhere in your house waiting to battle you?” –Tristan Tarr
"Poncho and Fido are the best because we simply could not imagine life without them. They enrich every aspect of our lives and we are so grateful that they have made themselves a part of the family. They are incredibly quirky and can be challenging at times, as is the case with all relationships, but their unconditional love and funny personalities make them who they are. To us, they are perfect." –Devon Gerby
"Godzilla was our doggie in an instant. She's a snuggly little pooch with a big heart, and a lover of stinky socks. People ask if she's as ferocious as her name suggests. Well, she'd like to think so!" –Emily Milling
"Cairo is the perfect addition to our little family. We started by fostering him as a three-month-old pup when he was rescued off the streets of Egypt after his mom was fed poison. He arrived on December 23 and it was our first time fostering, but after having him for just a few days we knew that he was meant to stay with us. Our other dog, Cole, instantly became his comfort blanket. We have had a bumpy road with Cairo and our work is not yet done, but he has shown us that even the smallest improvement can bring so much joy. He is loving and protective of our family and will do anything for human attention. He has such a quirky personality and constantly makes us laugh." –Kate Rigby
"Silas is awesome because he is the epitome of a loyal companion. He comes to work with me everyday—earning three milk bones a day—and is my constant shadow." –Amber Funk
How one woman realized she need time away from her social media feeds, and what to do if you need a hiatus, too.
One day last summer, I realized I needed a break. Not from a busy work schedule or family commitments—but from my Twitter feed. I would often grab my phone while I was still in bed to scroll through the morning's updates. Before I knew it, 20 minutes would pass and that lovely sleepy feeling would be replaced by the lives and news of the people in my timeline, some of it upsetting. I'd be off-centre before the day even really started.
This isn't the first time social media has got to me.
Four years ago, I quit Facebook. Between comparing myself to others and dealing with political rants I disagreed with, I felt crummy every time I was on the site. When I logged o for the last time, I turned to Twitter; I really enjoyed the short snippets of news and the interesting conversation the platform fostered. But when it started making me feel like Facebook did—gloomy—I knew I had to log off.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like have become xtures in our media landscape, changing the way we communicate. Mostly, this is a good thing; it makes it easier to meet intelligent and diverse people and to keep in touch with world-changing social movements. But its ubiquity can be overwhelming. Research is starting to show what many of us have already noticed: a link between social media and our mental health.
Pioneering research published earlier this year in the journal Depression and Anxiety looked at the relationship between depression and using one or all of the most popular social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Researchers found that "any level of social media use was associated with an increase in the risk of depression," says the study's senior author, Dr. Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Primack, also assistant vice-chancellor for research on health and society at the university, notes that the study didn't look at causality; in other words, the question of whether increased social media usage causes depression or vice versa still needs examination. "It's very plausible that it could be a little bit of both," he says.
For most people, however, spending too much time on social media is less about a formal diagnosis and more about a general sense of well-being. A 2014 University of Michigan study about social media breaks (specifically, those who gave up Twitter for Lent) found that "three concerns surfaced with respect to social media use: spending too much time on it, trade-o s of not spending time elsewhere, and a concern about social media not being ‘real life.' "
I knew it was time for a break because Twitter had lost its vibrancy; there was too much scrolling and not enough engagement with what I was reading. Patricia Pike, an addiction and intervention specialist with private practices in both both Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area, says that's an important indicator. She advises asking yourself these questions: Are you neglecting interactions with loved ones? Are you distracted and unable to complete day-to-day tasks? Are you living for your next social media hit? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it might be time to rethink your relationship with social media.
I wasn't planning to leave Twitter for good—I don't think that's possible, or even preferable, in today's connected world. Instead, I decided to take a month off. I deleted the app from my phone, logged out of my account on my laptop and prepared to white-knuckle it through the next four weeks. But it turned out to be surprisingly easy. For the first week, I was constantly reaching for my phone, used to scrolling through my feed on a work break or while wait- ing in line. But then, the desire to log on died down and, perhaps stereotypically, I began to feel more peaceful and focused. I started filling my newfound pockets of time with other interests: reading, knitting and suing my phone to call friends and family (gasp!). When my month was up, I cautiously reentered the fray, but I found I didn't feel the old urge to check in constantly.
The break allowed me to do what Dr. Primack recommends: "Learn what patterns of use are more problematic and what patterns are more beneficial." I realized some social media platforms just aren't for me. (No to Facebook, some- times to Twitter and yes to Instagram; I mostly follow knitters, so it has always felt like an oasis.) And now I know I don't have to be "on" all the time to enjoy the boons of social media; these days, my Twitter usage is much more measured.
It's clear that social media—and our increased Internet usage, in general— plays an ever-growing role in our mental health. But temporarily unplugging is a valid form of self-care, a way to minimize overstimulation and hit the reset button. Give me a break, indeed.
5 steps to a successful social media detox
1. Have a plan. Decide how long your break will be, but resist the temptation to make it permanent. "Shutting social media out of your life completely is a great way to set up failure to control your social media needs," says addiction expert Patricia Pike.
2. Write down your reasons. Think about what you want to achieve this break. Is it figuring out which platform works best for you? Or do you feel overstimualted?
3. Use technology to your advantage. Delete the social media platforms you want to avoid from your phone. (If they're not there, you can't mindlessly click on them.) And on your desktop, use time-management apps like Anti-Social or SelfControl to block sites you want to avoid for a period of time.
4. Enlist help. If you think you'll be tempted to long on prematurely, have a partner or a trusted friend change your password for the duration of your detox.
5. Set limits. When you return to social media, put limits on your usage, says Pike. And give yourself a schedule, says Dr. Brian Primack, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. For example, restrict logging on to your coffee break, instead of intermittently all day long.
If giving up burgers and cheese forever just doesn't seem possible, take heart: going mostly plant-based means you get serious health benefits and the flexibility to indulge now and then. Here's how, with tips from Dana Shulz of the Minimalist Baker.
There’s lots (and lots, and lots) of evidence on the benefits of eating vegan—but we don’t think it’s overstating things to say that making such a drastic dietary shift can be overwhelming. And we’re not the only ones, if the popularity of “vegan-ish” eating is anything to go by. A mostly plant-based approach that’s flexible enough to accommodate the occasional burger, chicken wing or slice of cheesecake, this diet plan has found fans in Jamie Oliver, whose Meat-Free Monday posts always look delicious, New York Times food guru Mark Bittman, who wrote a whole book about it, and Dana Shulz, the culinary mind behind the popular food blog Minimalist Baker.
According to Dana, whose new cookbook, Everyday Eating, features 101 easy-to-make vegan dishes (like her Thai quinoa meatballs, pictured above), a mostly plant-based diet doesn’t have to be hard work. “It’s really just about making sure you get plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and other plant-based protein sources. I think when you break it down like that, it isn’t as intimidating,” she says.
It definitely doesn’t mean subsisting on a few lettuce leaves. “I am a quantity eater and was raised by two very enthusiastic eaters. Feeling satisfied by my meals is very important to me, so salads for dinner just won't cut it. My recipe inspiration comes from having a big appetite,” she says.
Want to give vegan eating a try? Here’s her best advice:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
“Meal prep ahead of time (like on Sundays), so you aren’t stuck without options during the week, when you come home starving and need something to eat,” Dana says. “Also, make sure you do research when traveling so you have some idea of where you can get vegan options.”
2. Try anything once.
She recommends doing a deep dive into vegan food blogs, flagging any dish that looks interesting. “Try a lot of recipes and narrow down your favorites, so you have an arsenal of easy, go-to meals that you love and enjoy,” she says.
3. Know your swaps.
Use flax or chia in place of an egg. (Check out Dana’s how-to.) Instead of using ground beef for tacos, season and cook quinoa, then bake until crispy. And just because you’re eating less dairy doesn’t mean Parmesan-free pasta. Make your own vegan Parmesan by combining cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and sea salt. (Here’s the Minimalist Baker recipe.)
4. Stock your pantry.
You’ll have to re-think your grocery shopping plan, but don’t get intimidated—Dana says you can’t go wrong by stocking up on a few staples: “My top 5 vegan essentials are flax seed meal, nut milks, nut and seed butters, a variety of legumes, and dates,” she says. “I don't go for things like vegan junk food or other things in the processed realm. Eating plant-based is not about fake meats, $9 organic soy milk, and sprouting your own beans. It’s about eating a variety of plant foods to feel whole and well.”
5. Choose the right tools.
“For prep, having a food processor is a must because it makes sauces and date caramel so easily, and if you have the grater attachment it can shred up carrots, potatoes and vegetables in no time,” Dana says.