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My Big Fat South Asian Family Lives in a Tiny and Tidy Condo

south asian family
7 min read

My husband Kiran and I are both South Asian and grew up in traditional South Asian homes. Though we both lived close enough to the Universities that we went to, we couldn’t wait to move out of our parents suburban homes and live in the city once we started our undergraduate studies. I was in Toronto and he was in Montreal and we absolutely loved city living. At the time, we were met with resistance from our parents, but we found part-time jobs and figured out how to pay the rent so that we could have the lifestyle that we wanted. It wasn’t a glamorous life, that’s for sure. We were living in tiny apartments, typical student housing, but still loved every minute in those cramped quarters.

Fast-forward a bunch of years and not much has changed. Kiran and I got married in 2010 and we now live in Toronto. We still can’t get enough of the city so we decided to live in a small condo in downtown Toronto. One major change though is that we now have 3 children. So there’s actually five of us living in our 850 square foot condo. 

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodericks

Why Do We Do It?

Let’s begin in 2014, when my husband Kiran and I had our first child, Isha. Rather than buying a house — which would have cost us well over a $1 million and leave us living paycheck to paycheck servicing the mortgage — we opted for a smarter investment in a smaller space.

We bought a triplex in the city and moved into a 900-square-foot unit within. It had one bedroom, one bathroom and a shared laundry space. Our goal was to eventually convert the triplex into a single-family home when we needed it. As time passed, however, we realized that we enjoyed our compact lifestyle. A smaller unit was easy to maintain, gave us access to the city and was a short walk to restaurants, street festivals and parks. Collecting rent from the other two units also basically covered the mortgage payments.

We decided to put off the renovation, rented out all three units in the triplex, and moved into a rented two-bedroom-plus-den condo in 2015. We had our second child, Kian, the next year. We adapted by turning the den into a nursery, but by then, things were starting to feel a little cramped.

That’s when Kiran came across the documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix. It had an immediate and profound impact on us. We didn’t need more space — we needed less stuff. We started by purging old textbooks, garbage bags full of clothing, random kitchen gadgets and shoes. Little by little, the space opened up.

In 2018, when our third child, Josh, was born, we felt confident we didn’t need a bigger place to call home. Make no mistake — it’s definitely cozy here — but the positives outweigh the negatives for our chosen lifestyle.

Photo Credit: Kiran Krishnamurthy

We don’t have to deal with maintenance issues, shoveling snow or mowing lawns. Our children love the pool and we enjoy having our friends over in the summer to have a BBQ by the pool. Kiran takes advantage of the gym on a weekly basis and I like having a concierge desk to accept my Amazon packages. The greatest benefit is that with a smaller mortgage compared to a full-sized Toronto house, we have been able to put our money to work for us. We currently own three triplexes and a condo in Toronto all being serviced by tenants. 

That said, we still spend a lot of money, we just choose to spend it differently. We gravitate toward experiences like vacations, restaurants and activities with the kids.

We’re also able to afford services that make our lives a lot easier. During my maternity leave, we were able to put Kian in full-time daycare. Daycare costs in Toronto range into the thousands every month, depending on a child’s age. We also have a housekeeper that helps us with laundry, cleaning and meal prep two evenings every week.

And you know what? After a full year as a family of five, we’re still not yearning for more floor space. Here are some ways we keep things organized and clutter-free.

How Do We Do It?

Furniture and Decor

We found it essential to avoid bulky furniture like a coffee table, wide shelving units or a three-piece sofa set. Instead, we went for condo-sized furniture found at stores like IKEA, BLVD Interiors and CB2.

Tall, narrow shelving units maximize the storage space.

Throughout the condo, we have pieces that stow easily — folding chairs hung behind bedroom doors, a large table with wheels that folds away — and don’t have a dedicated dining table, freeing up floor space.

As for decor, we try to keep things as simple as possible. We don’t have many decorative pieces and very few photographs. Using neutral colors helps the space look less cluttered. 

Organization and Storage

The crib, our beds and couch have storage spaces beneath them, fitting slim containers containing diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, baby wipes and travel essentials. Our ceilings hit 8.5 feet throughout, so we took advantage of this with tall, narrow shelving units and cabinets.

Slim organizers fit into storage spaces beneath most furniture.

The back of every door in the condo also has some kind of over-the-door organizer to store things like our ironing table, cloth diapers, shoes and miscellaneous cords and chargers.

Every closet, storage cabinet, pantry and shelf contains clear containers, labelled baskets and bins for things like craft supplies, hats, tools, baby items, dry goods, shoes, toys, disposable plates, cups and cutlery. 

Clothing and Closets

In order for everything to fit in our closets, we created capsule wardrobes for each family member. Most of our clothing is basic and neutral, and can easily be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. We each have approximately 40 to 50 pieces of clothing and we’re working on reducing that number.

Clothing is organized to be easily mixed and matched.

In the kids’ shared bedroom, we added a second rod to maximize their closet space and added labelled clothing dividers to give each garment a home. Our master bedroom is approximately 200 square feet, and a regular-sized dresser or chest of drawers would not fit. Instead, we re-purposed slim shoe storage organizers to store clothing.

Slim shoe organizers are used for clothing in the master bedroom.

Morning Routine and Bathroom Situation

The key to avoiding hectic mornings: two bathrooms. One has a shower and the other has a bathtub. Around 5:30 a.m., Kiran and I take our showers and prepare for the day before the kids are awake. We give our kids baths in the evening. 

When the little ones do wake up, they take turns brushing their teeth in the master bedroom’s en suite bathroom. They still need our help, so while one parent helps one child brush, the other parent helps the other child dress.

A hanging high chair is one less piece of furniture.

Meanwhile, Baby Josh is usually happily eating away in his hook-on high chair.

The Downsides

Since our children are still small and always want to be around us, they’re not craving their own space — yet. However, as they get older, I’m sure they’ll want more privacy.

The limited space means you have to consistently dedicate time to decluttering, and you have to be very organized in order to live comfortably. Luckily, I actually enjoy simplifying and organizing, and I’ve been able to apply these skills to TINY AND TIDY.CO, where I teach others how to declutter their homes and get organized.

I would love to have a bigger kitchen and pantry so that both Kiran and I can actually cook together without getting frustrated. Lastly, we don’t have a large foyer or mudroom. When we’re all heading out the door in the morning, it can get a bit cramped when trying to put on our shoes and jackets at the same time.

Vaishali’s family in their 850 sq ft condo. | Photo Credit: Brittany Carmichael

Our parents now understand and support our choices. Living more of a minimalist lifestyle has made it possible for us to grow our investment portfolio and pay for services and experiences that make life more enjoyable for us. We truly believe that our lifestyle has brought us closer together, allowing us to play and interact with each other more — if only because we can’t really escape one another.

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