Meet Lois Field
Today’s post is an interview with Lois Field, a minimalist who lives in a 300 square foot apartment.
Once your sons grew up and moved out, you began moving toward a simpler lifestyle. Had you thought about simplifying before then? Or was it a whole new idea for you?
As a teen and into my early 20s, I was career driven, I spent more money then than I would now, but it was on travel, furnishing a home and clothes for work. I had been taught to buy only the best as it would last longer, so I did in most cases. Then I became a single mother, which changed everything. I found I cared more about the time I was able to be with my children and less about the career or money to prove my worth. I raised my boys along with two dogs in a home 820 square feet, choosing the smaller home for more land.
I found environmental issues to be a bigger concern for me once I became a mother and with my sons designed an earthship we planned to build together. Unfortunately, the zoning laws in our areas prevented this dream from becoming a reality, but it showed me that my boys had incorporated many of my views and wanted a similar lifestyle.
You now live in a 300 square foot apartment. Did you move there right after leaving your larger family home, or was downsizing a process involving multiple moves?
Downsizing was a process for me. We lost our home in 2001 to an electrical fire and lived temporarily in an 1,110 sq ft home. By 2002 my oldest had headed off to join the military leaving my youngest and I lost in the larger space. We rented an apartment that was 720 sq ft that, while larger than we needed, worked nicely because of the layout. Once he turned 18 and moved out on his own, I decided to reduce my living space further. The first move was to a one bedroom apartment of 450 square feet.
It was in this apartment that I came face to face with the extra “stuff” I owned from raising a family. It needed constant cleaning and organization. Most of the stuff was being held on to by me because one day I might use it again with the grandchildren as I had two grand-babies at this point. One day I got fed up spending so much time cleaning things I rarely, if ever, used and began to purge. What I was left with was a one bedroom apartment which felt empty. The rooms echoed from lack of furnishings. It was time to decide if I should buy new things to fill the space or move again.
I stumbled across a book which contained a story of a woman who gave everything up, her career, home and all the family heirlooms. She moved to a 300 sq foot apartment. I couldn’t put the story down, it spoke to me in a way nothing else had in a long time. I wanted the freedom she found. The decision at that moment was to move, not fill up the apartment once again.
I know you enjoy crafting and other hobbies that require “stuff.” Is it challenging for you, as a crafter, to live in such a small space?
Good question, Christy. Most of my crafts have small amounts of supplies and take up very little space. The one hobby that does make things a bit difficult is my restoration of furniture. I can only bring in so much at one time and the pieces must be useful while they are here. End tables become a coffee table. Chairs are repaired enough to be safe to sit on.
The one good thing about the lack of storage is that I have learned to avoid stockpiling supplies and only keep on hand what I will use in a reasonable amount of time. For example, if I find a sale on yarn or am offered free yarn, I will only accept or buy enough for a project I want to work on now. It’s saved me money and helped me to finish one thing before moving on to another, which has been a problem of mine in the past.
You live without a refrigerator or stove, which seems unusual even for those living in tiny spaces. Do you think this arrangement would work for families as well as single people?
I think living without a refrigerator would be harder for families than the stove, but it would depend on the kinds of foods your family likes to eat. If you grow some of your own food, it would reduce the necessity. This winter I grew my salad greens in a window box, which eliminated the need for refrigeration of greens. It is surprising how many foods we refrigerate which can be left out. If you eat a vegetarian diet, you will have less need for a refrigerator.
I opted for a chest freezer instead of a refrigerator and freeze my leftovers in portion-sized packages. A family could do this as well, but it takes a bit of planning to remove for thawing what you plan to eat later that day.
Not having a stove I think is easier to adjust to. I have a rice cooker which will cook anything I could have made on a stove top and is safer to have around children. Before my grandchildren were allowed to assist in meal preparation at home over a stove, they were allowed to help prepare meals in the rice cooker. I also use a slow cooker which can also bake breads and desserts, replacing the need for an oven. But again, it would depend on your diet. Pizzas, cookies and the like are more difficult to make without an oven.
What’s your favorite thing about living in such a small space? Least favorite?
My favorite thing about living here is the lack of cleaning necessary. I love a clean and tidy home, but would rather spend my time outdoors. When I am forced to be inside due to inclement weather, the free time allows me to pursue more of my hobbies such as reading and crafting.
Least favorite would be the lack of freedom to change things which comes from renting instead of owning my space. I didn’t design the layout, which I believe could have been configured differently to better utilize the space. But if we are talking only the square footage, there isn’t anything I dislike about living in 300 square feet.
I know green living is important to you. Was that a motivator for you in choosing to live more simply, or was that an interest developed after you began to simplify?
The two issues went hand-in-hand for me. I have never felt comfortable in a larger home. Being in a bigger house, I feel the need to walk through the rooms when entering and checking them to see if anything has been disturbed. This started when my home was robbed when I was 19 and has stayed with me ever since.
But at the same time, I dislike the idea of heating and cooling a space larger than I need. My health determines just how low I can keep the thermostat during the colder months. The idea of living in a space which is well insulated and as small as possible allows me to feel better about the heat I need. I had no idea just how small a home I could be happy with, but have always looked for the smallest option available based on what I owned.
I did worry a bit about my children. As a parent I believed I should always have a home my children could come home to if needed. Yet, if I moved to a studio, they would not be able to move back in with their families if they found themselves in a jam. Knowing what I wanted to do, I sat down with each of my sons separately and asked them for their input.
My concerns over this subject were put to rest two months later when my oldest son needed to be away for two and a half weeks on National Guard duty. His wife was uncomfortable being home alone with the children and asked if she could stay with me. It worked out better than either of us thought it would. My daughter-in-law and I each shared a bed with one of the children and being summer we spent most of our time outdoors.
Not having a stove was never an issue for us, although I did have a dorm-sized refrigerator at that point for some of the foods the children were used to. My daughter-in-law and I enjoyed the time together, she found a new hobby of restoring furniture and I taught her what I knew in that time. The children treated their stay like an adventure and, while happy to have dad home again, have talked ever since about how fun it was to live here.
Do you ever find your green-living values to conflict with your simple-living values?
I do. A good example would be a loveseat I collected from next to our dumpsters. The cushions weren’t in great shape, I want to replace them, but what do you do with the old foam cushions which are loaded with toxins? Do you toss them in the trash to leach toxins for generations in a landfill, or worse, to be incinerated, sending the toxins directly into the air to pollute a community? I don’t have the answers yet to that one and fear I may need to resort to tossing the two cushions into the trash; it saddens me to think this may be the only solution I have available to me.
What have been the three biggest benefits to simplifying your life?
There have been many benefits but if I could only list three they would be:
1. The ability to move to a location I had only dreamed of living in because of the high cost of real estate. Had I still needed at least a one bedroom apartment, I would not be able to afford the rents in this area.
2. Once I moved to my current location, I was so close to all the amenities I no longer needed a car. I was able to gift my vehicle to my son who needed a more fuel-efficient model.
3. I gained time and freedom. I needed less money to support myself, allowing me to work less, which gives me more time to do the things I love and be with those I care about.
Your son Justin recently wrote a guest post for your blog discussing how he has been simplifying his life since he lost his job. How does your other son feel about your decision to simplify? What about the rest of your family?
When I wanted to move here, I sat down with my youngest son and his wife to hear their views. They both told me to go with my heart and not to worry about them. His wife was a little thrown by the fact that I was willing to live without a stove, but my son reminded her that I didn’t love cooking and baking the way she did. As soon as they saw the apartment they loved it. They made one request, that I would find a futon or sleeper sofa for their overnight visits.
The rest of my family is a different story. They believe I am crazy, but that’s nothing new. My siblings live in urban areas, love to shop, and don’t have much of an appreciation for nature. They have never understood my desire to live away from the cities and shake their head at me because “who doesn’t love to shop?” or ask how I can live without a wallet full of credit cards. So their reaction didn’t surprise me. I learned a long time ago I was different.
What advice do you have for those who are just beginning to simplify?
I would tell them not to rush through the process. Where we begin, why we want to simplify, and which areas of our lives we want to simplify are different for each of us. I would tell them not to try and copy what others are doing or how they reached the level of simplicity that made them happy as their path and reasons will be different.
Start with what bothers you the most. Maybe it’s the booked schedule; our lives are full of appointments. Cut back on those things that don’t bring you joy and fulfillment and hold on to what does. When they have some breathing room they will notice other things that may not be working for them and will know where to put their efforts next.
Life is about the relationships we forge with those we care about. You can’t take the house, jewelry or any other material thing with you at the end of your life, but you can live on in the hearts and minds of those you loved and knew you best.
Want to learn more about green simple living?
Lois is passionate about the environment and living simply. She blogs at Living Simply Free, where she shares how she lives in 300 square feet, her gardens, before and after projects from curbside trash and of course, about her family, who is her inspiration.
Interested in being interviewed?
If you’re a minimalist, whether a beginner or an expert, and you’re interested in being interviewed, please contact me at cking[at]thesimplewhiterabbit[dot]com.