Whitney Leigh Morris of The Tiny Canal Cottage is doing what so many of us dream about. Instead of living in an excessive amount of space with an excessive amount of stuff, she lives with her son, husband, and two dogs in under 400 square feet. And —perhaps the best part — instead of spending her life picking up toys, she's spending it exploring her community and enjoying a more minimalist lifestyle at home in Venice Beach, California.
We were lucky enough to get to talk to Whitney about her inspiring lifestyle and glean a few tips on how to live life more fully in the present.
Mabel + Moxie: First, tell us a little bit about your space. We know you live in 400 square feet in Venice Beach, California. But what's the story of how you came to live here and how you've made it your own?
Whitney: Our lil’ home/office is under 400 square feet, but it felt like a palace to us when we first stepped through its doors 8 years ago. I was moving here from a beach-front studio apartment, and Adam was previously living with housemates. When we spotted this old light-filled cottage and its small but useable wrap-around garden (located conveniently by the canals and near the beach), we knew instantly it would be the perfect place for us — along with my dog StanLee — to call home.
M+M: When you got pregnant, did you think about moving or did you know you'd stay?
Whitney: We never once thought about moving when I was pregnant. On the contrary — we were so genuinely excited to introduce our child to our tiny home! Other parents kept telling us that we’d NEED to move, so we thought we’d have to look into it around our son’s first birthday. However, I’m thrilled that we’re now at 2.5 years with West and have had no desire to seek a larger house.
M+M: How have you made room for your child (and two dogs!) in an already tight living space?
Whitney: We only acquire what we need when we need it. For example, there’s no reason to stuff your small home full of clothing for a one-year-old when your child is only two months old. And when an item has served its purpose, we let it go, handing it over to a friend or member of the community so it can continue to be put to use.
M+M: What are your plans for the future? Do you think you'll still be able to make it work as your son gets older?
Whitney: One of the questions I’m asked the most often is: what is the plan for when West gets older and wants more privacy — and what if we decide to have a second child? While these are topics that @adamwinkleman and I sometimes discuss, we’re still so content here in our lil’ home that we don’t see the need to leave until/unless the need actually presents itself.
While there are obvious realities for which we need to plan (retirement, West’s education, emergency situations), I don’t feel the need to adjust our living situation in anticipation of whatever the future might hold. The same sort of question popped up time and time again when I was pregnant with West — everyone asked us when and where we’d be moving. But we took things day-by-day, and it all worked out better than we could’ve ever imagined.
That’s how I want to live — planning wisely for the inevitable things in life, but also allowing the future to unfold naturally as we enjoy the present. That way, when the time comes, we will know what we need and why, rather than acting half-heartedly (and perhaps wastefully) on predictions. People make all sorts of living situations work for themselves and their families, whether by choice or by necessity. Diverse lifestyles and homes are all around us, but they’re rarely integrated into American entertainment in a way that makes them seem like anything other than a problem or a quirky novelty. I have no clue what’s next for us as far as our living situation is concerned. But, in the meantime, we feel so happy (and unbelievably lucky) to be right where we are.
M+M: Tell us how you've incorporated the outdoors into your living space.
Whitney: Rather than outfitting our small home with purely decorative objets, we’ve topped it off with elements such as plants, hooks and lanterns. They are beautiful while serving a purpose. The plants clean the air, the hooks help us stash items such as our garden hats and aprons for easy access, and the mirrors help reflect the windows, amplifying our light while bringing the blue SoCal sky into our living space.
M+M: What are the advantages to a lifestyle with less living space? Are you really able to avoid the mountains of toys that drive the rest of us crazy?
Whitney: Living in a smaller spaces with fewer belongings (such as limited toys) encourages us to explore our community as a family. There are endless adventures to experience with your child beyond the home. We visit nearby museums, libraries, natural parks, playgrounds, local events, live music, art festivals, farmers markets, and so much more.
M+M: What advice would you give to a family considering downsizing into less space? Or a family about to add a baby to a small space?
Every situation is different, so listen closely to YOUR FAMILY’S needs and situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to homes and parenting. Our family took things one step at a time, and created a living space and daily rhythm that was right for us.