a mom and her young child enjoying each other's company by an apartment window


From Island Girl To A 650-Square-Foot Apartment in Toronto — How My Family Makes It Work For Us

Jan 18, 2022

If someone from my past would have told me that my present would look like it does today, I would have said: never in a million years! You see, I am an island girl at heart. I love the simplicity it brings.

But here I am living with static shocks, blaring sirens and cold winter days. When I decided to move my family to Toronto, to a 650-square-foot apartment, I did so from the same lens of simplicity. Of course, affordability and proximity to important amenities were factors too. I do understand there are some health impacts associated with living in small spaces, but there are plenty of positives to parenting in a big city like Toronto, too. That is, once we could adapt to life here.

So, after viewing our new place, I put on my creative cap and began masterminding a blueprint for what our home would look and feel like. We may not have marble-tile floors or a suite overlooking the lake, but I taught my kids that those things aren't needed to have a home — because it's about the memories you make, wherever you are, that matter.

Stuck inside for a while? Check out these 40 activities and crafts to keep the kids occupied.

Making the space our own

Once we moved, I was managing my kids' different personalities while downsizing to capsule closets and deciding on which color to repaint the walls. I had plenty of what-if moments — thinking about what I wish I had and wondering why we were doing what we were doing. On these occasions, I tried to think about how I'd react to the same moments should my kids feel the same. So I listened carefully for any negative comments, making sure to demonstrate gratitude for having a safe home to live in.

"I put on my creative cap and began masterminding a blueprint for what our home would look and feel like."

Over time, I learned that simplicity and style aren't mutually exclusive.

Together, we spent days covering our "Toronto floors" — a term my oldest used to describe the common flooring found in older apartment buildings. We used white and gray stick-and-peel tiles to match the walls. Next, we remodeled our dining area and part of our living room — the effort resulted in two distinct bedrooms for me and my youngest. Meanwhile, my eldest took possession of the main bedroom for sanity's sake. Then we found a large enough rug to split up and use in two separate areas — and we even managed to include a cozy living room space, with enough room for a quick yoga stretch in the morning.

I think my greatest lesson was learning that priority and purposeful planning come before consumerism, especially in a city with a rising cost of living. Contentment became the name of the game, but that didn't mean there was any lack of personality or flair. Thanks to YouTube videos and a creative eye, we pulled it off.

Using screens wisely

After years of a no-TV rule, I finally caved. Movie nights, popcorn and homemade pizza has become a weekend event. In addition to that, my oldest daughter is allowed one-and-a-half hours of screen time after she arrives home from school. Once my preschooler gets home, my oldest goes to her room to start her homework, so her sister can watch her favorite show until dinner is ready.

Bonding over meals

I'm a vegan, and cooking time is therapy for me. I want to share this with my girls, so sometimes I'll bring them into the kitchen to help put ingredients together (especially if we're baking), while I share stories about my grandmother’s cooking and life on the island.

We eat dinner and breakfast in our kitchen nook or on my thrifted bamboo trays in the living area while talking about our days.

Spot the Timmies cup! This all-Canadian mid-season scavenger hunt turns any walk into a game.

Focusing on what matters

Small-space living can be challenging, especially since so much of our time is spent behind these walls. But we try to make the most of every square foot. 

My goals have always been to guide my children on a path of self-actualization as they navigate city life, and to have fun. When other parents have asked how I'm doing it, I share my acronym: FUN.

  • F — focus on their wellbeing at all times
  • U — understand their immediate needs
  • N — never forget to show love and respect

My children are learning valuable life skills daily as we graduate into urban dwellers. I encourage them to always live with gratitude, to define their own life space and to never to be ashamed of where they live. I try to drive that last point home by exposing them to different concepts of how other families redefine what a home is.

Whether it’s by watching a YouTube video together, or reading a book about travelling families, the idea is to allow them to see that memories are not only created behind the curtains of huge living spaces and mansions, but in the everyday lives of ordinary people whose goal is to create safe havens for the people they love and cherish.

So, I’ve come full circle, from island girl to urban woman, cultivating, curating and creating family bonds year after year. For me that is A'OK and this is what that looks like:

  • B — basking in my authenticity
  • O — openly thriving freely
  • N — navigating new territories
  • D — daring to be different
  • S — seeking solace always

I hope I can continue to teach my girls to move through the world the same way.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Article Author E.M. Uzoamaka
E.M. Uzoamaka

E.M. Uzoamaka is a three-time published Barbadian Canadian author, entrepreneur, parenting and lifestyle expert and well-being facilitator. As a vegan enthusiast, she sits on the Queen Victoria Black Student Success Committee as their food and well-being coordinator; she along with the group are the recipients of the Urban Alliance 2021 Racial Justice education award. When she isn’t facilitating, she can be found on Instagram @chic_coffeedence_vegan sharing healthy family-friendly meals and treats.

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