Rethink Living:  Problems You Can Solve and Forgetting Those You Can't

April 2013

We constantly hear about how much the cost of living is too high in the north but rarely do we really stop to think about what we are complaining about. If your beef is with the price of rent or how much fuel costs then please pay attention to the next sentence. These things are controlled by market forces out of the control of any one of us, including city council. This means any energy spent fighting this is really beating a dead horse. Accept this and move on.

As individuals most of us have some control over our situations. I realize many folks in the north live on low incomes, income assistance, etc. and might think they can’t do much to change their situation; but everyone can make the choice to focus their attention on changeable factors. As you read ahead try and really be objective here and see if any of these options might work for you.


Living Space

Why do we think that bigger is better? After the Second World War many houses built in Canada were of the 1000 square foot variety. Last time I checked whole generations were raised perfectly fine sharing bedrooms and, god forbid, one bathroom. Our notion of a bedroom and bathroom each must be called what it is, a WANT.

Yes space is nice, so is your own bathroom, but to say you need this is a bold faced lie. Here is the real question we need to ask ourselves. Do I WANT this or do I NEED this?

Honestly, do you really need 2000 square feet for 2 people, even 3 or 4? How can you complain about costs of living if you are living in a house you don’t need or with space you WANT but don’t NEED. Be honest, turn off emotion for a second and have a hard look at this, you might surprise yourself with the answer. If you, like me, found you can live a happy, complete and cheaper life in a smaller space then, move into a smaller space already!


Revenue Generation

Many of us think of a home as our little castle but kings and queens of old had their castles making money for them. Why are we so afraid to think of our homes in a similar fashion? If a smaller space is not an option bringing in some revenue instead might be.

Traditional options exist that most of us are aware of such as a rental suite or renting out a room. Can you carve out a section of underused basement to rent out? How about renting rooms and share the common spaces. This requires people in your basement or even roommates at the breakfast table but it is also help to decrease the cost of running the place.

Other forms of revenue do exist that don’t require people in your house. How about renting out a parking stall, your garden you never seem to get around to planting or that shop that is really a storage locker. If someone was willing to pay you $600 plus utilities every month for your garage and all you need to do is declutter, why wouldn’t you? The point is you might be able to offset some of those high costs of living by bringing some of that money back in. Look around your home and get creative.

Alternative Housing

For some reason we hold the ideal of a single family detached home as the goal for all. In the north all this means is you have to heat all four walls by yourself. In remote places like ours we cannot expect to have the same standards as, say, Calgary with huge tracts of relatively cheap suburban houses.  It’s a simple supply and demand thing that affects everything from lumber to land which is once again out of our control. Few people in the north equal low demand and hence high prices. The words affordable and large single family detached need not even be entertained in the same conversation as it is an emotional response to a purely economic problem. Again, accept and move on.

So what’s the alternative? Common shared housing options abound such as condominiums and townhouses. They are the most common but not the only options. Some of these options listed below do not yet exist in the north and my question is why not?

  • Micro Housing- still single family in nature but designed to be extremely small and efficient. Think under 1000 square feet and small lots. The woodyard and houseboaters in Yellowknife are loosely in this category but many might be lacking in the efficiency part of the equation.
  • Laneway Housing- Very popular in southern urban centers. Instead of a garage in your back ally you essentially put in a micro house. More housing using existing lots and infrastructure means you get more houses in less space and at minimal cost. This is now allowed in Yellowknife through the adoption of the Secondary Suite bylaw. Construction is pricey in the north but if you think of it like the land is already paid for it suddenly seems pretty reasonable.
  • Co-housing- This is the idea that if you share large common areas your actual private space needs are decreased. Think of this as a small condo that has everything you NEED. You share all the space you WANT such as a garage, gardens, art studios, etc., etc.


We are starting to see this change happen in Yellowknife. Secondary suites being permitted, smaller duplexes being built and healthy condo sales. This is all starting to show that people are okay living in smaller and more efficient living situations. I know there will be  more options in the future as the market begins to adapt to this need for smaller space living.

In the end not all options covered are possible or even realistic all over the north but what we're really getting at here is that YOU have the ability to change something when it comes to affordable living space. Once you focus your attention on the things you can effect, and stop wasting energy on the things you can’t, you will both feel better and maybe even save a little bit of cash!