This family of seven lives in a 1,300-square-foot rental. Here’s how they make it work
Who: [back row, left to right] Andrei, 22, general manager at a restaurant, studying computer engineering; Alyssa, 25, furniture builder, with a side-business making bespoke furniture; Grace Vergara, 45, nanny; [front row, left to right] Alexa, 20, university student and part-time cafe worker; Alliah, 19, artist and cafe worker; Angelica, 26, assistant manager at a cafe; Joshua, 16, high school student; with their four-month-old Australian shepherd, Kiko.
The story: In 2013, I moved to Toronto for a better life. I worked seven days a week as a nanny and a cleaner, saving everything I could and sending it home to my six children (a the time between the ages of 8 and 18), who lived back in the Philippines. When my kids finally joined me in 2017, it was the happiest moment of my life.
We moved to a one-bedroom apartment on top of a laundromat in the west end. The rent: $1,250 a month. Four of the girls slept in the bedroom, while myself and two of the boys bunked up in the living room. Things were tight. At times, we felt like sardines in a tin can. We eventually decided to find a new place to rent.
In 2018, we rented our current place, a three-bed, two-bath house with a finished basement, at Keele and St. Clair West. There’s way more space—it’s about 1,300 square feet. Now, I get a room to myself, two kids live in the basement and the others share the upstairs bedrooms.
I’m a powerlifter, so I built a home gym in the shed in our backyard, with a squat rack, bench, barbells, dumbells, kettlebells and bumper plates. I also started collecting plants to pretty the place up. Slowly, I became a plant enthusiast and even launched my own business, @Wildleaf.toronto, growing, importing and selling plants.
When the pandemic hit, most of us lost our jobs for a few months, so we relied on CERB. We were all home during the day and our lives slowed down a bit. It was the first time in years that I could rest, but my body wasn’t used to sitting around, so I fixed a lot of stuff around the house and sold plants to supplement our income. I’m thankful we had each other during that time. We sang karaoke, watched movies and worked out in the home gym.
Thankfully, things are getting back to normal, and everyone is working again. I’m still employed as a nanny, but my salary can’t provide for all of us, so the kids contribute to rent, utilities and food. Together, we make roughly $150,000 a year.
Rent is $2,200 a month, utilities are $800, and internet, cable and home security are $200 a month, with Bell. I order groceries online with Instacart, from Organic Garage, Costco, Loblaws and Walmart, then it gets delivered, which makes everything easier. It costs about $1,400 a month to feed all of us.
We find it pretty easy to divide the house chores. I love cooking, so I do that most of the time. Joshua, the youngest, makes rice for us every day, and if I get held up at work, he might make pan-fried meat for dinner. We all come and go at different hours, depending on our work schedules.
Over the past year and a bit, we’ve learned more about what we want as a family moving forward: a simple, peaceful, debt-free life. I want to study interior decorating, grow my plant business and compete in a powerlifting competition. My kids want to do more with their friends, hiking and exploring all over the province.
We’re not sure how long we’ll all live together. It’s our dream to buy a detached home near Keele and St. Clair West, something with enough room for all of us, plus a big backyard for our new Australian shepherd, Kiko. It would probably take five years to save $200,000 for a down payment, but together, we can make it happen.
– As told to Roxy Kirshenbaum