Our Rationale for Purchasing a Smaller Home

A little over one year ago, I was interviewed by CBS SmartPlanet on the topic of living with less. The time was exciting for minimalism. Tammy Strobel’s story was in the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Today Show. Everett Bogue was featured on the CBS Nightly News. Courtney Carver’s Project 333 was about to hit the AP. Dave Bruno’s 100-Thing Challenge was in final edits. Each of us were cheering for one another. And I was excited to play a small part in the promotion of the counter-cultural lifestyle.

At the time of my interview, we were visiting family in Nebraska. I can remember sitting on their back porch in the humid August morning answering Christina Hernandez’s questions about living with less. At one point she asked, “What has been the toughest place for you to apply minimalism?” And as good interviews typically do, it pressed me to further define minimalism in my life. My answer went like this:

[There are] two things I want to take the next step on minimally speaking. We bought our house five years ago and embraced this minimalist lifestyle two years ago. I want to live in a smaller home and haven’t been able to take that step yet. I don’t think it’s a sentimental attachment. It’s just a logistical issue of selling and buying and moving. We still have two cars. As part of that suburban mindset, my wife takes the kids to school and runs them around all day. I work on the other side of town. How do we logistically go down to one car? Those aren’t sentimental attachments, but they are steps I want to take.

It was the first time I had verbally articulated those two desires. It was no small coincidence that the two biggest investments in my life (both financially and strategically speaking) were the two that had become the most difficult. They were going to require the most emotional energy to complete. After all, it’s one thing to clean out your garage – it’s something completely different to reduce the number of vehicles in your garage and/or change garages completely.

But subtly, over the past four months, we have accomplished both goals in our lives.

We have been living with one car for the past three months. And we just put our signatures on the purchase of a new, smaller home this past weekend. We moved in on Saturday.

As I have mentioned previously, our family recently moved from Vermont to Arizona and with it, came the process of selling an old home and buying a new one. The housing markets are markably different between the two regions and we could have easily embraced a massive upgrade because of the move. But even in a world where large homes are often considered the greatest symbols of worldly success, we never considered buying a larger home… instead, we looked forward to purchasing a smaller one.

This excitement was based on a number of reasons rarely considered in today’s market (or mentioned by realtors). A smaller home means…

  • Less burdensome mortgage payments.
  • Less maintenance.
  • Less furniture/decorations/housewares to purchase.
  • Less cleaning time.
  • Less environmental impact.
  • Less opportunity to accumulate.
  • Less financial risk.

We still had a number of criteria that we searched for in our new home. Smaller was not the only goal – it still had to function in a way that fits our young family and promotes our values. Our final list of nonnegotiables consisted of 3 bedrooms, dining room/family room sufficient for entertaining, space for housing overnight guests, pleasant outdoors, quality school district, lovely neighborhood, and high craftsmanship. Needless to stay, we were overjoyed to find one that fit our criteria exactly.

Ultimately, through the process, we reduced our home size from over 2,200 sq. feet to less than 1,600 sq. feet (and 4-levels to 1-level). But more importantly, we reduced our mortgage payments by almost 50%, we selected quality over quantity (always a wise decision), we removed anxiety inherent in burdensome monthly payments, and we have fallen in love with every square inch of our new home.

And minimalism made it all possible. Once again, we have found more joy in living with less than we had in living with more.

Now, how we do get this message back into the mainstream media?

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Congratulations! Do you live walking distance to things to help with the 1 car situation?

    We are 1 car and 1000 sq feet (+bonus room in basement) for a family of 3. Wouldn’t have it any other way. :)

  2. j dan says

    Awesome! It is so nice to have the smaller house payment!
    When we moved recently, our realtor refused at first to show us anything smaller than 2,000sqft. We are now happily living in a 1,300 sqft, 4 bedroom home… more than enough space for us, the kids & the drums :)

  3. sharle kinnear says

    In the past ten years I have downsized from nearly 3000 sq.ft to 1200 sq ft, plus divesting myself of a second home. Granted, it was easier as my children grew up and left home, but it was still very hard to get rid of all the stuff one accumulates in 65 years of living. I still work daily to winnow and refine my possessions – discarding the no-loner-needed and no-longer-loved “dustables” and sticking to a one-in one-out rule. As long as I stay out of stores and off the etail websites, I do pretty well. But it is a constant struggle to keep reminding myself that I have enough – more than enough – and that a new (fill in the blank) will not make me happier. We do have two vehicles since we lead very different lives and are often traveling. But at least I drive a Prius!

  4. says

    That is great Joshua! You live in a house about the size of mine now! (1750 sq ft) All of our children have moved out now and our house seems big. The timing is not right because of the market, but I foresee the day we sell (or maybe rent it out) and rent a small apartment in town.
    Right now we have 2 cars and a motorcycle. We live in the country and for years it was most convenient to have multiple cars as there were no other options for transportation. I long for the day we can rid ourselves of another vehicle. The one we need to rid ourselves of is a 1966 mustang that has seen better days. We are at a catch 22 place with it because we want to sell it but it needs some work. Hoping hubby will be able to make the break within the next year!
    And of course, moving into town would cause us to drive less as well and make one car more feasible.
    I am not sure about how to get the media to see this, as well as the people. With housing prices as they are, people are able to buy more house than they need. Oh that they would actually only buy the basics and not stretch themselves so thin!
    Bernice

  5. Amy says

    I too dream of a smaller house, now that we have been in our “forever” house for nearly 7 years. Downsizing in our town is just not realistic as the housing market around here has been slow for years. To compensate I am slowly working things down to be as low-maintenance as possible where we are. Even if we could downsize via relocation, I don’t think we could go too much smaller. We rented a lake cabin this summer for a week ~600 ft2 with the five of us and two dogs. My husband got twitchy by day 2 – he would not be happy without some space that is just his own.

    By the way, has anyone ever written much about minimizing the yard work? It seems there’s no shortage of advice for paring back stuff inside the house, but nothing about outdoor spaces. Our yard seems to be a black hole of time and money, but has to be maintained to ensure “curb appeal”.

  6. Tammy says

    My 7 year old and I went from a spacious 1200 sq ft apartment to a 1 level 700 sq ft home three months ago. We love it! No basement, nothing in the full finished attic, and my storage consists of 4 bins of “stuff”. I can always find what I’m looking for because I have only what we need. Simple to keep clean and I feel at ease there. And I can always find my cat!! :)

  7. Keira says

    Congratulations! I hope you don’t/didn’t have any problems selling your previous house.

    My partner and I downsized to a 600 sq ft. 1-bedroom apartment and love it. When we were searching we looked for a place that had a lot of light, space to find privacy when we need “alone time”, a quiet community, and a way to let the outside in through balconies and French doors. It’s wonderful here.

  8. says

    Congrats! Katie and I moved from a 720 s.f. two bedroom mobile home to a 500 s.f. one bedroom house. The utilities are significantly less than we were paying. I sleep on a futon on the living room floor while katie gets the bedroom to herself. We love it!

    We have always had just one vehicle but I would love to arrange my life and eliminate it at some point. In rural America I ‘m not sure how or when that will come about, especially with a kid at home.

    Be proud! You have made a wonderful accomplishment!

  9. says

    Congratulations! We’re in 1200 sq. ft. for 4 people, and it seems like not enough and too much. Are you in one of the track homes (aka they all look the same and have miniscule backyards)? I know a lot of the north valley is either really old or brand new. I’m interested to see how one car goes living in this big city! We want to go down to one too, but are trying to figure out logistics since we pretty much have to drive everywhere. I’m also interested to see what you think of the school district up there (assuming your kids are going to public school). As a valley native, we East Valley people don’t have the greatest picture of your new neck of the woods, so I can’t wait for you to help me paint a better picture of it!

  10. says

    Excellent. We have seven children and have happily lived in 1700 sq ft, too. And in 16 years of marriage we have never had two cars, save for the first few months of marriage before someone stole mine (and yes, I’m still looking for that person). Because it actually *was* my father’s (and previously grandfather’s) Oldsmobile. I kid you not.

    There have been a number of years we have had no car (including now). Not super-convenient (depends on where you live), but even when people try to give us a car, we are very careful not to just accept. I won’t belabor car-free lifestyles here (plenty of other places online devoted to that and a biking/ped lifestyle), but suffice to say we are almost always more content. Even if I had a million bucks lying around, a car and a big home would be last on my list. I think an iPad2 might be first – for the children of course (ahem!).

    The key to a small home is having enough outdoor expansion area. Honestly, we could live in 800 square feet if we had a nice wrap-around porch or swinging love seats outdoors. Sitting inside is a downer. Having recently moved from Florida to Colorado, I think a smaller home presents a smaller expenditure on heating and/or cooling. It’s not that I’m cheap; it’s that I’d prefer to spend money on something else – anything else – than enriching the power companies.

    It’s also nice not to have to wonder where your own children are even when they are inside your own home. We recently checked out a home that had more corners and hallways than the catacombs of Europe. It was “small”, but you couldn’t hear or see 90% of the home from any given position. Some people might call that privacy, but I think privacy is what you have away from society – not within your own family. (Well, to a degree… my wife still thinks I’m nuts for wanting to remove bedroom doors and just have a true open floor plan).

  11. tina lemna says

    Congratulations! We went from 3500 sq ft to 1000 sq. Ft. 2 years ago and couldn’t be happier. Also just sold Tim’s jeep so we are a one car family. So freeing! I’m 52 years old and wish I had embraced this lifestyle years ago.

  12. Cathy says

    Congratulations on the move and finding what works for you! Though we are in the process of minimizing, we would still like a slightly larger home when we move (dare I admit that?)…mainly a family room. Overall, our family of seven does fairly well in our 1260 sq ft but a little more space would be nice as the children grow and acquire hobbies and musical instruments.

  13. says

    SLOWLY. This message should be introduced to the mainstream media slowly. Anything that burns too brightly too quickly is just as quickly extinguished and forgotten. Plus, slowly returning to and revisiting the concept is the way to make it stick in the big cloud-mind.

  14. says

    Congratulations. It is inspiring to watch your life of minimalism “grow.” As for the mainstream media, don’t go after their attention. They’re too finicky. Besides, they pay attention to the people that lots of other people are paying attention to. So just keep inspiring lots of people.

  15. says

    As a professional organizer, I too have noticed how difficult it is to get people to accept the idea of minimalism. They seem to understand that they have too much stuff, and it weighs them down. But there’s always an excuse to not take that next step. It’s not laziness. It’s fear. When you pull away all the stuff and you’re left with nothing but yourself and the people around you, you now have to define yourself and your relationships with something deeper. People are afraid to go there, because maintaining healthy relationships and living a balanced life takes more courage than hiding behind their stuff. What they don’t yet understand is how much more fulfilling it is. I haven’t figured out how to sell that yet.

    Congrats on your new home.

  16. says

    Congrats! We slashed our square footage in half last year (and eliminated our mortgage completely) and it has been one of the best decisions we have ever made. It feels great to actually USE all of the space we have, and I love having an excuse for why we can’t bring tons more stuff into the house. The only problem now is that I’m totally ready to go smaller…. : )
    Thanks for the great post!

  17. says

    Yes, how do we get more people to see how freeing living in a smaller home is? I wonder that all the time. I write a blog and try and get the message out that way. And we live relatively small (now renting an 800 sq ft flat for a family of 3) so I hope we’re an example to other families we know. I guess that’s the way to start. Be the change and hope it manifests in those around you.

    So I expect to see a lot of minimalist chatter in AZ now that you’ve moved there. =)

  18. Aaron says

    Ride my bike to work daily. Best shape of my life, more time when I get home to not worry about when I will exercise because it happened on my way to and from work. Living simple has many rewards. And frees your mind of unncessary burdens. Have enjoyed your blog since June.

  19. says

    Congrats on your big move and welcome to the Southwest!

    I just sold my 1600 sq ft home in Colorado to move to a flat in Israel. I’m in transition, so not overseas yet, but I’m looking forward to a smaller space for all the same reasons everyone has mentioned.

  20. LA says

    I love it – we realized that we had some large spaces in our house that were unused including a huge, beautiful playroom our son didn’t want to play in because it was too far away from the kitchen and living room where we spend most of our time. We are going to make a kitchen/dining room/living room out of the the space and an apartment with the old kitchen/living room/dining room and the space above it for a bedroom. With less stuff we need less space and by renting out part of the house we will not have to work or clean as much – thus spending more time with our family. I can’t wait to move into our smaller space!

  21. says

    That is great! It is so freeing to go through the process of downsizing. We went from 3900 to 1900 sq. ft. over the summer and we are a family of 5. We looked at many houses and some real cute smaller homes that we considered. 1900 ended up being a good size for us. Our 3 children are 10 and under, we had to keep in mind that one day they would be teenagers and we still wanted to have a house comfortable enough for them and their friends to hang out.
    We sold tons of “stuff” before we left. Now that we are all settled in and know hoe we are going to use the space I am going to start going room by room and simplify more!
    I hear Arizona is wonderful, will be there next week for a conference. looking forward to checking it out!

  22. Bobby says

    Congrats on the downsize and move! and welcome to the beautiful Arizona desert!! My wife and I live in AZ and we recently moved homes to be closer to her work. Now she is only 3 miles from her work instead of 32! While we still have 2 cars (for now) it is definitely nice to not have to rely on both and to be able to ride our bikes to stores, etc.

  23. Kelly says

    I greatly enjoyed this message, Becker. I will certainly be encouraging Mark to consider the same when we plan to a buy a home again in the future.

  24. says

    Congratulations on your new home, Joshua.

    We moved into a smaller home last year and are very happy with our decision. We too reduced the number of cars that we own as well. Having less is certainly rewarding.

  25. Joy says

    Congratulations! Our current home is 1,700 sq ft and felt smallish when we moved in. Now, after two kids and paring down our stuff, it–oddly–feels enormous. We hope to be even smaller soon. We’ve also been a one-car family for the past 8 years (most days, no one uses it). My husband rides his bike to work, and many things with kids are walkable–one of the fortunes of living in the city.

    Enjoying your blog very much!

  26. says

    About ten years as my children grew up and left home, I downsized to a smaller living space in a very expensive Forbes *most expensive zipcodes* list neighborhood in a beach community. The house I have now has a mother-in-law apartment that I have had no problem renting. I can’t even begin to tell you how much stuff I got rid of, not only when I moved, but in the 10+ years since. I live on an intermitently busy street, but because of the way the house is situated, I can get by with no curtains which gives the house a spacious, open feel. I replaced my heavy 1930′s furniture with light weight vintage rattan from a used furniture store. Almost ever week I try to further reduce hidden clutter with a trip to the Salvation Army–I’ve long since gotten rid of the obvious clutter. I have no front yard, but the upper level of my split level house opens onto a hillside which I have landscaped with low water, low maintainence native plants. Instead of a gardener once a week, I have a landscaping service come every two or three months. Best of all, after 9 months on a waiting list, I was able to score an electric Nissan Leaf that came with a free charger installed in my garage. It is well worth the limited range to be able to *refuel* my car at home. Also, it requires less maintainence than an internal combustion engine and along with the convenience of free parking priviledges at meters in the city where I live, the overall result has simplified my life immeasurably.

  27. Annie says

    We are a family of 7 and live in 2000 square feet. I want to go down to one car but haven’t been able to yet. My husband buses but he still has to drive to the park and ride… alas.

  28. says

    We just recently moved from 3300 sq.ft to 2300 sq.ft. We have six children. This is a good size for us, and I honestly found the bigger house too much to take care of. We didn’t need it. The layout is what is important, and this smaller home actually suits our needs better because of the layout. We spent half as much on our smaller home than our last one. We are intentionally making our way to a mortgage free life, and I know we’ll never regret it. I’m enjoying your blog and books!

  29. says

    I’m so happy I embraced minimalism while I’m young. I go to college now and don’t have a lot of stuff. Therefore I don’t have the problem of having to get rid of a house full of things. And I hope to keep it this way. Hopefully in the future, I can find someone who also embraces minimalism.

  30. Tiffany C. says

    We are about to move out of our 1,500 sqft. home, into a 1,200 sq ft. home, renting. There are 7 of us, my husband and I, and our 5 children ages 10 mos. – 8yrs. old. I loved your positive list of having a smaller home! Our move is out of necessity, but any move is an opportunity to purge. And I am excited to cleaning less! And pick up fewer toys! Thanks for the realistic, positive info.!

  31. LL says

    Welcome to AZ! The key to these small one floor houses is the great porches, front and back. In the North, even with snow on the ground, we can sit outside in the sun all winter. Our doors are always open and we love the wildlife. It’s all about being outdoors. The house is a place to shower and hang your walking stick!

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