How Our Family of 5 Survived a Downsize of 2,000 Square Feet

My husband Tom and I have been married for over 9 years and I never would have dreamed of the journey we would take together. When we met we both had high hopes for life and “moving up in the world.” Finally, one day all our dreams came true and we landed in a house in the neighborhood we always dreamed we’d be a part of. We had the house, we had the location and then we slowly started to fall apart. In order to save our marriage, family, and finances we knew would need to downsize. This is the story of how our family of 5 survived a downsize of 2,000 square feet!

Where We Started

Before we moved into “the big house” we had been living contently in a nice sized townhouse.

I wanted more room for an indoor photography studio (although my current one was working just fine).

Tom wanted more yard to mow. (Yup. For real. I don’t get it either).

At the time I was doing photography out of our small basement and I loved the idea of having a big home for clients to come to. Somehow I felt a big, beautiful home would make me seem more “official.”

Living in such a high demand area, the houses were flying off the market and finding exactly what we wanted was tough.

Gradually we climbed higher and higher up our price range until we found a house with more than we had ever imagined.

The Upgrade

Before we even signed the papers Tom looked at our monthly payment and wanted to back out. He couldn’t justify spending so much money each month on a house. 

I knew we would financially be fine because I was doing well with photography and his take-home pay more than covered our mortgage and all of our utilities.

However, knowing he was having second thoughts, I told him we could back out if he wanted (while I fought back tears.)

We were both already burnt out from house hunting and were already living temporarily at his parent’s house. I just wanted a home again.

So…we moved in.

The space…oh, the space!

Quickly I began to realize just how tough it can be to fill up so much space.

There were 4 bathrooms, 4 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, 2 dining areas, 1 kitchen, 1 loft, 1 master suite with a walk-in closet, 2 “storage” rooms and a partridge in a pear tree. But look at those windows.

Downsizing with a family isn't easy, but learning to live with less saved us. See how our minimalist journey and downsizing transformed our family.
We were so happy when we first moved in. But, it didn’t last long.

What Went Wrong

Tom complained daily about the house. I would just roll my eyes. He is a complainer by nature.

I have learned that he just takes a while to adjust.

Some days he loved the house and he was happy to tell everyone where we lived. It was definitely a status thing.

For both of us.

There was an awesome feeling behind people “oooing” and “ahhhing” over how much space we had.

Downsizing with a family isn't easy, but learning to live with less saved us. See how our minimalist journey and downsizing transformed our family.
Our last photo in the big house.

It got old

As more people came to see the house, we were always giving tours and the tours felt like they went on forever. I started getting tired halfway through.

Each tour felt as if it was excessively long and felt almost snobby. Little did I know this was the start of our minimalist journey.

Our marriage suffered

A year went by, then 2 years and Tom still didn’t adjust. He kept complaining. Our marriage suffered. We spent a year barely communicating. I honestly didn’t think we could hold on much longer.

The clutter was overwhelming

I started feeling suffocated by the stuff piling up in our storage.

None of the decorating I wanted to do seemed important anymore.

I started reading self-growth books and began realizing how much importance I had been placing on the material things in my life. So I started downsizing.

We had no time

Maintaining, cleaning, fixing up and renovating the house took up all of our free time it seemed.

Weekends were spent with our whole family…fixing up the yard.

Weeknights were spent picking up toys from 11 different rooms on 3 different levels.

Don’t even get me started on the snow storms we moved into. Our previous townhouse had an association that took care of our driveway in the winter. We figured we could survive the first winter with just shovels…even though we had a 9 car driveway.

Then the worst winter in Minnesota history happened (or at least it felt like it.) One day I checked the temperature and Antarctica was actually warmer.


Tom and I started communicating.

I listened to the concerns he had had for the last (almost) 3 years.

As a wife, I respected his opinion. Financially we were doing ok, although we were still throwing money away on irrelevant things. But how much better could we do if we lived with less? Way less.

How much more could we do with our lives? We started dreaming about where we could go instead of what we could have. I dreamed of less mess. Fewer rooms for my kids to trash….we wanted to be as minimalist as we could.

I was burnt out on the accumulation photography required and I wanted Tom to have the flexibility to do things with his life that he truly wanted without the obligation of the mortgage of a big home. So, we listed our house.

We listed it for 3 months. Took a break for Christmas, and then listed it again. In March 2016 we accepted an offer and prepared to move after 9 months on the market!Downsizing with a family isn't easy, but learning to live with less saved us. See how our minimalist journey and downsizing transformed our family.

Cleaning house

There were so many things to get rid of. We had exactly 5 couches in our house. Yeah, definitely didn’t need all those. We cleared out props, chairs, couches, anything that was excess. We didn’t get rid of anything we would need because we weren’t going to buy any new furniture when we moved.

Our plans for the new house

  • We would make it instantly feel like a home
  • No unnecessary purchases would be made
  • The big mortgage reduction would be used to pay off debt. —We paid off 2 student loans, our car, credit card and are just finishing up our last loan debt. See the full story here.

Moving in

Our family found a house in the same city as we had hoped. The finished square footage was exactly 2,000 square feet less than our “big house.”

Yes, there was an unfinished basement and I wanted most of that space to stay available for the kids to ride their bikes in the winter.

If you live in Minnesota an unfinished basement is a solid way to stay active year round.

The first thing we did was paint. We painted the main living area, added a few light fixtures and painted the kid’s rooms.

There was a determination to instantly create a cozy, welcoming space.

We never truly felt at home for the last (almost) 3 years in the “big house.”

Where We’re At Now

After 2 years of living in our 1,300 square foot house (and the unfinished basement), our whole family is officially on one level. The kids have toys in the basement, a few storage items and that’s it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if we lost that basement we would be just fine.

Read these posts for more updates:

Here’s what has happened to our family:

  • Our marriage is as close to perfect as perfect can be.
  • We have reduced our monthly bill payments by $1,500!! WHOA! That sounds insane when I “type it out loud.”
  • I stopped doing photography and started a profitable blog (I can work from anywhere!)
  • We were given the flexibility to homeschool our youngest kids
  • Vacations don’t go on the charge card
  • Our debt is almost completely gone
  • We realized our oldest daughter’s deep struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. –Had we not moved, I truly think she would have continued isolating herself in her basement bedroom and I don’t know where we would be today.

I save that last one for last because it’s the one that weighs the heaviest on my heart. She misses our big house, or at least she did. Having her own room and bathroom in the basement was a teenage dream. I hope someday she’ll see that smaller quarters allows her dad and I to open our eyes and see her more.

Downsizing saved our family and I believe possibly our daughter’s life. It just goes to show, bigger is not always better.

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Downsizing with a family isn't easy, but learning to live with less saved us. See how our minimalist journey and downsizing transformed our family.