How Downsizing Saved My Marriage, Finances, and Family

After our family moved from a townhouse into a large 3,400 square foot home we never could have imagined that this big upgrade in life would actually start tearing us apart. Today I want to reflect after a year and a half, get really honest, and break down for you exactly what has changed in our lives for the better since the day we ditched the big house for a tiny “starter home.” Basically how downsizing helped our family overcome depression, avoid divorce, and reunite us as a whole.

Keeping up with the Joneses

We moved into our large 3,400 square foot home back in 2013.

After having lived in the area for around 5 years, we felt like we had finally “made it” by moving into this neighborhood. It was all we had aimed for years. It felt like we were finally successful.

Isn’t that silly? To think a house, an image, represents how successful you are?

Silly as it may be, it’s how we felt and I don’t think we’re the only ones who buy a large home in hopes of improving their status. 

How living larger affected our marriage

When I think back, smack dab in the middle of our time in the “big house,” our marriage was suffering more than ever.

On more than one occasion, I told Tom I would keep fighting for our marriage, but didn’t know how much longer I could go on.

The truth is, Tom’s depression began the day we signed the papers to our new home. He was plagued by the payment but felt like we couldn’t back out and our realtor really wasn’t much help.

No longer a team

I did my best to remain light, cheery and reassuring, Tom continued a downward spiral. Some days he would love the house (it was a beautiful house) and other days he was distant to everyone.

He stopped helping me around the house like he used to.

I know he grew resentful of me. Even though the day before we purchased, I had told him if he wanted to back out, I supported him. There was still a part of him that blamed me.

That was a heavy weight for me to bear.

He grew more resentful of me, the house, and every dime we put into it. 

Unfortunately, many uninformed home buyers fall into a similar trap. There are so many people who are house poor and struggling to get by every day.

Money struggles

My photography business was doing great. I was also booking events, weddings, and on-site photography for families. Our financial situation was doing good.

Unfortunately, we didn’t budget for where any of my photography income should go. Whatever fun or exciting thing we wanted to do with it, we did.

Sometimes, especially during wedding season, I would be getting so much money that I would throw the occasional $1,000 at my student loans. I lived with good intentions, but without any real direction.

The funny thing is, although we were making more than ever, we were also racking up more credit card debt than ever, too! My basic theory was, “We always pay it off so who cares…”

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Charging an entire all-inclusive vacation on a credit card DOESN’T really relieve stress.

How our kids suffered

Amidst all of this, our oldest daughter fell right off our radar.

She was so excited to have a bedroom in the basement with her own bathroom and some much-needed pre-teen/teen privacy. We rarely saw her.

I was quick to shrug it off as “just being a teenager.”

Little did we know, she was falling into depression.

Her anxiety was worsening and she felt majorly disconnected and unwelcome by our entire family.

In our previous house, she was constantly having sleepovers, parties, and bringing friends over.

We knew she struggled to adapt to the changes of having younger siblings, but we had no idea just how much “the big house” was affecting her.

I don’t think she was aware of it either.

We had no idea that living in the house of our dreams would tear us apart. This is the story of how downsizing saved my marriage and family.

The struggle of too much space

I had loved the big house when I first saw it.

Mostly, I loved the windows. They let in so much sunlight and it brightened my days with constant streams of sunlight every morning.

Then I started to think, “Are windows really something I should be putting in front of my marriage?

I found myself wondering how in the world I would ever get enough stuff to fill all the space in order to make this house feel like a home,

The cost of making a house a home

So much space to fill meant we still had so much left to do.

When we were done filling it with stuff, we’d probably start re-doing the floors, put in a fence, a deck, a new shower…the list projects seemed to be endless.

Would I be spending the next 30 years of my life just accumulating stuff and working on a house?

Would it ever feel like a home?

When I began to think about these things, it was like a veil had been lifted and I was able to see clearly.

I knew I didn’t want to spend decades just working on a house, I wanted to have a home.

Realizing the need for change

All the time I had not speaking to my husband or oldest daughter sure gave me a lot of time to read. Thank God.

I read books by Wayne Dyer mostly, books about gratitude, living in the now, and how important life is. Not stuff. Life.

I am currently reading Brene Brown’s book, “Rising Strong” and in it she says it takes one person wanting to change and it can lead to a chain of events that change an entire family’s life.

I felt like that most days.

I felt like if I was happy enough, it would make everyone else happy. If I stayed positive enough, eventually everyone would believe it.

Well, after 2 years of being in the “big house” my attitude and my positivity just weren’t enough. Action needed to be taken.

What is a home?

I wanted a home for me and my family. A place that felt safe and comforting.

The big house hadn’t done any of that. It had only given us more space to distance ourselves from one another.

There had only been one house in my entire life that gave me that sense of comfort, familiarity and peace. It was my grandma’s house.

I spent so much time playing, running in the backyard, and laying on the couch enjoying the sun from the bay window.

That’s what I wanted for my children and it didn’t require 3,400 square feet.

My grandma’s house had been about 900 finished square feet and in those 900 square feet were some of the best memories of my life.

Choosing our marriage

I sat down with Tom one day and I told him, “Let’s sell the house.”

He never had his full heart in it, and it had made him distant from me, the kids and he was even struggling at work.

As a natural worrier, he tried to find every reason why selling wouldn’t work: We hadn’t lived there long enough to gain much equity. It would be hard to find another house in the area. He didn’t like packing. I wouldn’t have the studio anymore… Whatever excuse he could find, I was ready to knock em all outta the park.

I reassured him that any problems that came at us, we would be able to tackle them and ultimately start living a life that we wanted to live.

It can be so scary taking a step toward the unknown. I just knew we had to get out.

Making money changes

One big life change that I have to give “the big house” credit for is changing my idea of money.

There had been no difference between how we spent our money the entire course of our marriage.

Whether we were in an apartment, townhouse or the “big house,” we paid our bills and then did whatever we wanted to with the rest of the money.

After 2 years paying a bigger mortgage ($700 a month bigger) it dawned on me…that whole time when we lived in smaller houses…we could have been saving $700 a month! Instead, we had been blowing cash left and right on whatever new fun thing came our way.

Downsizing the house was the beginning of our Bucket List Budget spending method that we adapted that has allowed us to free up over $40,000 per year, travel more and live with no financial stress!

Reducing the mortgage payment

We lost $700 a month to our mortgage and yet we were still financially ok.

A move to a smaller home would mean getting that money back in our pocket.

You had better believe we would be spending it more wisely this time around! Or should I say saving it wisely this time around?

More money, less work

Getting that money back also meant we had the flexibility to work less. It meant I could put more focus on being the best mom I could. The kind of mom who notices that her oldest daughter desperately needs her help.

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Smaller home, closer family

Moving from “the big house” to our starter home, we did our best to keep our oldest daughter in the same school district.

Her anxiety was already high just transitioning from one house to the next. She didn’t want to leave her privacy, her bedroom, and bathroom and I totally understood that. She was not at all excited about our move. I could tell she didn’t like our new home, but it wasn’t her call to make.

She chose to make her room in our unfinished basement…because the idea of being upstairs with us was just too much torture to handle. (teenagers)

Our marriage

Currently, our marriage is stronger than ever. It pretty much has been since the day we moved into our downsized home.

Intentionally choosing to better our marriage by downsizing our house was one of the best decisions we had ever made. It encouraged us to put one another first and made us work as a team to create a plan to get back on our feet.

Financial freedom

We have so much more financial freedom in our lives ever since we adapted a Bucket List Budget way of living.

There is also freedom from the obligations we had trying to maintain “the big house.” We now have time to spend together because the house is (almost) always clean and there is little work to be done.

Now our vacations are stress-free and we have more of them! We plan for vacations, instead of just charging them.

Our money has a purpose and a place to go. While this took some major getting used to and some serious discipline, it has been one of the most freeing experiences of our lives.

Making money online

During our journey to financial freedom, I also learned how to start a blog so I could begin making money online! Not only did the blog help us get out of debt, but it has created amazing freedom to travel and have a business that is completely my own. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make an income online, you can sign up for my free training that shows you how to get started!

Our family

It’s so crazy looking back on my Facebook photo albums. In the last 2 years there are more pictures than ever before. Not just sitting on our couch either.

We are out and about, we are exploring as a family. We are actually living our lives and we are doing it peacefully and without money holding us back.

Getting our daughter back

I know I’ve put a big focus on our older daughter, and that’s because these last few years have been a whirlwind. I can’t help but see just how big of an impact our downsize made.

In our smaller house, she has been forced to come up the stairs to go to the bathroom. She is forced to interact with our family more.

Before she had a crippling fear of being around us. She felt unloved and not cared for. A big part of that was the distance that was created by having her living in her own little “cave” totally cut off from the rest of us. There is no doubt in my mind.

If you’re struggling

Unfortunately, our story is not unique. Many people face these same struggles every day.

If you feel like your big house is hurting your family or finances, take advantage of some of my totally FREE resources below to help guide you in the right direction.

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  1. Laura @ The Mindful Mom Blographer | 4th Jan 18

    Thank you for sharing your family’s very inspirational story. My husband and I lived in a 600 sq ft condo for many years before my son came along, and I know people thought we were crazy. When I was pregnant with my son, we moved into a 1400 sq ft. house and we got comments all the time about how ‘cute’ it was. During our showing, there was another party looking at the house before us, and as they left they kept telling us how small it is. Personally, I absolutely love it! I would not want to go any bigger because as you implied, bigger is NOT always better. I also liked that you mentioned minimalism is just about keeping clutter and stuff down to where you can focus on things you love. That’s where my family is at as well. Great post.

    • | 4th Jan 18

      Thanks so much Laura. It’s funny I wound up befriending the previous owners of our house. It was their starter home and as they had more kids they wanted to grow with it…which makes sense. It just seems so odd that our home is considered a “starter home” when really it’s everything we need and then some!

  2. candy | 5th Jan 18

    Good for you in realizing how struggling with payment of the big house was effecting your family. Most people buy way to big of a house and are house poor trying to make the payment every month.

  3. Marya | 5th Jan 18

    Thanks for sharing your story with such transparency. I’m still trying to declutter from two decades of family life and understand how much stress there is in maintaining everything!

    • | 5th Jan 18

      Yes. That was also part of it. I’ve lost many family members in the last few years and it was amazing just how much they held on to.

  4. Emily | 5th Jan 18

    This is beautiful and “on point!” Tim and I bought our house 14 years ago knowing I was going to sultan home once our baby was born (I was 5 months pregnant when we bought). At that time we also thought we would “up-grade” in 5 years or so. 14 years and 3 kids later here we are promoting the idea of “keeping it simple” to our kids and nieces and nephews. So many people getting caught up in “more” and having serif issues because of it! Cheers lady….love every word of it!!

  5. Emily | 5th Jan 18

    STAY AT HOME, not sultan????

  6. Brittany | 6th Jan 18

    My husband is a big time spender and I just want to get our of debit. I hope that someday I can bring him over to my side!

    • | 6th Jan 18

      I hope so too! It can be such a tough thing to discuss! I hope you will both be able to find balance soon!

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