Our family of 5 downsized our house by over 2,000 finished square feet and it saved our marriage, family and finances. Here's the full scoop!

How Downsizing Saved My Marriage, Family, and Finances.

Over the last few years I have shared a lot about how our family made the decision to downsize our house by 2,000 finished square feet. We did this with 3 kids living under our roof even though we knew it went against the conventional American Dream. In all fairness, we had all but achieved the standard American Dream only to realize we had been chasing all of the wrong things. That’s why in 2015 we made the decision to sell our house and downsize into something smaller and more affordable. After almost 7 months on the market, we were finally able to officially downsize in 2016. Our hope was to create more time, money, and energy to focus on what mattered to use the most. Each other. Here’s how it went.

The dream house reality

When we moved into our 3,400 square foot home in the neighborhood we had always dreamed of living in, there was something inside both of us that said, This isn’t right. My voice was more of an intuitional tug and my husband Tom’s was more of an internal dread at the idea of upping our mortgage by $700 per month. Not to mention the unplanned phantom costs (a term I did learn about until years later).

To avoid fighting and in an attempt to make this a positive transition for our family, I went into people pleasing overdrive. I made sure the house was always clean, that the kids were fed, and for good measure I started working more hours to make up for our now more expensive lifestyle.

More space = more cleaning

Not only was I working harder, and hustling more, but I was met with more daily household tasks and less energy to do them. At the end of a long day I was met with more rooms that had toy clutter, more spaces to clean, and less time to do either.

The glamorized idea of having a lot of square footage, multiple living spaces, and each kid in their own room quickly came screeching to a halt when I found myself having to spend hours each day just trying to keep up with the ever-growing mess of daily life.

More room = more room to grow apart

On top of working more, and constantly up-keeping the house, we were slowly losing sight of one another. Our oldest daughter, Destiny, who was 13 when we moved in, spent most of her time hidden away in her new, basement bedroom.

At first I brushed this off as typical teen behavior and to an extent I was right. The truth that I wouldn’t come to realize until after we downsized was that being a teen can be tough and being further away from the rest of us made it easier to keep her problems all to herself.

Not only was I seeing less of my daughter, Tom was also coming home stressed out every day. For almost a year I did my wifely duty and tried to plaster a smile on my face in order to avoid him being short with the family. It didn’t work. After a year, I gave up and that’s when I began to contemplate a different kind of life for all of us.

Our family of 5 downsized our house by over 2,000 finished square feet and it saved our marriage, family and finances. Here's the full scoop!

Weekends became another workday

The biggest change that took place after moving into our dream house was the additional time spent working on the weekends. When I wasn’t taking on additional photography clients, or shooting another wedding, we were working in the yard or updating the house.

In our previous houses, we used to spend our free time together. Laughing, watching movies, and, well, enjoying one another. Now it seemed like there was always a more pressing matter to take care of. Part of this was due in part to Tom’s stress-relieving (or stress-ignoring) habit of always staying busy. His anxiety was telling him there was more to be done, and because I was trying to make him happy, I followed suit.

Not to mention the fact that when you live in a perfectly curated neighborhood filled with green lawns and well-trimmed trees, you can’t help but feel the pressure to keep up with The Joneses.

Present vs. presence

In the mix of the chaos, I began to see that I was rushing myself and my kids more than ever. My nervous system was going haywire and it was as if I turned every day into an emergency. We have to get out the door, right now! This house is such a mess, it has to be cleaned ASAP!

Even taking a shower and having sex became an additional chore on my to do list. The one indulgence I allowed myself was taking a nap with my little ones during their daily nap time. As a stay at home mom I wanted more than anything to be present enough to watch them grow up and I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing it all.

In order to help slow my constantly rushed state, I worked to pause little moments like nap time. It was as if I felt I could slow down time enough to make those precious moments last a little longer. While I’m thankful for this practice, I wish I could have extended it throughout the day. This is why after we downsized our house, I worked to implement slow living into my life.

Our family of 5 downsized our house by over 2,000 finished square feet and it saved our marriage, family and finances. Here's the full scoop!
Napping in their box fort. (We had plenty of room for that)

Money struggles

Because I was working overtime and now had my own in-home studio, my photography business was doing great. I was booking events, weddings, and on-site photography for families. Our financial situation had never been better. However, I didn’t understand one important truth about money: If you are in the habit of over-spending, you will continue to over-spend no matter how much money you earn.

Money Thermometer

The concept of a Money Thermometer was first presented to me by Chloe from Deeper Than Money and it’s the idea that we all have a certain comfort level with how much money we have at any given time. This is similar to how we all have a certain temperature we prefer in our homes.

At the time, my money thermometer was set to $0 — I didn’t pay attention to my finances until my bank account hit absolute zero. That means, no matter how much money I earned, I was always in a hurry to spend it. I was comfortable with $0 so I energetically continued to push money away until that $0 was achieved.

Spending vs. Budgeting

At the time, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of budgeting our money. After all of our bills were paid, and we still had money leftover. After that, I stopped paying attention to how our money was spent and didn’t budget for a single dime after that.

I didn’t take into account that we spent more money than just paying our bills. I would openly ignore things like, groceries, entertainment, gas, kids sports, and field trips. There were so many areas of our lives where we were spending money, but weren’t planning to spend it.

This left us always feeling shocked when our bank account was low. Of course, when you start to feel financially stressed, there is an internal part of you that immediately wants to spend money. It’s kind of like telling yourself you’re going on a diet and then craving Oreos more than anything in the world.

Shifting my money mindset took a lot of work, and didn’t really begin shifting until years after we downsized our house. In fact, it’s something I still work on nearly every day.

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

What if we sold the house?!

After a year of living in our dream house and having many small revelations like the ones I mentioned, I finally had an epiphany one Saturday afternoon while I was reading. What if we sold the house?

I made my way up the stairs to our bedroom, and did my best to calm the impulsivity in my voice. Tom is someone who thrives on consistency and stability and I knew if I made this sound like a crazy idea (which it was) he would reject it immediately.

Slowly, I propositioned the idea. If we had less to manage, we’d have more time. If we had fewer financial obligations, we would be less attached to our jobs. We wouldn’t have to stay in work we didn’t love. To put it simply, if we had half of what we currently had, we could almost immediately cut our stressors in half.

The house sold after 7 months on the market and during that time my step dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and our son wound up hospitalized in a life or death situation. More than ever we had clarity about what we really wanted and a big house wasn’t it.

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. Unfortunately, I think sometimes it takes a disatser for us to spring into action and change our lives. When it came to managing money, I didn’t know what I didn’t know but I knew I had to figure it out.

We signed up for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and then went through a second time as leaders. At the time, I was so quick to put my trust in someone who was an expert in their field. I am forever thankful for the money management steps I learned thanks to Financial Peace University. The Debt Snowball will still go down as one of the biggest game changers of my entire life. It even allowed us to pay off $6,000 of debt in 6 months

However, I found the teachings and strict rules were beginning to cause me a lot of unnecessary financial stress. Even though we were making moves toward a better financial future, my nervous system wasn’t doing any healing.

After using Dave Ramsey’s methods to pay off our debt, I followed the advice of other financial books and teachers to learn how to invest, credit card hack, and find balance with my shopping addiction.

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Life after downsizing

As of the time I am re-writing this blog post, it has been almost 8 years since we downsizing our house with our family. Here are some of the things we have been able to do since creating more space and financial freedom in our lives:

  • Build a multi-million dollar investment strategy (hooray retirement)
  • Learned to generate passive income online Here’s how I make money on TikTok
  • Traveled to 20 US states and seen countless National Parks
  • Teach our children financial literacy and investing
  • Start a podcast with over 400,000 downloads in its first 18 months
  • Reach nearly 3 million readers on the blog!
  • Be featured in major news outlets across the globe

I am forever thankful for the bravery we had those. 7years ago to go against the grain of what society say is normal. We have been able to do so many things, learn so much, and grow closer as a family.

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Our family of 5 downsized our house by over 2,000 finished square feet and it saved our marriage, family and finances. Here's the full scoop!

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9 Comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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!!

    1. 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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