Over the last few years I have shared a lot about how our family made the decision to downsize our house by 2,000 square feet. We did this with 3 kids living under our roof even though we knew it went against the conventional American Dream that so many other people were going after. To be fair, we had achieved the American Dream in a sense and it was only then that we realized we had been chasing all of the wrong things. In 2015 we made the decision to downsize our house and were finally able to make the move in 2016. Here’s the story of how downsizing and minimalism saved our family, our marriage and our finances!
Buying our dream house
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 learned about 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.
Somehow at the end of the day, the toy mess seemed bigger, the to-do list seemed longer, and I had less time to do either. Our oldest daughter, Destiny, who was 13 when we moved in, was spending most of her time hidden away in her new, basement bedroom. Tom was coming home stressed out every day, and I had a smile plastered so tightly on my face, any slight disruption sent me into a rage.
Not to mention the fact that I was overwhelmed at the space of our home and I had no clue how I would fill it. I wanted to make our house feel more like a home, and I didn’t know how to do that other than by buying more stuff to fill the wide open spaces. I quickly began to crave that comfy closeness of the townhouse we had lived in the previous 5 years.
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 thehouse.
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.
Present versus presence
On top of it all, I began to see that I was rushing 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 the to do list. The one indulgence I allowed myself was taking a nap with my little ones. 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.
Because I was working overtime and now had my own in-home studio, my photography business was doing great. I was also booking events, weddings, and on-site photography for families. Our financial situation had never been better. However, I didn’t understand two important truths about money:
- We all have a Money Thermometer
- You need a plan for your money or it will find a way to disappear
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, so matter how much money I earned, I was 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, we had around $1,000 left. (This figure was based off Tom’s income. My photography income was never included in our budget.) I thought that was pretty great and my budgeting practice would end there.
What I didn’t take into account with budgeting was 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 and stressed out as we worked. to build our account back up. The money I was earning which was once “fun money,” was now taking on the role of necessary income.
Losing touch with our kids
It wasn’t until we followed through with downsizing the house that I realized just how much Destiny was struggling. When we lived in our bigger home, she could easily sneak down the stairs without making eye contact or talking to me after getting home from school. Once we moved into a smaller house, she had fewer options and I couldn’t help but pick up on the look of stress or anxiety on her face.
At first I wrote it off as the teen years, but overtime I began to realize there had been deeper mental health issues going on below the surface. It was easy not to see them in the big house when she was literally living on her own floor 2 stories away from us.
More than anything I wanted to be able to devote my time and attention to all of the kids, the three living in the house with us and our oldest daughter who was now in college. When I had so much on my plate, it was hard to find the time to be available to them, and I knew my time was running out.
What if we sold the house?!
After a year of living in our dream house and having many small revelations like these I had an epiphany one Saturday afternoon while I was reading. What if we sold the house? As I made my way up the stairs to our bedroom, I didn’t 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. 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 5 active 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.
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. However, I found the methods and strict rules were beginning to cause me a lot of financial stress even though we were making moves toward a better financial future.
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. You can join my Shopping Rehab program here.
Life after downsizing
As of the time I am re-writing this blog post, it has been over 7 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-6 figure investment strategy (hooray retirement)
- Learn to generate passive income online
- 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!
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.