Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Three Years In: A Retrospective

That's right, I am three crazy years into our Living Small experiment! I thought this would be a good time to recap some of our life lessons, our wins, and what we would do differently if we were starting anew.

It was December of 2014 when we finally made the move to our 750 square foot house, with a toddler, a cat, and a baby on the way. We had a kitchen and a bathroom remodel mostly done, the deck finished and fenced in, and some minor touches on the interior and exterior to tidy up. After months of yard selling, trips to Goodwill and big and small decisions over what to keep, we boxed it all up and shoved it in a van and drove north to the mountains. [For your reading pleasure, start from the beginning of our downsizing project here.]

In three years, we've settled in. We've practiced living small. We've gotten rid of more stuff. We've made some changes. We had a baby! We lost the cat. We've learned and grown with each shift.

When one of us gets sick, (almost) everybody gets sick.

Living in a small house with two young children attending school means lots of illness going around. An open floor plan in both levels of our house means shared space and shared germs. As hard as we try, many times it hits us all. I think this will get better as our kids get older, but I do sometimes wish we had a separate room for quarantine. Lots of vitamins and hand washing here!

Private space means private time.

When someone wants their space they actually have to pick a time. I get alone time early in the morning or late at night (and that's not unusual for a mom with two kids in ANY size house any way!). My husband gets space when the kids are at school. Our daughter gets space when I read to my son on the couch. It's totally doable, but something to keep in mind for small house living.

We don't need to shout to be heard.

Of course, that doesn't keep the three year old from yelling! But living in a small house means we can have a conversation just about any time. There's no wandering around to find anyone. It gives us all extra chances to practice the art of communication.

We spend a lot of time outside.

In all seasons, we're playing outside unless the weather is bad. And by bad, I mean pouring rain or subzero temps. We've found a home at the local nordic center and fell in love with skiing, so the winter breezes by for us with lots of fun adventures shared with friends. Find an outside activity you can enjoy and you'll have no problem living small!

We still have too much stuff.

People give us things. Our kids grow out of their clothes. Occasionally we buy something we don't need, though we've gotten better at this by talking through almost every single purchase we make. When I'm out at the grocery store and see something I think would be useful, I text my husband a picture and ask. I still regularly go through our belongings and find things we don't need, and I still have to make lots of decisions about what to let go of, though it's not as intense as it was.

Having friends over means one at a time.

Okay, maybe not one friend - just one family at a time. In summer, we can hang out in the backyard and grill with as many people as we can get to join us. But when the temps drop, so does the size of our guest list. I sometimes miss big parties (remember our February whiskey parties pre-kids!), but I wouldn't give up all the benefits of small house living just for this. And small gatherings give us more time to actually chat and catch up with friends. I'd choose quality time any day!

We paid off our debts.

Except for our mortgage, we were able to pay off all our debts. Woo hoo! Any time we had extra money, two-thirds went towards debts (highest interest rate first). We used our income tax refund, too. Last November we celebrated our last debt payment by making a deposit into our savings account! And, just in case you think we're not having enough fun, we splurged on a bottle of wine.

We all love our house.

Seriously. When we travel, our kids look forward to coming home. Any time we leave, even for the day, it's bittersweet. We truly love where we live. Some of that is because we're happy in our cozy house, and some of that is because we're happy that our house is in the beautiful Adirondack mountains. Whichever way you spin it, we're happy.

Now What? 

Now that we've got some small living experience under our belts, what in the world is next? Good question. Well, we've got a new idea...

Our focus has shifted from downsizing our stuff and moderating life as a small family in a small house to working towards financial independence - sometimes known as FI or FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early). Because we're not spending money on stuff we don't need now, and we're not paying to live in a big house, we're hoping it will be pretty easy to set aside a good portion of our monthly income towards our future.

I've been exploring blogs and podcasts and websites and listening to other's experiences so I can work out a plan for us to Save, Save, Save. I've always been passionate about personal finance, and I'm really, really excited to share this next stage of Living Smart as we venture down this new path.

The Big Question

Okay, so I know what you've all been waiting to ask me, because you're thinking, "Is it worth it? Is it fun? Can you really live in a small house with kids and be happy?"

Yes, yes. Yes!

I can resoundingly say that this experiment has been successful. Because none of us would trade what we have now for a bigger space or more stuff.

Our munchkins in Denmark

Case in point: we lived in a bigger house this spring during a work trip to Copenhagen, where my son and daughter got to share their own room. Want to know what happened? Yup, that's right. They didn't want it. They barely even played in it, and they definitely didn't sleep there. They wanted to be outside, or inside together. It was awesome!

If you're thinking about a smaller house or downsizing, here's my best piece of advice: GO FOR IT!