In Praise Of... Downsizing

Just a few months ago we moved into a smaller home. With three bedrooms, the new place isn’t tiny but it is considerably smaller than what we had, and has much less storage space.

Now the move is over and we have managed to draw breath, it turns out that what we thought was a downside of downsizing was actually a major benefit.

We sold our house by mistake. About a year earlier we decided that we were ready for a move after close to 10 years in one place. So we put the house on the market, and focused our minds on “where next?”

Looking around locally, in Sydney’s inner west, we soon found that there was nowhere on the market as good as where we were. So, after a few months we took the house off the market and considered renovations instead. Six months later (and still unrenovated) we were overseas when I had an unexpected call from our real estate agent: “Someone found the old advertisement for your house and wants to take a look. Can they?”

There was a remote flurry of activity. Our youngest daughter tidied the house very well (a new skill), the buyers had a look through, made an offer, increased the offer, gave us settlement flexibility and finally made an offer we simply couldn’t refuse. So we accepted it. Inevitably, our opportunist daughter now wants a commission on the sale.

Finding a new house became a priority with an absolute deadline. We started looking farther afield and chanced upon a smaller place we both liked in a suburb we hadn’t previously considered. While the house was smaller (and there was much less storage area) there was more garden, plus a lawn.

Now we’re here and look upon the move with overall satisfaction. We learned a lot. Here is part of what we now know:

  • Buddhists believe that attachment is the root of all human suffering. That knowledge is practically useless.
  • When you have finite time to pack an infinite amount of stuff, you will find it less than helpful if your partner relates the virtues of a Japanese man who, in true Zen spirit, owns only 150 items.
  • Once the kids have largely moved out and are quite independent you make different housing choices. This new home is for us, not the family.
  • Throwing out things is eventually cathartic and liberating. At the time it’s just stressful and awful.
  • An unexpected joy of moving is that you have a chance to review your whole life, item by item, box by box.
  • Whatever space you have will be enough for everything you need. That seems highly unlikely on the day of the move.
  • Putting stuff in storage for a finite time is worthwhile – when you revisit those boxes you’ll wonder why you once regarded the contents as essential. However, don’t store and forget: that’s simply a waste of money.
  • Everyone has advice on how to de-clutter, but eventually it all comes down to three piles: essentials for the new house, items to throw out or give away, and items to store until you thrown them out or give them away.
  • A smaller house is more manageable. I don’t mean that in a mobility sense (though eventually it may be that, too). But you don’t have to balance everything to get from one end of the house to the other in one trip – another trip is just a few more steps.
  • Just as important as going smaller: you also need to have a level home with level access as a priority if you are planning on growing old in your new home.
  • It’s nice not cleaning a room you haven’t visited since the last time you cleaned it.
  • Moving is expensive – add a bit more to the budget to buy items that fit well in your new home rather than trying to make the old furniture and decorations fit.

So here we are in our new home. It feels like a permanent holiday discovering our new suburb in our own city. The new house fits us well.

Now the only stairs are the ones at the end of the street that lead to the beach; the garage is no longer a dumping ground for unwanted coffee tables and broken tools; and the cupboards hold only things we wear and use. The ‘some-day, one-day, might use’ stuff has found a new home with various kids, relatives and friends - and with our new best friends, the generous souls at St Vincent de Paul (good luck with the Porsche Design wine cooler).

Best of all our lives feel lighter.

Have you moved to a smaller home? Tell us your story below.

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