Feb 14, 2014

Going Small

Update:  We did move into the 640 sq ft home

My husband and I have gone through quite the journey together in our marriage.  Our first apartment was a small attic with two bedrooms with slanted slopes.  It was a smart choice for us as it was only $350 a month and it was close to the university where I had one more year of school.  The only problem was that for the first time in our lives, we came face to face with the need to deal with all of our stuff.  In addition to the generous wedding gifts we received necessary to starting a new home, we each had our own stash of collectables from our childhood.  By the end of that first year, neither of our parents had any of our possessions left in their homes.  Furthermore, we knew we would up-size soon so we started buying furniture when we found stuff we liked on thrift. It was starting to get very cramped.

So, we did what most Americans do, and looked into buying a home.  We found one we liked, and moved into a 2200 sq ft, 6 bedroom home.  We both liked it, but for different reasons.  In his mind, it was an investment that we could cash out on.  In my mind, I want a big family and we would never outgrow it.  We both spoke of our reasons, but didn't internalize them.  While living there, we accumulated more stuff and saw our dreams of home ownership fade to the realities of grown-up life.  The housing market crashed, and our house had a mold problem.  During that time, my husband and I were chosen to represent our congregation in a financial planning pilot course which helped us take a step back and look at the big picture.  We realized that we couldn't afford that home and we needed to downsize.  We paid a pretty penny to fix it up and were blessed to find a buyer.

Our next home was a two-bedroom townhome of about 1200 ft.  We downsized and fit quite nicely.  The best part was that our housing expenses, including utilities, were about $300 less a month.  After about a year we paid off the debts we had taken to get out of the house.  We did some math.  What if we had lived in that townhome the whole time instead of purchasing a house?  The combined savings of the home improvements like a new roof we made, with the mold repair, as well as adding the extra we had paid in housing costs by living in a home larger than we needed, would all add up to more than $40,000.  In 3 years.  What would you do with that much money?  Coulda Woulda Shoulda.  While it was gratifying to see that we somehow had that much money to loose, seeing as we stood with a clean slate with good credit and a healthy family with our needs met, by golly, we wanted to do better.  We really loved living in the Yorkshire villiage, not just because it was a beautiful place with good neighbors, but because it was a place where we were living below our means.

From that time I started researching economic living.  Overall I was attracted to the idea of living small.  I found sites like tinyhousetalk.com, and thetinylife.com.  I watched dozens of YouTube videos featuring small housing solutions and I fell in love.  The only problem was that all of these individuals were either single, a couple, and occasionally a family of three or four.  We were a family of 5 and growing.  Were there no families living small?  Ultimately I did find a couple of bigger families in smaller homes, like Life in a Shoe and Large Families on Purpose.

Then I discovered http://fulltimefamilies.com/.  Indeed, there are many, many families living full-time in small quarters.  These families weren't the architectures of the stylish tiny houses I had seen, but rather were families who had found a new sense of freedom, not only from mortgage debt, but also the freedom to travel.  Their children were gaining an education not available any other way.  Golly, I want to live in an RV!  These families have made their RVs their home, and some of them have had very cute makeovers.  Take for example this, this, or this one.  I was also happy to find bigger families like the Ticknors and the Kelloggs.  This isn't crazy!  People are doing this, and they are thriving.  I started dreaming, and I am convinced we'll be a part of this movement someday.  It's perfectly compatible with Michael's dream of being an internet marketer.

But not today.  End backstory.

Today, we find ourselves recently transported into sunny California.  Michael has a new job, and we have been house hunting.  California housing laws are not exactly large family friendly.  Well, technically, it's the housing code that suggests 2 tenants per room that so many have taken to heart that isn't family friendly.  Apartment complex personnel assured us it was against the law for our family of 6 to be in a 2-bedroom apartment, but what the law really says is that it is reasonable to set a limit of 2 per room, with one room allowing an additional person.  So up to 3 can be in a 1 bedroom, 5 in a two bedroom, and so forth.  So here I am wanting to live smaller, and we initially landed in a month-to-month 3 bedroom apartment with way more space than we need.  My kids are little.  They wouldn't be comfortable in a room by themselves.  We've got a triple bunk bed that they love.  We put our bed in one room, the kids in the other, and let the master bedroom be a playroom.  There is no furniture in the living/dining area aside from a couple of folding tables.  We knew we didn't want to be here long term, so this last month we've lived with the basics.  The place feels huge, and it's so expensive compared to Logan.  Ahh!

As we see this move as a 1.5-2 year change, at first we thought we would live in a nice RV and save money as even a campground fee and RV payment would be considerably less than what we were paying for housing.  We even found a great deal with the perfect layout for our family.  We would love an Eagle 5th wheel 31.5FBHS.  The quad bunkhouse in the front is so charming.  We almost bought it, except, where were we going to park it?  We ran into the same problem as before- the local campgrounds have a strict occupancy limit of 6- all ages counted, no exceptions.  In a month we'll be a family of 7.  Further out the options open up and the campground prices go down, but I don't want my husband to have to commute that far.  While I was very disappointed that the RV dream was put on hold, the process of shopping for one, of touring them in person, confirmed to both of us that this is something in our future.

Meanwhile, the apartment we are in now wants to raise our rates considerably.  It's run by a crazy computer system that the nice staff are helpless to work with.  Long story short, the year-lease we could have paid $1550 for last month would be $1875 this month.  We're moving.  Even with a baby due so soon, we're moving.

Annndddd, we're probably going to move into a 640 square foot home next week, assuming the walk-through after the tenant moves out goes well.  That will have to be a post of it's own, but I wanted to give a little backstory, with my dreams of small living, before I shock everyone with this radical downsizing we are about to undertake.  In truth, I'm excited to make it work, and excited to save money in the process.  Michael has a good job, we are not being forced into this life.  This is something we are choosing to do.


Shian said...

I think you are fantastic! You don't buy into the more, more, more culture. I bet your kids will grow up without feeling entitled to everything as so many do. :)

I have been meaning to thank you for the moby wrap. I had no idea how much I would love it! It is just what I needed to manage a 2 year old and a newborn (something I was very worried about).

I'm excited to see your next cute, little guy.

Wolfwind said...

Congratulations on your move! I hope you want to be congratulated. :-) My family lived in SoCal when I was in college; it was the best place on earth to vacation!

And I really admire your dedication to living small. We have a three bedroom, 1400 square foot house that is perfect, but everyone tells me that it's just a "starter" home and there's no way I can fit my family in it when they're all teenagers. It's hard to buck the trends! I hope to do it successfully.

We'll never go the townhouse/RV route because my husband and I are really into self-sustainability, so though we want a small house, we want a large yard (at the moment we have two goats and six chickens and a garden, and we want to add meat rabbits and beehives and more garden space as time goes on). But I really admire those who do live small. I can't imagine your family of 7 in 640 square feet. Please share how you do it! I could use some tips!

Mary said...

It's kinda weird but I would go for small house.I'more comfortable with it.

Urie said...

For meit doesn't matter how big the space is, I want to love in clean and safe neighborhood

the Powell's said...

I've had the same feelings. We are in a 1500 sq ft home, which is certainly not tiny, but we intend to have a few more kids (along with the 4 we have) as well. It's nice to stay small.
I have this saying on my wall and I LOVE it! "Love grows best in little
houses, with fewer walls
to separate. Where
you eat and sleep so
close together, you can't
help but communicate.
And if we had more
room between us,
think of all we'd miss.
Love grows best in
houses just like this."

Good Luck with your adventure and new baby!

Tamsyn Spackman said...

I love that poem! Thank you for the words of encouragement, everyone. The move and birth went well and things are settling in. :)

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