When ‘Less Is More’ Really Works- Downsizing Our Life

by farrah on January 2, 2013 · 27 comments

Our house in South Carolina wasn’t huge. At least for three boys, two huge labs and their parents. It WAS huge, however when it was just my husband and I when we first bought it. The South had a pretty attractive housing market for buyers back in 2006- we ended up with a 2400sq ft. five bedroom/three bathroom two-story home on about a 1/4 acre that was about 4 years old. I remember thinking ‘I will never fill this house up with stuff!‘.  But boy, was I ready to try. It’s taken a while for me to see the whole ‘downsize and declutter’ thing really is better…

Old house (top), now house (below)

housesc

house

Slowly I accumulated all sorts of treasures. I filled up each room and it started more and more to feel like a home. The only issue was that all of the space wasn’t exactly conducive to being used- and this lesson would ring even more true once we started having kids. Sure we could block off areas for them to avoid- but we then entered the land of baby gates and never went back. I loved our house, but at the same time I don’t exactly pine away missing it. It was a bunch of unusable rooms that just filled up with junk.

Here’s what our living room used to look like:

livingroom

Here’s what the ‘living room area’ looks like now:

lr

Fast forward to today. When we decided to move to Europe, we knew that we would be downsizing. Everything was going to be smaller- from the bathroom to the size of the washer and dryer. Goodbye master walk in closet! Ha- make that goodbye ‘master’ bathroom too for that matter. Our new rented home is about 1,000 sq. feet less than our old one and yet I feel that it suits us and our family of five better than that old one ever did. (You’ll see me harp on this over and over again in House Hunters. My hope in the editing process is that I don’t come off as a ‘spoiled American’ but as a person genuinely interested in a lifestyle change. Who knows though- that might not be good for ratings…) Besides, the main reason we came here is to travel. Why fill up a house with stuff if you’re not going to be there to enjoy it?

We now have three bedrooms and a storage third floor that can be used as a guest room. We have one upstairs bathroom with a shower and a separate tub- while there is a 1/2 bath on the main floor with the tiniest hand sink on earth that only runs in cold. My kitchen no longer has a big island or wrap around cupboards and countertops with a nice double sink. But you know what? That’s all ok. All that extra space meant nothing but more stuff. Stuff we didn’t need. Stuff we didn’t use. Stuff that wasn’t necessary.

Tiniest sink on earth:

sink

I didn’t bring 6 sets of sheets for our bed, in fact we now have two for ours and there’s only one extra twin for the boys should they need an emergency change in the middle of the night. I will admit that I am a total towel-whore in that we have far too many bath and hand towels as well as wash cloths. There’s no upstairs laundry room (gah! what a luxury that was!) but I’m lucky to even have a laundry room and although I miss my cloth diapers- my hope is that we are soon going the way of not using them anymore so a smaller washer and dryer is a-ok with me. Sure I might do laundry daily- but here at least I actually put the clothes away and don’t let them pile up in the hallway.

I gave away 12 champagne flutes, 8 red wine glasses and 8 white wine glasses as well as a dozen coffee mugs and pots and pans I never used. I now have two coffee mugs, a few drinking glasses, and four wine glasses. We have four plates, bowls, and salad plates as well as four sets of silverware. The boys also each have two plates, cups and flatware. A far cry from what I used to own- and took up space in my cupboards. I thought I would be missing all of those things. Not so far.

This is a shot of 1/4 of our old kitchen (above) and the now kitchen (below). Our old kitchen had cupboards that wrapped around the entire room above and below- and a fridge with huge French doors. Things went in there to get lost and die.

kitchen

kitchen2

Not to leave out one of the biggest changes of all- we’ve gone down to one car. And this car isn’t exactly a nice roomy mini van with four captain chairs and a nice big trunk. The car is used with some miles on her but we rarely drive anywhere. It’s freeing and although I miss the space I’m also not sure what I would put in it anymore. It’s not like our fridge (or storage areas) could fit the huge grocery runs we made once or twice a week. Sure I go to the market and the butcher on a daily basis, but what’s wrong with that? My food seems ‘fresher’ and I don’t have clutter, clutter everywhere. I am rebuilding my spice and seasoning stash- but that’s ok. I didn’t use 90% of the things I had anyhow.

Of course.. the people who scored the best are the boys. They now have a huge playroom with awesome windows and a killer hardwood floor. This is only part of it:

playroom

I should come clean here and tell you that although we’ve shed so many things on a daily basis- we do still have a storage unit back home filled to the brim with things like china, miscellaneous furniture items and keepsakes (nothing to qualify as a huge score on Storage Wars). The point is though- that on a DAILY basis we are using less. We need less. I feel like as we head into a new year this is a good change for us and one that I would like to keep going. Life isn’t about what you accumulate along the way, it’s about the people you’re with and the places you see.

I hope that you find some inspiration to make a change in your life for the better this year if that’s what you want to do. It can be a little intimidating to jump into a new way of living at first, but if you really, really want to ‘be the change’ then DO IT. A fresh slate is good for all of us, and it doesn’t have to be resolution- worthy.

Tell me, do you have any changes on the horizon? Is there an aspect of your life that you want to improve upon?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Danielle January 2, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I love cleaning out at least twice a year. We have a small house and wouldn’t be able to manage if we didn’t.

For 2013, I’d like to be able to tolerate my in-laws, now that they are my children’s grandparents. They can drive me nuts!

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2 farrah January 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I didn’t clean out enough. So much crap. I fear that unless we move somewhere there will never be another big purge!

That’s also a good goal for 2013. They should be thanking their lucky stars to have a wonderful DIL like you though 🙂

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3 Stephanie January 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I like a big house with not a lot of stuff, which is what we have. I’m not an accumulator. I’m a serial cleaner-outer. That said, I’d (I’ll play the spoiled American for you) like a bigger house with about the same amount of stuff (our finished basement is completely empty — okay, maybe a little more stuff). We have 4600+ sq ft now, which is ludicrous, but I still feel we’re missing essential elements (I guess structurally). I guess I’m one of those people who needs “space” to feel at peace. Though, I was happy in my dad’s 600 ish sq ft beach house. And we were happy living in a hotel for a week while our house was being worked on. I think we adjust to whatever circumstances happen upon us. The bottom line, though, is if we have everything we need (inside ourselves and with family), we can be happy.

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4 farrah January 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Big house + space is nice! Ours had an awful layout. There was an office/den off the foyer, a dining room, a bathroom, bedroom, living rom & kitchen- all in alike a big circle and all of the rooms cut each other off. There was the open vaulted ceiling which wasted space we could have used upstairs. Now that I see how much ‘more’ we can manage with less- I am really intrigued at what that might be like once we come back. I am sure about one thing- and we WILL be getting a gas guzzling SUV next time.

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5 Stephanie January 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

We have a stupid 2-story foyer/family room, too. WTF? So we have the side of a large room just hovering on the ceiling, creating echoes, noise, and me having to turn the heat on more often than I should have to. It doesn’t even look that pretty.

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6 Ashley @ Freckleberry Finds January 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I want that playroom!!

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7 farrah January 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I know right?!?!?

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8 Kiley January 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Can I move to Europe so I can declutter too?! Oh, how I would love that. That reminds me…I should get rid of those 30 mugs I have sitting in my kitchen cabinet! I love this post….and I can’t wait to start purging now….! This means I get to come visit…..right?!

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9 farrah January 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm

K I have your guest room waiting for you while you search 🙂

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10 Jamie January 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Love this post, Farrah! I am trying to de-clutter our house; I can’t believe what I’ve accumulated.

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11 farrah January 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Thanks Jamie! Honestly- it adds up before you really get a chance to realize it. We were there only 6 years. 6! I couldn’t get over the stuff we still had- some in boxes in the attic!!

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12 CK January 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Isn’t it freeing?! When we moved to Switzerland, we went from a 4-bed/4-bath house to a 2-bed/1-bath flat that was just over 700 sqft! You really do end up realizing how much stuff we don’t really need. Many of the Europeans we met are very utilatarian and tend to spend their money on experiences. Our experience of living abroad made me purge so much when we moved back to North America (was too lazy to sell the stuff as it was so much easier to donate). Of course I kept my china and other key/sentimental items. Other than food, clothes, and toys, I don’t buy much ‘stuff’. Although… I still believe in buying paintings, especially those from the places we’ve been.

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13 farrah January 2, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Ooh. I like that idea. I have been racking my brain trying to think about what should I collect? We used to collect magnets- but that can easily get out of hand- and here, as you see, we do not have an exterior magnetic fridge. I like your idea of a painting. But probably not a Picasso 🙂

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14 Kristin January 2, 2013 at 11:26 pm

When we lived in Brooklyn, the four of us were in just under 700 sq ft. And while I love having stretching space now (and a yard! oh! outdoor space!), about a quarter of our house is rarely used. I would love to have an “excuse” to get rid of that full set of unused dishes from my parents (but it’s from their wedding!) and the utensils that just stand at attention, never used. But I always think “What if…?”

And I hear you on going shopping every day or two for fresher produce and protein. When I lived in Spain, it was a daily ritual to shop and check out what was available. Also, no wine glasses. Wine and tea and even coffee was served in the same small tubular glasses. Another bunch of stuff that only gets used once in a while. We use the same two wine glasses of each type over and over and over.

An inspiring post!

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15 Malia January 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Congrats on your move! And I’ll be sure to watch out for your House Hunters episode, I like that show.

Downsizing is something I’ve had in mind for awhile now and I’m really hoping to declutter our home this year. There really is just too much “stuff” in our lives.

Looking forward to following your European adventures, best of luck to you!

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16 Danielle January 3, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I love the idea of downsizing. My husband and I are considering it as a way to taller debt. But I believe that conquering clutter is something that must be maintained. I frequently go around the house and purge out what I am not using. I wish you much success in your new European adventure and I look forward to hearing more about it.

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17 Ana Emerson January 3, 2013 at 7:29 pm

This one hits close to home. My husband and I have been constantly moving and downsizing since we got married—every time we move we can say goodbye to more stuff.

We’ve moving to France soon, and our “this is what we need” collection for us and our 18-month-old son can fit in our car (with us in it). Our goal is to trim it down to 4 pieces of luggage. Of course, we’ll be renting a furnished place once we get there. It will be interesting to see what comes with our apartment—electric can opener? Doubt it.

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18 farrah July 18, 2014 at 8:32 pm

How is it going Ana?!

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19 Julie January 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm

We involuntarily downsized, of course, when we lost everything to the hurricane but I honestly think it was one of the best things to happen to us.

Our house now is teensy tiny, three itty bitty bedrooms and one bath, and four years after starting over with nothing we once again have TOO MUCH CRAP.

It’s a sickness, I tell you.

Your new place is gorgeous though. It has character.

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20 linda@adventuresinexpatland.com January 8, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I’m with you, Farrah, on decluttering, downsizing and getting out of the ‘acquisition-mindset’ that is pervasive in the US. Most of Europe (the world, actually) lives in less space with less ‘things’, and it really is freeing. Since we knew we’d probably be here for 5 years to get both teens through high school, we were able to sell our embarrassingly large house knowing that we’ll buy something smaller for the next phase of life when we return. It had been our dream house so I while I don’t regret selling it or living in a much smaller footprint, I will be honest and tell you I couldn’t think about it for the first year here for fear of shedding a few tears. Now the only thing I miss is trading in a dream kitchen for a miniscule one, but that’s okay, we make it work. The slower pace of life and focus on family time has been so much more than worth it.

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21 Ann August 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm

We have a tiny apartment here and we use every square inch. But, I still feel like we have too much stuff we don’t need. I’m on a decluttering mission myself. I don’t mind getting stuff that I use. I hate having stuff I won’t.

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22 Anika July 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Wow… I’m amazed.

You are five people – three of them (little?) children – and you live in ~ 1400 sqft?
That’s 130 qm! That’s huuuge!
We had less than 100 as a family of four and failed to fill all of it, lol 😉

Then again, we were “European” to begin with… right now I’m living alone in ca. 14 qm/150 sqft and not missing much.

I definitely like your new house better than the old one.
I would not be surprised if you decided to downsize a little more in a few years 🙂

By the way, I always find it very strange to hear Americans talk about “Europe” or “Europeans”. What’s that supposed to be? Bosnian? French? Swiss?
I guess most of the time it’s British, because of the language and cultural non-gaps?
Not that I’m offended, it just sounds really weird to me 😀

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23 farrah July 18, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Anika! No, we had 2400!!!! square feet of useless space. I can’t even imagine it now. I was honestly ok with going to a 900sq. m place here, but we just found a new (old) one around 165. I have to admit, I love the smaller space- it feels more ‘homey’ and I hope against hope that we can continue that mentality once we go back. Thanks for stopping in 🙂

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