Money Mic: Why My House Was Too Big

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Money MicPeople have a lot of opinions.

In our LV Moms Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion about family and money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, A. Ince discusses her decision to downsize her family from a large, spacious house to a more modest-sized one. This decision was purely by choice, not at all driven by financial need. 

Growing up, I often heard phrases like,  “A man’s home is his castle,”  “Home sweet home” and “Home is where the heart is.”

With these thoughts deeply embedded in my subconscious, and without even really thinking about it too much, I developed a clear vision of what my “home” was supposed to look like. The vision always started in the kitchen–over-sized with marble counter tops, stainless steel appliances, an enormous island and a picture window/breakfast nook. Forget about the fact that I hardly ever cook.

Of course, my vision also included would-be guest rooms and two distinct home offices, one for my husband and one for me. The fact that we are both professionals who work largely outside of our home was irrelevant.

Other must-haves: A mudroom, a finished basement, a TV room, a play area for the kids and a sizeable backyard.
Given this vision, why are my husband, our two daughters and I currently living in a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium with an average-sized combined living/dining room, a small kitchen, a small home office and no yard whatsoever … and absolutely loving it?

The answer’s simple–this home has all we really need.

The Way We Used to Live

Let me start by saying that my husband and I are both professionals with well-paid jobs. We have two elementary-school aged children and we are used to frequently housing guests. We love to host dinners, and we do quite a bit of relaxing and hanging out in our home.

Luxury vs. Necessity?

How do you determine what is a luxury and what is a necessity in your life? Would you consider downgrading your home for something smaller?
DISCUSS

We can afford to buy “more” house, and we’ve actually done so in the past. We used to own a five-bedroom house in the ‘burbs, complete with the eat-in-kitchen, rec-room basement and two-level back deck. After that, we moved to New York City and lived in a modern, 4-bedroom, 4 ½-bath condo with lovely river views and a very large living room with ceiling-to-floor windows.

Don’t get me wrong. We enjoyed living in both of those homes. There was plenty of space (though much of it was seldom used), and lots of intricate details that only come with large and expensive homes, such as the spa-like bathrooms, exotic wood floors and high-end kitchen cabinets. But all that space meant twice the cleaning. Neither my husband nor I have green thumbs, so we also had the wonderful expense of hiring a weekly, round-the-year gardening service. Of course, despite having the service, we still ended up with a shed full of gardening tools.

Why We Changed Our Minds

Larger houses mean more furniture, more TVs, an extra computer for the guest bedroom, extra towels and bedding … you get my drift.

About three years ago, amidst all of this housing largesse and expense, we had an “Aha!” moment after flopping down, exhausted, for the umpteenth time on the couch after a day-turned-into-week of spring cleaning.

We didn’t need that much house … or that much stuff.

The way our family works, we all ended up in the same three spaces, over and over again, using the same tried and true items, over and over again. In fact, at any given moment of the week, you would find us:

  1. Sitting around the dining room table to eat, do homework or read the newspaper
  2. In our bedrooms sleeping
  3. In the living room watching TV

In the end, what we really loved about these homes were their great neighborhoods–not, as it turned out, the mudroom or the spare bedrooms.

How We Got Duped

In part, we overbought because the whole house-buying process begins with a banker telling you what you can theoretically afford, with little attention to all the other sizable year-in, year-out costs that accompany a home purchase.

Then, real estate brokers almost immediately shift your focus away from the “what you can afford” numbers that are in your head and start pushing you toward the options you “could” buy if you stretched a bit.

All of this takes your mind’s eye off the real issue–what do you really need?

A Smaller Home Has Saved Us Money … and Time

In the end, many of us end up buying a house we can’t truly afford, or one that’s more than we need, or both. A smaller home, as my husband and I have both happily discovered, often means paying less in utility bills, gardening costs, roofing repairs, property taxes and home furnishings.

We have also been amazed at how much time is freed up when you have less home to tend to, not to mention the financial savings. Our monthly mortgage payment alone decreased by around 28%.

Sure, the kids have occasionally lamented over not having their own rooms, or will talk about their friends who have dedicated play rooms and how they wished they had one. But in the end, they understand that their parents really think it is important to be happy as long as your needs are provided for, and that we love to spend whatever extra time, energy and resources we have traveling with them, being involved in all their after-school activities or simply spending time reading or playing board games … rather than cleaning house.

Now, to me, that truly sounds like a home sweet home.

A. Ince is a NYC professional who loves to hang out with her husband and kids, enjoys traveling, reading and watching “period-piece” movies and TV shows, and who is addicted to reading magazines on her iPad.

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  • Val

    Great piece! And so true. Though I do covet a yard for my dog :)

  • Brenda

    I love this story!! We live in a house that is smaller than what we can “afford”, but we made that choice and love it. Some of my friends have large, spacious homes, but for me, having a smaller home has allowed me to pay extra on my mortage every month, and we will have our house paid for in less than 6 years. That security is un-describe-able. Not to mention the freedom we will have once we no longer have a morgage. I am so glad to know that someone else thinks like I do!  :)

  • http://twitter.com/Smecksie Melanie Carek

    One thing that I don’t think will be a happy ever after is two girls sharing a room. Sure, they’re in elementary school now, but just wait until they start wanting their own privacy (teenagers!). I am all for just about everything she mentioned in this article besides the girls sharing a room part (and…). Another thing I am not for, is my husband and I are both hobbyists of sorts. I paint, make jewelry, scrapbook and work with TONS of materials and tools for DIY projects. We need a whole separate room dedicated to my and his ‘projects’. These are things that make our work worthwhile. I also feel like having a back yard is important. Not just for scenery. I would want to teach my children to grow a garden and tend it… and taste the literal fruits of their labor. I am not a paranoid person by any means, but I do think there are certain things that children should grow up learning and actively trying in their developmental years. I have no idea what the future holds and it might not be pretty when it comes to food. It’s too bad that they are being cut off from all of that.

    • nkdeck07

      Tell that to our mothers and fathers who grew up sharing their bedrooms often times up until they moved out of the house.

      • Smecksie

        There were many times that my mom told me about having to share a room with her 3 sisters (and her 3 brothers also had to share a room together). She also mentioned not getting along with her oldest sister. And often times she would sleep on the bathroom floor to keep away from her and get up before anyone else in the morning so she wouldn’t get in trouble. Some kids get along famously… but I don’t think I should have to revisit my thoughts on two teenage girls sharing a room and how hectic that may become. In my life, I’d rather live without that drama and not even offer it a breeding ground.

  • Mrainville

    I agree with everything A. Ince said!  I have a friend with an 8000sf home, and I’m amazed at the wastefulness of it.  How can you keep an eye on your kids and what they’re doing when you have 3 levels of home?  They have a huge media room where the kids hang out by themselves.  Much better for the kids and parents to pile onto a sofa and watch TV together.  And some of my favourite moments are when my grandson is sleeping over – my husband and I are in bed, our grandson is sleeping on an air mattress on the floor next to us, and our dog and cat are sleeping in their favourite corners.  Heaven!  And don’t worry about a yard for your dog.  Our 100lb dog lives in a 32nd floor condo with us, and is far happier and better socialized going out for walks and meeting other dogs and people in parks, than she ever was being in a fenced backyard all by herself.  Small is better!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.heartsill Lisa Heartsill

    I think the point here is assessing your needs and finding a home that meets those, rather than buying into what someone says you need.  And, of course, assessing what’s truly possible given circumstances.

  • Sjdemo

    is there anyway i can email this to me from three years ago? i love our house, but it is way too big. while we did buy under what the bank said we could afford, we bought way too big for our needs. i’m already planning for our next smaller home, with no guest room, no media room, no huge yard, but i’ll plant herbs instead of flowers for landscaping, and lots of container gardening for veggies, and i’m forgoing the office for a multipurpose table with a couple drawers that can be for crafts, laptop use, or homework.

  • Robin

    This article is really refreshing. Thank you. It makes me appreciate my “small” home.
    One day I saw a architectural magazine with a front page ad for its article about decorating “small spaces”. It turns out it considered a small space 1900 sqft!! Who are they kidding? Puh-leez!!!