Money Mic: Why My House Was Too Big

Money Mic: Why My House Was Too Big

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?

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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