Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Living large by living small

I always chuckle when I see that commercial on TV for a retirement investment fund when they ask, "Will you be able to keep your same standard of living after you retire?"  *gasp*  I wonder, "Why would you want to?"  Why would you want the same big 'ol house that you raised 3 kids in when you're down to just two empty nesters?

K and I  (mainly I) realized this about 7 years ago and sold / gave away most of our "stuff", a prelude to downsizing our living quarters by 2/3.  Things were surprisingly easy to part with.  Our furniture was very high quality, but it had no sentimental value.  Over 30 years I had collected a 400-500 volume library, and I just assumed it would move with me.  But then K pointed out that if I don't re-read them or use them for reference, they're just 500 dust catchers.  Good point.  I kept a few special volumes, but then got rid of the rest.  Now I buy (mostly) e-books.

We found a 2 bed / 2 bath apartment in the Shops of Legacy, an upscale residential / restaurant / entertainment district in Plano (a north Dallas suburb) which also not by coincidence was just 1 mile from K's work, and just 2 blocks from a freeway that took me straight to my work.

We were super excited....until we signed the lease, they gave us the keys, and we opened the door.  "OMG", we thought.  "What have we done?"  The place looked tiny.  

Our house had a 24' x 36' Great Room, and this apartment had a den less than half that size.  But as we moved in and started to put our remaining stuff away we found we had more than enough room.

You have to learn to think in 3 dimensions.  It isn't just about "floor space", but about vertical space, too.  These days TV's are only an inch thick and can hang on the wall.  Stereo speakers are the size of Rubick's cubes and can fit anywhere.

The Container Store has the perfect sized see-thru storage boxes to fit under beds.  Their larger boxes can be stacked to the ceiling in a corner of the closet with out-of-season clothes, then switched twice a year.

Those dead spaces high above washers/dryers can be utilized with Elfa style shelves and clothes rods.  No space goes unused.

Downsizing includes furniture, too.  Two people don't need a huge dining table with leaves and 6 or more chairs when a simple drop leaf table will work just fine.

And as we settled in more it got even better.  The grounds were beautifully manicured, the trees were perfectly pruned, fresh flowers were always being planted, and I didn't have to do any of it.  Hungry?  Bored?  Just a 2-block walk took us to Bishop Street, a 6-block-long strip that offered 25+ eateries, a multi-screen theater, and several adult beverage establishments.

Something around the apartment need maintenance? The A/C filter need changing?   I just fire off an email and it's fixed.  They even change our light bulbs.  No joke!  And time NOT spent doing chores around the house left us more time to enjoy....well, life.

But eventually we found some of our old habits returning.  We would impulsively buy something, play with it a few times, then relegate it to the spare bedroom / catch-all room.  We once again had too much space.  We decided to downsize yet again, this time to a newer, nicer, but slightly smaller 1 bed-1 bath apartment.

My giant oak roll-top desk and tall file cabinet went away and were replaced by a smaller, more efficient style desk and file box (kept in the closet).  I'm fascinated by efficient things.  I love this multi-purpose furniture (link).  (Wait for the top video to load.  It's very impressive.)  It's meant primarily for those tiny Manhattan apartments, but I can see using some of those tables in my house.

I recognize that downsizing isn't for everyone.  If you have a large brood and your house is their assembly point or you have lots of out-of-town company, you're pretty much stuck.  And you have to be willing to check your ego at the door.  This lifestyle won't impress many.

But if you'd rather spend your time golfing, playing tennis, cycling, or painting yet another picture of a tree (if those are your thing) vs. worrying whether you'll land that big client and get that sorely needed bonus, it's a nice way to live.

We've cut our housing expenses by 50%, even after figuring in the tax advantage of owning.  I'm not saying we'll never own again, but if we do, it will have to be a small townhouse or condo, one where everything outside is maintained by someone besides me.

It's a great lifestyle that I will never give up.  Smaller is good....unless you want to build a giant 6,000+ sq ft house.  Then I'm your builder.  Call me.  *wink*



  1. It's called addition by subtraction,

  2. if getting rid of all that high quality furniture was so easy .... why did it take me 7 years of harassing you to get rid of that damn couch ;0)


    1. That wasn't for sentimental reasons. Just the thought of tossing out $2500 gave me a sphincter pucker. ;)

  3. You've inspired me... I just found out I don't have to go into work tomorrow. Guess what I'll be doing!

    As far as the size of our house goes, I wouldn't mind something smaller. But I like our house, we do have visitors occasionally, and it's paid for - we might as well keep it for a while. What gets on my nerves is clutter and unnecessary stuff - and it's been sneaking in while I didn't pay attention.

    I watched the video about the multi-use furniture. You know all those movie scenes when the man and woman come busting into his apartment, tearing the clothes off each other, ready to jump into bed and have hot movie sex? It just wouldn't be the same if he says, "But first, let me move this out of the way, turn this, open that, and then lower the bed..."


  4. That looks like really well engineered stuff. Murphy beds rock.