“Buy the biggest house you can!” That was the advice friends gave me when I was about to move to Austin from California 7 ½ years ago. Back then, California real estate was going through a record-breaking soar in prices; Austin was just starting to climb out of a slump. I heard more than one story about Californians moving to Texas and buying a bigger house in one cash payment. While I made a good profit from the three years or so I had my California house, it certainly wouldn’t pay for another house outright. Nevertheless, I was able to get a house 30% larger for much, much less than I could ever afford in California, and the yard was at least 300% larger! At the time, it was a good fit. I had teenagers, cats, and soon a couple of dogs.
I still have two dogs at home, but the teenagers are now college students coming home only for visits. The huge yard is more work than I want to do, especially without the teenagers around to help. And though I get a lot more bang for my buck in Austin than I did years ago in California, it’s still more mortgage than I want to pay now that I have college bills showing up regularly in my mailbox. I was ready to downscale and simplify my life. I began to consider what would suit me best as an empty nester. I needed to have some space for the kids when they visit, of course, as well as a yard for the dogs. I have lots and lots of books, so I wanted a study, too. When I began house hunting last spring, I told my realtors I wanted a nice little house with a nice little yard.
It’s easier to imagine living in a much smaller house than actually doing it. My current house has about 2550 square feet of living space, but I figured I could lose at least 1000 of it with no problem. After all, it would just be me and the dogs. Then I started going into much smaller houses and visualizing my life transplanted into them. They felt cramped and smaller than I had imagined. Those older houses didn’t have much closet space either. I began to worry how I would possibly fit all my stuff into houses half the size. How much could I really get rid of? How much of my kids’ stuff did I need to keep? The kitchen that I had considered so large when I moved into the house now had stuff in every single cabinet and drawer. And that dining room table for eight wasn’t going to fit into any of the houses I was viewing. How much of my furniture did I want to sell? I began to reconsider how much house I might need. Then came the fire.
There’s nothing like a fire to help you downscale. It also changes your perspective on what’s truly necessary for you to be happy in a home. After the fire, I had a lot less stuff to worry about fitting into a smaller home. Living in a rental house with very little of my personal belongings for months, I’ve made a conscious decision to replace only what I would truly use. Furniture I’d been keeping with the idea of helping out the kids when they were on their own had been destroyed. I’ll give them money instead. The bread machine, waffle iron, and various other kitchen toys that I rarely use these days won’t be replaced either. My wooden bookcases had been lovely, but they were large and heavy. I’ll wait and see where I end up living before replacing them, especially since a lot of the older houses had some built-in shelves. I started to buy books and magazines that featured small houses and decorating or organizing in small spaces. The idea of living with less stuff in less space seems more doable now than before the fire, and I can imagine myself in much smaller homes more easily. With that in mind, I let my realtors know that I was ready to venture out once again to find a nice little house with a nice little yard.