Heidi and I have been talking about simplifying our lives for the last few years. I can’t tell you how many conversations we’ve had that started off with, “We should sell all of our stuff and…” or “I wish we could just get rid of our house and….” I mean, I feel like we had done a pretty good job getting rid of a lot of superfluous shit and did the best we could to curtail new purchases. But, we still lived in a 2500 square foot house and, consequently, had more space and things than we really needed.

Around the beginning of the year we started having serious conversations about “walking the walk” instead of just “talking the talk.” The “We should” and “I wish” conversations gradually turned into “Let’s actually….”

So we contacted a friend of ours who’s a realtor and put our house on the market. We figured since the housing market was on the rise we might as well see if we could get a good price for it. If we did, we’d dump it and figure out our next move. If we didn’t, we’d stay in the house and keep enjoying it since we loved our house/neighborhood and didn’t really have to move. But after a couple months on the market, we got a good offer from the right buyer and entered escrow.

OK, now what? We had decided we didn’t want to buy a new house right away because we weren’t really sure what we wanted. We had even toyed with the idea of moving away from San Diego in the somewhat near future and didn’t want to get locked into anything. We tried to find a house or condo to rent, but the rental market was hotter than the housing market and finding a decent place, at a reasonable price, was turning out to be really hard. Since escrow was a ways out, though, we had some time to keep looking while we started to pare stuff down.

In short order Heidi became a craigslist power-broker and started getting rid of a lot of things that were either redundant (I mean, who needs two couches?) or just too big/heavy (armoire!) to move. So we started the “massive Swanson sell-off.” And, honestly, it was pretty fun. We had a fire sale/yard sale and got to meet a lot of different people while we made deals with them. After a couple weeks of wheeling and dealing, our downstairs was basically empty. Now we just had to find the right place to move into.

Empty downstairs

Empty downstairs

As I mentioned, finding a nice house or condo rental that met our needs wasn’t going to happen so we started looking at apartments. The first place we called had an opening, a garage, and allowed cats. No in-unit laundry, but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. After waiting as long as we could to make sure escrow wasn’t going to fall through, we signed a one year lease on a 950 square foot apartment in Encinitas.

The whole point of this exercise is to get rid of shit so we can move into a smaller place and live a simpler, richer life. Paraphrasing the Minimalists, “It’s not about less, it’s about more — more time, more money, more meaning.” With that in mind, I was pretty set on 1) not using an external storage unit and 2) moving ourselves. I’m dead-set on #1, but I’m not sure how strongly I feel about #2 (like everything, I’m sure there are exceptions). That said, part of me thinks that if you can’t move yourself, you probably have too much stuff. So we pared down even more and when we were got the keys to the apartment, started the move.

We made a bunch of small trips with our car, which took a lot of time because we only have one car. But, Heidi was able to get most of our small stuff moved over and set up during the week. We rented a truck from UHAUL on a Saturday and started moving our big stuff in the morning and were done by mid-afternoon. It was a long, tiring week, but it felt good to have moved things on our own and we probably saved a few hundred bucks doing it ourselves.

We’ve been in our new place for a few weeks now and things are going really well. We’re still adjusting to apartment life, but it really hasn’t been as big of a change as I had expected. It sucks not having an attached garage, but we’re working around that by keeping our frequently-accessed bikes in the apartment so we have easy access to them. The kitchen is a little small, but we’ve gotten creative using the space we have.

Kitchen extension

Kitchen extension

Bike rack

Bike rack

We haven’t used our dishwasher since we moved in — it’s now being used to store our pots and pans rather than wash them. And we don’t have a microwave (aka science oven), which is working out a lot better than I had thought. I was expecting we were going to have to rush out and get one right away, but we just use the oven to heat things up. It takes a couple minutes longer, but we don’t really notice it. Which in many ways is the theme of downsizing: there are some things you miss and it takes some time to adjust. But overall, your food tastes as good. Your showers are as hot. Your bed is as soft. And you still have your essential “stuff”. Our life isn’t any worse because we don’t have a formal dining room. Or his and her offices. Or a huge closet filled with clothes we don’t wear. Or vaulted ceilings to make our house hot in the summer and cold in the winter….

We’re saving about $2000 a month by living in this apartment. I’m commuting to work by bike 3 days a week (30 miles round trip) and, since I work from home one day a week, that means I only have to ride my motorcycle to work 1 day a week. We’re biking to the YMCA for swimming (1.5 miles) and Heidi is biking to get groceries (.5 miles) and to volunteer at the shelter (2 miles). I’m not sure how much of a tax hit we’ll take by not being able to deduct our mortgage interest. According to our tax guy, we should still be well ahead, but we’ll see how that goes next April. At any rate, it’s making a ton of sense financially and is giving us the opportunity to keep our car parked and use our bikes more for transportation.

Some people probably think we’re a little weird for willingly trading in the big house for a little apartment. I guess I don’t have too much to say about that — different strokes for different folks, right? By all accounts we have a pretty amazing life right now and I don’t think either one of us feels we’re being deprived of anything. We’re definitely playing the game while thinking ahead a few moves. So with any luck, this whole experiment will help us reach our goals sooner. But it’s really more than just getting us closer to retirement or financial independence or whatever label you want to put on it. It’s giving us the opportunity to live a life less cluttered, which is worthwhile in and of itself.


2 Responses to “Downsize”

  1. todd on July 17th, 2014 6:00 am

    Wow, great job and inspiring for the rest of us.

    I was wondering if you would end up in a yurt :)

  2. Heidi on July 17th, 2014 1:39 pm

    Great post Matt!

    Todd – don’t count out the yurt or better yet, sports mobile, for the future!