Two families tell Yahoo Parenting what it’s really like to downsize to a much smaller home. (Photo: Karen Swanson/Evan White Photography).
Instead of losing lots of stuff (including her sanity) downsizing from a 3,300-square-foot house to a 1,200-square-foot home with two children, Manchester, Massachusetts mom Karen Swanson tells Yahoo Parenting that her family has gained in every way.
“My kids are happy in this house,” the single mom says of the cottage, profiled in the Boston Globe on Sunday, to which they moved in the same town last Spring. “Our other place was too big. I’d spend half a day cleaning and wouldn’t make a dent. Now, there’s less to take care of so I have more time to relax. I’ve never had more time to just sit with the kids and do something with them.”
Post-move, her children, Paige, 13, and Charlie, 9, share more with her and each other too. “I spend a ton of time in the kitchen, always picking up from our last meal or getting ready for the next,” she says. “But the kitchen in our other house was completely separate so I’d never even see them. The kitchen here is very close to the living area and my son is interested in cooking so he’s always around telling me about his day and asking me, ‘What are you doing? How do you make that?’”
The boy’s questions sometimes get on his older sister’s nerves, admits mom, but his joking, which flows just as freely, cracks up her daughter much more now than it did before when the teen wasn’t around to hear it because she’d fled to another part of the house.
The Swanson kids today (Photo: Karen Swanson).
“Sure there’s annoyances, but in general there are far more positive as we all get to know, see, and appreciate each other,” says Karen. If someone’s upset, there’s nowhere to hide, she adds: “So honestly I feel like they get along way better now. And I’m much more present.”
Transitioning to tighter quarters isn’t for everybody, though, Karen is the first to admit. “I’m very organized,” says the kitchen and bath designer, who runs her New England Design Works business out of the home and planned the house’s storage in detail as she oversaw renovation of the property prior to move-in.
Swanson’s bathroom was designed to maximize space. (Photo: Karen Swanson/Evan White Photography).
“I’m a clean-as-you-go person, so that’s why a small space works for me. If you aren’t used to putting stuff away or like to let things pile up before you deal with them it’ll be more difficult.”
Then there’s prioritizing wants from needs. There is ample closet space in their 3-bedroom abode but Karen says the family still gave up clothes and shoes. “If I was part of a couple and I had to share the space I’d probably have to get rid of half my stuff,” she admits. “You have to be willing to keep what you’re really using.” The kids’ art projects and baby clothes that she’s not willing to part with yet, for example, are relegated to hard-to-reach attic space. “The only things we keep out,” she notes, “are things that we use all the time.”
Another family preparing to make the move into tighter quarters this summer had an even more extreme pare down. For financial reasons, Jamie and Kelly Rye chose to sell their 3,400-square-foot home in Ohio and move into a 400-square-foot abode that they’re having built for them and their 2 kids. “It forces us to live with less and be much more intentional and thoughtful about what items we do choose to surround ourselves with,” Kelly tells Yahoo Parenting of the downsize. “We don’t have the option anymore to keep things around ‘just because.’"
Their children Jonah, 5, and Jane, 2, needed a bit more hand holding than Karen’s due to their young ages but Kelly says that her little ones are adapting well so far. “The process of paring down their stuff has gone much more easily than I expected,” she says. “We’ve worked hard to involve them in the process, so that they would feel some ownership of the house, by asking what they’d like their room to look like. We found that explaining that some things had to go, and that they were to keep only those things that “sparked joy,” helped them to grasp the concept more readily.”
The mom confesses she’s “sure there will still be days when I will want more ‘space’ either because I’m feeling frustrated or upset.” Yet she has a strategy to deal with it. “We plan to utilize our outdoor space so much more. So rather than disappearing to a bedroom to cool off, I’ll instead take a walk outside.”
Family therapist Paul Hokemeyer tells Yahoo Parenting that it’s smart to have a system to deal with the feelings that come from not only moving but the initial stress of dealing with new physical constraints. “When a family moves into a smaller space they will have to negotiate a heightened reactive state,” he says, adding that anxiety could last 90 days into the transition. After that, he says people’s adaptability will likely kick in and make things easier.
“We possess the capacity to acclimate to just about any situation, but the ease with which we acclimate depends upon our unique personalities,” he adds. “To successfully negotiate any issues that might arise, parents need to get a clear understanding of how each of the family members may respond and come up with a concrete strategy to address these reactions proactively.”
Approach a downsizing as a way to reach a united goal, and articulate why you’re making the change, he advises. “So if the goal is to save money, each family member needs to see how they stand to benefit from the savings. Will the savings provide for their college? Will it help mom and dad work less and spend more quality time with them? Leave as little as possible to the imagination.”
Pretending that it will be a smooth and conflict free transition “is Tom Foolery,” says Hokemeyer. “Bumps will arise in the journey, but the key to successfully transitioning is to recognize these feeling will pass and to keep an eye on the end result.” And just think: family meetings will be easier to coordinate if you’re all sitting in the same room together, for example, after dinner. Keep in mind, too, wisdom from one woman who has been there. Karen swears, “There are so many different ways to accomplish living happily in a small space.”