“Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it.”
~Leonardo Da Vinci
There’s no doubt that for millions of us, housing costs hold the largest percentage of our monthly budgets (To those of you who have paid off your mortgages…I bow in honor of you!). And as the current housing market crisis continues here in the United States, many of us are coming face-to-face with the reality of the devaluation of our homes and possibility of foreclosure. Fear and uncertainty are common place in the hearts of countless families across the nation.
On the other hand, there is also a growing number of individuals who are intentionally rejecting the American Dream of owning a large home as they embrace the Small House Movement.
While both of these examples are extremes, the aim of Day 3 in our 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge is to:
- Consider the possibility of downsizing your home in order to seriously cut living expenses
- Provide encouragement to those of us who are, by circumstances out of your control, facing the possibility of loosing our homes.
Downsizing Our Home
We were once your average family – married, three kids, living in an old house in a cute neighborhood. Yet it’s surprising how much a down-turn in the economy affects average families like ours.
Fast-forward 12 months. Now we are soon to be a family of six, living off-grid in a camper, buried in senseless foreclosure paperwork. In the same time we have met many other families in similar situations through our blog, and we know the economy is affecting enough people that everyone should be making a backup plan to prepare for job loss.
Yet in my research on trends in small home living, I’ve discovered there are generally two groups of people that are finding themselves in a small home – those who are forced into it by lack of resources, and those who choose to because they appreciate the concept of a simple living space and of saving resources.
So that I don’t paint you a bleak picture of our personal situation, you should know that we are really among both groups; while we had no choice but to foreclose on our house, we have also had dreams of building a small, off-grid home in the woods. When my husband lost his job (which was no surprise as his industry is not doing well) we simply had to put our plans into action sooner than we had anticipated.
I tell you this background because I want to make sure that when I tell you how we are saving money by living in a camper, you don’t think we just sold our house, bought some land, and now we’re home-free (no pun intended). No, we are struggling just like most low and middle-wage Americans, but we do have God and family to thank for supporting us during this challenging time.
We have been seeing the economy and my husband’s job security declining rapidly over the past few years, and we decided we needed to do something to cover our butts. First we started a food storage and began purchasing tools and supplies that would help to support us should the unthinkable happen. Then we began to consider many forms of alternative housing, including the depression house we prepared in 2010. After the pink slip, with our last income tax return, we purchased our 31’ bunkhouse camper, did a little makeup job to it, and parked it on family land. After five months of living off our meager savings and unemployment, we voluntarily left our house and moved in to our camper.
Our bills are relatively low now; somewhere around $1,000 per month during winter months, which includes the cost of propane, kerosene, and gas that we use to run the fridge, oven, heater, and generator. Those costs vary with the events (and temperature) of the day, and in the summer months the expenses drop to less than $500. We do hope that once we are set up to run our wood stove in our covered-porch-in-progress we can reduce heating costs significantly.
We are now praising God for my husband’s new job – after 11 months of unemployment he was hired by a company who can use his expertise. The income is less than his once was, but it’s more than the unemployment insurance was paying, and after getting our current vehicle situation under wraps it should enable us to save up enough to build our forever home – a small, off-grid house of course!
Things to Consider When Moving Into a Smaller Home
Living in a camper has enabled us to save money, but if you are thinking of moving into a smaller home for sake of resources, you will still need to consider some obvious questions.
For example, you will need to compare rent or ownership expenses, energy and heating costs, and how you will manage water, sewage, and storage of your belongings, especially if you are moving off-grid for the first time.
The fact that my husband was unemployed before, during, and after our move gave him time to figure these things out, but any move that requires down-sizing or changing your lifestyle requires a lot of planning.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to downsizing and moving off-grid has been the emotional aspect of it. We have adapted well to our small living space, but there are days when I have difficulty being thankful for my circumstances. Living in a camper has been freeing, but it does present its own set of challenges, and our family has had to learn to see this as an adventure; a time of life that we will look back on and say, “those were the good ole’ days”.
After eight months of living here, I’ve realized we have made so many wonderful memories. Despite the job loss, I have no regrets about down-sizing, and I look forward to rocking on my porch swing years from now, relishing the memories of the good old days.
Now It’s Your Turn
Daily Goal: Given your own unique situation and based off of what you have read today…determine your own goal. How would downsizing your home assist you in living frugally?
Download: The 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge Daily Goal Sheet
Connect With The Community: Take a few minutes and head over to the forum. Share your “Frugal Living Daily Goal“, encourage, and support one another.
My husband and myself lived in a small fifthwheel for a time. You really have to be prepared emotionally for it. We are both very hobby interested people and needed to make sure we could do the hobbies we enjoyed for the small space we had. Yes you can save money and it is the best way to do it. All I am saying is that you really need to prepare for it in more ways than one might think. May God bless you and your family.
I totally agree with you! We spent months researching our options for alternative living when unemployment seemed inevitable, and having space for our hobbies was right up there on the list! On our blog I have written posts and made videos about how we organize our belongings so everyone has what they need to feel creative and productive. A camper isn’t for everyone, but a well-planned small home can be rewarding in many ways. Thank you for sharing!
Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents says
We are currently attempting to sell our townhouse, which we just paid off in August. We will buy another home with the money we make from selling this townhouse, so we’re looking for a fixer-upper. Cleaning out our home for staging has really helped us “downsize” the amount of STUFF we’ve accumulated. I don’t think I’ll ever be held captive by stuff again.
This is a great article and you make some fabulous points. Blessings to you and your family!
Thank you, and good luck with the sale of your house and the move!
Tracey @ ControltheChaos says
Fantastic post. We have long been fans of a “not so big house”, to quote a pioneer in the field, Sarah Susanka. When we move back to America, we plan on building a small house. I am trying to convince DH to build an earth bag house! I hope he gives in…
anyway, thanks for the post.
My husband did some research on earth bag houses! I was impressed with many of the interior design pictures I found online. Amazing what you can do with a bit of resourcefulness and creativity!
Diane Balch says
I am so glad that we never upsized. My house was unemployed (working on his own business) for 2 years and we were OK, because we never believed we needed a bigger house just because we could afford it.
Diane Balch says
I meant to say My husband was unemployed. Is there a way to correct a post after it is posted?
You’re ahead of the game, Diane! Being content with what you have is important not only for your wallet, but for your satisfaction in life as well!
I am completely and totally in love with the information and topics on this blog. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!!!!
We are definately in a larger home than we need, but downsizing doesn’t make any sense. We are so close to being mortgage free and we are in a high foreclosure area, so my home value is in the toilet. Since we bought this as our “forever” home, we have made a lot of improvements that I would really miss if we left. Instead I’m finding new uses for the spare rooms that come available as my kids move out. One bedroom is becoming an indoor greenhouse. I will finally have a guest bedroom when we can purge the last few items from my husbands office.
We live in our first home (we have gone from 2 to 4 with our sons) which is 1,800 sqft on a quarter acre lot, built in 1969. We live in an older area of town which has become less desireable over the years, that along with what we owe on our mortgage (though this is our only debt) means that we couldn’t even sell this house for what we owe even if we wanted to move; and so we stay in our cozy little home (for which we are especially thankful for during these trying times) and purpose every inch of our space to be as frugal, selfsustaining, functional, productive and hospitable as possible. We not only live here, but we worship here, fellowship here, school here and farm here. It is small, it is practical, it is functional, it is home; and may God bless all who enter herein.
We are right there with you Joeyanna! Thank you so much for sharing your positive outlook:)
It would be interesting to find out what people feel is “small” Many of us in the more suburban areas forget that 1000 square feet is considered a small palace in large cities. I remember when I moved into my current home (which is 1100 square feet above grade with an additional 400 in a finished basement family room) someone commented that if I had a second child, I would outgrow the space. I remember thinking, what? I have four bedrooms – I may loose a guest room or guest room, but I would still have plenty of space. And really – my guest room has been used as such 3 or 4 times in 4 years! I sometimes feel that we have started buying homes for how we live a couple of days a year, versus how we live the remaining 360 – like dining rooms that sit 20 people for the Thanksgiving we host every other year. It is crazy. I am so happy that we did not jump at the larger “pre approved” mortgage amount (which does not take into consideration any monthly expenses like day care and medical expenses) and bought our more modest home!
We just moved (last Saturday) from a 935 sf apartment to a 1200 sf hosue, mostly because of HVAC issues and we wanted our son to have a yard. It is amazing how much stuff we have that had been stored at my in-law’s house for the past 2 years. While this size house is perfect for us, we are definately purging our “things” for a yard sale later this year. We are going to try to do our best to not bring in anything that is not necessary.
This is very interesting. We grew up in a 2400 sq ft home- all eleven of us and our parents. That is definitely not very big for that many people, although there were only ever 9 of us children there at one time. My dad built the house, and we moved in before it was complete. For a time, we even lived in my grandmother’s RV on our land while it was being built. I never felt that our house was small, mostly because it wasn’t. We just filled it up with lots of people. Now, I feel like we live in such a small house- with 4 children in a 1600 sq ft home. My sister looks down on us because she lives in 5000 sq ft and our house is just too tiny for her liking. I have been feeling like we need something bigger. After reading this, I don’t feel I need bigger anymore. I would prefer better arranged rooms- who needs two living areas? I certainly don’t! I’d prefer a little more space in the kids’ rooms so we could fit everything in. Unfortunately, 2 living areas is the thing now. What a waste I consider it to be. If it weren’t an open room, I would convert the second one into a bedroom (or if we owned the home I would put in a wall). I realize I need to learn to live in what I have.
Thank you for sharing you honest thoughts Laura! You have been an encouragement to me this morning:) More house = spending more money to fill it = more time cleaning = bondage! Don’t fall into that trap! 1600 sq ft is a LOT of space! One time when I was in Ethiopia, I went into a woman’s home who had 3 children and they lived in a 10ft x 6ft shack (a bit extreme). I’d never seem so much pride and joy. She loved her home and you could just see that she was working hard to take good care of her little space. I promised myself from that point on that I would never complain about my 1800 sq ft. The only time I do complain now is because I wish we could have something smaller;)
Andrea – It’s during challenging times that our character is developed, isn’t it? We’ll all come through the other side of this the better for it AND we’ll have all sorts of great stories to tell. Your story is an inspiration and one I want to follow as it unfolds. Keep up the great writing!
We are in Australia, which the GEC has not been so harsh on, and housing here is still comparably expensive. 15 months ago we decided to downsize from the big ‘dream house’ we had built 7 years before into a humbler place and halved our mortgage. I am still decluttering (I can’t believe the stuff I foolishly moved from the large house to the small one)…but it is a big mindset change, working out what you need and love, not just what you happen to own and spent ‘good money’ on, as my Mum would say. Now I am spending 2012 donating/selling one item per day…at a minimum! And IF I buy something, I have two things I need to get rid of. Look me up on Facebook as LESS IS MORE if you want to peek at the process!
Amy @ Homestead Revival says
This is a well balanced post from Naomi. While we live in what I consider a large house, we planned most of it using the “Not So Big House” concept mentioned earlier. Our Great Room is the hub of the house with a small room off to the side for homeschooling/study/music/quiet space and another pantry and laundry room. The bedrooms are small and accomodate not much more than a bed (or two twin beds) and a dresser. The exception is the masterbedroom/bath. We made these slightly larger because of resale value. We live in an area where it would have been impossible to sell with a small master suite. Also, when we built the house, we had an unfinished room upstairs. Over the years we have finished it off.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have used the same concept (big main room/small bedrooms) but I would not have had the extra bonus room and I would not have made it so big. I would have skipped the extra 1/2 bath for guests and I would have planned the kids rooms for more kids in one room, but still small (better placement of windows/doors). Smaller spaces must be planned better than large spaces because they often serve dual purpose or must accomodate more people.
Because our utility bills are outrageous we tried to sell but eventually decided to stay and have been working to make the utility bills more reasonable. With very little time left to pay on our house and so much invested in chicken coops, barns, gardens, etc. what we own already may be our most frugal solution! Someday, my husband and I are hoping to build a small house out back for us and let one of the kids raise a big family in the main house.
Best wishes on your new adventures and I hope your DH is enjoying his new job.
I have the exact same concens as you do about the viabilty of our economy and affect it will have on our police protection and food supplies. Emotionally, I swing from getting prepared to resigning myself to being overtaken by roaming clusters of lawless hungry people who will steal my stockpile. I will be living in heaven after I die, but while here in an ill body, I don’t know how to prepare for my family and neighbors, like Joseph prepared for 7 years of famine.
Marsha Cooper says
I am having a great time reading these. We bought our home just over a year ago, so basically owe almost as much as we borrowed still. That is a shame.
I don’t mind the thought of a smaller house, but I sure love this one! We have a basement room for over night guests and a spare bedroom that is now my craft room.
Going to this house after 2 years of renting 3 rooms in his sisters basement, I wouldn’t be ready to turn back now unless we just had to!
Although……I am intrigued by the tiny houses….as well as living in a camper.
Great website, glad I found it. My husband & I just went under contract to sell our “dream home”. Fingers crossed that all goes well with inspections & appraisals. We have an antique 2000sq ft home with a barn & 2 acres out in the country- which we purchased at the height of the market. That said we are taking a big hit with current home values; but in the big picture we will be better off. Since buying our home we have had 2 children and discovered that while the home is beautiful (sniff, sniff), it really is too much for us both in upkeep and financially. We will be moving to a smaller rental property until we find the right home for us- we are trying to figure how small to go comfortably. When I am feeling overwhelmed I love hearing others stories of downsizing/simplifying. I have been on a de-cluttering binge for the past 6 months- it feels so good! If we kept our home I would have to go back to work full-time to pay our mortgage. We are choosing to down-size so I can stay home with our kids- maybe even go on a vacation some day! I am looking forward to simpler life with less stuff and more time for family, friends & hobbies. I often wonder why it took me forty years to figure this out!!!!