Downsizing: How to Get There

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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I have read several excellent  articles about folks who are  living in a downsized home.  But how do you get to the point of downsizing?  Do you just wake up one morning and decide that you want to downsize from 1,800 square feet to 450 square feet?  What I haven’t found much written about is what goes into making this decision. We spent months/years in planning and evaluating our future needs and then devising a home that would suit our needs. We changed our plans frequently but the end product made all the advance preparation time a good investment.  

A long time ago (40 years, about the time Mother was conceived) I read somewhere that to maintain a formal dining room in a house it would cost the owner $1,700 per year in heat, cooling, maintenance, initial construction and furnishings costs. Those prices were 40 years ago and today it could be expected that figure would be much higher. In our particular area we see people building vacation homes on the two + bath, three + bedroom concept up to 5000 sf when it is only the two of them.  If you want a larger home and can afford to maintain it that is certainly up to you.  We chose not to have a monster home and find our decision to downsize works well for us and makes perfect sense considering our lifestyle for the following reasons:

In preparation to moving into our retirement home we carefully examined what our needs would be for the two of us.  We decided with our family and friends scattered across the country we really did not need a second bedroom for guests who may only visit on rare occasions.  We therefore have a sleeping loft for ourselves and for an over night stay we can make temporary accommodations for our guests downstairs.  For longer stays it is more economical to put them up in a nearby bed and breakfast or motel.  That way they have their privacy and the time we are able to spend together is more productive and less cluttered. 

We also did not need a second or third bathroom with the infrequent visitors we get. We therefore decided one bathroom would do for the two of us. We are able to work around each other quite well with one bath room. We also determined that to have a 50 gallon hot water heater was unnecessary. We opted for a 6 gal. hot water heater. It uses far less electricity and in the 14 years we have lived here always provided us sufficient hot water to meet our needs. We could have gone with one of those on demand water heaters but when we built our home they cost  roughly 10 times more than our 6 gallon heater that works very well for the two of us. 

We chose to have a full walk in pantry since we live so many miles from  the nearest town or grocery store. We opted for a small freezer to supplement our refrigerator/freezer. In our years here we have discovered that this was a very wise choice. If you live close to shopping it is no problem to run into the store for a needed item when the store is only a few blocks away. In our case it is at best a two hour round trip including shopping time. With gasoline prices what they are it is not practical to make a trip for a few items. Therefore we plan our trips carefully and usually make several stops to best utilize time and gasoline on each trip. We also shop twice a year at a bulk food store which is a two hour drive one way. We have measured the savings against the cost of the trip and we come out ahead by buying in bulk.  

Our kitchen is smaller than most but fully functional. We found where we lived in a large three-story home that we had accumulated many things that were used infrequently and our cupboards were filled with gadgets that were rarely used. We gave most away, threw away some, auctioned off some  and now have those items that are essential and used frequently. We found that for the two of us and our occasional visitor we did not need a huge stove or refrigerator. We therefore opted for smaller and more functional sized appliances. We use our microwave and toaster more and save on propane and electricity by doing so. We have entertained up to 20 people at one time in our home which takes advance planning and preparation but is easily done.   

To summarize, we carefully evaluated our needs, and took it one specific room at a time and together with careful evaluation decided how to meet that need. Then we set out to find a floor plan that would meet those requirements. There is less time spent cleaning because there is less area to clean. We adjusted to less space in a few months and because of our good weather we end up spending more time outside. Our water is pure and comes from our own well, the air is thinner but fresh and healthy, and we get plenty of exercise walking our dogs twice a day. Other than for sleeping at night, a bedroom is mostly unused at other times. We don’t need a formal dining room as our living room converts for occasional use. Often  I cook my cowboy breakfast on a wood stove outside for guests. With our fresh air, cool temperatures, and wildlife it is very enjoyable to be outdoors. 

So if you are considering downsizing,  then I would suggest that you take it room by room and carefully evaluate your need, and what you can ‘really’ live with.  I hope that our process in downsizing will help others to at least consider whether it is right for you or not.  Comments and questions are always welcome.  

For more on cabin living in the mountains of southern Colorado, visit the McElmurrays’ blog.


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