Downsizing With A Family: Why We’re Going Smaller

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Want to simplify your life? So did we! So we're downsizing our family home and plan on raising our 2 boys in a small house. Less clutter and room for mess. More money for fun!

Update: January 2019 – Since I wrote this in 2015, this post has proved to be very popular. Turns out loads of people are interested in downsizing with kids or moving to a smaller space with a family.

Because of that reason I have started a new site dedicated to sharing our downsizing story including all the best tips and tricks for living in a small home with kids. Check out the site here: Little House, Lovely Home.

If you read my last post you will know that I am pregnant. In November I will become a mother of two.

Part of the reason we planned to head home was this pregnancy. I had entertained the idea of taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course and moving to Japan to teach English. Anything but go home.

But there is something to be said for being a citizen of a country and entitled to healthcare benefits. My 12-week scan in Spain cost €180, then the 20-week scan and check-up in Ireland cost €200. Including GP visits and prescriptions this baby would cost nearly $1000NZD before 28 weeks.

In New Zealand, all of my pre and post natal care is free. So there’s that.

Plus I’m starting to tire of constant travel. I want a home base for a while. Like we had in Spain.

We are due to land back in New Zealand in mid-August. We’ve had many discussions over all the things we need to sort out when we get back. Jobs, preschool, internet connection. Where to live.

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I will be ten minutes walk from the sea in my new, smaller house. Image Credit: © Michelle Sullivan, Christchurch Daily Photo

We own 2 rental properties in Christchurch. One is a duplex style 2 bedroom, 80 sq/m (approx 860 sq/ft for my American readers) unit with a big enough back garden.

The other is a three bedroom, 120 sq/m (1290 sq/ft) standalone bungalow on a large plot of land. That’s where we lived when we left and where I expected we would return.

Many people experience profound shifts in thought and attitude while travelling. I’m no exception. Almost everything I thought I knew about life has tilted. Like my perspective on what I truly need.

On what my children need to be happy and healthy. How much stuff we require to have full and functioning lives.

When the idea of moving to the smaller unit came to me I dismissed it instantly. I grew up in a three-bedroom house, with one brother.

I have never had to share a bedroom. In fact, when we purchased the smaller property the tenants were a family with 2 children. It was unfathomable to me that a family would choose to live in such cramped quarters.

But now we have survived just over 14 months living out of three bags, I absolutely know in my heart that we don’t need much stuff. And it’s stuff that takes up space, not people. If we want to make this dream life of more travel and time with each other a reality the trade-off is less stuff. And less space for the stuff. It seems like a pretty fair swap.

Of course, the reasons for my re-evaluation are not all driven by a minimalist transformation. There are favourable numbers to aid my decision. Like savings of nearly $500 per month in living costs due to a smaller mortgage, smaller electricity bill, cheaper daycare, access to better public transport.

Do you know what $500 per month buys? This is what I said to my husband.

downsizing with a family

The benefits of downsizing with a family

  • Closer family relationships – our kids will share a bedroom and we’ll only have one combined family living space so we’ll be near each other all the time
  • Financial benefits – the $500 plus per month we’ll save and the future benefit of a drastically reduced housing spend
  • Environmental impact – we’ll use less water and electricity in our new home. We’ll also use a lot less fuel and drive less as our new home is in a walkable area

With some careful planning and the use of low-cost carriers $6000 could get us to Europe – at least before the baby turns two and needs a seat. It will most definitely get us to Mexico.

Then there’s the less space to clean, heat and maintain. Which of course means less space to live, but I’ll be doing my best to make that small space as efficient as possible.

Oh, and if we do stay long-term there is a primary school right across the road. I could walk my children (again, plural) to school in one minute.

I’ll also be a ten-minute walk to the ocean and within walking distance to banks, supermarkets, preschool and cafes.

One of the major benefits of this move is that we can keep a stellar tenant in the bigger house. Asking a family with three children to leave their home is something I’ve agonised over since we decided to head back to New Zealand so I’m relieved we can provide them with some stability.

Plus the bigger house commands a higher rent, currently $100 more per week than the smaller unit so it’s a win-win.

All of these positives aren’t to say I’m not apprehensive. It doesn’t feel natural to seek less space with a growing family. But if we want to alter our life plans to semi-retire early we have to make drastic changes.

I’m terrified of going home.  That ringing in my ears. Stomach knots. But this almost feels like an adventure. The first step towards a simpler life with more travel and less working for the man. Which I can absolutely manage.

Have you considered downsizing with a family? Any tips or advice you’d like to share?  

25 thoughts on “Downsizing With A Family: Why We’re Going Smaller”

  1. Only natural to feel apprehensive.
    Firstly, I think you should congratulate yourself for being in this great position of choice! A culmination of good past decisions has got you to a place with options – yay.
    I thinking going with the smaller place is a great idea – if it doesn’t work out you can always move into the larger place. Really you never know until you try.

    • Thanks Amy, it’s good to know we can move back to the larger house if we need to but I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen. Still, always nice to have a backup plan.

  2. I think is great you are moving into a smaller place. I don’t have kids yet, but I grew up in a 800 sq/ft and have learned that having a bigger place doesn’t mean you are going to be happier. Instead, you buy less things for the house since there is not a lot of space where to put them, you have to clean less (which I truly appreciate!) and is cheaper. An you get to pay for return flights to Europe every year = travel! Even better 🙂

    Hope everything goes smoothly with your move!

    • I’m hoping my son will think the same as you when he grows up Andrea. Considering for the past year he has only stayed in smaller places it won’t be such a big change for him.

  3. I am impressed you’re planning on living in a 2-bedroom house. We currently have a 3-bedroom house, although it’s about the same size as what you’re describing. I work from home, so that 3rd bedroom is occupied by my work space. I think you’re right though–people don’t take up much space. And you have an idea of what a baby needs (not what advertisers tell you it needs), so I think what you’re doing makes sense. I love that perspective on your $500/mo savings!

    • Thanks Carmel, I have to admit I’m nervous about where I’m going to do my work. There are some very cool small office space designs on Pinterest that are giving me hope!

  4. I’ve been thinking the same thing lately about downsizing. Oddly enough, the thoughts popped up right after our 7 week trip through Mexico where we were living out of bookbags (for our family of 5!).

    For us it isn’t so much about saving money but more about owning what we need and reducing the amount of stuff we have to maintain. In other words, simplicity.

    • Justin – I’m just devouring (literally, the food post – mouthwatering) all of your Mexico posts. It’s my reading list for our time in Hong Kong. Looks like you had an amazing time.

    • Not sure if they will be (we purposely didn’t find out) but even if we do have a girl I’m comfortable with them sharing for a few years at least.

  5. We have a 4 bedroom house and a 2 bedroom unit and we would move into the unit in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for the 2 cats and the dog. I say that if nothing physically is holding you back, then jump into the smaller dwelling.
    Also remember “Two kids sharing a bedroom is not Child Abuse” My Fiance and his younger sister shared a bedroom until he turned 10. My mum grew up in a house that had 4 walls and a roof. That’s it. No “rooms”.
    And I would much rather take a small home with less cleaning and maintance and more travel than a bigger house just to keep up with the Joneses. 🙂
    Congrats!

    • Thanks Tania. I think the smaller house will restrict any hope of having a pet in the future but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Haha, you are so right – kids sharing a room is not child abuse, it’s just so hard to comprehend when I never had to. But I’m sure they’ll be fine!

  6. Oh gosh! I admire you for taking on the challenge of living in a smaller place. We (hubby and I and small dog) are going batty in our 70m2 3 bedroom house here in Auckland. We bought this one because it was all we could afford up here in 2012. Last year we bought a bigger house (a proper sized 3 bedroom of 120m2) and we can’t wait to move into it! I know we don’t “need” a lot of space, but I struggle with being surrounded by clutter and appreciate proper storage space and room for hubby’s 3 pinball machines which we have sacrificed a dining table for at present! It will be nice to be able to have people over for dinner and things like that that we simply don’t have the room for at present. I can see financially though, you are doing the right thing and we are being extravagant. We know this, but have decided that it is finally time to be kind to ourselves. 🙂
    All the best for your return home.

    • Meghan – you are not being extravagant. It just depends on your priorities! For us it’s travelling and making sure our kids are close with their Irish family and flights to Ireland are so bloody expensive! So needs must. But I’m hopeful we’ll get a lot more out of it than just the financial benefits.
      Enjoy the extra space!

    • I hear ya! We have pretty much never had enough space (rent is just too darn high in Auckland and I refuse to spend lots on rent when we’re trying to save for a house). Get stir crazy and cabin fevery. Plus it’s harder to keep things tidy in a small place, for us anyway. Cleaning is actually less of a headache now we’re flatting with others in a big house.

  7. Thank you for this! Our family of three lives in a one bedroom 600 square foot house in California. We really like our tiny house, and the way it forces us to not have too much and allows us to spend more time together as a family because we don’t have to work all the time to survive our rental costs! We hope to start traveling one day or living abroad and I am excited to have found your blog.

    • Thanks Lis, we’ve owned the house (and other rentals) for a few years now so it’s structured correctly. Moving in to it will obviously remove any deductibility however if we move out again we will be fine as the property was,bought with the intention of being a rental.

  8. Hey Emma! I encounted your blog through Paula’s Afford Anything epic post on 12 principles of finance. I think what you are doing is genius! I don’t have any children yet but I constantly am thinking about the same things you are going through. My fiance and I are leaning out to prepare for starting a family within the next 3 years. Also, I read your about page and I think that your blog name is so clever! Best of luck and I will be following your road less traveled!

    • Thank you Sukina – I really appreciate you saying that. Whilst starting a family is expensive, I really think that with the right attitude we can still reach FI – albeit at a slightly slower pace! The fact that you are even thinking about planning a family puts you way ahead of us – we were pleasantly surprised when we found out we were pregnant – planning would have helped immensely!

  9. It totally makes sense. In the back of my mind I keep thinking we need to downsize our 1800 square foot (180 m^2??) 4 bedroom house even though there’s 5 of us. We rarely use one of the living rooms and right now one bedroom never gets used and the other is my office (and I’m retired early so office = place I surf the net, blog, read, and play computer games 🙂 ).

    Though housing is pretty cheap in our part of the US and we can only cut about 1 bedroom and 600 square feet (60 m^2) unless we move to an apartment or condo. Then there’s the cost of moving and buying a new place.

  10. It is absolutely normal to consider moving and searching for a more appropriate place to live with your family. It definitely is important to set a base somewhere and take a break from the constant moving. New Zealand is a lovely country and if you feel that it is the place for your family to settle then do it and be very happy there! I wish you all the best! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Emma, very good decision. Downsizing truly offer great benefits. New Zealand is a great place to stay and grow a family. Love that you are just minutes away from the sea too (from your new found home). Good luck and wish you the best!

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