Thom and I are fortunate to be able to spend a month every summer in the coastal community of Ventura, California. As some of you know, where we live the majority of the year the temperature during the summer fluctuates between 110 and 120 degrees. Meanwhile, at the beach, we are able to relish the cool coastal breezes without air-conditioning. 2017 was our 7th year of escaping the heat, yet we constantly hear people say, “Oh, I sure wish we could do that.” Or, “ I’d give anything to do that.” But the truth is, most of those who could do it, won’t. That’s because in many cases they are attached to a big house and often a big lifestyle that keeps them stuck even when they say they’d prefer otherwise. With that in mind, I came up with ten reasons why we all might want to reconsider owning a too-big house, and instead embrace a more rightsized life.
Those of you who have read my book, Rightsizing—A SMART Living Guide to Reinventing Retirement know that eight years ago Thom and I made a significant choice. At the time we were living in our “dream home.” Okay, maybe not the biggest house we’d ever dreamed of, but one that was much larger with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a three-car garage, and lovely landscaped yard with a pool and spa. The bathroom was as big as the bedroom with a walk-in shower and a large Jacuzzi tub. It was the nicest (and most expensive home) we’d ever lived in up until that time. Fortunately, the loan against it wasn’t a burden, but with taxes and insurance, it was over $2K a month just to live there.
However, after watching real estate prices skyrocket in 2005 and 2006 we stopped and asked ourselves, “What is going on—and how can this possibly be sustainable?” We knew dozens of people making far less income than us who continued to buy bigger and more expensive homes all around us like there was no end in sight. With our real estate background, we spotted the train wreck enough in advance to know it could not last. Eventually, we put our house on the market and prepared for the inevitable downslide in the market.
Fast forward 8 years and we now believe that shift was the best thing that could have happened to us. Recognizing that even though we thought we wanted and deserved that nice bigger home, we didn’t really need it that much at all. Plus, we now clearly see that taking the time to come to some deeper understanding about what really mattered to us both, we could freely choose what was “right” for us. From there I came up with ten realizations we found on our road to rightsizing.
1) If all you see around you are big and expensive homes, you think you need (and want) one too. Once we had a buyer for our former home we began looking around for another home to buy. The problem is, even though we had realized we didn’t need as much space, most of the homes we viewed were at least as large as the home we sold. Like most other people, we were looking in areas and at homes that felt “familiar.” What’s the saying, “If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” Same with houses. Eventually, we started looking in neighborhoods we never considered before and at floor plans much smaller than we originally thought we needed. Not only did we learn to love our current neighborhood far more than the one before, we opened ourselves to other advantages we never even guessed we wanted.
2) We underestimated the freedom and luxury of having a free and clear home. My generation was raised accepting the fact that in order to buy a home you needed a mortgage. Anything else seems out of reach. We now know that the reason it seems so out of reach is that most people keep moving up to more expensive homes with bigger mortgages—because that is what everyone else seems to be doing—and banks are more than happy to comply. When we decided to scale the size and price of our home downwards and use our equity from our former home to buy a home free and clear, we hit the jackpot. Thinking of a home purchase as a “forever-home” that you can eventually own free and clear is a new way to view the process.
3) Most of us underestimate the cost of living in a big home. It isn’t just the mortgage that costs money every single month—but it’s easy to forget that. I talk to people all the time who seem to ignore all the other expenses. For example, when we ask people, “how much is your electric bill in the summer?” Many people give a vague answer or simply don’t know. If you take the time to sit down and actually budget the upkeep, maintenance and added costs of a large home, you will likely surprise yourself. Then imagine what you can do with that money instead—like maybe rent a summer beach house to get out of the heat?
4) A majority of people buy a home on emotion—not as an aware choice. One of the largest purchases that most people make is their home. Yet, when the time comes to buy most don’t spend much time shopping for it at all. I’d bet that the majority buy a home after viewing less than ten homes in advance. Then they make an offer after walking through a house in 15 minutes! Instead of being patient and viewing lots of homes over a period of time (the market changes constantly) people get emotionally attached and buy the first one that makes them feel good. Far better to do your homework before even shopping and consider your true needs and budget. And if you now find yourself in a too-big or not-right home, sell it and then move on to one that is rightsized for your family.
5) Other people actually judge our home and us far less than we think they do. When we sold our bigger and more expensive home we did have a few family members ask, “Are you guys okay?” But honestly, most people could have cared less. Besides, if people are more interested in where you live and how impressive your home is, then perhaps they aren’t really “friends” after all. And while I know lots of people say they don’t care what others think about the size of their home or lifestyle, far too many people still make choices that say they do. If you bought a home to impress someone else or yourself at the time, but it doesn’t fit your budget, your needs or the current direction of your life, it may be time to let it go.
6) Most of us need less than we think we do. After we sold our larger home we thought it would be ideal to have two-thirds of what we had before. Instead, when we finally located the house in the neighborhood we wanted, it was nearly ½ as large. You know what? Seven years later I can’t imagine living in a bigger home. The actual size doesn’t matter. Finding one that fits you and your family perfectly is rightsized.
7) Always consider the luxuries of a small home over a big one. One of my perks for having a smaller home is that I have house cleaners every two weeks. Sure it is an added expense that not everyone can afford, but for me it is a luxury that I appreciate. Meanwhile, I have a friend with a home three times as large as mine and she cleans her own home. I wouldn’t trade with her for a second. Plus, as I mentioned above, ever since rightsizing our life, Thom and I have rented a home at the beach and the home in the mountains for two months time every summer. We all make trade-offs. Just do your best to make trade-offs that provide us each with the best life possible.
8) Peace of mind is more important than extra space. When we first married Thom and I used to dream of acreage and a home with lots of space. Until you’ve done it, and realized the money, time and emotion required to care for a place with lots of space it might be hard to understand. But once you own it, and realize the responsibility of living “large,” most of us buckle under the weight. If you find yourself in a too-big home with lots of maintenance, give yourself peace of mind by letting it go.
9) Spend time doing what you love rather than what you’re forced to do just to get by. Current statistics show that most people are spending 50% of their income on their home cost. Yikes! I get that some people are forced to pay for a place to live that is higher than they want, but choosing that when we have other options is not SMART. Sometimes it is necessary to find a new location (city or even state) that offers us a chance to have a life—not one chained to a monthly mortgage or rent payment we really can’t afford. Remember trade-offs!
10) Those who visit us really want to see us—not stay in a resort, or use our home as a cheap hotel. Sure it’s nice to have room for guests or loved ones to visit. But do we really need to put them up in a resort type environment to prove our love? Parents who live in a large home they do not need just in case the occasional child or grandchild might visit are setting themselves up for disappointment. Besides, you can often save enough by rightsizing so you can visit them anytime you want or can even pay for a joint vacation that you all will enjoy. When you get together, you can be assured it’s because of mutual love, not convenience.
In the end, it isn’t the exact size of your house that makes it rightsized. What makes the difference is that it fits your needs right now—not who you used to be, or what you wish might be—but what’s happening in your life now. Sure I am still occasionally attracted to homes in certain locations and with amenities that my current home lacks. But all I have to do is remind myself that my current home fulfills so many of my right-now needs, and I return to feeling content.
As I’ve said before, rightsizing is never about sacrifice. Instead, it is choosing what matters most at any particular time of life. Once we start listing the benefits of such a move, the decision to let go of that too-big house is a lot easier, not to mention SMART.