Yup, that Pinterest board we all have turned into real life for us. We just purchased our first home; it’s 684 sf. And we have two children. I think that everyone I have told this to has raised their eyebrows a bit, looked confused, and asked an awkward question about how we like it or if it was on purpose. Yes to both.
We are embarking on a journey that is ushering in a totally new phase of life in which almost everything seems to be shifting around. It is opening up new spaces in our lives and shrinking down others. After a two year break since my last blog, this new chapter is opening up the space and inspiration to start blogging again. Starting right now.
There is a lot to tell…..but I want to begin with the simple story of why we moved to this specific house.
For the past 5 years we rented a home just south of Portland, OR. It was a 0.67 acre lot, with an old house on it, and about 40 beautiful oak trees. We had both our children while living in that house, and the neighborhood and property were very special to us in so many ways. But the land was not OURS, so we could never invest in it in the way we really wanted (i.e. planting fruit trees or doing major landscaping), and the house was falling apart around us, which was increasingly embarrassing to me, but was not our responsibility to fix.
We dreamed of owning a home for years, and would spend hours walking around that property describing everything we would do if we owned it. But a financially hard time followed by having children meant money has perpetually been tight, and it seemed we could never get the savings together needed to buy a home.
We heard of a non-profit organization called The Portland Housing Center which offered free home buying classes and free one-on-one home buying counseling. Through the class we learned about all of the costs associated with purchasing a home, budgeting for your payments, and assistance programs. We spent a whole year focused on improving our credit (damaged from the previously mentioned financial hard time), and trying to build some savings.
During that year or two that we were proactively working toward buying a home, the Portland housing market hit a crazy boom. Prices of both renting and buying skyrocketed, and still are skyrocketing. If you live in Portland, I’m sure you have your own story. Friends who purchased homes during the recession had their homes double in value since then, everyone was getting out-bid by people throwing down up to $75,000 cash over the asking price on homes, and rentals were increasing monthly rates up to $400/mth to renew leases. We felt an urgency to jump in the game before the housing market became totally untouchable…and yet were already feeling like the amount we’d need to pay to purchase even a totally disgusting home would be a huge stretch for us.
We talked all the choices and options to death….and somehow still stayed married. 🙂 As we talked it out, we kept coming back around to trying to stay true to who we are. Both my husband and I loved to travel and to be outside hiking and exploring. We had both been fairly nomadic and adventurous before settling down. Despite the Portland home buying craze around us, we kept saying: Is this what we want? To spend so much of our income on a mortgage payment each month? And therefore be more trapped into working longer hours? To live in a city, and raise our kids in a city?
Not to mention my personal struggles as a working mom. I am incredibly blessed to have a fairly flexible professional job. I work from home about 34 hours a week, doing a lot of GIS (mapping) work for a non-profit. And yet….and YET….sometimes my heart feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest being away from my babies during the day. If I let myself really think about it, I can start crying any time, anywhere. My goal is to DECREASE our expenses to increase my freedom to be home more in the future, not the other way around. So looking at the housing market boom around us, and doing the math on what our mortgage payment would be to buy even the crappiest of houses, and then not to mention all the repairs that would be inevitable in one of those houses….and yet realizing that there was a good chance our rent would go up anyway if our landlord was smart…..I started to feel more and more trapped into a future of working MORE instead of LESS like I wanted.
We started to really define what we did and did not want. We realized we really didn’t want to live in a big city. We both moved to Portland around 2005….and had a great time but never meant to stay…..but then somehow were still there a decade later. We wanted easy access to wilderness, local food, less traffic, more natural beauty. We wanted a small enough mortgage payment to not feel trapped by our home. To spend our money on things like traveling rather than a huge mortgage payment. But had a very small savings, and so needed a home that was solid and needed no major remodeling to live in it. Finding something that met all of these requirements seemed impossible.
Feeling like everything was impossible made us think seriously about options that would have seemed crazy before. We had always wanted to live in the Hood River, OR area, but it had seemed out of reach. Something we could do in ten years. Although I work from home, my husband’s job was in Portland, and Hood River was an hour east of Portland, and houses were not cheap. But as the huge housing boom happened in Portland, traffic also got worse, and it took my husband up to 45 minutes to drive 10 miles; so how much worse would it be to take 1.25 hours to drive 60 miles?
I was also desperate to find an affordable option to not strap us financially. I started searching the internet, and found blogs of families that live in vans or are constantly traveling. I found the website called Families on the Road full of stories of families making it work. I started to try to convince Sean we needed to just buy a Westfalia and would live on the road for a few years, then would save up tons of money and could buy a house. I think Sean thought I had totally lost my senses. I gave up on the van idea, and started looking more seriously into tiny homes. Were people doing it with families? If so, how was it going?
I became most inspired by two stories. One is a blog called Tiny House Family. A family of 4 living in a 250 sf. tiny home. What rung true to me the most about this was that it was not meant to be permanent, it was a way to build their dream home debt-free. To suck it up and live super small for as long as it took to save up the money they needed, rather than taking out huge loans or living beyond their means. The other story that inspired me was this article about an interior designer on Sauvie Island (just north of Portland) living in a beautiful 540 sf. home as a family of four, and choosing it over a larger home. These two stories made me feel it could be possible to live small with a family.
I also thought a lot about people I knew who I admired. I realized I admired peers who followed their own path. The Havens moving to a small town to start their prayer farm. Les taking a job directing a youth camp in the mountains where the whole family lives in a cabin on the mountain half the year. And my friend Jillan who writes quite possibly the most beautiful blog out there, and describes her experiences and love of the natural world so well that it would make me cry with mourning over my distance from hills and canyons while at my home work station in Portland. Those who dared to strike out on crazy adventures, authentic to themselves.
We decided to be authentic to ourselves as well in the house hunt. A tiny home was not actually our direct goal. It was just to stay within budget, in an area closer to nature, with good schools and other experiences for the kids, in a home that was move-in ready. But we were open to it. (After feeling open to living in a van with the family, moving into a small house didn’t actually seem that radical.) We also had a small window of time to buy a home. We qualified for a USDA Home Loan, which has an income cap. By the end of the year we both hoped to get pay raises, which could bump us over the income limit. And if we didn’t qualify for this loan (which requires zero down), we probably would have to wait a couple more years to save enough, or pull from retirement. This motivated us to make a decision and snag something quickly. The Hood River/White Salmon areas we wanted to move to are affluent small towns, so there was very limited inventory of homes we could afford within that time period. Like a condo, a couple of mobile homes, a stinky and falling apart old home right on the highway, or this small home we bought. We had to look at it three times and talk all night long several nights in a row, and get a contractor to look in the attic and tell us it was possible to finish it, before we put an offer on it. But the moment we did it, it felt right. To simplify in an extreme way and live small with our children. It met all of our criteria (communities we wanted to live in, proximity to nature, amount of mortgage payment, needing no repairs, etc.) And now here we are.
It has been an absolutely wild ride so far. Wilder than expected in many ways. Sean and I are still sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the living room, but many other crazy things have fallen into place.
The journey to actually moving into here deserves it’s own post, so that will be next. Despite all that, though, we are so satisfied with our decision and so happy to be here. We both feel more content with adventure than with stagnation. I think part of this move for me was proving that life could still be an adventure…..and so far it is not disappointing me!