Part II: What it takes to downsize

Deciding to actually buy a very small house for our family of four was the first half of the marathon….actually downsizing and relocating was the second half.  In my last post I described the long process of deciding what kind of home purchase best supported our goals and values as a family, and than deciding on the house.  That was difficult….but was nothing compared to actually moving.  Thank God for family that helped us along the way!!

Before purchasing this 684 sf home, we had rented a 1200 sf home for five years…..with an attic, a shop, a garden shed, and a greenhouse……We moved there with almost nothing, and pregnant with our first child (moving with two children is much harder than moving as two adults!!).  For people who say they don’t care about “stuff”, it’s amazing how much crap we crammed into every corner of that house over five years.  When we finally closed on the house, we ended up having less than a month to get rid of half our worldly possessions, pack and move an hour and a half away, prepare the new house, and clean the old house.  With both of us working full time, two young children (and no vacation time left after using it all on the birth of the second child), that meant only weekends to do all this.  We mapped out a schedule on the fridge for what we had to accomplish each of the 4 weekends we had.

I planned to read the book about getting rid of your stuff that everyone is talking about, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up — The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” and go about it systematically and gracefully.  But in real life it turned into a firestorm of purging and sorting.  The living room turned into a staging area for the whole month…..during which time the baby started crawling….not the ideal moment for trying to baby proof and keep the floor clean.  Having gone through a Dave Ramsey class at some point, we wanted to make the most of the things we were getting rid of by selling them in a garage sale.  In hindsight I’m not sure if it was worth it or not on our tight schedule….but we did it.  One half of the living room was the “garage sale” pile, the other half was the “keep and pack” pile, and the dining room was the “give away” pile.

The “keep” pile
The “garage sale” pile

Our schedule for move-out was something like:

Weekend 1:  Pack and sort through everything

Weekend 2:  Garage Sale (Katie manage while Sean starts prepping new house)

Weekend 3:  Moving Day!  Move everything to new house

Weekend 4:  (Live that last week with just bare essentials at old house….sleep on floor) Clean old house

(Do you notice the part where we have one weekend to sort out what we are going to get rid of to move into HALF THE SPACE we had before, AND pack everything we are keeping?)  I think if our little family had a motto it might be “It’s amazing what you can do and keep everyone alive and stay married.” or maybe “You can do anything you put your mind to, if you don’t mind neglecting your hygiene or sleep or running out of money”.

We made about $300 on the garage sale, plus another $200 on larger furniture.  That became the petty cash for the gas, quick meals, and other small moving costs.  And we used it all!  Even when using a borrowed moving truck for free!  It is amazing how much moving costs even when you try to do it on the cheap.  So was the garage sale worth it?  That much cash was key to have available.  And yet, if you count all the hours cleaning and pricing items, and then two full days of time sitting in the front yard while my mom helped me juggle two young kids…..I’m not sure.

Garage sale….moved pretty slow in our quiet neighborhood….
But we did make some cash from the garage sale!

A note about getting rid of so many of our belongings:  it was easier than you might think.  The first few hours of sorting there were some long, drawn-out decisions.  But once we got into it, I really just wanted almost everything to go.  It was almost harder to decide to keep things.  The hardest were the sentimental items.  My Opa was a wood worker, and made several beautiful furniture items for me, and is now deceased.  But all the items were giant, German structures–not Ikea-esque tiny-house furniture.  What to do?  We vowed not to rent a storage unit as matter of principle.  We either had stuff we used, or we let it go.  But what to do about the dresser, giant hutch, two book shelves, hope chest, two bedside tables, and baby changing table?  Once I let them go, they couldn’t be replaced.  I decided to keep the one (giant) dresser that was the most special to me (made out of poplar trees from my grandparents front yard that I’d played under as a child), and to ask other family members if they wanted the rest.  The hope chest and giant hutch were adopted by family members.  The rest we decided to hold onto and see if we could work it into the new house, and pass on if we could not.  In the end I came to peace with it being MY furniture, and that it was OK for me to do with it what I needed.  And if I had just once piece of furniture that I could touch and remember Opa’s hands making it for me, that would be enough to remember him by.

On moving day, we moved the big items in a moving truck, and decided the rest would fit in several small loads in the Subaru over the following week.  But after moving day, as we kept pulling stuff out of closets and attic and forgotten drawers, the pile of stuff kept growing.  We took maybe four or five loads in the Subaru, got rid of much more stuff, and still it kept coming from somewhere!  This is when it became really frustrating and overwhelming to deal with the junk.  It just felt like it would never end, and each item had to have a decision made about it.

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Cramming everything we can into the Subaru for a load over to the new house

Plus then there was the cleaning!  The house and the yard…..the thing with trying to do the urban farming stuff is it can get dirty.  I had piles of pots in my greenhouse and scattered about, old chicken feed packs tucked into corners of the shed, piles of wood scraps from projects….and inside the hosue, muddy finger prints and dog fur on walls and floors, plus the usual nail holes in walls, etc.  I was a little overly optimistic about my ability to take care of all of this by myself in one weekend.  Especially as a nursing mother!  Although my mom helped out big time by watching the kids, my daughter refused to take a bottle.  So every few hours I’d have to drive 45 minutes to nurse her, and come back.  And we have an electric car, so eventually that meant finding some place to charge as well.  I didn’t get as far as I’d hoped in one weekend……we ended up having to come back one or two weekends after we moved to finish up

During all this hectic time of sorting and purging and cleaning that last week, we were sleeping on our mattress on the floor (since bed frame was moved on moving day), and had no washer or dryer (since they were also moved).  My daughter started teething in the middle of all this moving, and was obviously impacted by the changes as well, and started waking up EVERY HOUR or so, for weeks.  I was so tired.  And one day the dog ran away….and rolled in something dead….and then came home and crawled into our bed, since the mattress was on the floor….and no washer or dryer.  I was missing half my cooking supplies that had already been moved which made meal prep extra hard.  And did I mention I work from home?  So I had to try to maintain some professionalism and keep my projects moving forward despite all of this, and take my son to preschool in clean clothes and with teeth brushed, etc.  Those last couple of weeks are so hazy, I almost can’t remember them.

In the new house there is wood floor, but it was all scratched up and really needed to be refinished.  We had originally thought we’d have a whole month before moving to refinish it, but our closing date ended up getting pushed out THREE TIMES, and it didn’t happen before we moved.  So we had to decide if we just move in on the scratched floor and get to it someday, or get it done before we move all the way in.  We decided it was now or never.  So the first week in the new house, we kept all the furniture in the carport (except the crib), and slept on sleeping pads on the wood floor, and lived out of suitcases.  And the dryer had the wrong kind of outlet at first, and the washer hose was leaking water….so for the first two weeks in the new house we also had not way to wash clothes.  We just wore dirty clothes for awhile, and then I took both kids to the laundromat and did 7 loads of wash one day.  The baby continued to wake up every hour at night those first couple of weeks.  And my body did not like sleeping on the floor–everything was sore.  I didn’t feel like I was making a great first impression on the other moms at Cedar’s new preschool….

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Refinishing the wood floor (Photo:  Sean O’Connor)

For the few days that Sean had to actually do the work of refinishing the floor, we had to be out of the house.  Sean’s parents graciously helped us out by putting us up in a local hotel for 5 nights.  I was so excited to sleep in a bed!  However, I had not thought through how difficult it would be to all be sleeping and living in one room for a whole week with two kids with different sleep schedules (How to let the baby nap twice a day and keep the preschooler quiet?  Can’t leave the baby alone in the hotel room….and how to keep preschooler asleep when baby wakes up screaming every hour at night?)  And also I was still trying to work nearly full time…..and the first week there the childcare I had lined up for Eliza dropped me.  They decided they actually didn’t want to take babies, just preschoolers.  Every single other daycare provider was full.  I had a week where I had no childcare, and in this crazy living situation, and trying to work….and just couldn’t…..and no way to wash clothes.  And how to prepare healthy meals without eating out every meal while in a hotel room with no kitchen?  And the first week we were supposed to have internet in the new house it didn’t work….which made working impossible…..Oh the exhaustion of those first couple of weeks….and the couple of weeks before them moving out of the old house as well.  (And the first week after moving back into the new house with finished floors, we had to go back to the old house and spend a whole weekend finishing the house and yard clean-up…..I was so ready to be done by then.)

The beautiful newly finished wood floor. I guess it was worth it! (Photo:  Sean O’Connor)

When the floors were finished, and we moved the furniture in (no small task in and of itself), and the washer and dryer were fixed, and the dishes were all where they are supposed to go, and I found a childcare provider for Eliza……it was just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.  Then the holidays arrived!  After all we had been through, we decided to hold off on remodeling the attic into our bedroom for awhile, and just sleep on the hide-a-bed couch in the living room.  And let each kid have their own room to hopefully keep their sleeping normal.  We each took half of one child’s closet.  And just rested in our new place. (Even then, we had no dining room table or chairs for weeks because our old one was too big….so we sat cross legged on the floor to eat…..never been so grateful to have a chair!)

Cedar eating dinner on the floor while we have no dining room table or chairs…

Compared to all the craziness we had been through, and sleeping on floors and in small hotel rooms, it really felt luxurious to be in our own house, with the kids settled in their own quiet rooms, even if we were sleeping on the couch.  Just now, the beginning of February, are we beginning to contemplate starting back up with figuring out the attic remodel, and sleeping on the couch is starting to get old.  I think we needed the last couple of months to figure out our new rhythms in school and work and our new community, and that was a more important focus for our energy than remodeling.  And now that spring is beginning to stir, we are feeling the urge to re-emerge and get our nest finished.

A beautiful sunrise in our new home one of the mornings we were staying in the hotel. Hope!! (Photo: Sean O’Connor)


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