Like most couples, my husband and I dreamed of becoming homeowners. And this desire only grew once we added children to the mix. Sure, apartment living comes with its own set of perks—less maintenance, shared amenities, less to clean up and care for, and usually cheaper rent—but there’s just something monumental about purchasing and moving into your first house. More often than not, this kind of move involves an upgrade in terms of space, as well as the number of bathrooms and bedrooms, which can be especially beneficial when you’re a family of four, five, or more.
While my husband and I did make this move to “upgrade,” we eventually realized that it wasn’t the right choice for us. As a result, we decided to downgrade from our comfy five-bedroom, 2,700-square-foot house on the water to a three-bedroom, 1,369-square-foot apartment, with two kids in tow.
A good reason to downsize
My husband and I are originally from West Virginia, and when we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, we were lucky enough to make friends who became like family to us. Despite this, we still dreamed of owning a home on the water, so we decided to move to the Gulf side of Pinellas County. At the time, we had one child, Blake, so it was relatively easy to pack up a three-year-old and go places. Then we miraculously got pregnant with Baby #2, our Scarlett, which meant two car seats, two strollers, two beds, two everything. It was…hard.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back came when Blake cried that he had nobody to play with. This was true. When we purchased, we saw a gorgeous home on the water, but we didn’t think to investigate the neighborhood for playmates. We knew we needed to move back, but we put it off for about six months. After about two years of Gulf-side living, we finally took the plunge.
While many people choose to downsize for financial reasons, that actually wasn’t a factor in our decision. We wanted to be in a thriving area with like-minded young families. That was our first priority. Though we may still buy another house in this area at some point down the line, for now, we’re thrilled with the concept of renting an apartment. Let me put it this way: We’re not really the “handy” types, so being able to call maintenance for any repairs is worth every rent dime! Also, if my kids get Cheeto grease on the wall, I sweat a little less knowing it’s a rental. Our move was solely about a mindful investment and focusing on our children. With less upkeep, I feel liberated and have more playtime with my kids.
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Figuring out what we really needed
My husband and I agreed to put our house on the market and signed a lease for an apartment back in our old neighborhood. But there was one major issue staring us in the face: What were we going to do with all of the belongings we’d collected over the years? They fit in our house, of course, but they certainly wouldn’t fit in our apartment, which was half the size. I got right to work, purging non-necessities. I gave away anything that collects dust and is merely meant to be looked at (nothing sentimental). Selling small clutter items yields very little return on time investment, so I found families in need of furnishings. We gave away refrigerators, vases, beds, end tables, rocking chairs, you name it. And here are 9 genius rules for deciding which clothes to keep or toss.
We pretty much just sucked up the fact that we would be drowning in toys. This is where we are in life. We do make sure to rotate, give away, and limit the number of new toys coming in. However, this is a home built for kids. We keep it clean and as tidy as we can, but there’s just so much we can do. This is a phase. We just changed our expectations while being super strategic about how we organize, store, and maintain the household.
I found this process quite liberating but equally challenging because of the time and focus demands placed on me with a 1-year-old and 5-year-old in tow. Plus, with both sides of the family 1,000 miles away, I had to maximize any childcare hours I could scrape together for this move.
Settling into a smaller home
Once we arrived in our new digs, we were surprised to find that things flowed relatively smoothly. There was so much less to keep up with—fewer floors to mop, fewer windows to clean, fewer walls to wipe, etc., etc. Now I think of our home as our little fort or playhouse, since it’s much smaller and everything is closer together. That also makes it so much easier for me to keep up with as a mom. I dispatch laundry in a quick pinch all on one floor versus having to climb stairs to the house’s second floor!
While it felt amazing to be freed of the extra stuff we had lying around our big house, as well as the expectations of maintaining a perfect home that came along with them, the move was stressful, to say the least. I’m already a very anxious person with lots of life stress at this time, so the move almost sent me over the edge given all the demands. Paperwork…packing boxes…cleaning…preparing…unboxing…and so on. It was stressful but so worth it!
Whether you move into a 10,000-square-foot home or a 1,000-square-foot home, you still have to triage your possessions. The true stressful part is finding the time and energy for the transition and preparing the new home. I do believe I felt some extra pressure with finding space for some of the larger items that I either failed to purge during packing or wouldn’t give up. In the end, I was literally giving stuff to the moving company just to see it go away.
Being smart about space
In our new home, we’re making use of the small space wisely. We utilize lots of shoe organizers inside of every closet door for more than just shoes—baby items, office items, toiletries, and medicines. We also have a functional room that serves as an office and gym. Since both my husband and I work from home, we require at least one room to share as an office with fitness equipment tucked into a corner. Check out these other smart ways to squeeze more storage out of small spaces.
We also heavily utilize our apartment’s detached garage to store items that don’t require temperature control. We park our cars outside and use this garage area for extra furniture, tools, bicycles, and whatever else. Everything is labeled well and organized with good shelving. It was funny when I cooked a rather large meal though and couldn’t find any nice serving platters!
What the future holds
We basically have a five-year plan. We feel that people should move at least every five years to declutter anyhow. And our limited space will probably become an issue as the kids get older. Currently, we have three bedrooms. One is for our five-year-old. He is the only person in the home with his own room, and it is the hangout spot for the whole family. Our one-year-old daughter shares our room. The third bedroom is an office/utility/exercise room. I imagine that once the baby is four or five, she will want her own room and we will get a larger place at that time. For now, she’s with us at nighttime, and all her toys are in the living room. We utilize every square inch of this place, and the real theme is “kid-friendly.”
The best part about our big move to a small space
I believe that the apartment has brought us closer together. Mommy is happier being liberated from maintaining a huge home, and as a result, the kids feel that and are happier, too! Our son also loves that he lives close to his best friend and that his bedroom is on the same floor as everything else. As for our daughter, she is able to explore a baby-proofed one-floor home, so she is thrilled. That said, we do try to take a walk daily so we don’t feel claustrophobic. Our community is on a lake with ample green space, and we take full advantage of that.
All that said, it did take some adjusting getting used to living adjacent to others. I had to teach my five-year-old and husband not to slam doors. We were awakened by a jackhammer one night—which kept hammering away all night. But the benefits of our new home definitely outweigh these minor inconveniences. For a gal who grew up in the county on a dirt road, this lifestyle is definitely different than I have ever known or imagined, but it is our little life and we are making it how we want.
If you love the sound of that, check out these 13 tiny changes that will make your home instantly happier.