A few months ago, my husband and I did something drastic: we sold our home in the suburbs, got rid of half our stuff, and moved into a small two-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city. The reasons for doing so ranged from not wanting to do yard work anymore, wanting to be able to clean the entire house in less than an hour, and not wanting the mental load of worrying about 60-year-old pipes, roof damage, foundation cracks, basement flooding, and all-things-homeownership. It doesn’t hurt that the market was really prime for selling, either.
I liken our time in the suburbs to the scene in When Harry Met Sally when Sally is talking about her breakup with Joe. If you haven’t seen it, there’s a scene in which Sally talks about all the things she and Joe were going to do because they didn’t have kids. Fly off to Rome or be intimate on the kitchen floor, for example. But when it came down to it, they never took the trip. And the kitchen floor? Well, as she says, “It was just hard Mexican ceramic tile.”
My husband and I always talked about being close to the city, after all, it was only 25 minutes away. We could jaunt into downtown anytime we wanted, shop at the River Market on Saturdays or visit the art museum in the evenings. The reality though: we never did those things. Instead, we drove our car four blocks to Hy-Vee, we rarely played anywhere but our own backyard, and we only visited the art museum one time in two years! For both ourselves and also for our daughter, we wanted a life that was simpler in material things and more robust in experiences.
Looking back, there were some early signs that we weren’t cut out for home ownership in the first place (but the American Dream, amiright?) and once we decided we wanted a different lifestyle for our family, there was no turning back. Within six weeks, our house belonged to a new family, and we were unpacking our junk in the new digs. Of course, there are a few things we miss about having a larger home with a yard – especially with our wild three-year-old taking up more and more space – but by and large, it was the right decision for our family. Although I’m hardly an expert at city living with a preschooler if you’re considering a similar move, here’s my current best advice:
- Find an apartment (or home) with green space nearby. Giving up our yard was definitely the hardest part of making the move. We’re an outdoorsy family and we’ve got a dog, so green space was a must on our list. What we’ve found is that by not having a yard right out the back door, it forces us to spend more time in creative and new outdoor environments – like exploring the parks in our neighborhood or walking to and from our Saturday morning coffee spot.
- Get rid of as much stuff as you’re able/willing to. One, because moving stuff you’ll never use is a terrible waste of energy and resources. And two, because the best way to make our new smaller space feel open and inviting was by not filling it to the brim with stuff we didn’t need.
- Find creative storage solutions. An example of something we didn’t think about before moving was how ugly our cat’s litter box is. In a small space, and without a garage or laundry room, those types of things become apparent. Same goes for tools, holiday decorations and cleaning supplies. Finding solutions has been an adventure!
- Seek out advice or resources from other people who are living similar lifestyles. I’m a huge fan of minimalist blogs and simple living guides. There’s no time (or literal space) for reinventing wheels in our life – I’m not above learning from others’ mistakes and I’m not too proud to take their advice.
- Get out of your home as much as possible! The bulk of the reason we moved into the city was to take advantage of the many fun things going on here – most of them free or very inexpensive. We’ve attended Fringe Fest, taken the kid to a few musical shows, we basically live at Kaleidoscope on the weekends, and we haven’t eaten at the same restaurant twice.
Conversely, there is a big don’t I’ll add for consideration.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew, ie: downsize too much. An apartment with only one bathroom was our deal breaker. The morning rush would be too chaotic (and we’re not disciplined enough for a schedule) if we had to share a single bathroom.
Our family also recognizes a move like this is one of great privilege and not something we take for granted. The ability to choose a lifestyle that makes the most sense for our family is something I’m incredibly grateful to have. The relief of not being homeowners goes far beyond the mental worry, we have more time and energy for doing other things now, and we’re doing our best to take advantage of that gift.
As much as I like to think we’re pretty good at living minimally, we’re by no means experts. We’re easing in and learning as we go. Who knows, within a few months we could be clawing at the walls of our (now very small) apartment begging for more space and counting down the days until our lease ends!