2016 turned out to be a big year for us. For a long time we saw it as the year we’d start a family, but instead it was the year we kayaked 30 miles to uninhabited Islands in the Atlantic ocean, spent a month in Thailand, ate fresh ramen in Tokyo and as 2016 turned to 2017 we road-tripped through Germany and skied in the Austrian Alps. It was the year we realized that we didn’t need to rush into parenthood, and that parenthood could happen whenever we want it to, if we want it to. It was a period of time when we took a deep breath, stepped back, and really assessed where we were at and what we wanted.
We’re coming up on our 1-year anniversary of returning from that road-trip across Germany and Austria, putting our home on the market, downsizing from a 2200 square foot house in Madison’s suburbs and relocating to a 1000 square foot loft in heart of Minneapolis’ North Loop. And so I thought it was a good time to circle back around and talk about what that transition has been like and what we think of the decision now.
Our decision was to sell our house, since we no longer felt like it served us or our needs and we were ready for something different. Although we floated a lot of ideas, including different cities, different countries and buying a different home in Madison, our travels in Asia and Central Europe introduced us to the idea of downsizing to a smaller space and being in a more urban setting. Some of our goals were to:
- Live in a space of 1000 square feet or less
- Mostly bike or use public transportation
- Produce less garbage, be conscious and more efficient
And so one year later I am sitting here in our loft, with Walter asleep at my feet, and I can look back on the past 12 months and be proud of the decision we made. It wasn’t easy, and fear of the unknown almost stopped us dead in our tracks a time or two. There have been days along the way where I have occasionally missed our old routines or the security and comfort that comes with putting down roots. There were days where those feelings were strong and points at which I would wonder if we made a mistake. However, a couple months after the move I had this moment where I realized that if I live to be 70, and I reflected on my life, I would never regret what we have done this year. I am so damn proud of us for recognizing that we wanted to do something different, and for doing it. For not letting fear stop us. For challenging ourselves to do something that was outside of our comfort zones and that so often felt foreign to us. I’m proud of us for challenging ourselves in our careers. For pushing ourselves. The saying “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear” has been playing on a loop in my head the past 12 months and I literally just light up inside when I reflect on us throwing caution to the wind, chasing our dreams, and being there for each other every step of the way.
And so, I’m proud of us and proud of this year. But I want to get down to the details and talk about our downsizing and relocation and what it has meant to us in more tangible terms:
- We got rid of shit! Travel made us realize how much stuff we had (trust me, this is largely an American thing). Things weigh us down. The bigger our house, the more stuff we buy to fill it. The more stuff we have, the harder it is for us to chase our dreams. We had a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house. We sold most of what we owned and relocated with just a 10-foot U-haul. There hasn’t been a single thing I have thought about in the past 12 months and regretted getting rid of (including the decision to donate my wedding dress!) but I can say that I absolutely love the feeling of being surrounded with only the things we truly love and use.
- We stopped using the dishwasher! We wash our dishes by hand using an environmentally friendly dish-soap. We’ve used the dishwasher in our loft maybe 4 times after big dinner parties, but that’s it.
- We stopped using grocery bags! Reusable bags are an easy change to make, and we finally made the switch entirely. On the occasions where I’ve gone to the store without one, I’ve tried to buy just what I could carry home without a bag, or on the rare event that I’ve taken a paper bag I make a point of using it a couple more times or re-purposing it as packaging material, etc.
- We produce less garbage! One of our goals was to live within walking distance of a grocery store, and we ended up with a Whole Foods right across the street. Now we are able to go to the store and buy just what we need for the next 24 hours. Not only does this mean we produce almost no food waste, but we’ve also been saving a lot on groceries (hundreds of dollars a month, which we didn’t expect). We also grocery shop with using plastic bags for produce and avoid buying anything in plastic when possible, helping create less garbage overall.
- We rarely drive! Josh has biked to and from work (10 miles a day!) almost every single day since we moved (even when its -25). I work from home, but rarely use the car to get anywhere. I do my best to keep all my meetings or lunch dates within biking and walking distance. I got outside my comfort zone and got really comfortable with urban biking. I bike all over the city now, even alone and even in the snow and ice! We both use public transportation and can easily get most places on the light-rail or bus. We’ve had one five-week stretch where we didn’t drive at all, but I’d say we average using it once every 2 weeks currently.
- We love living in a smaller space! While 1000 feet has started to seem pretty huge to me, I know that for a lot of people (especially homeowners), living in a smaller space again seems like a real challenge. We’ve realized that we really love being in a smaller home that is a really efficient use of space for us. It has made us realize that’s there’s no connection between the size of our home and our happiness. If anything, we’ve found more happiness in a smaller home.
- We can clean our entire house in about 20 minutes! Okay, cheap thrill, but honestly I have to point this out. Obviously a smaller house is easier to clean, but having less stuff also makes it easier to keep your house clean and organized. At our old home I had a flexible schedule, a cleaning woman who came every other week, and no kids running around and I still could end up feeling bogged down by house or yard work. It is incredibly freeing, at least during this stage in our lives, to have a home that is low-maintenance and not have to worry about shoveling or yard work.
- We really enjoy what we do and being able to focus our energy on it! We both work long days (usually 5AM-5PM) and its not uncommon for us to work intermittently throughout the night (social media never stops) or for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That type of schedule isn’t for everyone, and is something we couldn’t do as easily if we were trying to start a family. Having less stuff and less responsibility (less cleaning, no yard work) also frees us up to focus on our work or our passion projects, and we really love that.
- Cities, suburbs and small town life — I think I love them all! For me, I had never lived in a super urban area prior to our arrival in Minneapolis. There are things I loved about growing up in a small town, and things that could take me back to a small town someday. There were things I loved about being in a small development outside of Madison, surrounded mostly by prairie and bike path with all the conveniences of the city nearby. And there are things I love about being in a city that make me not want to give up city life anytime soon. I’ve learned that all three of these things have a place in my heart. Which is great to know, but also makes me confused about where I see us ending up long-term.
I think I can confidently say that our goals have been achieved, and that we are both happy with the decision we set in motion 12 months ago. We’ve been calling this our “sabbatical year”. We knew it was experimental. Potentially temporary. And that we weren’t sure where life would take us next. A lot of things are still up in the air and to be honest, I sometimes still succumb to the nervous vulnerability of feeling “in limbo”, but as I said before, I know I won’t regret this period in our lives and am really excited for what’s to come (more on that soon).
To wrap up this post I thought it would be fun to share a home tour on Instagram Story and also gave people the opportunity to ask questions. I am posting the video along with answers to the FAQ’s below. If you have additional question about downsizing, relocating, or chasing your wild dreams please send them to me on Instagram and I’ll try to answer them. I’ve also shared some photos of our loft life under the hashtag #BruLoft, and if you’d like you can following my Living Little Pinboard on Pinterest for small-space organization and decor inspo!
FAQs about Downsizing and Relocating
In-unit laundry? Ha, yes we do have in-unit laundry. I just totally forgot to show it in the home tour. It’s on the first floor near the bathroom.
How did you sell your stuff? We utilized a few different methods in order to make money selling our stuff, but also make it easy on ourselves. We ended up making about $8000 from sales when we moved, and were really happy with that. I used a private Facebook group to sell a lot of my clothes and shoes. We hosted a moving sale and advertised it in local sale groups (Facebook and Craigslist).
Tips for donating goods? Madison had a refugee resettlement program that came and picked up a bunch of our stuff (winter coats, an old dresser, some chairs, boxes of kitchen stuff). I’d recommend looking for local organizations that are in search of specific things whenever possible.
Tips for storage in apartments? We’re lucky that our loft has really great storage – a huge laundry room, coat closet and a big storage closet in the upper lofted area. However, I think it starts to feel like a lot of storage once you’re used to it and it is definitely a fraction of the storage we had in our previous home. My first tip is to “let go”. Honestly let go of stuff you don’t need and haven’t touched in years. “Stuff” takes up mental bandwidth, so free yourself. Storage solutions become easier once you are only storing stuff that you truly love and need. That said, a couple of my favorite things are this hanging garbage which allows us to utilize the space underneath our kitchen sink and this undersink organizer which I have in the bathroom. This shower caddy is also great, since our shower doesn’t have any shelving an it doesn’t require installation. We also utilize the space underneath our bed for some storage, and if I was going to get a new couch I’d get this one with the storage compartment.
What’s it like to live in a city with a dog? Fine! The only home Walter had ever really known was our old house, so we actually weren’t prepared for how nervous he was the first week. But once our stuff was unpacked and he realized this was “home” it got noticeably easier. It took about a week of corrective training for him to get used to sirens, traffic, and people passing by our ground-floor windows. Now he happily perches in the window all day and watches the world pass by. I wasn’t sure what we’d think of having to take him outside on a leash after having a fenced-in yard for 5 years, but he’s on a great schedule and we go out about 5 times a day. I actually welcome the little breaks and the excuse to get outside throughout the day. Our neighborhood is really dog friendly and there are tons of coffee shops and stores he can go into, so usually our walks will involve a stop or two. Usually at Bachelor Farmer for a latte to go 🙂
Tips on living in a city with a dog? We really love being on the ground floor and having a front door and back door. We made sure to select a location with greenery and walking paths, so for us it is easy to pop outside and access miles of walking paths or green space. I recommend doing your research and making sure you aren’t moving into a concrete jungle that will require you to walk blocks before finding a place where your dog can appropriately relieve themselves. On that note: dogs (even city dogs) should go to the bathroom on grass. Not only is it rude as hell to let your dog piss all over the city, but it can create weird associations for your dog if they are peeing on concrete patios, light posts or turf. The right crate and dog bag holder also make a huge difference and you can find all of my favorite dog products in this post.
Tips on Networking? I think I’ll do a separate post on this, because its been asked several times! For now I’ll just say that if you are a blogger or self-employed professional who is relocating to a new city, make it a personal goal to network and meet new people. In the first few months we lived here I made it a goal to have a coffee or lunch date with someone once a week. I also sent out emails to local PR firms and introduced myself right when we relocated. Just a quick “Hi, my name is _____ and I’m a _____ who recently relocated to _____. I’d love to be on your radar as a local blogger/writer/photographer/event planner/etc.” They were super receptive and it helped foster great local relationships. Instagram is a great place to find local people to follow and it makes it really easy to find people who are interested in the same stuff as you. I also gave Bumble BFF a whirl, but didn’t have any major success on it. Maybe its because I’ve never done online dating or something? I think some people find it way more intuitive but for me it felt awkward. It’s a great resource for making friends in a new city, though, especially if you are self-employed and have to put effort into meeting people (raises hand).
What should you do with sentimental stuff? If you’re lucky, you have sentimental, caring parents who thoughtfully saved tons of stuff from your childhood and then one day in your mid-20 they pointed at a pile of plastic tubs and were like “Can you get this out of my house?” We both got several of these tubs from our moms, and while we appreciated it and really enjoyed looking through them, we weren’t the people who wanted to move this sort of stuff from place to place for the rest of our lives. We went through all of it, took photos of some of the childhood artwork/awards, and both had a goal of getting all of our childhood memorabilia or sentimental family keepsakes down to 1 tub each. I feel like one tub of old dance costumes, high school photos, childhood toys and heirlooms is plenty. I think the biggest hurdle with this is getting over the guilt. It’s easy to feel guilty about throwing away something that your mom stored and moved around for 20 (or 30) years. But you know what? I bet if you ask her she’ll say “do what you want!” and if that means freeing yourself of the mental burden of having “stuff”, do it! Keep the things that mean the absolute most to you, and get rid of the rest. I tossed about 3 tubs worth of it, including my wedding dress, and I don’t regret any of it. Try giving things to people you know (only if they want it, of course). We let our nieces and nephews go through a lot of the childhood stuff we were getting rid of, I let my friends and sisters go through a lot of clothes and home items, Josh gave one of his baseball-obsessed friends his baseball card collection. I think giving this sort of stuff to someone you know can help you give it up.
Items/products on the home tour that people have inquired about:
- Our building is The Maverick
- Gingham Bedding is from Pottery Barn
- Butcher Block island in kitchen came with the place (they’re in most the units at Maverick)
- The slatwall was also installed in the unit, but you can buy and install them! They come with tons of accessory options and I definitely want one in our next house! Here’s a full post about Slatwalls and accessories.
- We buildthe desk upstairs. The drawer units are from IKEA and Josh assembled the top.
- The green chair in the living room is vintage. I inherited it from my Grandma. Sorry! But Joybird does have similar styles.
- The canisters on the shelf in the kitchen are my stash of Vital Protein Collagen. I love all of it.