Small Living

As we’re in a travel lull at the moment (next trip will be in mid-February for a long weekend away for Tony’s first official half marathon), I thought I’d take some time to comment on one area of the move to Abu Dhabi that I’ve most enjoyed on a daily basis — small living.

A little over a year ago, months before we knew that we would be moving to the UAE, Tony and I started to discuss putting our house on the market and looking for a smaller home. Our house in Fountain Hills wasn’t huge, but at 2150 sq. feet, it was large enough that there were rooms that we simply didn’t use — namely the third bedroom that served as a guest room (only used once!), and the living room that was beautifully decorated but overlooked in favor of the family room where the TV resided. While we liked the over all layout of the house, there was just more of it than we needed. It cost a fair amount to heat and cool and took up a huge chunk of every weekend to deep clean.

Like many couples, each subsequent home that we’ve lived in has been larger than the last. We started in a fantastic 500 sq. feet one bedroom apartment in Cincinnati. During our short interlude living in Livonia, Michigan we rented a 800 sq. feet two bedroom apartment. Our first home in Arizona was a 2 bedroom/2 bath duplex at about 1000 sq. feet. Our first mortgage was on a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom townhouse in Mesa clocking in at a spacious 1750 sq. feet, and when we sold that we moved in to the Fountain Hills house at 2150 sq. feet.

We never stopped to ask ourselves prior to each move why we felt like we needed a bigger place.  Although our family size didn’t grow until late 2012, we felt a certain pressure to “size up” each time we moved. It wasn’t until after Matteo arrived that we realized that babies actually don’t take up that much space. Having an extra bedroom for Matteo to call his own was perfect, but we found that our third bedroom remained empty and unused. As a couple, we started craving change in our lives and one area that we zeroed in on was our home — instead of simply accepting that you “needed” 500+ square feet per person in your family to live comfortably, could we choose to live smaller, without regret?

We put the house on the market and started house hunting in Arizona. We told our realtor that we wanted to downsize. Our realtor, who was used to working with young families, was not used to that request and questioned us several times to make sure that we were certain. Within a few days of officially putting the house on the market, though, Tony got the job offer in Abu Dhabi and we realized that we would be returning to the land of renters, living in an apartment or villa in the UAE. The move gave us the perfect opportunity to test out living smaller in a low commitment arena — could we do it? Would we regret it, and feel like we were on top of each other? Were we crazy?

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Main living/dining/kitchen space in our apartment
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Main living/dining/kitchen space in our apartment, opposite view

We moved in to our current apartment in early October. At 2 bedrooms/2.5 bathrooms (the half bath doubles as a laundry room) and about 1200 sq. feet, our place isn’t exactly tiny, but since it is 950 sq. feet smaller than the home we came from, we consider it a good step in testing out our downsize theory. Nearly four months later? We love it. Deep cleaning the apartment only takes about two hours, and picking up on a daily basis is never a long process. There is no wasted space — we use every room in the apartment every day. Having a smaller place also means that we have to really think and consider before making purchases when we’re out shopping — when you’re limited on storage space, its harder to justify impulse purchases. This means less wasteful spending all around.

When our year lease ends at the end of beginning of October, we will try to move to a neighboring apartment complex (one with private playgrounds and beach access), and if anything I think we would be happy living in a smaller place. Living in a small home means we save money each month on all housing costs, spend less time with household chores, and spend more time together. We’re enjoying it so much that in our very “what if” conversations about the future, while most details surrounding the where and when remain uncertain, we do continue to picture ourselves pursuing smaller living.

The lesson learned for us is one that repeated over and over during the past year: Question your motivations, your decisions, and your choices and don’t be afraid to change an area that doesn’t serve to improve your life. Maybe it’s not your house, but there could be something in your life that you’ve just accepted without ever questioning whether its something you really want, or something you think you should want. Life is so, so short. Too short to spend money on what’s not important to you, or to work some place you hate, or to pass on an adventure that intrigues you simply because it’s out of the norm.

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