by KEN AND KAREN GONYER
The year we were married, Ricky Skaggs recorded a song called “Simple Life.” The lyrics are coming to mind now, 23 years later as our family begins an intentional process of “downsizing.” We’ve sold our place in the country and the adjacent acreage and will be moving soon into a smaller home on a much smaller lot. We’re singing along with Ricky in our minds (and we’re sorry copyright law doesn’t allow us to quote it in print, but you can hear it on iTunes) as we ponder what it means to live simply.
When the impulse to downsize began a year or so ago, it had to do with freeing up finances for upcoming life changes. We knew that we’d need to invest in Karen’s new business for a season. With two kids in high school, we could also see college expenses looming on the horizon. It wasn’t just future concerns, either. We’d been struggling to live within our budget for a while, and life had become stressful and complicated. As we’ve counseled others before, families facing tight financial times really have only two options—decrease expenses or increase income. Because we were both working as much as we could already, cutting costs was the obvious choice for us and the biggest expense was housing.
Ken warily brought up the subject of a move as a “what if,” fully expecting resistance from the whole family. We have dearly loved our home’s secluded, retreat-like setting among woods and fields. We’d even told friends that we’d retire her—maybe even be buried on the property when we died! Therefore it came as a surprise for Ken to hear positive responses from everyone. It turned out that we each had a desire to streamline and simplify. Because we talk openly about finances as a family, the kids caught our excitement at the prospect of having some “margin” or wiggle-room in the budget. They of course thought it might also give us the opportunity to take some awesome vacations in the future, maybe even go on a cruise. After a summer with no real family vacation, we as parents could certainly imagine the joy of at least having the choice to take such a trip if we’d wanted to.
Somehow the urge to scale things back caused us to begin thinking differently about our lifestyle. It was as if we’d awakened some dormant minimalist gene within ourselves, something that dared us to consider how little we could live with as opposed to how much we could accumulate. One day Karen came home and said (semi-seriously) that she wanted to live in a “yurt.” A yurt is a circular, dome-like, canvas-covered structure with its origins in Mongolia. Some friends had stayed overnight in one at Cair Paravel Farm in Stanardsville, and it looked like the simplest housing ever. According to the Cair Paravel blog, they raised the yurt in one day with the help of a lot of friends. Theirs is 30′ in diameter, 18′ high at the center and has about 1,200 square feet of living space. Although that seemed like plenty of floor space, we realized there would be absolutely no privacy in a tent-like home without real interior partitions. Maybe that could have worked when the kids were babies, but not anymore!
Because we talk openly about finances as a family, the kids caught our excitement at the prospect of having some “margin” or wiggle-room in the budget.
Having gotten “yurts” out of our system, we started looking at “tiny houses” such as the ones built by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Sonoma, Calif. They have plans for fully outfitted houses with kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and living areas, all inside a structure with between 260 and 884 square feet of living space. Although some of their homes are constructed on trailers for portability, they aren’t RVs—they’re real houses. Studying the plans, Ken was fascinated with the dedication to conserving space. Once again, though, we sensed that no matter how amazing the house, fitting ourselves and two teens into a “tiny” house wasn’t going to work. It was just fun to imagine.
Our plan now is to move into a reasonably sized and priced three-bedroom ranch home in a subdivision only a couple miles from our current residence. As we prepare to move, we’re kind of excited at the prospect of giving away or selling some of the stuff that fills our garage, storage building, rented storage unit, cupboards and closets. We’re also relishing the soon-coming reality of a downsized life—a smaller place that takes less energy to heat and cool, less time to keep clean, and less effort to mow and maintain on the outside. We’re looking forward to more time to sit on the deck, slow down the pace of life a bit and enjoy our lives together as a family. And if we somehow, someday, find ourselves cruising the Caribbean on a family vacation paid for with cash, so much the better!
Ken Gonyer is Director of Member Care at Park View Federal Credit Union (www.pvfcu.org) in Harrisonburg, Va. KAREN GONYER is a real estate agent with KlineMay Realty in Harrisonburg, Va. Email questions to [email protected]