“Wow, you must be really poor. You live in a tiny house.” And in case I didn’t hear his 7-year-old voice as he was walking through the front door and into our house to play with my boys, he said it again, “wow! You guys must be really really poor.”
I left the Corporate World two years ago. I spent 20 years at a comfortable salary—a salary that paid for more than just the basics. I had the cash for the down payment on our 1300 square foot house we bought 12 years ago. I put the maximum into retirement, started saving for our boys’ college education and bought vehicles with cash.
My salary paid for vacations, my husband Randy’s bicycle habit and over $30K in health care that was not covered because we choose to go alternative routes when conventional medicine wasn’t working. Randy’s take-home covered extras like impromptu toys at Target to serve as bribes for my boys’ good behavior while I shopped.
I had an internship in Ecuador out of college. Back stateside I entered the Advertising Industry at barely 25 years old. I was living in Grosse Pointe, an old-money community of 1920’s mansions on the border of Detroit. I scored a top floor apartment amongst majestic homes that made me swoon.
During my days in Detroit, I wasn’t a minimalist. Or knowledgeable about simple living. If I didn’t feel like doing laundry I made a quick trip to Ann Taylor or Gap. I loved the dopamine rush of a new shirt. Of new shoes. And I believed in the continual pursuit of more and more.
My shopping habits extended beyond clothing to art. Growing up my sisters and I loved watching our mom generously support not just one, but many local artists in their crafts at the summer art fairs. My childhood home was small compared to today’s standards, but the walls were covered with a wealth of art and creativity.
Randy and I moved to Colorado in our early 30’s and immediately bought a starter house. I didn’t care for the house or its neighborhood. In fact, I looked at the house with disdain and saw us selling it in a few years, making a profit and then buying our “real” house. One that matched the identity I had created for myself. One similar to the Grosse Pointe mansions.
When we moved in together we were faced by all of my precious possessions—tangible memories to me, clutter to Randy. For myself, these things were proof that I was living an adventurous life. Randy saw them as an clutter. Tchotchke. Even if paid hundreds or thousands for it. So I hung up a few paintings and put the rest of my treasures into boxes. I told myself that when I got my enormous dream house I would show off ALL of my beautiful finds.
Over the course of the next decade, our house became much smaller as it was filled with the births of our two boys and the accompanying toys of toddlerhood. At times my husband pointed out a house or two on the market that looked closer to my vision. But we never made the leap.
Did my house grow on me slowly over time? Did I decide that it was good enough and to just settle? No.
After 11 years of a lukewarm relationship, I fell head-over-heels in love with my house last Fall.
We had just moved the boys’ bunkbeds into their playroom to create a private office for me. I knew that to create a successful business I needed my own space. In my first year of entrepreneurship, I moved from countertop to countertop trying to distance myself from my two sidekicks so that I could work. I needed a door I could shut.
Working away in my new office it hit me. I was living in my dream house! And I had been all along. Randy’s desire for simplicity had worn off on me. We’d made a conscious effort to get rid of all the plastic. To no longer bribe. To teach our kids that a simpler life is a richer life. Looking around my tiny house I realized with great pleasure that every single room is used every single day. Every square inch of space has a purpose.
Randy is a genius with form and function. He remodeled the closed-in porch to be our den. He built a daybed and used our former crib mattresses as the cushions. Under the daybed live photographs and high-school yearbooks that I’m not quite ready to throw away.
If we have guests stay over, they don’t get a room that’s used once or twice a year, instead, they get a built-in, custom walnut daybed and the large screen TV. In our kitchen, we have the washer and dryer—but no-one knows since Randy enclosed them to give us extra counter space. And for my office, he created a stand-up desk out of the boys’ crib that he built all those years ago.
My beloved little house has taught me that it doesn’t take thousands of extra square feet to create happiness and joy. That I don’t need to purchase a reminder of every trip I’ve ever taken. And to accept gifts with a grace and then repurpose them if there isn’t space.
Last year my boys asked me if we were poor. Most of their friends live in massive homes. They were curious as to why our house was so small and wondered if it might be better if we moved into a larger house. We talked about being house-poor and house-rich. That large houses can be lonely. That less can be more. And they excitedly agreed—we’re in exactly the right size house for us.
As I coach my clients we talk about the basics. Spend a significant proportion of income on quality foods that are going to build health at a cellular level. Dedicate time to the people and activities that are meaningful. Get rid of mental, emotional and physical clutter. And find the beauty in small moments.
I’m relieved that we never purchased what I thought was my dream house. I’m sure I’d have quickly “filled her up” with things—meaningful and not. And I wouldn’t have had the finances to pursue my real dream—starting my own business helping women grow healthy so that they can live fully.
We’re far from poor. And rich in the things that matter. Usually, we grow into things that are new and bigger. I’m grateful that my perspective grew into something used and smaller.