Downsizing: "Less" Can Be "More"!

07/15/2013 10:52 am ET | Updated Sep 14, 2013

I remember the first time the idea of downsizing was introduced to me, though I was completely oblivious at the time. Nineteen years old, and a summer student in Montreal, I had no concept of money, budgets, and the choices I would face as an independent adult. Clients of my father's had invited me for dinner. They had three boys all around my age, and lived in a tiny, cramped apartment in the city.

I don't know how the conversation started. At some level, it may have been a way to keep the American student from telling her father that his clients were paupers. "We made a choice long ago," the client's wife told me, "to spend our money on experiences rather than real estate. We love to ski, and I wanted to be a full-time mother, so we keep our expenses down at home and head to the mountains every weekend. It's like a permanent vacation, and it works for us."

Fast forward more than twenty years, and here I am doing the same thing. Did it take me that long to learn the lesson? Not exactly.

When we first bought a house, David and I chose well: a two-story fixer-upper in a desirable Atlanta neighborhood. The home was about seventy years old, had 2,400 square feet, with four bedrooms and a completely unusable basement. We brought the old beauty back to life, made a tidy profit, and used the money towards our second home in Louisville, Ky. This was another fixer-upper: four usable floors and a carriage house, totaling over 5,000 square feet. Once again, we did a lot of work to the home, and made a profit when we sold.

Can you guess what we bought next? If you're guessing 7,000 square feet, a fixer-upper on a double-sized lot... guess again! We bought a ranch home on a tiny lot, 2,400 square feet above ground, built in 1980, and recently renovated.

I could tell you we'd had an epiphany that less is more, and that having more than you need becomes a burden. While this is true, I don't know how quickly we would have come to that conclusion without some prodding from financial pressures in 2008 and 2009. I think we would have moved anyway, but finances dictated the "when" and "where."

As we prepared for our downsize, we found tremendous joy in emptying closets of items we'd not seen in years. "Toss! Donate! Find it a home!" we'd gleefully cry at the sight of an ornate chip-and-dip server we'd received as a wedding gift and never un-boxed. It seemed we'd managed to fill every available square foot with things we didn't care about. We chose a few decorative and sentimental items, and a few favorite pieces of furniture. We made sure the kids had their special toys, books, and photo albums, and even boxes with their baby clothes and other memorabilia.

Somehow we fit everything we felt we needed into the smaller home. How amazing! As a benefit, we became much closer as a family, simply because we were physically closer together; there was nowhere to hide. Every square foot we lost became an opportunity to be in each other's presence.

A few short years later (just over a month ago), we moved yet again -- this time, to a three-bedroom condominium in Denver. Every day I pinch myself to be sure I'm not dreaming! We live near the creek path, and in walking distance to shops and restaurants. We are already enjoying the mountains, museums, parks and other amenities the city has to offer. It's sunny all the time, the air is dry, and every day is an adventure waiting to happen. I feel just like that woman in Montreal, on "permanent vacation", like the world is my oyster!

This would never have been possible if we, as a family, had not been willing to trade luxurious housing for enjoyable lifestyle. With no closets to fill, we spend time exploring and experiencing rather than shopping. With no lawn to mow, roof to repair, decorative moldings to dust, or formidable mortgage to service, life is simpler, and frankly, better than I ever could have imagined possible.

Of course, we're not really "on vacation." My husband still has to work every day. I still cook, clean, and do laundry. The kids still get on each other's nerves from time to time, and/or drive us to distraction. But from where I sit, on my balcony with a mountain view, life is pretty sweet.