The secret is simple: We live small. We’ve intentionally chosen to live well below our means. It started in 2014 when we sold our large suburban home, gave most of our possessions away, and moved to a house that was less than half the square footage (more on that in a second). We didn’t have to choose this lifestyle. But we did so because we believe we’re part of a bigger story in this world. One of generosity.
To be clear, we weren’t in financial trouble. We weren’t drowning in mountains of debt either. We were comfortable in our house, and had enough money to live on and pay our bills. And that’s why it was one of the hardest decisions to make. I remember clearly, the evening we first discussed this. I had been stressing a little about some bills we had to pay when Kristin interjected, out of the blue, “What if we moved back to our old house?”
Our old house was a small farm house we owned and lived in for almost 6 years, but had turned into a rental property when we couldn’t sell it in 2007. It was built in 1930 and was less than half the square footage of the house we currently lived in. To say it was a crazy idea was an understatement. We have 8 kids total, two grown up, but six still living at home. In a 4,300 square foot house this wasn’t an issue. In a 1,950 square foot house? Big problem!
I hesitated when she posed that option. The material part of me thought, We wouldn’t look “normal” anymore. But then a small voice whispered to me. As much as I tried to ignore it, I couldn’t. “So, what do you think?” She asked. “We’d be almost entirely debt-free if we did that,” I replied. “The equity from this house would pay off most of the mortgage on the other house.” Something stirred in us when we thought about that. That night we chose to make a change. We put the house on the market and 2 months later settled into our new (old) house.
We’ve had a lot of raised eyebrows over the past year when we share this story. But we’re confident we made the right choice. Many ask what the benefit is to living like this. There are several, actually. And they go way beyond just money.
The Benefit of Small.
- You save more money. Yes, it does have much to do with money. Living small means you save lots of it. Sounds pretty simple, but I really didn’t understand this until we actually made the move. By moving to a smaller space, reducing the amount of possessions we had, and cutting out larger bills (we got rid of cable, a natural gas bill, a higher mortgage payment, and several others), we saved thousands of dollars each month. We also saved on time because we were no longer spending as much time maintaining a larger space.
- You experience peace. I never thought it was possible to be at peace in a small house, with less stuff. Back in 2007, when we purchased our big house, I thought that was true peace. “We can finally breathe,” I thought. Plus, as I stated earlier, my materialistic itch was satisfied. Since moving, there has not been a day where I wish we were back in our bigger house. I don’t feel constricted in our new place. I really can’t explain it. Maybe it’s because it’s not costing me as much to live anymore. Or maybe it’s due more to the fact that I’m able to live because we have exactly what we need, and nothing more.
- You teach your children valuable life lessons. It’s not like our children rose with a light of joy across their faces and praised us for being so financially wise, when we told them we were moving. It was quite the opposite. They complained about losing their “own” rooms, especially my 15 year old. It took some time for them to come around. To my surprise, however, no one complains now. I never thought I’d see the day. Living small has changed them. We’ve begun to see them develop giving spirits, and value the most important things in life- relationships, generosity, servanthood, and moments that money can’t buy.
- You learn to value people over stuff. I went back and forth on this before we decided to make this change. For me, having a lot of stuff really clouded my perspective. Instead of finding satisfaction in who I knew, I found it in what I had. I was spiritually sick. In the past year I’ve discovered what it really means to love people deeply. Material stuff convoluted all of that in me. Relationships with people are the most important physical thing you can have in life. If your stuff is making this hard to see, you may have a sickness like I did.
- You become financially free. Our money doesn’t control us, we control our money. For many years, this wasn’t the case. I was often panicked about bills and our mortgage, even though we could pay them. But now that we live on much less, I feel more free. That’s what it means to be financially free. When we were in debt, we weren’t in control and there was very little freedom involved. When we sold the big house, cut the bills down, I felt freedom I hadn’t felt in a long time.
- You can weather storms. In September of 2014, I was suddenly fired from the church I was working at. It stung, as most firings do. But I was at peace. By the end of the day there wasn’t a single part of me that worried. We had followed Dave Ramsey’s plan and had an emergency savings. Our only debt was a small mortgage. In fact, getting fired was one of the biggest blessings because it afforded me the opportunity to do what really fills me up- write and speak full time. Storms may come, but they will not take us down.
- You are able to give more. That’s the greatest point of living small! It allows you the opportunity to give with all of your heart. Best-selling author Andy Stanley has one of the greatest quotes on this. He says, “The value of life is measured in terms of how much of it was given away!” When you live small you can give big. And you can give liberally to whatever cause you believe in. This is the number 1 reason we decided to live small. We just see a world that has too much need for us to not free up as many resources as possible to give to those who need it the most.
Having a lot of stuff is not bad. Let’s get that straight. I know lots of people who have large houses, nice cars, and lots of money, and their hearts are big. Nothing wrong with having stuff. It’s what you do with your stuff that matters. If your stuff is clouding your perspective on life and causing you to have a death grip, instead of give, you may have a problem. Maybe you need to reevaluate your life. This doesn’t necessarily mean you give everything you have away and move to a smaller house. Just because we did that doesn’t mean you should too. Maybe it simply comes down to giving for you. But maybe it means something bigger. Maybe your stuff has you, instead of the other way around. Maybe you need to do something crazy, like downsize. It’s a choice only you can make.
What’s stopping you?
Are you living small or moving that direction? What has been your biggest challenge?