We have a love-hate relationship with our house. Mr. Green purchased our current house about 10 years ago, and I moved in 5 years after that. We’ve done a TON of work to the place, and we’ve also both culled our possessions to make our small space seem not so small. Despite all of our decluttering, it still has very limited storage, a small kitchen, a mostly unused dining room that gathers clutter from whatever project currently holds my attention, a garage with a dirt floor that is actually more of a shed, and a creepy basement that predates the first World War. But we also live in an amazing neighborhood, in (really) close proximity to my work (and reasonably close proximity to Mr. Green’s), and we have an incredible backyard that is lovely for hammock-ing, grilling, fetch, and gardening.
The other thing I love about our house, and something that has become more important lately, is that it’s extremely affordable. Living here for the last five years has allowed me to accelerate my debt repayment, and I’m currently living debt-free (since I’m not technically on the mortgage). It has also allowed me to accelerate my retirement savings, and play catch-up after 7 years spent in graduate school and a post-doc.
There’s obviously a lot to love about our current house – the location, the yard, the mortgage payment. But our house is still over 100 years old, and there’s a lot more money that could and should be spent to make it livable for us in the long term. So lately, we’ve been thinking about moving – but I want to make sure we’re moving for the right reasons, and that our future house fits into our larger goals.
Are We Moving Because of Our Stuff?
I’ve dabbled in minimalism – in the sense that I now recognize the potential power of stuff – and I want to make sure that I don’t let stuff and the expense of accumulating it rule my life. I go through my closet on the regular, and my occasional fits of decluttering make Mr. Green sigh deeply and contemplate his choice of a life partner. I’m a regular donator to local thrift stores and I’ve contributed several items to our local Buy Nothing Group. That being said, I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, I haven’t Konmaried, and we’re not moving to a tiny house. I have a lot of hobbies, we both have a lot of books, and I don’t have an office/studio space where I can organize all of my projects into IKEA cubby furniture. While I’ve slowly stepped away from shopping as a hobby, I haven’t gone so far as to have a self-imposed shopping ban, and our remaining hobbies aren’t immune from the further accumulation of stuff. It’s a process, and my moderated approach to minimalism probably isn’t super inspirational, considering those who have truly embraced minimalism! 😉
(Aside: I once googled “Konmari light” and it turned up a post I thought was helpful!)
Mr. Green and I had a conversation recently about our (still very nebulous) retirement plans, and I brought up my ongoing desire to spend some time living out of a camper van and traveling around North America. He mentioned this lifestyle would require that I considerably downsize my hobbies. And I’m totally ok with that! Our current lifestyle and location facilitate a lot of my existing hobbies – we have land to grow veggies (I have a substantial food preservation hobby), I have places to store yarn (knitting), we have lots of bookshelves, and enough space to store our kayaks and camping gear. When future me is driving around in my hypothetical camper van, I think I’d be content with a few small knitting projects (that I can mail off to the recipients when finished), my Kindle, and and a minimal kitchen. I could do it. Probably.
We’re Moving Because of Our Stuff
Ok so FINE, we are moving because of our stuff. But I think it’s ok as long as stuff is not the only reason we’re moving. We’re also moving because we’d like a newer house with fewer maintenance issues, a second bathroom, a better space for entertaining, and a better arrangement of rooms and storage. And minimalism isn’t just about ditching your stuff – it’s about owning stuff that you enjoy using, use often, and ultimately adds meaning and richness to your life. For example, I would love to bicycle to work more often in the winter months, but sometimes it’s impossible to open our garage in the winter because the door is frozen to the ground. We also love to road bike in the summer, but having higher end gear means we don’t like to store it in our damp dirt floor garage. There’s also stuff that we just don’t feel great about storing in our basement because it’s difficult to access and kind of dank.
There’s definitely more stuff we could get rid of and ways we could reimagine our current space. But repurposing the dining room as an office space, for example, means we can’t really have guests over for dinner in the winter months. Using the entire guest bedroom for a studio space means we can’t ever host friends or family for overnight stays. And, as much as we try to imagine where we’d put a second bathroom in our current house, it’s probably not in the cards without a major and ill-advised cash outlay.
So in this post-Konmari world, I think it’s ok to say: we like having stuff! And we like hosting friends and relatives at our home. There’s an extremely broad spectrum of lifestyle choices when it comes to stuff – from hoarder, to a family with a two-car garage packed to the gills with stuff, to living a right-sized life, to living in a tiny house, and all the way down to radical minimalism. And one thing’s for sure – we’re not looking at 3000 sq ft houses for just the two of us. We’ve made it work in under 1000 square feet for five years now, but we are both feeling like the way our current space is configured isn’t working for us anymore.
The Camper Van(?) Dream is a Ways Off
Although we plan to retire early-ish, we’re still in the beginning stages of crystallizing our goals, plans, and finances for that stage in our lives. We plan on staying in this community for at least the next five years, if not longer, and we’d love to have a space that works well for our lives in the near-term. So I’m saying it out loud to the Universe: we want a space to entertain, we want a space to host guests, we want space to store our hobby stuff (within reason), and we don’t want to live in a 100 year old house anymore. We want an enjoyable outdoor space, a second bathroom, and a kitchen that can contain all of our cooking adventures. Ideally, we’d like somewhere that’s still bikeable to my workplace, and walkable to parks and other amenities.
Of course, we can have it all – for a price – and that’s where we need to be prudent. Moving forward, it’s vital that we are being completely honest with ourselves about our house needs and financial priorities before making this huge decision. I fully recognize that housing choice is one of the biggest factors in determining our ability to save aggressively and meet that early retirement goal. We’d love to have a house that we could easily pay off in 10 years or less. We’d love to still be able to travel and save aggressively. A better house doesn’t necessarily mean bigger, and we’d like to continue living our half-normal life, just with a more functional layout.
Whenever I question whether my hypothetical home budget is too high, I use a bank’s affordability calculator.
And lol for days.
— Desirae Odjick (@half_banked) August 31, 2016
I had to laugh when I saw that tweet from Half Banked today – I, too, have plugged our numbers into mortgage calculators on Zillow and elsewhere, and gotten “you can afford $X house” values that tend towards the absurd. The calculators are taking the “housing costs can be 30% of your income” rule way, WAY too seriously and completely ignoring any other financial goals we may have. (The bank actually told us that they are allowed to lend up to 35% payment to income ratio. YIKES. The monthly expenses for an absolute top of our budget house on a 15 year mortgage ended up something like a 20% ratio.) So, run your own numbers. Calculate what you’ll be paying in interest if you take out a 30-year loan on a house near the upper estimate of that insane affordability calculator. Tabulate what you spend on food, debt repayment, and necessities and you want to save for retirement, travel, education, or other goals and work back from there. Think about how amazing it would be to be without a house payment when you’re 45 (or younger!) as opposed to 60.
(Are you listening to me, self? Don’t buy too much house. It’s not the most important thing right now!)
Mr. Green and I went to the bank last week, and, on a whim, we had our first house showing last night. The house ticked off a lot of boxes, but it was far from perfect. I’m glad to get that first showing out of the way, and every future showing or open house narrows down our vision for our future home. After a Twitter conversation with with a few fine folks last week, I decided I’m willing to wait for perfect, or as close to it as possible. Our current house is fine for now, and we’d like to stay in the next house for a while. Reading about other’s experiences with home buying has also empowered me to be critical and smart about the process.
Unfortunately, the housing market in our community is moving quite fast at the moment, especially in the price range where we’d like to be. But we’ve reached a point where window shopping on Zillow isn’t going to cut it anymore, because a lot of the very best properties are under contract within hours or days of hitting the market. So we need to be informed and know what we want – but we also need to be ready to make an offer on short notice when the time comes.
Have you ever bought a house in a tight market?