Sometimes the smallest questions can lead to the biggest changes.
For me, it started with a road trip, too many hours in the car, a needling desire for change, and one small question: “What if?” And it ended with a brave decision to sell our 4-bedroom suburban house and move to a 2-bedroom apartment in downtown Minneapolis.
Flash back to almost five years ago, when my husband and I bought our first home in the tree-filled suburb of Apple Valley, Minnesota. We were so excited to get out of paying rent, start building equity, and be able to change anything we wanted about our home because it was ours. We enjoyed having some distance from work. We loved the whisper-quiet neighborhood, the proximity to the zoo, the hiking trails just up the street, and how close it was to just about every big box store imaginable. It felt like everything we needed was at our fingertips. And at the time we bought our house, we weren’t quite sure what our life was going to look like in 5 years. We could be a family with two kids or it might still be just the two of us. We just didn’t know.
For most of the years since our house served us very well. It was a peaceful place that felt like home. Since all of the major items (like water heater, HVAC, roof, and siding) had been recently updated before we bought it, we had fairly low home maintenance costs. Yet, unlike some people we knew who loved spending time renovating their homes, meticulously caring for their lawns and gardens, or tending to home improvement tasks, we found home ownership took more time and attention than we thought — and while it was work we were willing to do, it wasn’t work we liked doing. We often found ourselves caught between spending money on travel and investing in our home … with travel winning out almost every time.
As the years passed, though, whenever we were downtown for dinner or a play, we’d often look up at the apartments dotting the skyline and ask ourselves: “I wonder what it would be like to live there?” What would it be like to have floor-to-ceiling windows with a stunning view? What would it be like to walk everywhere and be just steps away from the coolest restaurants in town? What would it be like to minimize our possessions and simplify our lifestyle? What would it be like to leave our snowblower and shovels behind so we could actually enjoy the snow falling outside our windows?
Over a Memorial Day road trip to Milwaukee, we decided to change our “what if” to “why not now?” We found ourselves wanting to spend more time in the city and dreading our drive back to the ‘burbs. We longed for a little more excitement and community in our lives. We were ready to let go of the burden of home ownership and let someone else take care of the maintenance. We were eager to minimize our life and downsize to a home that was a little more economical for a family of two.
But, we also agreed we wouldn’t make any changes unless we were both 100% on board. Our current lifestyle and our home were already “good;” we just felt there might be something even better out there for us and we were willing to put time and energy into exploring our options.
To do that, we consulted with a professional about our mortgage to see if we were at a good place to sell. We cautiously began looking at apartments and saw what was available in our price point. After a lot of searching, we found an apartment building that we absolutely loved with a unit that exceeded every expectation at just the right price. Soon after, we started the arduous home selling process. We minimized our stuff by 1/3, put our house on the market, sold it (twice, actually, after the first buyer fell through), sold 90% of our furniture, and boxed up everything that remained. It was a trying and exhausting summer that took every ounce of patience my husband and I had. But now, as I sit in my new apartment listening to the sounds of traffic on the streets below and admiring our new city view at sunrise, I can confidently say that the blood, sweat, tears, and even fights that went into this decision were worth it.
So, why am I sharing this story with you? While a life update is always fun, this decision represents so much more than that. When I told a co-worker (who happens to be in her 60s) about our move, she responded astonished, “You’re selling your house and moving back to an apartment? That’s just not how our generation does things.” I smiled because someone had finally said it: We were flipping the script, moving past the traditional narrative of the American Dream, and bushwhacking our own path to financial wellness. But that path fits us — our lifestyle and our narrative, not some pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all version of what adult life is supposed to be like.
I hope my story is a reminder that crafting a fulfilling life has everything to do with you — your values, your dreams, your goals — and nothing to do with anyone else. Living a life you can be proud of requires that you face the tough questions and honor them with conscious, well-rounded decisions. It requires that you listen to that needling voice that whispers something isn’t quite right even when the culture around you tells you it should be.
Longing a little more change in your life? Here are a few questions to consider (and if you’re in a relationship, to use to get the conversation started with your partner):
1. What have I always dreamed of doing but keep putting off for “the right time?”
2. What narratives about “adult life” am I buying into that don’t fit who I am?
3. What area of my life could benefit most from a change?
4. What things in my life should remain unchanged?
5. Are there financial decisions I should be making today that will benefit me in the long-term, even if they make things tough in the short-term?
Have a big change that you are looking to make in your life? Share below! I’d love to support you along the way.
This Thursday, Oct. 10, I’ll be going live on Facebook at 8pm Central to share some tips on minimizing your life that I learned during our move. Haven’t liked my Facebookpage yet? Now is a great time to do it. Only have Instagram? Don’t worry — I’ll be posting the recording to IGTV later.