72: The Best Choice

72: The Best Choice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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The Best Choice

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

~Joseph Campbell

In May 2015 my family was featured on the cover of the finance section in The Globe and Mail, a national Canadian newspaper. The title of the article, “One family’s downsizing strategy to live within their means,” captured the essence of our family and our recent move to a much smaller home.

The article struck a chord with Canadian readers, as comments poured in commending our family and our choice to choose a smaller house in favour of financial security and peace of mind. I have never thought that our choice was radical, or our family’s story was special. I’ve always thought that we were just a regular family doing the best that we could with what we had. For us, that meant living in a smaller home, forgoing luxury possessions, and paring down possessions like toys, furniture, and clothes.

Daniel and I married in May 2011 and spent our first year of marriage in a cozy 400-square-foot apartment. We had to minimize our possessions, take stock of all that we had, and constantly purge the unnecessary.

By our first wedding anniversary our family had grown to three. We welcomed our baby girl into the world and found a larger home to suit our needs. By the time we found out we were expecting our second child, we had moved once again, to an even bigger and better home.

Before our third wedding anniversary we realized that we were in over our heads. We were living a lifestyle that we could not maintain, in a home that we could not afford. At this point our credit card debt was mounting, and we knew that we needed to make a change.

I remember looking around at our large living room and shaking my head in disbelief. When we had moved into this home I’d felt as though I had somehow “made it.” Having a home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms made me feel like I’d matched my competition. I had become sucked into the western ideals of success and allowed my possessions to define me. In the end, my possessions only caused me anxiety and stress, as they became unmanageable both in expense and time.

Daniel and I finally decided that we would take the leap. We would move out of our big house, the home that made us feel like we’d made it. We started our search for a smaller home, and found an above ground basement rental that suited our family’s needs perfectly. We also really felt connected to our landlords, a Sri Lankan family who would live above us.

Within a few months we had moved into our new rental, and were ready to welcome our second daughter to our family. Georgia was born in May 2014, and we spent the summer making our new house a home for a family of four. We scrolled through Pinterest and dreamed up ways to frugally decorate. Our older daughter, Penny, even tried her hand at painting with Daniel. Penny and Georgia enjoyed the large back yard that we shared with our landlords and their two children.

Downsizing has allowed us to pay off all our debt. Our expenses are minimal, which allows us freedom to live within our means and not feel suffocated by a budget. When we have an emergency we don’t need to pull out our credit cards, because our lifestyle has allowed us to save.

Some people still think that we are at a crossroads, just waiting until we can move on to something bigger and better. But, I don’t see our home as a way station. Our home has been a place for us to heal from past mistakes, and to change our definition of what success truly means.

Yesterday, after a long day at work, I heard a “tap, tap” at my door.

Penny and Georgia ran to see who it was.

“Hi Brianna, I had some leftovers from dinner, so I thought I’d bring some over to you.”

My landlord Udaya passed me a big plate, heaping with mouth-watering Sri Lankan food.

It’s moments like these that illustrate why downsizing to a basement apartment was the best choice for my family. Because of our choices, my daughters have experienced true community, and I, an unlikely friendship. Some nights when my husband is at work late and I begin to feel lonely, I just listen to the familiar sound of scraping chairs upstairs. Running water and dishes clanking together fuse with my own kitchen clean-up. It’s a comfort, knowing my friend is only one floor up, washing her own dishes, wiping down her own family’s kitchen table.

Did we get second best when we moved to a smaller house beneath the feet of another family? No, I would argue, we chose community, friendship, and peace of mind. We chose best. Now we’ve really made it.

~Brianna Bell

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