Downsized and Debt-Free

Posted April 4th, 2009 by Tammy "RowdyKittens" and filed in Issue 2: Downsizing

Tammy "RowdyKittens"

A few weeks ago, I wrote a guest post for Simpler Living about downsizing and I wanted to share this article with you. Enjoy…

tammys-fit-3

The Honda Fit

A Normal life?

Five years ago, we lived the “normal middle class” suburban lifestyle. We were newlyweds with flashy rings, living in a two-bedroom apartment, driving two cars, commuting long distances to work and living well beyond our means.

At this time, we were living in Davis, Calif., which is notorious for expensive real estate and a negative vacancy rating (more people than rooms). In reflection, we had a life with too much stuff and stress.

Initially, we resisted the idea of moving into a smaller one-bedroom apartment because we were more concerned about appearances and space for guests than for our financial well-being. Realizing the source of our stress was our financial situation, we decided something needed to change. This “change” began by defining our values and prioritizing our needs over those of potential future guests.

After creating many long pro/con lists, the scaling down process began. We sold one car and moved into a one-bedroom apartment near the train station, the grocery store and downtown amenities. Driving everywhere was still a big part of our lives, but with lower rent we began chipping away at our debt. Our lives began to change for the better.

Rethinking Normal…

2007 Tour of the Tortoise Shell Home Nursery

2007 Tour of the Tortoise Shell Home Nursery

It wasn’t until last year that we stumbled across Dee Williams’s tiny house, the Small House Movement, and the concept of simple living. After doing a lot of research and making many to-do lists, we decided to move from Davis to mid-town Sacramento. We scaled down even further, to a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment within walking distance to my work. Dee inspired me to go small and start thinking big.

Thinking big required setting goals and decluttering. Slowly we began focusing on the quantity and quality of our belongings.

Downsizing can be stressful, but the benefits are tremendous. Moving to a smaller apartment in the city opened up amazing possibilities. Once we sold our one remaining car, life became even better because we saved money and worked less. It sounds like a cliche, but without the car and the TV we had the time, money and energy to prioritize our health, happiness and life goals.

Below are a few tips that worked for us:

1. Going small. Downscaling to a tiny one-bedroom was a slow process that required a lot of work and many trips to the thrift store. Moving into a 400-square-foot apartment forced us to declutter our lives and seriously question why we needed so much stuff.

2. Divorcing our car. After months of talking about the pros and cons of selling our car, we decided to follow in the footsteps of a Wisconsin graduate student and divorce our car.

Weekend biking

Weekend biking

3. Becoming debt-free is indescribably liberating. Discovering the concept of simple living helped us become debt free. After giving away the TV and selling our car, we realized how many hidden ownership costs we were paying. We also discovered an amazing book, called “Your Money or Your Life,” that fundamentally changed our relationship with money.

4. Happiness counts. Purging our lives of clutter and debt has not only made us happier, but we have purchased less stuff. Since we started the downsizing process, we feel psychologically “lighter.” Since we eliminated our debt, I know I have options to engage in activities that make me happy. For instance, I’m a lucky person and enjoy my job. But if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to be tied to the position. That is a huge bonus of being debt-free and actually having money in savings.

Downsizing is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I hope our personal story will help you remove clutter from your life, one step at a time.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.

Good luck in your own simple living quest. Above all, pursue happiness and not more stuff.

Tammy lives in a 400 sq. ft. apartment with her partner, while dreaming of building a tiny home. If you want to learn more about Tammy, read RowdyKittens.

7 Responses to “Downsized and Debt-Free”

  1. betsyNo Gravatar says:

    tammy,

    i LOVE your story!! i can see i am going to love this new journal too! i have been downsizing for several years now, but i still have stuff that will be gone by the end of the year!! i am also a huge fan of dee williams, jay shafer, peter king (in vermont) and the whole tiny house movement. i can’t believe how much information is out there now and it’s a blessing for me. i will retire in about 4 years, but by the end of this year, i will be totally debt-free. that will only leave me with rent, utilities and groceries. this will allow me to stash away the money i never could save because of all the ‘stuff’ i always thought i needed (and had to pay for!!). i will live with no credit or credit cards. i will use my debit card for any and all purchases (mostly for the purpose of building my tiny house)…this means if i don’t have the CASH, i don’t need it OR want it!! when it’s all said and done, i plan to leave my last day of work with only ONE footlocker full of lifetime treasures (as MOST all my real treasures are in my mind!). technology has helped greatly with my downsizing, as i can now almost fit my laptop with all my documents & hundreds of photos, into my back pocket. i noticed your above photo of the honda fit. that is my next car too…in which i will load my footlocker. the honda fit has many nice features i love as it all folds down flat inside so, if necessary, i can sleep in it while searching for the land in which i will build my tiny house. thanks for the tips and i hope to continue following your progress as i smoothly downsize into my new and exciting ‘small’ world :-) betsy

  2. Tammy "RowdyKittens"No Gravatar says:

    Betsy – thank you for leaving a comment. Being debt-free and downsized has been an incredible process for us. Living in 400 square feet is awesome, but we still have a lot of stuff to donate before we build our tiny home. Donating our kitten tower, chair and other big items won’t be hard. But I’m wondering where to store all my bulk food in the tiny house. LOL. :)

    I loved driving the Honda Fit; it has a lot of storage space and gets excellent gas millage. So it should serve you well in your travels. :)

    Thanks for reading the Small Living Journal! I wish you all the best Betsy. :) Good luck on finding land to build your tiny home.

  3. PamNo Gravatar says:

    I’m really enjoying reading about small houses. We live in a 900 sq ft house with 6 adults (myself, husband, grown son & daughter, my handicapped brother and 87 yr old mother). I feel we fit into a small house catagory. I will have to say keeping the clutter down is a constant refinement. The benefits though are great. With the falling economy we don’t even feel the effects. We have been cutting back on expenses for years and are nearly debt free. We own our property and house and cabinet shop on our property. It is truly stress free financially.

  4. John AndersenNo Gravatar says:

    This truly resonates with my deepest convictions.

    Redefining normal is the key to incredible insights and a richer life.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. MichelleNo Gravatar says:

    You completely inspire me! Did you build your own 400 square foot building, or have it built? My husband and I are really thinking about doing this!!! Love your post, thank you!

  6. [...] beginning of 2008, Logan and I sat down and made some big commitments and we followed through with our goals of living a smaller, debt free life. For us the key to staying on track was writing down our goals and checking back in every few [...]

  7. habikaNo Gravatar says:

    We live in a 900 sq ft house with 6 adults (myself, husband, grown son & daughter, my handicapped brother and 87 yr old mother). I feel we fit into a small house catagory. I will have to say keeping the clutter down is a constant refinement. The benefits though are great. With the falling economy we don’t even feel the effects. We have been cutting back on expenses for years and are nearly debt free. We own our property and house and cabinet shop on our property. It is truly stress free financially.