From Downsized to Rightsized, Good-Bye Happy Yellow House
“You’re moving from the Happy Yellow House?!” The emails stream in daily, variations of the same question, all bearing a how-could-you tone. People I barely know stop me at church to ask, “Why?”
It’s a valid question. I love that house. You love that house. It rescued me. How could I walk away?
You deserve an explanation, especially those of you who have been riding shotgun with me as I moved from Colorado to Florida seven years ago, left a beautiful home and a failing marriage, became a transient renter bouncing through half-a-dozen places I staged and briefly called home, then met DC, who stabilized me like the anchor on the Queen Mary, and fell in love, and together bought The Happy Yellow House, which I also fell in love with, where DC proposed in the kitchen the day we closed, and where we started our happily-ever-after married life together, at which point, all of you breathed a sigh of relief that the fairy tale ended happily, and I had finally settled down.
And now two short years later, I up and move! What happened?
The short answer is: We undershot it.
The Happy Yellow House was perfect in so many ways, ideal for two empty nesters or a small family. I still remember the feeling, like an electric tree lighting up inside me, when I first walked in. The house’s charming Mediterranean façade and romantic fountain in the back courtyard made me weak in the knees. We eagerly moved in, then this happened:
1. Our family grew. DC and I did not plan for the fact that our combined family of five grown children, who are sprawled across four states from Florida to California, would multiply and come back. Now each has a significant other, and the two married ones have had the audacity to create more humans. This is only going to go one way. Now, they all want to visit, sometimes all at once, and stay a while. Turns out, these family members bring arms and legs, pets and Pack ‘N Plays, and suitcases full of hungry appetites. Frankly, I wanted a home that would be the gathering place for all of that.
2. We got a puppy. In March we got Pippin the Puddinhead, and became a two-dog family, which pushed the boundaries of our low-maintenance yard.
3. We sold some property. That same month, I sold my old home in Colorado, relieving a liability and bringing in an influx of real estate income that made a little more house a consideration.
4. We made some discoveries after living together. You don’t know what it’s like to live with someone until you do. Much as DC and I love our together time, we have separate interests that need space and walls. I need a room to write, preferably not the same one he’s using to watch the Steeler game. He needs room to play his electric guitar at 120 dB if he feels like it. And he does.
So that is how last spring we slowly, cautiously, started looking at houses that had a little more elbow room, a little more yard, in the same wonderful neighborhood, in our price range. Then, one afternoon in late July, DC came home with eyes like candle flames. He’d been to see a house, also yellow, just around the corner. “It checks all the boxes,” he said. We both knew what that meant.
The Happier Yellow House offered more bedrooms, a bigger kitchen, an office for me, a man cave for DC, and a yard for Peapod and Pippin the Puddinhead. Because it needed a makeover – updated flooring, wall color, window coverings, light fixtures – all areas I can tackle, its price fell within our means.
“Do you have another house in you?” DC asked. I steeled myself for the project ahead. It would be a doozie, and my last house for a long, long time.
And here we are. That answer your question?
Now, before you go and hoist me on my own petard, I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t she the one who wrote the book, ‘Downsizing the Family Home,’ and now she’s buying more house?” That is also a valid question, so let me say for the record (as if there’s anything left):
I am not all about living smaller. I am about living better. I don’t advocate for downsizing. I advocate for rightsizing, for having exactly as much house as you need, and no more. I want fit.
Downsizing stuff and downsizing space are not the same. Downsizing means living lighter, not necessarily smaller. It’s about constantly pruning and weeding your belongings, as if tending a garden to make room for new growth. Life is not supposed to be a snowball of stuff that keeps growing as it rolls along.
Location is important, but fit is more important. Our houses dictate how we live. As households expand or contract through marriage or divorce, kids coming or going, what you need in a home changes. Don’t force your life to fit your home. Instead, if you can swing it, find a home that fits your life.
Do not buy more house than you can't afford to furnish. I have been there. It’s torture. Big under-decorated houses seem sad. Better to have a small house that you can turn into a jewel box.
Do not be a storage facility for your children or parents. If you are 65 and still have your son’s Cub Scout uniform, you have issues. If your kids have moved out, and you still have the vestiges of their youth, put it aside. Have them go through it next them they visit or over Skype, and choose to take or toss the contents. Similarly, those who have aging or deceased parents are not responsible for being the family museum. Evolve.
Yes, I will miss The Happy Yellow House. But I am home.
CAPTION: Rightsizing -- Sometimes you have to live in a house to find out if it fits. Last month the author moved from the Happy Yellow House (right), to the Happier Yellow House (left), a better fit. Photos courtesy of Marni Jameson.