Fifty Shades of Downsizing – It’s NOT A One Size Fits All Approach

I first downsized my life almost 30 years ago. The impetus of being young and single, a bit of cash in my pocket, a backpack full of dreams and a taste for adventure was all I needed back then. Fast forward a lifetime lived in a first world country full of the trappings of a capitalist society, how easy is it to downsize my current lifestyle? What are the compromises my husband and I are prepared to make to design the future life we want to live?

We have been pondering these questions for some time now, as the clock ticks on eating into minutes, days, months and years; making us realise that a big chunk of our lives is now over and we are not getting any younger. We most certainly have lived more than fifty percent of our life expectancy and no doubt the most healthy years of our lives. A huge chunk of a life spent working, earning money and accumulating stuff that now feels like a pile of clutter and things we no longer need. It is often so ingrained into our brains to believe that progress is directly related to bigger, better…more is more… that downsizing can feel like going backwards.

For us this is intentional downsizing,  we feel very lucky that our downsizing is not due to necessity,  poor health,  financial issues, divorce, or any other distressing reason. It is mostly because we both feel that the time has come to shed some of the no longer needed things and stuff that have kept us pedalling at full speed on the hamster wheel in order to maintain a lifestyle. Living in a large house, the expense of having more than one car, motorbikes, and buying things that we don’t actually need. Although we have never been slaves to the keep up with the Jones type of mentality or caring at all about designer gear, expensive clothes, handbags and shoes. There have been times in the past when we did not think so carefully about our expenditure and have parted with our hard earned cash without a second thought. Our jobs have afforded us a comfortable lifestyle. Something that we are very grateful for.  In recent years though, there has been a shift towards being savvier with money, save more, invest better, planning for a future of not needing to work for a living. We have started appreciating more the many things that can be enjoyed for free, like being outdoors surrounded by beautiful nature, spending more time hanging out with friends and family, choosing activities that are good value for money.

Our house in a leafy, quiet road in the suburbs is for sale

We are selling our home 

A large For Sale sign is now placed in front of our home. When I first saw it there, coming home from work one evening, it did make me stop in my tracks and feel a little sad. It is, after all, our home, there are many happy memories lived here; our children playing in the garden, barbeques on the deck., parties with friends, large family gatherings with enough room to easily accommodate everyone. We have enjoyed the seclusion of living in a private, quiet, leafy road, surrounded by a forest of maple and pine trees, wild flowers, a nearby protected heathland. Wildlife such as squirrels, fox, bats,  rabbits and deer are often spotted in our garden eating our plants and grass. And a variety of birds including robins, owls, jays, woodpeckers tweeting away like a symphony waking us up in the early spring and summer mornings.

We have invested a lot of time, effort and money into our home, but in recent years we started resenting the time and effort spent maintaining a large house, a high maintenance garden with lawns to mow, hedges to trim,  weeding, planting, pruning, patios and driveways to clean. The never ending tasks that take many hours to complete, eating away into the little free time we have in the evenings and weekends. Brian works full time, a stressful job with long hours. I have recently reduced my hours and my job is less demanding and stressful, but again I find most of my spare time taken up by domestic chores. We know that we are no different than most other families around the world who find themselves in the same situation with a poor work and lifestyle balance. One can argue that we could pay for a gardener, a cleaner and at times of desperation we have done that, but for how long do we want to continue feeding the monster?

Time has come to stop thinking about it and to start taking action, we are now in a position to begin making the necessary changes to take better control of our lifestyle. But what kind of lifestyle do we want? I have for years now followed the blogs of people who have taken the plunge to live a simpler life. Some who have sold all of their belongings to live a free and nomadic lifestyle, when all they have is what they can fit into their suitcase or backpacks. Others who have moved to less expensive parts of the world are renting cheaper accommodation, are living off their savings or working part time. People who have swapped a house for a motor home or RV and are living a life of travelling and adventure, seeing the world and living life on their own terms. Some of these people have taken retirement, some have simply quit their jobs and are using their savings to fund a new lifestyle, some are working harder than ever, but doing more satisfying jobs, spending less money on stuff and having more time for experiences and relationships. A huge variation with many shades of downsizing and lifestyle changing decisions.

Quitting my job will be hard for me since I do love my job. I love being a Dietitian; working as a health professional is incredibly rewarding and satisfying, I work with some amazing people, nurses, doctors, other Allied Health Professionals. There is no other job I would rather do,  quitting the NHS is just about the freedom to travel. I could do freelance work, but that would mean compromising on the type of freedom that I want to experience in this next stage of my life.

The question is what is the right shade of downsizing for us?

The answer is not very straightforward since things might change as we go along. We do agree on one life-changing decision which is to stop working so hard or at all,  to maintain our current lifestyle. We also agree that we still want to have a home base in the UK, a place we can return to in between travels. We do want to travel extensively, but we are not sure how long it will take for us to start becoming homesick? Or feel travel burn out? What type of travelling will suit us best? I think we have already established that we are no longer the backpacking type of traveller, we don’t need luxury, but equally hostel dorms will not be for us either.

We do feel like frauds of house downsizing though since our criteria for a home to base ourselves in the UK has been very specific and is not exactly what one would call “tiny living”. There are some braver than us folks out there really going for it, we applaud and admire them. But for us downsizing will not be an overnight process,  it has to happen quite organically, slow but a steady, deliberate transition into a new lifestyle. One thing we both agree on is that we do want a complete change from living in the leafy suburbs, so location for us has to be in the town centre, walkable distance and good transport links to local amenities, so we can also drop down to just one car for us both.  We liked the idea of a townhouse as opposed to an apartment, no garden to look after, but with some small outside space such as a balcony or small courtyard. A lock up and go type of property with a minimum of three bedrooms, so we can have the family, particularly our children and friends visiting, at least two bathrooms; garage for bicycles, motorbikes and fishing gear; some parking space for visitors; an open plan living area with a good size kitchen. We are not asking much, are we?

It is going to be a learning experience, as we started the process of clearing out we realise it will be hard. We thought of our house as the minimalist type, but going through our stuff was an eye opener. Our cupboards and store areas were full of stuff we had not seen for years, like toys our kids don’t play with since they were toddlers. Gadgets that we have used once or twice only and have been forgotten in a kitchen cupboard. Books, CDs, DVDs and don’t even get me started talking about the clothes, shoes, and handbags that have been filling up endless boxes for the charity shops. The garage was possibly the hardest to clear out and it continues to be a work in progress, poor Brian has spent every weekend getting rid of stuff. We have a gym in the top room full of exercising equipment that we have not always used and had recently been used more to dry clothes than to exercise on. Some belongings have an emotional attachment, an element of nostalgia such as our University bits and pieces, family heirlooms etc. Some items I guess will be harder to part with, but somehow we will need to be ruthless and suppress the urge to keep it.

Our Gym equipment doubles up as a rack for drying the laundry. Sure we are not alone…

Although we have made some good progress on getting rid of stuff, starting the process of selling our house, looking for a future property and making the necessary financial arrangements, there is lots more to do. We don’t yet have a deadline for moving house since we have not yet sold our home, perhaps when we do have a deadline we will have a greater sense of urgency to step up a gear or two and get rid of all material items that no longer fit into our lifestyle. I am sure it will be a process fraught with anxieties, but also a great sense of excitement about what future lies ahead? We look forward to a life with fewer responsibilities, schedules and routine, a life filled with adventure, lots of travelling, new experiences, more time for ourselves doing what matters most to us now.

I will no longer be a Traveller Interrupted, although I don’t think I will be renaming my blog…




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43 Comments on “Fifty Shades of Downsizing – It’s NOT A One Size Fits All Approach

  1. Gilda, what a heart warming, philosophical post about your life journey. I appreciate you sharing so candidly the reflections on your life choices and what you are going through with downsizing. It does indeed pose many questions. I am looking forward to read the next chapters as you embrace a new freedom and enjoy the most precious commodity of all, TIME!

    • Val, thank you for your support as always 🙂 Time really is so precious and we waste so much of it…scary. I am excited about this new lifestyle we are trying to create. We are often reluctant to make changes, the unknown can be scary, but also trilling and invigorating 🙂 You have done it my friend, so you know what it is like.

  2. You’re so right about one size not fitting all. It is important to figure out what works best for you. It’s cool that you know you want to have a place in the U.K still to come back home to. It’s pretty certain you wouldn’t have a hard time finding renters while you travel, especially if it is in the center. We were a bit apprehensive when we left and rented our primary house for a year (in case we wanted to return). Instead, we realized we were done so we put it on the market and thankfully it sold quickly. In case we ever decide to move back to the States, we could as a last resort move to the rental house but l would only live in a new state or move back to L.A. It’s an exciting phase that you’re coming into and l am looking forward to reading the new adventures and your next bite of life :-).

    • Kemkem, at this stage we have more questions than answers, but that is all part of the process. We keep saying that as long as we have our health and each other we will be fine. We do want to keep our base in the UK for now, but in the future, who knows we might find that not to have a base can also work well. We are very excited about our “next bite of life”, thanks for your support 🙂

  3. I’ve listened to several podcasts by the Minimalists, and I remember their advice was to start with the easy stuff (like, maybe the toys your kids haven’t played with for years, kitchen gadgets rarely used). For the sentimental stuff, they felt that the sentiment wasn’t in the physical object, but in the memories it invoked, so taking a picture of it helped to recall the memories without storing the physical object.

    Good luck with your downsizing.

    • Donna, that is good advice. I am struggling to part with things that have a sentimental value, taking a picture would be a great idea 🙂 Thank you !

  4. Gilda I read and nodded and read and nodded some more. Four years ago we downsized from the home we had raised our children in and moved to inner city in an attached home or duplex. The purging of accumulated things over several decades was incredible. I had thought of myself as a minimalist but in a big home it is amazing how much can be tucked away in closets and cabinets. Sending you best wishes on what truly is an exciting new chapter. We are gradually moving toward retirement, I more so than my husband. It’s hard to imagine what the next phase might look like but we look forward to more travel and a slower pace. Best wishes and looking forward to future updates!

    • Sue, “purging of accumulated things” is a great way of describing it 🙂 In a large home stuff just disappears into storage spaces and cupboards, making us believe that we are minimalists hahaha it is just an illusion. We are looking forward to moving into the city centre, it will be nice not needing to get in the car to find a nice restaurant to eat out. I am planning to walk everywhere. We will also be within a walking distance to a nice beach, at the moment we live about a 15 minutes drive to the closest beach. I am a little apprehensive about quitting a job I love though, but working is not in our future plan. We have done a lot of hard work already, it is time to take a very long break. Sue good luck with your future plans also 🙂 thanks for your lovely comment.

  5. This is such an interesting post Gilda and one that I can really empathise with! We are going through a similar process though we have decided against downsizing our property for various reasons. We are in the midst of a major decluttering phase though – sorting out our garage and turning the junk room above the garage into a retreat/study/studio. We were amazed at how much “stuff’ we had collected over the years!! I can well relate to the endless amounts of clothes/shoes/accessories gathered over the years many of which have ended up in charity clothing bins – it does seem a ridiculous waste and with my husband looking at life beyond an incredibly stressful but financially rewarding job we are trying to simplify things and refocus priorities. Some stuff has come in useful such as old toys and books now being used once more for our 2 granddaughters (we also have 2 daughters). I gave up my job in education when my elder daughter had her 1st baby 4 years ago so we are moving towards “retiring” and a change of lifestyle – a bit scary but it’s been well thought out and planned (by my husband I’m not good with budgets!). Good luck with it all and look forward to future updates! 🙂

    • We are getting to an age of life changing decisions, sounds like it is the same for you? and some others that have commented here… It is an eye opener looking into how much stuff we have accumulated over the years, it feels like such a waste now. We are being quite ruthless with getting rid of all since our next property will be a lot smaller. Selling our large property will release some much-needed capital that will help to fund our travels. We don’t foresee grand-children in the immediate future since both our kids are in their early twenties and don’t even have serious relationships. So perhaps now is the best time for us to do some serious world wanderings 🙂 Good luck to you also with your future plans 🙂

      • Yes we are at a crossroads too Gilda with work /life choices coming up – obviously a theme for many other folks too. Definitely go for the travelling whilst you can! We are a bit constrained (in a nice way) as our elder daughter is working as a teacher plus her husband has set up his own business and we help out with childcare. By the time our younger daughter (now mid 20s) left home 3 years ago, we were already grandparents so never had that gap between adult kids leaving and grand-kids coming long. Our younger daughter in London is footloose, fancy free and highly independent so can’t see her settling down any time soon so we have to balance seeing her plus our elderly parents (also in the Uk) along with our family (and pets!) here! All that whilst trying to decide the best time to give up work completely – it’s definitely a time of life changing decisions and being at a crossroads. I do agree with you though as we look at financial choices going forward and how much we “need” to live on, a lot of the stuff we have accumulated seems rather a waste now. I have always been a ‘gatherer” of things but have become far more adept at getting rid of stuff now – not quite as ruthless as I should be but getting there! Plus not acquiring too much new stuff to replace the old either!! Very best wishes with your next move 🙂

        • It is wonderful that you are in a position to help your daughter, taking care of your grandchildren must be so rewarding. I can relate to your younger daughter making the most of her time in London “footloose and fancy-free” best place to be in your 20’s, I certainly loved it… a long time ago now. It is all a balancing act with ensuring to spend time with your elderly parents and the commitments back home but sounds like you are doing a great job of that 🙂 I have my father in Brazil (mum passed aways many years ago), he is in good health, I will be visiting him again soon. My husband’s mum lives in Scotland, also in good health at the moment, we visit her regularly. With our early retirement, we hope to have more time to spend with our loved ones. I look forward to hearing more about your recent trip to Switzerland 🙂

    • Thank you, Agness our road is very beautiful surrounded by greenery. But we are soon to move into a city centre. I think time has come to have a change of scenery 🙂

  6. Oops- delete that please? 🙂 🙂 Somewhere in the south, Gilda? Not an easy decision to make and exactly how to go about it that will work for you both. We don’t have a big house in the UK and have an even smaller one in the Algarve. The jury’s still out on when exactly we will make the move but we’re thinking.

    • Jo, I live in Dorset 🙂 hard decisions ahead, sometimes one just have to choose a fork on the road…change direction for a while. We have a lot of work to do in the next few months to get our ducks in a row, but we are excited about the future. Great for you Jo, to be able to enjoy a foot both in the Algarve and also here in the UK. You have the best of both worlds 🙂

  7. Such a great post Gilda and, like another reader who commented, I found myself repeatedly nodding and identifying with so many of the things you wrote. One of the big differences in our approaches to working towards a simpler lifestyle is I had no problem with walking away from my job as a pharmacist which was only becoming more stressful with the changes in US healthcare. And, when we took a look at all of our thoughtless spending over the years, it really hit us that we could have retired years earlier, traveled more and especially spent more time with friends and family if we hadn’t jumped on the consumer train wholeheartedly. Our downsizing was a slow process over a year but, towards the end, we were giving things away as it was such a freeing experience. One thing that really helped was reading books and blogs on simplifying and minimizing, finding out what you can and can’t live without as well as separating how your feelings and memories become entwined in an item. (We too, like another reader, found that taking photos freed us from the sentiment and, you know what? I haven’t gone back to look at those photos once!) Go slow and treat yourself gently because, like you said, downsizing is not a one-size-fits-all process. And I imagine, like we’ve found, the next chapter in your lives will evolve into another totally unexpected. We had no idea when we started out in Mexico in 2012 that our journey would lead us to Portugal but what fun it’s been to follow a road with no end in sight. Good luck and I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures! Anita

    • Anita, such a lovely and heartwarming message 🙂 The health care system is changing in the UK also and is not for the better. I find myself spending more time on paperwork and a lot less time with patients. I do enjoy my job though and there are certain aspects of it that I will miss a lot. But my wanderlust is now back with a vengeance, there are so many places I want to explore and I feel that there is just not enough time. I feel a sense of urgency to start our new chapter. I have been reading a lot about other people’s experience of downsizing, it is helpful. Taking photos of the more sentimental items is a good idea. I think it is great how your lifestyle change has evolved, it has been quite a journey. One day we have to meet up and have a good long chat about it all 🙂

  8. This is a lovely post Gilda, and one that many people will be reading closely.

    You’re absolutely right, it’s important to go with what feels comfortable to you, where, how and when. There’s no rush, and you have the best of both worlds when you think about it, as you’ve had the career, the home, the family, and now the kids have grown up and are independently established, and you and your husband are still young, healthy, and eager enough to make a new phase of life together.

    I think it’s a good idea to rent your house out, and have a base in the UK until you see how you feel. In a year, you’ll know what’s best.

    I’ve lived in 4 different countries over the years, and each time, it’s been pretty much, if it can’t fit in the car, or on the plane, it doesn’t go! I still have stuff in the UK that I haven’t looked at in 17 years. I don’t think I’m going to look at them now!

    Ha! Ha! With me, it’s been the complete opposite. I’m constantly having to make our place more homely as our friends come to our house and wonder why we’re packing!

    • Victoria, sounds like you are a pro at moving house and downsizing your stuff? Living in 4 different countries it ensures you never get bored….good for you 🙂 I think we are a bit bored of our lives in the suburbs and want to shake things up a bit. Like you said our kids are grown ups now and ready to live their own lives. We are still young enough and have our health (touch wood)…so we want to make the most of all that before time runs out for us 🙂 We are very excited about the future. Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂

  9. Well done Gilda, you’re on your way! We are a few years ahead of you in the process, but I can definitely relate. Don’t be surprised if you find yourselves downsizing more than once, or twice. Our transition has definitely been in stages and everyone has to make it work for them. You may find this first stage of selling your home will get you through the next year or two and then maybe you’ll move on to the next stage. It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s true when you read the words “freeing” and “liberating” as descriptions of what downsizing feels like. We just downsized – again – and with the exception of about 8 tubs of treasures which are stored at our son’s house – everything we own is in a 10 x 30 storage garage and in a matter of days we’ll park our car in storage as well. Like you, we do intend to have a base, near our son and DIL, which is why we’re doing the storage thing while we take off and travel for a while. But, the best part of all of this is just knowing that you have the ability to position yourselves to see where life’s path will take you. Embrace it!

    • Patti, I value your view in this matter, since you have done it already. The hardest is always to make the decision of when is the best time to start the process? We are now taking the plunge, I think now is the best time for us, we have been planning and thinking about it for a while. We have had few people coming to view our house, but no offers yet…it is a waiting game. Like you said the process can’t be hurried and the transition will be in stages. We are already feeling the effect of “freeing” and “liberating”, it is so true. I hope our paths will cross in the near future, we will have lots to talk about 🙂

  10. One thing I’ve been meaning to ask, Gilda, I am unable to find a link to follow your blog by email. Am I just not seeing it?

    • Patti, I do need to improve on that. In fact, I have enrolled on a WordPress course starting in October so I will learn a bit more about the blog. There are so many things that I don’t know how to fix. Thanks for your support 🙂

    • Peggy, I can’t wait to get going, but we are still waiting to sell our house. Fingers crossed it will not be long 🙂

  11. Ah Gilda, welcome to our world!

    We downsized from our Chicago home with four teenagers, four bedrooms, two cats, ten years ago when we sold the house, got rid of 90% of our accumulated stuff, kept photo albums, favorite books, paintings, piano…..It was not easy, but it was definitely a worthwhile cleansing process and lifestyle change. We have not looked back, only forward.

    Here is our reaction to this thoughtful, well written post of yours…

    Why commit now to another set of walls, bills to pay, etc, albeit in a smaller space, but why do it now as you are about to launch into a different kind of travel? Travelling without the anchor of a homebase is where you truly experience freedom. In fact if as a result of selling your house, when you do, you are sitting on a nest egg …why not keep the location OPEN and see where your travels take you because there are probably many places you could potentially live a charmed life, but in a new country which would immediately give you an adventure.

    We spent two years as you might know from our blog, “shopping” for countries that would make a good home base, and the process itself was possibly the best part. You can always come back if you want and THEN commit to the townhouse but just a thought…put some things in storage, lock the door, go carefree, buy one way tickets and start your next chapter of life with a big bang. The freedom dimension is huge!

    Peta & Ben

    • Peta, getting rid of 90% takes courage. Especially because your kids had not yet left home (I assume ?), so it must have been harder and required a lot more planning? You are both amazing and a real inspiration. I would be happy with you suggestion “travelling without the anchor of a home base”, but my husband does not feel the same, so the compromise is to have a base in the UK for now. But in the future? Maybe we will follow in your footsteps and go for it full heartedly. Total freedom is very appealing 🙂

      • Gilda, we waited to move to Nicaragua once our youngest had finished high school. Still there were years of accumulated things, some of which were very hard to get rid of such as, for example, my sons huge container of large wooden blocks of all sizes that had given them so many years of use.
        Well thank you. Glad to inspire others… You might find that your base in the UK becomes an expensive wardrobe to store stuff while you are gone, as no doubt eventually you might find that you are gone more than you are home! Best of luck with it all!

  12. Hi Gilda, it’s so exciting to read that you’re taking the plunge and starting on a new path. It sounds so hard downsizing from a large family home, but I’m sure the results will make it worthwhile. Will your base still be in Dorset? We’re back at my parent’s for a while over the summer in Hampshire and planning to get a car for European travel, so it would be great to finally meet in person sometime if you’re free 🙂

    • Hi Amy, we are very excited about the future, it will be nice to no longer be a “traveller interrupted” 🙂 We would love to finally meet you guys, so do let me know if you can come over some time. Maybe come and have dinner here with us? You are also welcome to stay for a sleep over if you have the time? We are going to Scotland in early July and then will be here for the rest of July and most of August, so choose a date and we will be delighted to have you here 🙂

  13. Nice post Gilda – the process is stressful but also exciting and you have to do it in steps you are comfortable with. When we left Montreal we weren’t quite ready to sell the condo yet so we rented it out. That was 3 years ago. During this time we’ve realized we could never go back to our old lives.
    Just a few weeks ago I was back in Montreal, signing off on the sale of the condo and shipping some of our furniture to our new home in Croatia.
    Give it a chance, you’ll figure it out 🙂

    • Frank, house selling is a nightmare. We have had a lot of viewings which is a good thing, but It is exhausting to keep the place spotless clean the whole time. Also waiting for feedback and hoping that someone will make an offer we can accept…all very stressful. Good for you Frank to turn over another page on you lifestyle choices. I know you both love Croatia, so I think it will be a great place to set up base for a while. Having your own furniture will be great and make it feel more like it is your home. Thanks for taking time to comment and give some support 🙂

  14. Having recently gotten into the blog arena, I found your site while “surfing” through some other wonderful travel/lifestyle blogs. This post resonated with me and I can relate to having wandering feet, but wanting a home base at the same time. We have been retired since 2006 and began traveling extensively in ’08. We still live in the same big house, but are getting the itch to “rightsize” as my friend calls it. Part of that process this summer is to clear the clutter. We just sold the billiard table that has been occupying space for ten years, next will be the treadmill (our neighborhood has a gym so we don’t need it), the closets have been thinned, and contents donated, and minor repairs and painting are underway throughout the house. We will be listing soon! Love your Blog and will be following along on your journey. Best wishes for a smooth transition.

    • Suzanne, it is time for a new life chapter for us. I have just started the count down to my retirement. I have taken voluntary early retirement, although I love my job I do love travelling more. Sounds like you have been enjoying some great adventures for some time already? Good for you…we only have one life. Rightsize is a great word…I might still it:) The process is exhausting and a little stressful, but we are getting there. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  15. Gilda, this is a thorough, thoughtful look at downsizing, and I can tell from the post that you will be successful in your journey. Knowing that not one size fits all is half the battle, as well as knowing that YOUR priorities are what drive the train. There are hundreds of books written on simplifying, with lots of good information, no doubt. But being happy with the results means listening to your heart, and making decisions based on what is important to you as a couple. I wish you all the best and will watch to see how it goes. ~James

    • James, you are so right…we had to think carefully about what are OUR priorities, what we wanted at this stage of our lives. I read a lot on the subject, it helped a lot to hear about what has worked for others..eventually we come up with our downsizing plan. So far things are progressing nicely…fingers crossed we will get there 🙂 Thanks for your lovely comment.

    • Sorry for the delay in replying, we have been moving house:) I am so glad you have enjoyed the post and can relate to it. The last few months have been hard work, but we are starting to come out the other end. Have a great Christmas and best wishes for 2018 🙂

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