Over the last few decades property sizes have been getting smaller and smaller, while the increasing house prices means the old quarter acre dream family home has become a rarity. We’ve seen an increasing interest in tiny houses and small space living, with families who take to living on the road and coping with only the bare essentials.
While that may be stretching too far for some, just living in a smaller house can save money and time while teaching a family to let go of materialism. But what is it really like and can it work with young kids?
One of our clients we’ve been privileged to work with has been living in a small apartment in Auckland for the last 3 years. Sounds reasonable, except she and her husband shared the 60m2 two bedroom apartment with their two primary school aged boys! They are now ready to move on again into a bigger home and a new adventure, but have learned valuable lessons from living in a small space.
So we thought it would be great to do a Question and Answer interview with mum to glean some wisdom for others who may be considering downsizing with their families.
Questions and Answers
Tell us a bit about your journey and how you ended up living in a small apartment as a young family of 4.
We were relocating to Auckland and we didn’t know the area so moving into an apartment was meant to be temporary but after a while we just couldn’t find anything that we felt was of value and so we focused our energy on renovating the apartment and just stayed there.
What did you do with all your stuff?
When we left our family home we sold or gave away the lot. We took only a bed, basic linen, basic kitchen equipment, one couch, one arm chair, one TV and one set of drawers only and a few memories. The kids had a school uniform so could survive with relatively little other clothes and we could fit everything within one double wardrobe with sliding doors.
What impact has it had on your family?
We are all definitely closer. In our small living/kitchen space we hang out, do homework, eat dinner, play Lego, build train sets, cook, read, bake, watch TV and sometimes we do all those things all together at once. We all enjoy being able to see each other in the same room even if we are doing our own thing.
What were the kids’ experience of living in a small apartment?
They adjusted really well. They used to have their own room and we first moved into the apartment their room was so small it couldn’t fit a bed, so they slept on the floor on a futon mattress for a year before we took out the wardrobe to fit in some bunks and a dresser. They just got on with being kids and did normal kid things, just in a smaller space. They have never mentioned the size of our new house compared to our old house. I definitely think they are closer as siblings than they would be if we were in a bigger space and they had their own rooms because they are used to having to adjust for each others needs.
Once or twice they might ask for a really big toy of which we would say no because we couldn’t justify giving a toy so much precious space within the apartment. After a few play dates at their friends houses, I had to actively talk to them about disassociating a big house and lots of toys, with being wealthy. It’s natural for kids to think more toys/space/rooms in a house is better, but they both understand wealth is not what you can see.
What things did you struggle with living in a small apartment?
I personally struggled with building community. In a small apartment it is challenging to invite people over as there isn’t much space once we are all in the same room, so I didn’t really entertain at home, and visitor parking was an issue. Thankfully there were a range of good cafe’s around so we would go there instead.
What have you enjoyed most about living in a small apartment?
It’s super cheap. It didn’t take much to heat up in the summer and we didn’t have much furniture so didn’t really need contents insurance. The entire place could be tidied in 20 minutes, everything has to have it’s own space. I loved it when we were all in the same room – I might be reading the paper, dad on the computer, kids playing Lego… cat lying in a sunny spot. It was nice, cosy and close. Due to our location we could live close to work and were almost always driving against traffic or walking. There were no lawns to mow or leaves to sweep up and the weekends were totally ours.
What have you enjoyed least about living in a small apartment?
I was always mindful of our neighbours and often worried our kids made too much racket. No one complained to us though. As the kids got older they liked to rough play and I would have loved to be able to tell them to go outside on the grass. I would have liked for them to be able to have friends over after school but there really wasn’t the space for that. I would also have liked to be able to host dinner parties …. but again space meant we had to go to the local or hire a babysitter and head out.
Has downsizing helped you save money? If so, in what ways?
Heaps of ways. Cheaper power, no water bills and less contents. Also we can’t just see something we like and buy it as we’re always conscious of where it will go. Because of that we don’t have a lot of surplus things in the house and need to be clever about storing memories and mementos.
Why have you decided to end your season in a small apartment?
Purely circumstance. A change of location means we can afford to get a bigger home and we would like to give it a go now that our kids are older. We’re quite sure we will return to apartment living in another season of our lives, but for now we really appreciate the lessons we have learned and the mindful spending habits.
Would you recommend downsizing for other families?
Absolutely. But because it’s against the norm it means you have to be brave and resourceful. Brave to be different and answer all the “where do you fit everything” questions; and resourceful to use what you have well, and not mind going without every now and then.
What would be your top 5 tips for a family considering downsizing?
1. Choose an apartment with good security. A gated area where kids can play outside is helpful unless you want to personally watch over them all the time or take them to the park. Ask if there are other kids in the complex. One summer we had 8 kids who would all play in the courtyard and pop in and out of each others places.
2. Pay attention to where the pubs, hostels and liquor stores are around the community as this brings late night dance parties and drunks rough sleeping or fighting in the night.
3. A great cafe nearby is like having an extension of your living room when you want to catch up with friends.
4. Use the height of the apartment for storage and under the beds. Less is always more when living in an apartment with kids.
5. Try and get a place which has a garage which doubles as extra storage for ironing boards, kids bikes, sports balls etc..
Any last comments?
Be brave. Sometimes apartment living gives you more than you loose. You can be closer to your workplace meaning less time in traffic and more time walking, you will spend less money on house maintenance, your weekends are entirely yours and not spent endlessly cleaning. Kids are really adaptable and I think neighbours like to see kids in the city as well. Internationally apartment living with kids is really normal, ignore those that insist you need a quarter acre section to raise a family.
From Us at Spruce NZ
If you are thinking of down sizing, whether you are mature in years or want to give it a go with a young family, we can help! We can assist with sorting and selling on furniture as well as packing into boxes to help make this huge job easier for you. You can see more details on our Other Services page here. Give us a ring or email us on the details at the bottom of this page or on our Contact us page to find out more.