This is the second instalment of a three-part series on downsizing as a strategy to clear your mortgage and achieve financial independence. Previously, I discussed the financial benefits of downsizing. Today, I shall talk about the lifestyle benefits. As usual, I’ll be sharing Mr Wow’s and my experience with you.
When it comes to homes, the conventional thinking is the bigger the better. The larger the house, the more successful we appear to be. But that’s a deceptively simple way of thinking. Someone who lives in a big house might be leveraged up to his or her eyeballs and struggling with mortgage repayments. Another living in a smaller house might have millions sitting in his or her bank account.
Just look at Warren Buffett, the seventh richest man in the world. He still stays in the same modest house (for a billionaire) that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and has no intention of moving. In today’s money, the house is worth 0.001% of his total net worth! Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, is the ultimate champion. His current abode is a humble 3-bedroom property that he bought for $45,000. Ever so practical, he purchased it because it’s within walking distance of his SpaceX facility. All billionaires live in sprawling mansions, right? Apparently not.
Besides financial benefits, there are several lifestyle benefits of moving to a smaller home. One thing is certain — you will spend less time cleaning and more time on things that matter.
When Mr Wow and I downsized our home in 2018, we didn’t do it just to pay off our mortgage and become debt-free. We wanted to simplify our lifestyle and lead a minimalistic life. It has been more than four years since we moved into our current crib. It truly is our dream home — it’s small, functional and oh-so chic. It might come as a surprise to you but going small has numerous benefits:
- Your Big House Takes Up Too Much of Your Time
- Your Big House Has a Lot of Unused Space
- You Want to Move to a Better Location
1. Your Big House Takes Up Too Much of Your Time
Is your home wasting your time? Are you spending too much time on the following tasks:
- Dusting and wiping the table tops, ornaments, etc.
- Vacuuming and mopping the floor
- Cleaning and scrubbing the toilets
- Maintenance and repair, e.g. skimming the swimming pool, servicing the air-conditioners, removing stains on the rugs, etc.
- Mowing the lawn
- Watering the plants
Tending to a house is a lot of work unless you do not give a crap if your house falls into disrepair. If you and your spouse are working full-time and do not have help, you would probably be spending your precious weekend doing household chores.
Tending to a house is a lot of work unless you do not give a crap if your house falls into disrepair.
When Mr Wow and I got married in 2001, we had just started working for slightly over a year. Given that we didn’t have a lot of savings, buying an HDB flat was a logical choice. We viewed a number of resale flats of various sizes: 3-room, 4-room and 5-room. After careful deliberation, we were about to make an offer on a 3-room flat when…
‘Don’t be stupid! You’ll regret your decision when you have kids in the future. The 3-room flat is too small. You need room to grow.’
I looked at my dad and replied matter-of-factly, ‘But we can only afford a 3-room flat.’
‘You’re so stupid! Where on earth is your foresight? Your income will increase over time. If you don’t have the money now, just take it from me!’ my dad roared.
Have I ever mentioned that my dad is an austere man who’s also incredibly kind and supportive?
So… we borrowed some money from my dad and bought a five-room flat instead. At 1,442 square feet, it was a big space for two people. We absolutely loved it but the cleaning was NO FUN. When we were still in the corporate world, Sunday was the awful housework day. We would start cleaning right after lunch at 2pm (might as well work off the calories) and would only finish at around 8pm. After that, we would shower and eat our dinner. Finally… the highlight of the day — sitting on the couch and watching TV after 10pm. What an ‘eventful’ day! That was our routine for two years.
Then we started our first business and became really busy. Mr Wow was fine that the house was not as spick and span as before, but I wasn’t. While he slept like a baby, I was grumpily doing housework until the wee hours on certain days. We eventually hired a part-time maid to preserve my sanity. She was a great help, but to be frank, I wished I didn’t have to spend the money.
Our current home is a 3-room flat. It’s half the size of our old place at 785 square feet. Cleaning is a breeze and we do it ourselves. Compared to the past, we now have more time to rest, to pursue our interests, to be more productive in other areas like writing articles for this blog.
Compared to the past, we now have more time to rest, to pursue our interests, to be more productive in other areas like writing articles for this blog.
Maintaining a house can be very time-consuming and time is the most precious resource. If your home is taking up time that you should be devoting to other important things, you’ve essentially become its slave. Maybe it’s time to get help. If you can’t afford help, you probably shouldn’t be staying there.
2. Your Big House Has a Lot of Unused Space
Many families have room to downsize without cramping their lifestyle. Mr Wow and I are a prime example. Fast-forward to 2018. We had been staying in the 5-room flat, our matrimonial home, for 17 years. In the course of time, we came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to have kids, so it was just us two in the big flat.
Referring to the above floor plan, the red dots show where we usually hanged out at home. If we weren’t sleeping in the master bedroom or preparing food in the kitchen, we were either doing work in the study or unwinding in the living room. We accessed the blue dotted areas, namely the two bathrooms, service balcony and storeroom as and when required.
As you can see, about half the space was under-utilised. Let’s start with the balcony. Situated near the equator, Singapore is so darn hot and humid, so how often do people use their balconies for their intended purpose? Instead of seeing people enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine on their balconies, I see unsightly laundry left there to hang-dry. Yucks! Mr Wow and I never did that. We were all about the aesthetics. We styled our balcony with lush plants, a small table and two chairs BUT it was all for show. We hardly stepped out as Mr Wow is someone who sweats easily and profusely.
Situated near the equator, Singapore is so darn hot and humid, so how often do people use their balconies for their intended purpose?
Next, the dining area at one end of the living room was also wasted space. When we first moved in, we bought a really nice dining table and chair set that could accommodate up to six people. How often did we use that space in 17 years? LESS THAN 10 TIMES, I shit you not! Where did we have all our meals then? At the coffee table in front of the small screen. You might ask, ‘Didn’t you guys entertain?’ Well, yes… the less than 10 times were the number of times we welcomed guests. What can I say? We’re anti-social.
Moving on, bedroom 2 and 3 went through countless makeovers. We didn’t know what to do with bedroom 2 at first, so we left it empty for a few of years. We then thought of moving our piano and guitar there and transforming it into a music room, but we aborted the idea as the instruments looked nice in the living room. We also tried to turn the room into a home theatre, but we halted the project when we realised that it was impractical.
After racking our brains for some time, Mr Wow came up with the bright idea of transforming the room into a gym. Thus, we bought a full range of fitness equipment, only to become a white elephant in less than two years. The ‘gym’ eventually functioned as our second storeroom — for storing all our white elephants.
Bedroom 3 started off as a guest room even though we knew we probably would never have guests staying with us. Over time, we actually felt bad for not using the room, so once in a while, Mr Wow would take naps there for the sake of utilising it. I did my part by doing all my ironing there. In the end, I converted the room into my walk-in wardrobe and it stayed that way till we moved out.
The bottom line is homeownership is a lifestyle choice and our previous abode did not suit our lifestyle at all. You have no idea how happy we are at our current home.
Since our family is definitely not expanding and we do not foresee anyone staying over, we converted the two bedrooms into a big one with a connecting walk-in wardrobe. Then there are the usuals: a living room, kitchen, study and two bathrooms. Every bit of space is fully utilised. More importantly, it’s a space that reflects our personality, preference and style. It’s also cosy, warm and inviting.
Before buying a big house, you really should ask yourself what the attraction is. How much space does your family need? Will you be spending your hard-earned money on unused space? Will you be buying a bunch of useless stuff just to fill up the space? Will you be decorating and redecorating the rooms all the time? How often will the guest room be utilised? How often will you entertain? Do you actually need so much space to entertain?
Many people think that big houses provide a more comfortable living experience than small houses. That’s not always the case. A smaller home allows you to create an intimate living space that’s unique to your family. You do not have to compromise on quality, comfort and style.
Many people think that big houses provide a more comfortable living experience than small houses. That’s not always the case.
3. You Want to Move to a Better Location
Once you’ve made up your mind to downsize your home, you’ll need to consider where you want to move to. The location of your new crib should match your lifestyle. Do you prefer somewhere that bustles with activity or a more sleepy, secluded area? Perhaps you like a place that faces the sea? What about the surrounding amenities such as leisure and education? Spending less time on housekeeping and enjoying a more intimate living space are wonderful perks. A more convenient location that makes your daily life easier will be the icing on the cake.
Mr Wow and I knew from day one that the location of our new home must fulfil certain requirements. We eventually narrowed down to a really nice neighbourhood near our parents’ and were lucky to get our first choice at the price we had in mind.
In all fairness, the location of our old home is pretty awesome just that it’s not so accessible by public transport. That wasn’t really an issue when Mr Wow and I were driving. Nevertheless, about a year after selling our car, we found ourselves wishing that we lived near a train station at times (especially when it was raining cats and dogs). Now, travelling from home to everywhere is so easy because the train station is just a stone’s throw away. It’s an added bonus that we’re situated near a park as Mr Wow loves to jog.
Ultimately, you should feel happy, comfortable and relaxed BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE your home, so do choose your location wisely.
If less is more, small is big. There’s a lot of joy in going small and decluttering your life in a big way. Mr Wow and I love our humble, minimalistic abode. We think moving here is one of the best things we’ve done as a couple even though several friends and family members have questioned our decision and soundness of mind. I’m quite sure some of them call us ‘stupid’ behind our backs, LOL!
If less is more, small is big. There’s a lot of joy in going small and decluttering your life in a big way.
It’s ok. We don’t blame them as our definition of an ideal life is very different from them. We also get that downsizing is unthinkable to many people in Singapore, a country in a perpetual property craze. We only wish people were less judgemental and more open-minded to consider views outside the mainstream. Maybe this article will challenge long-held notions about one’s housing choice.
In the final instalment of this three-part series, I will share the critical success factors of downsizing. Do check it out!