“You must be rich… you both retired in your 40’s and you’re constantly traveling all over the world. How the hell can you afford such a lifestyle?!?”
My wife and I have been asked this many times in the past few years and here’s the answer:
The old adage is true – you might not be able to control how much you earn, but you can control how much you spend.
We had unfulfilled dreams and aspirations that would have remained as such had we not created some financial leeway to open up a world of possibilities.
There comes a point when one’s belongings become drag in your financial sail, even robbing you of all your precious time. You’re left drowning in debt, drifting through life, following a path of compromise and automation.
Your possessions end up owning you, not you owning them.
What is downsizing?
The idea behind downsizing is to declutter your life. Declutter your belongings, your finances and your head-space.
Now for those of you whose eyes I can see are already wide with apprehension, we are NOT talking about become a monk or getting rid of everything you own.
What you need to do is take a long hard look at where your money’s going. Look at what you own, and assess if it’s truly aligned with what you need in order to be happy, then purge the excess. Make room for what really matters to you.
Once you’ve accomplished that, only your imagination can hold you back.
Declutter your life – Less is more
Downsizing requires you to put everything under the microscope and ask yourself:
- Do I really need this?
- Does this make me happy?
- Do I need three vehicles?
- Do I need such a big house?
- Can I even afford this?
Just to give you an idea, our most impactful downsizing choices were to sell our house in the suburbs, sell our car and move to the city where everything is within walking distance.
The trade off of reducing our square footage and transportation costs resulted in ten of thousands dollars in yearly savings.
The extra couple of hundreds of dollars we spend each month in rent for downtown city living is easily offset by the cost of having to pay and maintain a vehicle.
We don’t miss the extra square footage we lost with our move. It was just there to store possessions that we’re able to live without.
Going digital was another game changer. Reducing one’s square footage requirement becomes easier if your pictures, books, music and movies aren’t taking up space. We look up recipes online, we stream our music and entertainment, our books are borrowed from the library, our pictures are stored in the cloud.
It might seem like nothing, but we’re talking dozens of boxes worth of belongings taking up room that can easily be eliminated.
As you can see, downsizing requires you to rewire your perception of owning as an achievement. It sounds pretty simple, but is probably as difficult to pull off as quitting smoking.
We’ve been conditioned since childhood to reward ourselves with stuff, to believe that buying things brings happiness.
How many times have we used purchases as a coping mechanism?
We’ve had a bad day, we go clothes shopping. We’ve had a good day, we go buy a new gadget. We get a promotion, we buy a new car. Eventually, the instant gratification wears off and you’re left with more clutter and more debts, forced to work harder and longer to pay everything off.
Even worse is the emotional attachment that we develop with our belongings. We enjoy the social status of being seen driving a certain type of car or wearing a certain brand of clothing. We hang on to useless items because our now deceased mother gifted it to us. In the end, it’s often just perceived value.
The downsizing process is a mourning process and cannot be done in one shot. Underneath it all, it really is an ongoing psychological battle.
Tackle downsizing in small chunks – one kitchen or junk drawer at a time. One box, one shelf at a time.
I’m not talking about those t-shirts you wear regularly, but the ones at the bottom of the pile, the ones that never see light of day.
Give, re-purpose or sell. Repeat.
Meanwhile, resist any urges to acquire more. Whatever is left in your belongings needs to bring joy and usefulness.
The benefits of downsizing
The rewards of downsizing are endless. Once physical and financial room has been created, you are now rewarded with options. You’re now free to put serious thought into what you really want out of life and how you can go about to make it a reality:
- Maybe you can work part-time now?
- Or take extra leave without pay from work to travel more?
- Maybe you can invest time in a sideline business that could eventually become your main line of work?
- Golf more often; sleep more often; whatever makes you happy!
Ultimately our most valuable possession is our time.
We chose to trade in certain luxuries in order to have more time. Time that we use toward hobbies, learning new skills, traveling and more quality time with our loved ones.
The art of downsizing
Our downsizing process took us four years to perfect. Even today we’re still tweaking the formula every now and then.
The goal in all of this is to find the right balance. The swedes have a saying for this: Lagom, which is like Goldilocks; not too much, not too little, but just right.
If you’re interested in giving downsizing a try but don’t know how to go about it, look up these resources for guidance:
Philippe Lalonde, alongside his wife Sophie, split their time between house sitting internationally and staying at home back in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
They rent a furnished apartment downtown for economical and walk-ability reasons, are part of a car sharing program, and everything they own can be stored away in only a few boxes!
You can follow their adventures abroad at