From Dream House to Downsized {Guest Post}

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I am thrilled to share an original essay by my mother-in-law, Jane.  

Jane and her husband George were lovingly supportive of our own decision to move into the Shoebox (and our decision to move out of it!) 😉 In recent years they planned and implemented their own strategic downsize, although as you’ll soon see, plans don’t always work out as hoped. I am so proud of them, and I know you’ll enjoy this view on intentionally living small in preparation for retirement. 

* * * * *

“We could buy Mother’s house,” George said.

Ten years before, we had built our Dream House, where we intended to live for the rest of our lives. Our spacious home included a study for George, a writing room for me, and plenty of room for the children and grandchildren we envisioned gathered like a Norman Rockwell painting. We even had a special “dog room” for our beloved greyhounds. We joked about leaving that house feet first. But plans change.

Our children spread out across the United States. Our grandchildren lived in different time zones. The Dream House seemed to grow nightmarishly bigger and bigger. It took over a full day to accomplish even a halfhearted cleaning of its 4800 square feet. The yard took hours to mow, and the flower gardens became such a burden we returned some to grass. As years passed, it dawned on us we faced another decade of large mortgage payments, after which we would continue to have hefty tax, homeowner’s insurance, and utility bills. Was this really our vision of retirement?

We began to ponder selling the Dream House and moving into an apartment. With a small rental payment, we could save money aggressively and pay cash for our final home, perhaps closer to one of our children. And now, here was this new possibility. George’s mother had died a few days before at the age of 102. Her 1500 square foot house—built in 1943 by the government as part of the war effort—was the home where George grew up.

“More space than an apartment,” I said. “We could fence the yard and not have to walk the dogs in the rain.”

“It’s a sweet house,” said George.

At first our families thought we were crazy. Then when we explained our plan, they were supportive, even if a little dubious.

We bought the house from the estate. Still filled with George’s parents’ furniture, it looked like a magazine cover from the 1970s. This is what I get, I thought, for those evenings I sat at her dinner table and imagined how I would remodel this place. We offered the contents of the house to family members, saved the few pieces we loved, and ended up donating most to charity so we could have the hardwood floors refinished, walls painted, and new windows installed. A realtor friend cautioned us not to over-renovate. We agreed we could live with the gold-tiled bathroom, the aqua-tiled bathroom, and the green kitchen. We laughed as we discovered George’s mother’s recipe for roach powder hiding between recipes for casseroles and marveled over the plastic bag containing a few used faucet washers and a meticulously detailed note written in 1978 by his father. Our Great Depression survivor parents knew how to maximize their resources.

Meanwhile, we put the Dream House on the market. We expected it would sell quickly, we would pay off the mortgage on the small house, and we would be mortgage free. I would be able to retire within three years. We christened our “new” home the Transition House and let our youngest son move into it so the house would be occupied and he could pay the utility bills.

In the first year the Dream House was on the market, it showed one time. Meanwhile, in the Transition House, the front bathroom tub faucet leaked. George replaced the faucet, but now he needed to repair the 1970s era gold tile. No problem. We had discovered a site online where we could order any kind of vintage tile. But then we learned the vintage tile company had gone out of business and liquidated their stock. That development was the incentive George needed to gut the entire bathroom. Months later, when he finished the project, the only original feature remaining was the window.

The Dream House still wasn’t selling. In God’s time, our friends and family reminded us when we expressed impatience. We changed realtors. During the second year, the Dream House showed around thirty times, but there were no offers. During each showing, waiting at the Transition House with our dogs, we bet each other cups of coffee over what the latest outrageous comments would be.

“’This house has no balconies,’” I said.

“’We have to have at least three garages,’” George countered.

In fact, some of the ridiculous comments sealed our belief that it was time for us to simplify our lives. We didn’t want to be like the people who were looking at our house. One couple rejected our home because they wanted four—FOUR!—en suite bathrooms.

As 2016 drew to a close, we caught our breath over the holidays. And then… the Dream House, after two years on the market, sold.

The downsizing would finally begin.

 * * * * *

author and her husbandJane Sasser was born and raised in Fairview, North Carolina. Her poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The North American Review, The Sun, The Lullwater Review, Appalachian Heritage, The National Forum, Sow’s Ear, and numerous other anthologies and publications. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Recollecting the Snow and Itinerant. An English teacher at Oak Ridge High School, she currently resides in Oak Ridge, TN, with her husband George and rescue greyhounds.

Find her featured poetry on these sites:

Whale Road Review 

The JAMA Network 

The Ghazal Page 

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  • Cheryl
    May 15, 2017

    What an interesting story! Would love to read an update sometime, and photos of their new place would be so neat to see, too! Thanks for sharing this. It was a fun read. 🙂

    • Evelyn
      May 15, 2017

      Hi Cheryl! Thanks for commenting. Jane will be writing a few more pieces for us to share their ongoing experience. 🙂 Stay tuned!

  • Kelly
    May 15, 2017

    I love this! Thank you so much for sharing, Jane! We too had a house on the market for two years and it is hard to wait but oh how sweet when it sells! Blessings! Kelly

    • Evelyn
      May 17, 2017

      Thank you for your encouragement, Kelly!

  • Naomi
    May 15, 2017

    As a Brit I love reading these stories of McMansions (?) and trying to get my head around the sizes. Houses here where I live (Southsea) are about 65 metres squared (700 sq ft) … but it was so interesting to hear that a house would sit on the market for a year or two. We have such a housing shortage in the UK that if a house hasn’t sold within a week we tend to wonder a) what is wrong with it or b) why it’s so overpriced. The cultural differences from one side of the pond to the other are quite marked. Keep up the minimising! :o)

    • Evelyn
      May 17, 2017

      Hi Naomi, the housing market is very diverse here in the states, too. It can be super hot in one area and completely dead in another. Jane and George were pretty mystified too, because their house was PERFECT. I’m glad it finally found the right owners though. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!! 🙂

  • Leah
    May 16, 2017

    I really enjoyed this! I can’t wait for her story to continue!

    • Evelyn
      May 17, 2017

      Hi Leah, so glad you enjoyed Jane’s perspective. Thank you for commenting!

  • Marion Griffith
    May 16, 2017

    I love this story. The happiness I feel for George and Jane is beyond words. They feel blessed to have your family in their lives. They are happily ensconced in their smaller house which is filled with love.

    • Evelyn
      May 17, 2017

      Hi Marion, I agree! Thank you for commenting.

  • sunny
    May 17, 2017

    Cliffhanger! (sort of!) I was left wanting more! Glad to hear she’s writing more pieces for the future. I can’t wait to read them!

    • Evelyn
      May 17, 2017

      Hi Sunny! I’m so glad you enjoyed Jane’s piece. She sent me the next one already… and you’re going to love it! 😀 Stay tuned…

    • Cynthia
      June 3, 2017

      Yes, I agree. I was looking for the rest of the story.

      • Evelyn
        June 5, 2017

        Part 2 is coming on Thursday. You are going to love it. 😀 Stay tuned!!!

  • ashlye
    May 30, 2017

    I love this story so much. I envision this is what will happen when my kids are in college, my husband retires from the Army, and we are ready to downsize, and leave the hustle and bustle of a busy suburb with tons of traffic and people. While we are just a small family of four + 2 elderly dachshunds now, by then we’ll be ready for half as much house. Just give me a little cottage with a cozy hearth, hot water, cool breezes, and character – that’s all I need.

    • Evelyn
      June 1, 2017

      Hi Ashlye, your dream of a little cottage and simple needs is simply beautiful! 🙂

  • Andrew Mooers
    June 6, 2017

    Love the story and less is plenty.

  • Trish
    June 19, 2017

    We are in the same position. We bought a fixer upper not quite as small but 1/2 the size of our 4100 square foot farm house with a 560 square foot cottage and 38 acres. It has been up for sale now for months with only 2 lookers. It is quite frustrating and we don’t know when and sometimes feel like IF it will ever sell. We are looking at transitioning to the smaller house with less land and trying to move toward retirement. We too feel like this dream home of ours is now getting empty as our children are grown and it is so much to clean and upkeep. Thank you for your post and even though it took 2 years there is hope for us!! Blessings.

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