finance

"How downsizing helped us live more."

Ubank
Thanks to our brand partner, Ubank

From the day I met him, my husband has been larger than life. When he does something he wants to do it bigger, better and for longer than anyone else. He wanted to live in the best suburb possible, in the most amazing home possible, with big dogs and a big, happy family.

For him big meant happiness.

I didn’t necessarily agree but who was I to question his dream? For a few years there it was all going really well – for him. He felt he was on the path to achieving everything he had ever dreamed of. As he rushed forward towards achieving his goals he occasionally stopped to give me an update on what was going on.

He was like an alien to me.

We ended up buying our first property together, a spacious ground-floor-unit in a well-to-do suburb of Sydney with it’s own courtyard. It was perfect – the perfect first home.

We nested and decorated and turned it into our perfect home and while I was quite content, my husband wasn’t. He started talking about buying the unit next door and knocking down a wall to make an even bigger home.

It was then that I questioned his plans. I pointed out that for the price we’d pay for another unit we could move further away from the city and buy a whole house. I didn’t understand the desire to live in a unit forever, even if it was larger than most houses.

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"He was always working, working, working." Image: iStock.

Business was still going well at this stage, so we compromised and started looking for houses but near where we were already living. They all seemed ridiculous to me. We saw houses clinging to the edge of cliffs, houses built in holes in the ground...all I wanted was a modest house on a flat piece of land with a driveway. Not one with an underground garage or a lap pool on level two.

I secretly started looking at homes near where I grew up and dreamed of buying one. But my husband was determined. Everything had to be the biggest and the best. Nothing was good enough for us.

Then we went bust. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit and my husband, a property developer with associated businesses, suddenly found himself fighting with bankers and creditors. At first he was confident we could ride it out, but as he grew more and more quiet and talked less and less, I realised we were in serious trouble.

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I quietly drove back to the area in which I grew up but instead of looking at homes to buy I was looking for something to rent. A month later we were moving out of our spacious units, driving far away from our beach-side suburb into what my husband referred to as "purgatory" and he kept explaining that it was only temporary.

It wasn't temporary for me. I was ecstatic, secretly thrilled, excited beyond belief that we would be moving into a house on a flat piece of land with a letterbox out the front and a backyard. For me, that had been the dream. I didn't care that we'd start off renting.

For me home ownership wasn't the goal but living in a house and making it into a home and filling it with a family. We had one child by then and I wanted more. Then a dog. Then a cat.

That, for me, was the Australian dream.

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Extra money was spent on spending time together. Image: Supplied.

Sure our former life was nice. It was great to be able to buy a stainless steel bread bin for $112 and regularly blow $600 on groceries each week but in all honesty, I felt empty, empty, empty...

And lonely.

And left behind.

And bewildered.

In our new home, our "crappy rental", I felt like I belonged.

My husband was forced to declare personal bankruptcy and eventually accepted that we were there to stay. We eventually moved into a slightly better rental and are now saving to buy our own home and despite the stress and friction of those few years I can safely say that we are happier than we've ever been before.

We no longer have a fancy bread bin on our kitchen bench, flashy cars bought on leases, an over-leveraged business and disjointed living arrangements. Any extra money that came in was spent conservatively, taking the kids bowling, going on road trips, seeing movies and just being together.

We realised that stuff didn't make us happy, nor did home ownership. What made us happy was us.

One night when my husband was feeling sad about what we had lost and terrible about the financial stress I sat next to him and said, "Hon, we have everything money can't buy. We love each other, we have amazing children (by then we had three), we have a dream life."

Everything else is just a bonus.

How did you downsize your life?