Down to Downsize?

In March 2019, Retreat, Stuff by Tracy Jones1 Comment

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In an age of tiny houses, capsule wardrobes and consultant Marie Kondo, a lot of people have felt the urge to purge. And while developers are still building large homes all over Raleigh, there’s also no shortage of condo and apartment high rises coming on to the housing market; more and more of us are deciding to get rid of extra space, and extra stuff, and moving into something cozier.

For me, it was a maintenance issue.

When my husband, Jacob, and I moved to Cary from Florida more than five years ago, we were looking for a home we could grow into. While several factors were important to us in choosing our house, including having sidewalks, a nearby grocery store, and relatively short commutes to work, size was also a consideration. We were newlyweds, eager to start a family, and we wanted extra space for friends and relatives to stay while visiting.

Fast forward five years. We have grown our family and our property ownership by one each. Our adorable two-year-old’s energy and ability to trash any space means we tended to use only a few rooms in the house. Long gone were my evenings reading in my third-floor office or sewing quietly in the bonus room. We used our dining room so infrequently that it no longer had an actual dining table in it, and the only time we set foot in our front living room was to grab a bottle of wine from the wine cabinet my father built us as a wedding present.

We also naively bought a lake house 45 minutes outside of town. We’ll weekend there, we said. It won’t be much work to maintain, we thought. Upkeep of that property, along with our house, just became too much. It was time to downsize.

As many people who make life-altering decisions do, we waffled a bit. Did we want to sell the house and move to the lake for a while, cutting out one house payment? No, we’d miss city life. Did we want to move into a ranch-style home that would be easier to maintain? No, there’s still too much upkeep involved. Did we want to move into a townhouse and leave the exterior, at least, to an HOA? That sounded good, but then what about proximity and parking? Ultimately, we decided to take off some of the pressure and we’re currently renting an apartment in Cameron Village, an area we like, but didn’t previously live in, for the foreseeable future.

My next step was to binge watch “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix. I didn’t exactly thank every shirt I owned before I donated it to Goodwill, but I did try to get rid of the things that no longer brought me joy. My first iPhone from 2008? Gone. Those rollerblades that only caused injury? Donated. That scarf I bought as a gift for someone I don’t even speak to anymore? Re-gifted at the neighborhood Christmas party.

At the end of the process, my husband and I had given away, trashed or sold more than half of the items in our house, including an entire U-Haul full of baby furniture. Unfortunately, that still left us with much more than we could fit into our 1,100-square-foot apartment. So we did what a lot of people do with too much stuff: we rented a storage unit on Capital Boulevard.

Here’s the reality of downsizing, especially if, one, the move is temporary, and two, if you have children: there simply is no room to keep everything, unless you build in a ton of storage space. Yes, the goal is to get rid of a lot of, even most of your stuff, but here are some logistics. Where do you keep your bike if your entryway is dedicated to stroller parking? (The balcony is not an option; there are rules.) Do you keep your wine cabinet or dining room table, because there’s only room for one? (We kept the wine cabinet and opted for barstools.) What about that fancy barbecue grill you bought a couple of summers ago? That can’t go in storage or in the apartment, and we’re still figuring that one out. What about Christmas decorations?!

Now that the house is up for sale and we’re mostly settled into the apartment, the new question is, how do we like apartment living? I’m going to be honest: it has its good points and its challenges. I enjoy taking the stroller down to Chopt for lunch or walking to the grocery store for a bottle of wine or an ingredient I forgot to buy for dinner. The bank, post office and library are also all walkable, and Uber Eats delivers to us now, a service I couldn’t get out in the suburbs.

My apartment complex is new and full of amenities, including a swimming pool that I don’t have to maintain myself and a gym that is usually empty. There’s free coffee in the lobby and I’m writing this story from a comfortable common area chair. What are the challenges?


I like being surrounded by people for the most part. I guess it’s the noise and presence of others when you least expect it that takes some getting used to. Pre-dawn music on a Monday floating in from somewhere outside is not my favorite. Footsteps above my bedroom while I’m trying to sleep aren’t fun. And that morning that my upstairs neighbor left a faucet on and flooded my apartment definitely sucked. But, as my husband reminded me, the damage is no longer our problem. The joy of renting is, we can sit back, relax and let other people fix things for us.

So, what’s the overall assessment?

For now, downsizing is working. Sure, we still have chores when we come home, like dishes and laundry, but my husband is no longer outside worrying about aerating the lawn or catching those pesky moles that never seem to disappear. He doesn’t have to put moth balls under our truck to keep away squirrels and mice, critters that previously caused significant damage to the engine and gas lines. I only have to clean a small space and don’t have to chase after my toddler constantly, as she’s basically always in sight. While I’m not jumping to live in a tiny house anytime soon, I have readjusted the idea of the amount of space I always thought I needed. Smaller really is better, although a mudroom would be nice.

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  1. Love the article! I’ve considered living in a downtown apartment. Good to here the pros and cons. Gets me thinking…

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