When Downsizing is Right-Sizing

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about a man and a woman who were on top of the world with their two wonderful boys. They had a beautiful house in the suburbs with great neighbours, a steady income, and a happy life. In fact, she would often say out loud, just randomly, “I love our life.” Her husband’s healthy and steady income allowed her to leave her stagnant government job and begin a career that carried loads of risk and perpetual UNsteady income.

Her husband’s job was running a company in a really tough industry: clothing manufacturing. That industry will shake your hand, kiss you on the cheek, and then throw you down the stairs. The writing had been on the wall for some time, but she, being the eternal optimist, refused to see it. One day her husband came home, shattered — the bank had pulled the business’ financing and its nine lives were up.

BOOM. The doors of the business closed, as did the steady income. In fact, there was no income for some time.

But the bills kept coming. So they did what a lot of families do: they used the equity in their house as an ATM. In fact, this trend had actually started earlier in their lives, when they felt the need to keep up with the Joneses, to have a swimming pool construction because everyone else in the neighbourhood did, to drive nice cars, to spruce up their house, to dine out and entertain whenever they wanted, to send their kids to private school. Because the healthy and steady income was there! The line of credit could be paid off later, when there were less bills. What could go wrong?

That’s the thing. We never really know when things might go wrong. And in this family’s struggle to keep their lives the same even after the business closed, to reassure their kids that everything was just fine, they kept using their house as an ATM.

Stress will kill you, if you let it. Keeping up with the Joneses will kill you, if you let it. Trying to put on a brave face when things are crumbling around you will kill you, if you let it.

So you don’t let it. You take the reins, you make decisions, you tighten and simplify. (Ah, simplify: there is such beauty and peace in that word.) You down-size, because it is the right-size. You get down to what really matters, and you realize that you can get back to your roots, get back to basics, get grounded again. And in doing that, you take back control and you live authentically.

This is my story. It’s my husband’s story and our family’s story. And it has a happy ending. I want you to know that.

This is the most personal thing I have ever written, and I was afraid to do it, to be vulnerable, to post something that could potentially affect my reputation in some people’s eyes. But at the same time, I feel a great responsibility to speak the truth, not sales. To be a three-dimensional person. To be real. And to let others know that they are not alone.

In coming posts on this blog, I will go through the process of how we decided to down-size (it involved lots of negotiation, re-framing and introspection) and how we actually did it, including the move that left us looking like the Clampetts for almost a month. I’ll share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Maybe you or someone you know is feeling the pinch, maybe you’ve lost a job or had an unexpected setback, maybe you’ve been trying to keep up with the Joneses. And maybe the bills are getting overwhelming and the stress of the situation is killing you.

Hang in there. This doesn’t have to be painful…well, not excruciating anyway. Most importantly, there can always be a happy ending — I want you to know that — even when you’re forced to take off your favourite rose-coloured glasses. Hang in there, and follow me here.