Less in the City

Less in the City (and the benefits of downsizing)


I recently made a big change with my family. It’s a really big change that I have been so excited to share with you. I’ve hinted and teased, and now it’s time for the big reveal!

We sold our big house and moved to a small apartment in the city.

After years of slowly selling and giving away our stuff, we discovered that we didn’t need as much space as we thought.

I remember when we bought our house eight years ago. It was another step towards the American Dream. We already had the cars, the stuff, the credit cards, the debt and the stress and now we had our very own home (that the bank owned). We bought into the myth of ownership and immediately started investing in our new space.

We spent money on:

  • indoor furniture
  • outdoor furniture
  • paint
  • lawn tools
  • a new deck
  • a new fence
  • appliances
  • accessories
  • storage stuff

and all the other things you need for a house.

When we started simplifying our lives, a new space wasn’t on the table, but as we continued to downsize, it only made sense. We started to look at smaller houses and condos that were around 1000 square feet (1/2 the space of our home).

When we found a 750 sq. ft. apartment, we immediately thought, “That is small.” We walked through it for the first time before it had walls and thought, “This is small.” Paying for storage space was out of the question so even with our downsizing efforts, we would have to make more edits. We knew it would be hard and maybe even stressful, but we were up for the challenge.

We’ve been in our new space for just over a month and are already noticing the benefits of less in the city …

  • Less space means less cleaning. I can clean our entire apartment in the time in took to clean 2 rooms in our house.
  • It is easier to be car-free downtown. We can walk to the grocery store, restaurants, the library and the farmer’s market. We live in the “free zone” for public transportation, so there is no need for a car.
  • Less time in the yard means more time in the world. Instead of spending weekends mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, washing the fence or shoveling snow, we can hike, ski, travel, walk the city, and spend time doing things we love.
  • A smaller space yields smaller utility bills. We are saving money on all of our monthly bills.
  • An apartment building offers new opportunities for community. When your neighbors are across the hall, you meet new people every day. We are looking forward to knowing our neighbors and being an active part of our new community.

While we’ve already noticed some immediate benefits, we know that we’ve only scratched the surface. Living small will mean bigger lives for us and our community. What we are giving up in space, we will make up for in time. Having more time to spend together, volunteer, and doing things we love is so much more important than having an extra closet to store our stuff.

Even though we are so happy to give up our big house, garage, lawn and storage shed, we did have wonderful moments there. We’ve learned so much in the past eight years, and are completely open to the fact that things may be completely different in another eight years.

I think the most important lesson we’ve learned is this: Where we are doesn’t matter nearly as much as who we are and how we treat each other.



  1. says

    This post gave me goosebumps! Congratulation and all great things for you and your family in your new place. I just wrote today about wanting to cut off the top floor of our townhome as the bottom would be enough space for us (approx. 700 sq.ft.). I love to hear how others are doing it.

  2. says

    Contratulations Courtney. We downsized all of the way to a motorhome recently. Our lives are so much more full of “meaningful” activities – long bike rides, walks on the beach, writing and reading….

    Speaking of community, we’ve already spent several nights around campfires meeting our neighbors, listening to them play guitar and sing, and hearing tales of their life on the road. We never had a single dinner or meaningful interaction in our last neighborhood.

    Dan @ ZenPresence – Ideas for Meaningful Living

  3. says

    Congratulations Courtney, is fantastic to see you so happy. I’m also working on downsize my stuff to move to a new flat in 3 months, so I can empathize with your excitement :)

  4. says

    Congratulations! I can only imagine how excited you and your family must be. If we didn’t live on base (in the desert), I would *totally* consider living in a smaller space.

  5. says

    AWESOME! We did this exact same thing a year and a half ago. Everything you hope to get out of your move is exactly what we got. Not sure if you’ve seen my blog, but I’ve been documenting the journey.

    Less Cleaning – It is way faster to clean our 2 bedroom apartment than it was our 4 bedroom house. Clutter seems to accumulate faster, but in about 10 minutes we can have the entire place ship-shape again.

    Easier to be car free – I started biking to work, and we often walk or bike for shopping and dining.

    Less time in the yard – Oh how I dreaded weekends spent maintaining a yard. It was so much time that could be better spent doing things with the family. That wasted time is all behind us now and we have time for fun activities and adventures.

    Smaller utility bills – Definitely. We were paying $450 per month in electricity and $150 for water/sewer in our house. In our apartment we are just over $100 for electricity and water is included in the rent.

    New opportunities for community – this is one item where we found more of in a house. It was easier to meet neighbors amongst single family homes where everyone is outside doing yardwork or whatever else outside. In the apartments, most people don’t really go outside much and often aren’t interested in making friends. Maybe some of that depends on the city, but that’s what I’ve found here.

    For us, the move from owning a house to renting an apartment created more freedom. We have more time and more money to pursue the things that we really enjoy and find fulfilling. I’m happy to hear about your move and look forward to seeing how you adjust. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on the transition, I’d be happy to share anything we’ve learned.

  6. Becki says

    Congratulations Courtney, I am excited for you and your family! I look forward to reading more about this transition and how you perceive the change. Like may others, home ownership still seems like a requirement in order to feel like I have a true “home”.

    I am curious, how is apartment life with a dog? I would like to downsize, but I am concerned about how it would impact my dogs and how my dogs may impact neighbors!

    Wishing you well.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Becki, Our dog is adjusting fine and it’s been a great change for us as dog owners. Instead of letting the dog out in the backyard, we have to take him for regular walks. There is no excuse for skipping a morning walk! Our apartment complex is dog friendly and many tenants have dogs. Everyone seems very respectful in terms of keeping dogs on leashes.

  7. says

    This is our dream!! Right now we rent a duplex in a great neighborhood in the city, but ultimately we want to get to an apartment downtown. The biggest thing holding us back right now is the kids, who are still awfully loud for apartment living. :-)

  8. says

    Congratulations. I’m eager to read future posts on how this changes your life. For our future plans, I’m always torn between having lots of outdoor space (what we have now – which does require more stuff) and an urban apartment.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Giving up a yard was easy when we realized that we would still have parks and trails and plenty of outdoor space.

      • says

        I tell myself that, but it’s awfully special to have deer in your yard too and seeing the new calves when I drive in to town. Maybe we’ll try urban for awhile and then make up our minds. DH & I both grew up in suburbs and now live in a rural area but neither of us have tried the downtown thing yet.

  9. Lisa Hetherington says

    How exciting!! I would love to do this! We are in a ~1200 sq ft home. I would love to live in an 800 sq ft apt!! It would help me with my mobility, too. I have been slowly downsizing for a few years. It’s a slow process. Just this week, my husband said we have too much stuff and it is time to get rid of lots of it and then we can downsize (or rent out some rooms). (I prefer the downsizing option).

  10. says

    Congratulations and enjoy your new adventure! I kind of suspected that you were up to something…

    We are emptying our house right now, because we plan to move from a 3-traffic-light town in northern Michigan to Houston. We don’t plan on living in a house again, and we ultimately plan to live aboard full-time.

    There are so many resources available in the city, and downsizing frees us up to focus on the things that really matter.

    Wishing you the best on your journey!

  11. says

    I’m so happy for you, Courtney. Your last line was so perfect: “Where we are doesn’t matter nearly as much as who we are and how we treat each other.”

    It’s not a one-size-fits-all world and, as you so perfectly stated, you might choose something different as your lives unfold.

    I have been in my 1,123 sq foot home for the last 20 years. I love my back yard and have a man who loves to take care of it. I have considered selling and living less expensively elsewhere in the country, but we’re in Southern California–I left once and almost couldn’t afford to come back. I don’t want to risk that again. Maybe we’ll rent it out in a few years to see what it’s like to live differently.

    Here’s to you and your new way of life…

  12. says

    How did you daughter adjust? Is she still at the same school. I have been downsizing for the last several years. When my husband’s job was eliminated we downsized from a 4,000 sq.ft. home in Florida with a pool, large deck, gazebo and an acre yard and moved to Cincinnati to a 2,000 sq. ft home ona 1/4 acre in a very walkable neighborhood. We have 3 young adults that still live at home. They all have Down syndrome and this location lets them be very independent. They are able to go by themselves to plays in the park, swimming, the Rec. Center, library and the lists goes on. We will keep the house and location but I will continue to get rid of stuff. I always donate to Goodwill since they employ people with disabilities. I enjoy reading your blog!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Susan! My daughter graduated from highschool in May and we moved right at the tail end. We actually moved closer to her friends and school, so she was thrilled with the move.

  13. says

    We’re leaving very small right now (450 sq feet) and are reaping some of the same benefits. But this is too small for me so we’re moving the kitchen out of the studio and adding a deck and office for me husband. It will still be smaller than our last home, but it will be a more workable size for us. It’s still be a wonderful chance to declutter and dicard!

  14. Meredith says

    Yay, welcome to the club! I’m not sure if you recall, but I started commenting on some of your posts about 2 years ago, when we began the process to leave our almost 3000 sq. ft. home in the suburbs for our 950 sq. ft. loft apartment downtown. You helped quite a bit with your suggestions of how to offload things like my mom’s old crystal and silver. At any rate, we’ve now been here a year, with two kids (one teen and one 7-year-old). We LOVE it! People thought we were crazy and that we’d go running back to the suburbs and minivans after the first year was up, but we are still here and are now completely car-free (we moved here with a Prius after selling the minivan).

    Anyway, Andy and I are so happy that you are now experiencing the benefits too!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks for the encouragement Meredith. So glad it has been a positive move for you!

  15. Heather says

    Oh my gosh!!! This is so inspirational to me. I want to move close to the city, into something smaller. I will have to show my husband this. Thanks!!! : )

  16. says

    What a great illustration of less being more. More money (that is yours), more time, more freedom, more of what you want and less of what you don’t. Dan’s comment on “meaningful activities” stands out too. What’s a big house compared to laughter and fun?

  17. says

    Congratulations! I love city living and living small…even though I’m now in the country (in my little house), I dream of returning to city life one day…but, as you said, it’s who I live with that matters most to me!

  18. says

    I just forward this to my husband as this is the downsizing path I want to go on! Thanks for the inspiration. Enjoy all your free time!

  19. Vickie says

    I’m glad you found a way to down-size and enjoy your life, Courtney!
    My in-laws downsized about 5-6 years ago. They retired and about a year later they sold their large 4 bedroom home to live in an RV full-time. They did that for about 3 years and were able to visit relatives and move around to different RV parks seeing the U.S. They have a very nice RV. My MIL decided she needed a home base, so they bought a small l100 sq ft home (2 bed/2 bath) in a gated retirement community in south Texas. It gives them enough room to entertain guests and be comfortable. Their yard is extremely small and since my FIL is close to 80 now, they pay a lawn service to take care of it for them.
    It’s perfect for them. They have fun with a community of people their own age and no longer have to worry about the upkeep on a large home.

  20. says

    That’s great, Courtney! I have a confession to make: We are also planning to sell our big house this October and move to a city apartment. :) I’m glad to have read your post. Gave me much-needed inspiration.

    Hope you write more about how it is living in the city in an apartment. :) Thanks!

  21. says

    We downsized about 600 square feet after an interstate move. This is very inspiring and reminds me to keep decluttering and working to find the best space for our family.

  22. says

    What an inspiring post to drop in on. We are not up for that sort of move – too attached to having a garden really, among other things – but those aspects of downsizing seem to be the things I hear repeated over and over when it comes to simplifying, reducing, minimising stuff – less time spent cleaning, sorting, and even acquiring. More time for life.

    We are planning a big road trip around some parts of the States next year (we live in Australia, but have family over there), and I’m gradually working us towards decluttering, but I’m hoping we can make a big push next year and pack up the house completely to rent out for 6 months. And then come back used to living out of a suitcase and not feel the need to go back to having so.much.stuff.

    Anyway, thanks for the inspiring post.

  23. Jules says

    We are doing a mashup of your move – we have just bought a 150 sq metre (around 500 sq foot) cottage on ten acres of land. we have always wanted to live in a self-sufficient way and this property will allow us to (mostly) feed ourselves. The smaller home means less housework and maintenanceo on the house and more time for gardening, travelling and spending time with family.Of course that size of house means lots more decluttering to be done. We currently have a storage unit and when we move to the new place nothing is going inside unless it is useful or beautiful! Good luck with your new home. I look forward to reading about your experience and picking up some more tips on how to make the smaller house work.

  24. says

    Congratulations on your move!

    Your post got me thinking about the days when I lived in apartments and it wouldn’t take much time at all to clean. I’ve been living in a 1,600 square foot house for 5 years and have spent the past 3-4 years selling and donating stuff. Simplifying has made things easier, but it still takes a lot more time to maintain the house than an apartment. We may consider downsizing for our next move. I am looking forward to hearing about your process.

  25. says

    Love this Courtney. I’m in the midst of doing something similar. I live on a houseboat – about 1000sqft – way bigger than what I need. Can’t beat living on the river, but it’s time to put my feet on solid ground again. I love the idea of living in a small space in the city (Vancouver,BC), letting go of my car and making use of those smart cars you can rent for a few hours. But then again I also have thoughts of living in an RV. So many choices. Thanks for the inspiration.

  26. says

    Congratulations! We too are downsizing (but not as small as you! ) and moving closer to the city. We move this week-end and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m so glad that it has been a positive experience for you :)

  27. Lisa says

    Congrats! Isn’t it freeing to have a smaller space but enjoy it more?! We have 1,000 square feet, which is the house we’ve always owned since we got married six years ago. We have two kids and plan to have 1-2 more, and it doesn’t feel small at all to us (we could go smaller!). I am reminded that we are a little different when I hear my co-workers talking about their 3,000-4,000 square foot houses. I still like owning a house just to have a place of our own and a yard where the kids can play…plus, in about six months, we’ll own it free and clear. 😉

  28. Viola says

    It was really wonderful to read this…

    I didn’t really decide on living the same way, it just happened… I have been travelling very often since I was born, but I also need a homebase. When I was home, I loved to meet friends, go to the theatre, cinema, art-events, parties etc.

    After University most friends bought huge houses outside the city or in the suburbs (good for the children…) but I have been brought up in the city centre and liked it very much… So when suddenly we had the chance to buy a penthouse appartement in the middle of the city, but overviweing a park, we ignored all warning (and where will the kids play? what about a garden? it’s not quiet… you need more space..) and we are sooooo happy with it!

    We have about 1000sqft. plus a roof terrace of 400… The House is now even equipped with a solar-roof and we don’t pay for heating or electricity. We have the same black granite floor allover – sweeping is done in 1h… and as we have only our clothes in a wardrobe and one old chest of drawers for things like family photos, some old books, and the christmas decoration, I have to dust basically nothing, except of the Photographs and the Art hanging on the wall! The rest is cleaned as used and locked away… Music, new photos, films or books are meanwhile all stored on hard-drives.
    What I bring from travelling is sometimes dish towels, pillowcases, some kind of accessoire, art or some speciality food from the country (in germany it’s no problem) – things I USE or hang on the walls!
    I also have my own tomatoes, chillies, etc. on the roof terrace… we have also a barbebue grill built inside the wall, which works on the inside as a fireplace.

    Whenever I come home I have soooo much space to breath… I have 2 minutes walk to public transport, a taxi costs a minimum… the regional and seasonal grocery (fruit, veggies, meat, milk, eggs etc.) is delivered to my door-step (which is not if you live in the suburbs) and the supermarket, dry cleaner, doctors etc. are around the corner… and the concierge is caring about snow or hedges…
    I have 5 minutes by bus to the theatre, the cinema, etc. – and as everything is on one floor without any stairs and there is an elevator I dont mind becoming old. And I have a wonderful park & a public spa includin indoor and outdoor pool just befor my nose!

    And now, what are my friends doing? Still paying for their houses, having no time as the maintenance of garden and house is taking so much of it… They sit in the car for an hour to get to work… Going out is always a question of having those 50USD for the taxis to go outside… and finally – after the first 10 yrs with small children now they drive around all day for bringing the kids to school, to sports, to the language training and nowadays also to the clubs in the city centre…

    I would not change it, not for a fortune!

  29. says

    Congratulations! I’m a little envious!

    We’ve discussed doing something similar in our small city. Unfortunately, the real estate market here has premium prices for smaller cottages and houses like ours that are twice the size are priced about the same or less. But maybe one day…

    There is no “downtown” here or public transportation so an apartment downtown doesn’t really exist!

  30. says

    My “downtown” life has shifted. I live “downtown” in one [small] city, but my out of the house life has shifted to “downtown” in an adjoining [bigger] one & I am looking at making a transition w/i the year (that would be 12 months, not the calendar year). I am in year 5 of my life of living simply & simply without, but as you know it’s a process.

    Don’t know if I’ve ever commented here before, but I’m a long-time reader and I believe a first time commenter & originally found you through Rowdy Kittens.

  31. Karen T. says

    Congratulations, Courtney! We downsized last year to an 850 sq ft apartment (we still have one child living at home with us) and are loving the freedom! We’ve been able to pay off all debt (something I never thought we’d be able to do) because of saving money on housing, utilities, gasoline (we’re closer to everything than we were in our old home), and DECORATING! Oh yes, I feel almost no temptation to buy something for the house since we don’t own it! I maintain the things we have (and we kept only the best when we downsized) in less than half the time as before. It is heaven to have a cozy home base, but we are not OWNED by our house like we used to be.

    In a few years when my husband retires, we’d like to move to an apartment downtown in the city (we live in a medium-size town), about 40 miles away. Can’t do it now because then he’d have a commute to work, and what would be the point of that? Meanwhile, we’re enjoying where we are.

    BTW, I agree with “Rethinking the Dream” – we don’t really have “community” in our apartment building, though we’re pleasant to each other and greet each other on the stairs, etc. But we’ve lived in our town for 16 years and are involved with some community organizations that give us a sense of belonging and connection.

    Great post.

  32. says

    Good Idea courtney, sometimes we think to live in a fancy situation chasing all the gems we wanted to make us happy, but more stressful. the happy people I know is that they are thankful to God and contented of what they have. That,s pretty simple. God bless

  33. says

    I have a friend who did this and I think of her every time I do major yard work. It takes SO much time. I do love my house and neighborhood, but I imagine this will be in our future one day. :)

  34. says

    I live in a 740 sq ft condo. I love the small space. Cleaning is a breeze. We’ve been working on de-cluttering. We had so much stuff there at one point. Unfortunately, I hate living in the city. I hate the neighborhood. some of the people are just rude. One guy seems to hate dogs and litters pick up after you dogs signs all over and seems to tell people where they can walk their dogs. This is my favorite argument because as an owner, I a steak in the grass, too! I realize not everyone is polite enough to pick up their poo, but I do. Often times, I pick up other poo or trash that’s been dropped in the neighborhood. And I hate early morning harassment from people who obviously can’t see with their eyes and are just so crotchety and mean they feel it’s their goal in life to be mean to others.

    I’m sure your thinking avoid this person. I do try. Our condo community has only 600 units. we’re nestled in the business district right off a major highway, not far from a busy intersection. There’s not much area to walk but within the neighborhood.

    Because of the market, we have been stuck here for the last 8 years but I often search the listings for small cottages and homes under 1200 sq. foot. My husband and I have agreed that if we are unable to sell next year, we’ll just rent out our place and move some else. Probably rent our next place since it’s much easier to pick up and leave if your neighbors leave a lot to be desired.

  35. anneke says

    Hello Courtney,

    What a great change!! I am living in The Netherlands. In the Netherlands we laugh at Americans and their houses. Ridiculiously large they are, and almost foolish! We live in a house of 1076 sq foot and it is really big. There is enough space to live in with four or even six people (we have four bedrooms, one bathroom with one tiolet, and one tioletroom seperatly. Thank you for your inspiring ideas and especially for the project 333! It changed my way of looking at my wardrobe and got consious of my point of enough! Thank you.
    Anneke from The Netherlands, Groningen.

  36. sandy says

    Just discovered your blog and absolutely love it!! Been working my way thru the archives. I am someone who has been on the simplicity minimalism path for years. This particular post really hit home. My 2 sons are 21 and 23 and mainly live at college and me and the hubby have been discussing downsizing. Our house hold many memories but we are truly excited to downsize or possibly rent.I am excited to see how this pans out for us. Would love more posts on the benefits of apartment dwelling!!

  37. Meg says


    It’s so wonderful to hear what a positive experience your move was. We are in the midst of moving from a house to small condo as well, and have been selling, donating and basically downsizing over the last year in preparation. As I was cleaning our only bathroom today, I realized how awesome it was to clean only one bathroom :). This is only the beginning of many benefits I’ll realize. I also am enjoying the creative challenge of utilizing space to its maximum advantage. Thank you for keeping me inspired !

  38. says

    My husband and I also downsized, but we went a bit too far. Moving from a 1400 sq ft townhouse to a 600 sq foot house proved to be too much of a downsizing challenge.

    The lack of space to move led us to both break a toe as we walked into a piece of furniture (and we did not have a lot of pieces in the rooms). It also led to more fighting as we had no space to call our own or to retreat to for time apart.

    This may work in warmer climes or for people who have lots of out-of-the-house activities, but given that we live in Canada, that I work from a home office, and that my husband is retired, it simply proved too much, too stressful, really overwhelming.

    So we are upsizing to a space that is 1100 square feet. I am so looking forward to having room for my craftwork (which is my meditation), to setting up my sewing machine, and to playing my music. Bliss!

    In principle I agree that our society has too much “stuff,” but also now know that there is a point after which downsizing can add unnecessary stress. We all likely have our own thresholds, which we were not aware of, but which it’s critical to figure out before making an overly-optimistic, overly-drastic move!

  39. says

    Courtney, I was very touched by your post and the comments.

    I admit I used to be rather judgmental of people “downsizing” to houses like mine. In my area, most of the houses are less than 1000 sq feet, except for older homes, but even those are relatively small inside because of the thickness of the walls. Mine is 950 sq feet and was built in 1998 for a family of five, whereas my eldest brother fit 10 people into a 1800-sq-foot, 120-year-old farmhouse. So I didn’t understand how people could own both a “small” 1000-sq-ft apartment and vacation in a 1200-sq-ft “cottage.”

    (I live in the US near the Canadian border so I empathize with Stephanie’s situation. I like snow so much that I shoveled all winter, leaving the snowthrower in the shed, but I’m not strong enough to go everywhere on a winterized bike like some of the neighbours!)

    Sites like this have a very charitable outlook, reminding me that everyone has a different starting point for their journey to simplicity. One of my co-workers downsized to a 1500-sq-ft house. I also visited Danish friends whose house I mistook for a small office building, but they said it was smaller than their home in Denmark. (They recommended me your e-book “Mini-Missions for Simplicity” btw.)