A move to DC for many people involves a significant amount of downsizing. Over the years I’ve known many families who move to the city, leaving behind a large suburban home for a much smaller city row home or apartment. Downsizing, especially with kids in the mix, can be a challenge. Recently we went through a season of life where we had to significantly downsize, and we are so much better for the experience!
Undertaking a Major Renovation
The past two years of my life have been something of a roller coaster. We decided to move from downtown DC to a quieter neighborhood in the city. We bought a home that was in need of a total gut. When I say this house needed work, just imagine a frat house that hadn’t been looked after or maintained in about a decade. (Indeed, there were kegs left in the basement and an abandoned Mr. Beer brew kit in an upstairs bedroom, amongst other less savory treasures).
My husband and I went into this (mostly) aware of the sacrifice this would mean for our family—financially, emotionally, and time-wise. But what we didn’t really account for was how to accomplish this with kids. Part of the timeline included a significant exercise in downsizing for all of us. We turned our basement into a separate 2 bedroom apartment and moved in for the 6 months it took to gut and rebuild the main part of the house. However, as nice as we made our basement apartment, it still had its limits. There is, after all, only so much room in a 900 square foot living area for four humans. My girls went from separate rooms to sharing a space, and we had to relegate half of their belongings to storage.
(Now I realize it is a common thing for siblings to share rooms, and I am a fan of it if it works for a family. Our girls love the novelty of sharing a room on a vacation. Day in and day out for months on end, with nowhere to hide? A whole different animal for my girls!)
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to downsize a living situation with your kids, here are some tips that we found to make the transition easier.
Tips for Downsizing With Kids
Clearly communicate what changes to expect before the move.
Whether this is a short term or long term downsize, kids need to be prepared for what’s going to happen and how it will affect them. Certain things that should be communicated to children before the move include timelines, how daily schedules will be impacted, what the new neighborhood will be like (if applicable), etc. Many of these are quite abstract concepts for children to grasp. When you can, try to make it as concrete as possible. One example of how we did this was explaining that we were moving in the winter, but would return to our permanent space at the end of summer. A calendar was helpful (for my older daughter) in showing roughly how many days we would be living “downstairs.”
Make it a family adventure.
The way the adults discuss the downsize will have a tremendous impact on the children’s perspective. As my dad always says, attitude is everything! Instead of viewing our move to the basement as something we had to slog through, we tried to frame it as a family adventure. My girls have wonderful memories of our many months in the basement. In fact, my youngest daughter still asks when we can move back “downstairs” because she loved living there so much.
Involve them in the process.
There was only so much our 5- and 3-year-olds could contribute to the planning and execution of our downsizing, but we tried to involve them when we could. When you downsize your living space, your possessions feel it acutely, too! Over the course of a few weeks, we had our girls pick out their favorite toys and activities. Spreading this out over a longer period of time helped the task seem less daunting for them. Together they helped to decide what to bring with us, what to put into storage, and what to donate.
Plan for separate activity space as much as possible.
In our situation, if the girls needed to be separated, it could be tricky. Our back patio was a construction staging zone and was in no way safe for playtime. And we couldn’t exactly just send them out the front door to play independently on the sidewalk. We made an independent activity corner in the living/dining room where one of them could go to be alone when needed. Also—this is D.C., land of free activities galore! Take advantage of all the large, free places to let your little one(s) play if your smaller space is getting you down. There are so many places in the area to go to let off steam both indoors and outdoors.
In addition to separate activity space was separate time with each child. Living in closer quarters than ever before could feel a little stifling at times. My husband and I made sure that we intentionally scheduled separate time with our girls to help them still feel like they had extra breathing room.
Benefits of Downsizing
Pressing “Reset” On Possessions
Does it spark joy? Seriously, Marie Kondo has great insight to be applied here. It is so easy to just accumulate possessions—kids’ stuff especially! But when you are limited with space, you get a clear sense of what is really important. Boxes and boxes of toys went away into storage. And guess what? By the time we were done with the renovation, my girls had completely forgotten about them. I loved being able to do a “reset” of all of our belongings. The whole process was a tremendously helpful exercise in finding out what we needed, and how to live more minimally. We have chosen to donate much of what we initially put into storage. The lack of clutter is so freeing!
Communication Skills 101
Another benefit we experienced was the improvement of communication between us all. Of course, there were plenty of times when conflict arose! But living in tighter quarters meant that we couldn’t just stew in our anger at someone else for very long. There was nowhere to run and hide to wait it out! Being forced to confront one another and work through conflict quickly was an added bonus to our downsizing adventure.
If you are looking at the possibility of a housing downsize for whatever reason, just know it can be done, and with great benefit, for your entire family!