Carpe Diem

Just over a year ago, Kevin and I did something very rash. I’ve talked on here before about our sudden move from our spacious, newish home in the suburbs to our small historic downtown apartment. But I never really talked about how it felt to make such a big change in this stage in our lives. Because if I’m being honest, it was really, really hard.

In a time when we should be happily settling into a family friendly neighborhood, with great schools and quiet streets and neighbors with young families, in a time when we should be content with our 2400 square foot house, complete with stainless steel appliances and a fenced in yard and plenty of bedrooms for gaggles of kids, we simply found that we… weren’t.

Shortly after Lucy was born, we were ready to venture out into the world again as a family of four, and spent a perfect spring day downtown. It was something we often liked to do- park on a residential street, walk to the farmer’s market, get lunch, waste away the afternoon in a coffee shop or park, and basically pretend like we lived downtown. Sitting on the patio of Kudu that afternoon sipping and iced latte, my heart got that familiar yearning it felt every time we visited downtown Charleston- a desire to be a part of the city life, and not just for a Saturday. Kevin and I again talked about our big plan- that one day, maybe in 5-10 years (if we were lucky), when our debt was paid off and he was hopefully making more money, we could finally sell our house and buy a place downtown. There was no way we could afford the steadily increasing price of a normal sized family home in the heart of Charleston in our current state, and our only hope was for our financial situation to one day improve drastically enough that our dream could become a reality.

But then, while gazing at Penny happily coloring at the table and Lucy napping in the stroller, in one of our heads, a light bulb went off. We asked ourselves- what if, instead of sitting around waiting and hoping that one day our situation would change, we instead changed our expectations in order to make it happen now. Maybe we didn’t need more money, or to own an impressive home downtown. Maybe we actually needed a lot less than we thought.

Within a week, we found ourselves looking at downtown rentals averaging 1000 square feet each. Wondering if we would be happy renting again, if we could really be comfortable as a family of four in a 2 bedroom flat. After seeing the place I wrote about in this post, we were sold on the idea. Our house went on the market, I started purging our belongings like crazy, and we began breaking the news to our family and friends.

We now look back on that summer as one of the hardest periods in our lives. In addition to adjusting to life with two young kids, we also had to endure the stress of trying to sell a home in a very slow market after having foolishly signing a lease on a new place that we would be moving into at the end of the summer. There was a lot of frantically mopping floors and wiping down counter tops while trying to rush the girls out the door for last minute showings. There was excitement when we would hear positive comments about our house, followed by disappointment when it wouldn’t result in an offer. There was also fear. A small but nagging fear that we were stupid for giving up home ownership and taking this huge financial risk. We were basically throwing away exactly what people our age are supposed to want, all in the name of pursuing our dreams.

When the fear came, or when peoples’ shocked responses to what we were doing made us admit to ourselves just how reckless we were being, we would again reassure each other that we were making the right decision for us. We valued location over square footage. We hated driving everywhere and dealing with traffic. We wanted walkability. Amazing restaurants and coffee shops out our front door. To be surrounded by character and charm and life and energy. To not have to waste away our weekends on house projects and yard work, to be able to simply make a phone call when there was a leaky pipe. To have less to clean and take care of. For the girls to grow up knowing the closeness of sharing a bedroom.

The truth was, we had never been more sure of anything in our lives. It was such a scary and also liberating feeling, to block out all the noise, the doubt, the expectations of what we should want and should be doing, and just listen to our hearts.

Since that time, a year ago now, we have grown very accustomed to our new way of life. Things are simpler in many ways. We have way less than we always thought we needed, only one car and just enough belongings to fit into our modest home with its’ even more modest closet space. We don’t have a yard, or a driveway, or a separate formal dining room. Our appliances are old, and our cupboards are few. And yet our lives feel so much richer. None of us have ever been happier, and we truly want for nothing. It is a strange feeling indeed, to be exactly where you want to be and have exactly what you want to have. And for it to just be enough.

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For those of you wondering, our house did eventually sell in October. It was a tough time for us, both financially and emotionally, but we now believe that it had to be that way in order for us to know for sure that we really wanted it. A few months later, we got some more surprising news- we would not be able to renew the lease on our apartment and would have to move again over the summer. But with less belongings and no house to sell, we were able to find a place we loved even more, and the move was quick and painless.

I sit here now, typing from our new old apartment in a historic, 1850s mansion that is just dripping with character, gazing frequently at the enormous palmetto tree out my window. The spacious southern balcony of my dreams waits for me just outside the double set of french doors off of my bedroom, beckoning me to sit with some iced tea and watch the goings on in the street below. And I think I just might oblige.

I look forward to sharing our new home with you, and in the mean time, I encourage you to find a way to have exactly what makes you happy now. We didn’t want to wait another 5 to 10 years to have the lives we wanted, because that would have meant another 5 to 10 years of being unhappy and wanting something we didn’t have. Instead we got creative, took some risks, and went for it. Don’t wait for things to fall perfectly into place- just prioritize what is most important to you and find a way to make it happen. I promise you won’t regret it.