Why trading my big house for a tiny condo was the smartest decision I've ever made

By on Feb 4th

Ma & Pa America

In front of our first house in 2005

When Andreas and I got married in 2004, each of our fathers gifted us with a generous bit of cash towards a down payment on our first home. It was the height of the real estate frenzy, and OF COURSE now that we were married we would be buying a home.

We were renting a one bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, Seattle's gayborhood where we've lived off 'n' on since 1997. We considered looking at condos, but everyone told us that we simply HAD to buy a house because they appreciate better. And so in 2005, we bought our first home: a modest but sizable three-bedroom house in Seattle's southend.

This little piggie went to market…

…And it was a good house. The three bedrooms meant Dre and I could each have our own offices — plus we had an enormous finished basement that we used as a guestroom/tv zone. We had a big backyard, and did a major home improvement project to add french doors to the bedroom that opened out onto it.

Hi, buy my house

We had a garden, a garage for the camping equipment, lots of storage, nice wood floors, a pond in the backyard, and a sweet hammock between two asian pear trees.

So, why was I so unhappy?

I grew up in a pretty rural environment, tucked away in the woods on 10 acres of land at the end of a long dirt driveway. Then I'd moved into the city, and gotten used to being surrounded by people, stacked up in apartments in high density neighborhoods. I thought that an in-city home would be a great place for me to live — more breathing room than I'd had in an apartment, but not as isolated as my rural upbringing.

Instead, I found it the worst of both worlds: I wasn't in the neighborhood I loved, but I still had people everywhere. Granted, our neighbors were on the other sides of yards and fences, but they were still wthin eye shot.

And the fucking maintenance. All of a sudden I had this yard I was supposed to care for. Remember, I grew up in the woods, with ferns and forest duff as the only landscaping. When the in-laws were in town once, they asked me if we owned a lawn mower. I answered that yes, we did … and realized they were asking because they thought our lawn looked like shit and assumed that the only way it could possibly look that bad was if we didn't have a mower.

Computer Corner

My lonely red office

I also felt terribly isolated, both from my life in the city and even from Andreas. We'd each go into our offices to dink around on our computers, and not see each other for hours. Our house was only a 20 minute drive from our old neighborhood (or a 45 minute bus ride from my job downtown), but I was used to being able to walk everywhere. I hated driving.

As Andreas and I started thinking seriously about starting a family, I looked around at this supposedly perfect family house with its nursery-ready bedrooms and kid-friendly fenced backyard and realized it was a prison. If I felt isolated in this home already, having a baby was only going to make it ten times worse. If I hated driving, it was only going to get harder with loading a baby in and out of a car-seat every time we wanted to go anywhere.

Then our house got broken into. Despite my laptop sitting out on the bed, the thief only took some jewelry, weed, and a bottle of wine. He left some used q-tips on the table. This is all to say, not an especially bad break-in, but it added to my feelings that it was TIME TO GO.

And so in 2007, we sold our house and moved into an amazing one-bedroom condo back on Capitol Hill. I felt an immediate sense of relief — I could walk to six grocery stores, four parks, five museums, and hundreds of restaurants and bars and boutiques. The car got parked for weeks at a time. Life was good.

In 2009, when I got pregnant, the questions began: "Do you regret leaving the house? Where will the baby sleep? How long can you stay in that little condo?"

I'm happy to report that having a baby in this neighborhood has been SMART. Smarter than smart. The first year, which can be so isolating, was liberating — getting out was as easy as strapping the baby in a sling and walking out the door. Within a block or two I'd run into neighborhood friends, or my favorite baristas, or the sweet owner of the local tea shop that acted as my second livingroom.

Yes, my son has a nursery in a walk-in closet. Yes, we have to keep our possessions streamlined. Yes, my husband and I trip around each other in the hallway sometimes. But all these challenges are nothing compared to the isolation and frustration I felt living in a single-family house.

It comes down to priorities. For me, being in a neighborhood with a high walk score and lots of friends and easy access to parks and museums is important. More important than a yard and a garden and extra space for more stuff.

What are YOUR priorities? How do they shape your housing choices?