Downsizing With Kids

by Sonja Stewart on 1 September 2010 3 comments

Hi. My name is Sonja, and I am crazy.

Now that you know, I can tell you that my husband and I are selling our modest cottage on half an acre to move onto a sailboat with our two small children. Most people aren't downsizing nearly as drastically as we are, but it got me thinking: Quite a number of people are, in one way or another, moving out of larger homes for smaller homes. Quite a lot of these people must have children as well. And as I come up with the solution to the first question people inevitably ask me, “Where will your kids play?” I'd like to pass on the solutions I've been contemplating.

1. Dump the Junk

If your kids are anything like mine, they could do with at least 50% less toys. Make it 75%. Go through the toys, clothes, shoes, and incidentals and have yourself a garage sale. Better yet, see what those toys are going for on eBay. For bigger furniture items, Craigslist will typically get you more cash than a garage sale. Take the cash you get and put it towards a Netflix membership or some small portable play options like video games.

2. Make Friends

This one is a lifeline if you're going to be living in cramped quarters with in-laws. Join groups, get active in the community or a local church and spread out, socially. Visiting with friends, having dinner at someone else's home, or having your kids play in someone's backyard will ease the loss of space and/or land you've had to sacrifice. Plus, it's great to have someone to talk to when things get tough.

3. Use What Your Community Offers

Seriously research parks and recreation and your local library for activities that are offered throughout the year for free or very low cost. It's a great way to feel connected within your community, and it gives your kids things to do so they don't talk so much about how hard it is to share a room with their baby brother.

4. Get a Family Pass

Use any cash you may have saved in the downsize to put towards a family pass. Look into children's museums, the zoo, theme parks, local swimming pools — whatever appeals to your kids the most and fits your budget. If you're out of work, ask about scholarships. Many places will give serious discounts. All you have to do is ask.

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5. Look for a Community Garden

If you're missing your yard, look for a community garden to plant some greenery. If there isn't one, maybe you're the person who can organize it and get it started. Go in front of the community council and bring your kids while you propose a local garden. Not only will you be able to get involved, but you'll be teaching them the value of seeing a need in the neighborhood and filling it. Some community gardens donate a portion of their vegetable harvest to local food banks.

6. Volunteer

While I'm on the subject, the quickest way to get out of a funk is to do something nice for someone else. If you find yourself cramped, cranky and cantankerous, take the kids and go to an elderly home. Ask the front desk if there's anyone who needs a visit, or if they could use any help. Again, this is a great opportunity to teach your kids the value of reaching out. And who knows, you may walk away with another valued friendship.

Downsizing usually happens because life throws us a curve ball. A divorce, sudden death, a job loss, or even having to move in to care for an ailing parent can cause stress on a family. It makes for some very tough choices. Keep the books, leave the stuffed animals. We had to give our precious black lab away (which was much harder on me than the kids).

The best lessons in life aren't easy. Compassion, empathy and resilience can only be learned through tough times. It's good to keep that perspective as we watch our kids getting what's really important. And that doesn't include your own room complete with a princess-themed bed. Sorry, Josephine.

If you have any ideas that have worked with your recent downsize, I'd love to hear them.

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Guest's picture

Downsizing is hard, especially with kids. We're going through that now, trying to figure out which toys the kids will part with when we don't have a special room devoted to play anymore. If you can't get rid of it at a garage sale, don't throw it away. It's tax-deductible as a charitable donation, up to 30% of your income!

Guest's picture
Guest

In regards to number 1 on the list: give your stuff to goodwill or other charities. Only sell stuff that is "near new" or actually worth something (current computers, game systems, dvds, etc.) Even that stuff that you think is collectible (sports cards, etc) is probably near worthless to anyone who is a serious collector.
Selling an item on ebay for a buck or two isn't worth it as much as it is to charities that could use those items even more (worse, you overprice your items and no one buys). Get a receipt and put it toward your taxes.

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J.

@Posters 1 and 2:

Of course, it's only a tax deduction to give toys to Goodwill if you itemize, which you should only do if your itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction. If you have a mortgage, you already itemize. But renters might not.

@Sonja:

I like a lot of your ideas, but I'm not crazy about replacing toys with video games. There are plenty of small toys that take up little space but involve creativity (Lego, Playmobil, K'nex, Brio trains) and build fine motor skills, rather that involving more screen time.