Interview: Dana Miller from House*Tweaking

Small Spaces Month 2011

I'm a big fan of the blog House*Tweaking so when Dana Miller announced she and her husband were selling their suburban "builder boring house" she's made oh-so-beautiful in order to pursue financial freedom and their dreams, I had to know more! Dana was kind enough to take a few questions from us, and I'm so happy to share her story on why she and her family of four are downsizing and selling the house they've slowly (and on budget) made their home.The following interview is with Dana Miller from House*Tweaking.

How many square feet do you currently have? Bedrooms? Baths?

DM: Our current 4 bed/2.5 bath home has ~2,600 sq ft of finished living space along with a full unfinished basement, 3-car garage, and outbuilding for added storage.

What size home are you downsizeing to? Square footage? Bedrooms? Baths?

DM: We've been house hunting for a few months now. In the beginning, we were very open to pretty much any home that would allow us to be mortgage-free in 5 years or less. As the hunt has drawn on, we're finding that we'd like a house that offers well less than 2,000 sq ft, preferably 3 bedrooms (although 2 would suffice) and a minimum of 1.5 baths for our young family of four.

Why are you downsizing?

DM: There are many reasons why we have made the decision to downsize. But probably the main reason being so that I can pursue a career in design full-time at some point down the road. I know that sounds like a pretty one-sided decision, but in reality it's not. My husband, Steve, has been so supportive of my interest in interior design. I've worked as a retail pharmacist just shy of 10 years now. Once I started experimenting with décor in our own home and then eventually blogging about it, I realized design was my passion. I have never enjoyed my choice of career but kind of plodded along since the pay was good. After a lot of soul searching, I recently enrolled in a professional interior design course. About a month into my studies, I revealed to Steve my dream of becoming a real designer. The catch? I would only make the drastic career change once we were debt-free. You see, as much as I love design, I really don't want to jeopardize our financial stability. So, after several heart-to-hearts , Steve and I decided we would sell our current home and use the equity to pay down the mortgage on a less expensive home. Although our next home's monthly mortgage payment is likely to be at least $1,000 less than our payment now, we plan to continue making the same payments on our next home, pretending as if our house payment is the same as it is now . We've done the math and it looks like we could realistically pay off our next home in 5 years. Then and only then, would I feel comfortable starting up my own design business full-time.

Of course, once we decided to downsize, many other reasons have come along: save more for our retirement and kids' college educations, shorten Steve's 50-minute commute to work, own our home by the time we're 40, live simpler, transform another house into our home (working on houses together is one of our favorite pastimes after all), teach ourselves and our kids to live with less stuff and more passion, and frankly I'm just tired of cleaning a big ol' house!

From day one, I've said, "We're not looking for our dream house. We're looking for a house in which to pursue our dreams."

What age home are you looking to buy? (I ask because downsizing itself is a challenge; add the small dimensions of previous generations, and you've got even more spatial challenges.)

DM: We've already looked at homes that range in age from 100 years old to less than 4 years old. Newer homes are definitely easier to work on, but we do love the idea of living in a mature neighborhood. We're not just looking at the house itself but also what the neighborhood and community have to offer.

What are your must haves in your new space?

DM: A sound structure with an open floor plan (or at least the potential for an open floor plan) that doesn't pose serious health risks to our family. A laundry room is a must - even if it's just a closet - and good public schools too.

What do you live with now that you can live without in your new home?

DM: A living room! We have separate living/family rooms right now and the living room rarely gets used. I've come to detest entire rooms that don't get daily use. We also have a guest bedroom, basement, sunroom, and walk-in closets that are lovely but we don’t need them. There is so much furniture too that we could live without...namely all the furniture in those rooms that don't get traffic daily. We're all about quality over quantity this time around.

How are you approaching the task of downsizing your belongings?

DM: Truth be told, we don't have a lot of stuff. I donate unwanted/outgrown toys and clothing several times a year. We're pretty diligent about not letting things consume our space. Two of our four walk-in closets are empty. That being said, obviously not everything will make the cut when we downsize. To make it an easy 'yes' or 'no', we've made a 3-year rule: If it hasn't been seen/used/enjoyed in the last 3 years (that's how long we've lived in our current home), then we're getting rid of it. And we've already started this process. I edited down all household belongings when we put our home up for sale several weeks ago. Not only will it help to sell our current home, hopefully it will make downsizing easier. We'll have already been living without all this unnecessary baggage before we even move!

What scares you the most about downsizing?

DM: I'm not scared so much about downsizing as I am just about moving to a new home, new town, new schools. Our eldest is in kindergarten and sometimes I feel guilty about moving him to a new school district, forcing him to make new friendships. But we've talked openly with him about it, so it's not a surprise or a secret. He's wise beyond his six years. He told us, "I just need a house full of love."

What is going to be your biggest challenge in downsizing? How do you plan to meet that challenge?

DM: I think our biggest challenge is going to be finding ways to 'expand' our next home when we have guests or entertain. The home we live in now was made for entertaining but it's not very conducive to daily living and housekeeping. I think our next home will be easier to live in on a daily basis with just the four of us, but it will probably be more difficult to have larger gatherings. I'll definitely have to come up with clever yet stylish ways to add extra eating/sitting areas when special occasions arise.

What excites you about downsizing?

DM: The freedom! The financial freedom, the freedom to follow my dreams, the freedom from cleaning more than 2,500 sq ft weekly, the freedom from having extra-extra storage space for stuff to collect, the freedom to experiment with design in another home, the freedom to use every last square inch of space for some purpose. Also, I'm excited to share the entire journey and transformation on my blog. I started House*Tweaking in the midst of decorating our current home. I think it will be fun to start all over from square one to show how smaller, gradual changes fit into the whole interior design picture. And I'm so, so, SO excited to do all of it alongside my husband, Steve. I think we're going to look back on these years with great fondness, knowing that we did what was best for us not everyone else. I'm excited for our two young sons to see their parents make their dreams their reality.

Thank you, Dana!

Additional questions for Dana? Let us know by dropping a line below!

About Dana: Dana Miller began the blog House*Tweaking on November 18, 2009 with a short and sweet post about what is tweaking and why blog. Her first project was featured on Re-Nest just ten days ago in the post In the Closet: Mini Mudroom. Dana writes four to six time a week about home improvement projects, do-it-yourself upgrades, interior design ideas, budget décor, housekeeping, handmade crafts, home organization, shopping guides and creative inspiration. If you're not familiar with House*Tweaking, you're missing out. Add it to your reader, you'll be so happy you did!

(Image: House*Tweaking)

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