Does Size Matter?
We had an awesome time on our ski holiday last week. Learning to ski in our mid forties is proving to be a good choice. The skiing is great fun and good exercise, and we’re enjoying the apres ski, although I suspect it’s not quite so good for us.
Ski trips two, hospital visits nil is good news too!
Where does this learning to ski idea come from? It started in 2015, and had nothing to do with skiing. All we did was take a summer vacation in the Austrian Alps. It wasn’t our normal type of holiday, but we loved it. The scenery, fresh air, walks, cafes, we fell for it all.
Other vacations followed to the French and Italian Alps. And wherever we are, we can’t seem to walk past a real estate agent without looking at the property details in the window. We do it on holiday just the same as we do it at home.
This set us thinking. How great would it be to have our own place in the mountains? Sally and I are both interested in property, we like the safety of it as an investment. Perhaps we could mix pleasure and investment into one.
A mid life crisis?
A Google search shows a top 20 list of things to buy during a midlife crisis. Yes, a new property is there, but only at a lowly number 16.
In case you were wondering, the items beating property for places 1 to 15 on the list are:
Tickets to a concert
Round the world trip
Tickets to a music festival
Major home renovations
Expensive or vintage alcohol
I’m not sure whether I’m disappointed or relieved. Maybe it’s not a full midlife crisis as I’m in for just two of sixteen – number 8, travel, and the aforementioned number 16, new property. Number 15 would have been a cheaper option though😂
To buy, or not to buy?
Hastening back to the subject of property, some online research suggested Austria would not be the easiest market for us. We had enjoyed our holiday there, and in Italy, but it was the traditional alpine villages and towns in France that stole our hearts.
So, in October 2016, we again visited the French Alps, with a thought of doing more than just window shopping. We saw four villages/towns, each with their own plus points, but it was the small town and ski resort of Morzine that felt the best fit for us.
Unfortunately, Morzine was also the most expensive of the places we looked at, and we didn’t find anything in our budget. But, by now, we were on the hook, and we arranged another trip a few months later.
Budget, what budget?
Again, we found that if we could afford it, we didn’t like it, and if we liked it, we couldn’t afford it. What to do? Sally’s solution was to simply double the budget! I don’t exactly remember agreeing to this, but I guess I must have as the next moment we’re signing reservation forms on the priciest, smallest two bedroom apartment that…isn’t actually built yet.
And that brings us up to date. Of course, while we were skiing in Morzine last week, we went to have a look at progress. The good news is that it is now part built. There are concrete walls and ceilings, material for a roof and, fingers crossed, less than ten more months until completion.
Oh no, it's so small!
We knew it was small, even tiny, but until we saw it we hadn’t realized just how small it is. So we're now faced with that age old question, does size matter?
Like most people, Sally and I have worked hard earning money to provide a good home. When we did well, we had a bit more money which let us get a bigger home, or one in a more desirable area. A common mindset I’m sure.
To now imagine living in a space only a quarter or a third of the size of our recent homes was a shock. My first reaction was disappointment, and a resignation that the space simply wouldn’t work for us.
One option is to accept it’s too small, and simply rent it out as a holiday apartment. It would give us a return, albeit not the highest, and we could still stay in it for a week here and there.
Should we give up on the dream?
But only renting out the apartment wasn’t our dream. We imagined living in the property during the glorious alpine summers, and some months during the other seasons. My skiing was going to become, if not fantastic, at least less chaotic. It seems a shame to give up on our dream so quickly.
The question is whether I can get my mind around living, for up to 6 months per year, in a dramatically smaller space that we have been used to for the last twenty plus years.
The first hurdle isn’t even the physical space. It’s the “what will other people think” issue. By downsizing so drastically, will they think we’ve not been successful? It does cross my mind, but it should be dispelled. Firstly, good friends wouldn’t think that and, secondly, it’s not something we should care about. We're kicking this issue into touch.
To the real issue, the space, or rather the lack of it. So what are we talking about? It’s a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment, with an open plan kitchen, dining and lounge area. All of that is squeezed into 61m² (650ft²). See, I did say it was tiny!
I’m working on the basis that the bedrooms and bathrooms can work. They’re not big, but OK for what they’re needed for. I have a friend who was recently looking for a property and complained that the bedrooms were too small. Why, I asked, what do you do in the bedroom? Wrong question, I quickly realised the less said about that, the better!
Our space problem is the open plan kitchen, dining and lounge area, plus storage. This is what I’m thinking:
Declutter – we don’t need two thirds of the crockery, utensils, pots, pans, gadgets that we have. If we just take what we need, it will fit.
A happy coincidence – our daughter has just rented her first apartment, and she wants a lot of our surplus stuff. A win win.
We won’t have enough counter space for prep area. The small space works for us here as the dining table will be right by the kitchen area and can double up as extra prep space.
Magic corners will make the best use of the often wasted corner cupboard space.
Our planned wine fridge was a luxury which we can do without. This frees up space for an extra kitchen cupboard.
We’ll find specialist drawer and cupboard organisers to make the most of the space that we have.
We can squeeze a slim but tall shelf unit at the end of the kitchen area which will give us some additional open storage.
Keep it simple, the dining area is just going to be the dining table. Usually it will just be Sally and myself, but at times we’ll seat four, and very occasionally six.
Having a full size 6 seater table for the odd occasion we need it uses too much of our limited space. A table for four will work well 95% of the time. On the odd occasion that we seat six, we’ll have fun squeezing in.
My preferred three seater sofa and an arm chair isn’t going to fit. It will either block the patio doors, make the space look even more cramped, or take up room where the TV will go.
An L shaped corner sofa will fit. It will seat 2 very comfortably, and 4 at a push. Again, this will work fine 95% of the time.
Use the garden area as an extension to our living space during the summer.
As well as double using the dining table as an extra kitchen prep area, maybe it can incorporate drawers for cutlery etc.
Wall real estate can make up for the lack of floor space. Shelves, thin book cases, hooks, door tidies/hangers can add valuable storage.
Stagger/ladder shelves can stop shelf units from overpowering small spaces.
Open storage looks quite fashionable, so long as it’s kept tidy.
Ensure the beds and sofa have space in the base for storage.
Inventive storage products can keep things tidy and use otherwise untapped storage areas. For example, attachments for the inside of wardrobe doors that otherwise are unused space.
Store only what we need. We don’t need 4 sets of bedding for each bed, which is what we seem to have now. I’d rather keep what we need to use, and recycle the surplus.
Hold on a second, how did my early retirement/financial independence blog venture into the interior design space? I can’t remember that being on the blog plan!
What's this got to do with Financial Independence/Early Retirement?
Clearly we need to be happy in our lives, and comfortable in our homes. But I suspect the truth is that many people still aspire to the bigger is better approach for their home. The one that's in the best neighbourhood to show everyone how well we’re doing. And that’s before we fill it with gadgets and furniture well beyond what we need. I know, I’ve been there.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But if your target is to get to financial independence or early retirement sooner, spending more on your house and it’s contents will delay reaching your goal, probably by years.
I’m not suggesting we all live in shoe box sized apartments, but rather that it's worth taking a moment to evaluate the priorities. Do we always need a bigger home, the premier neighbourhood? Our home and it’s contents are our single biggest expenditure, so spending a bit more or a bit less on it can significantly bring forward or delay our financial independence date.
So if we were to buy a bigger home, not because it's needed, but just because we can, we are effectively choosing to delay our FIRE date. It seems that size can matter, but in this case, perhaps smaller can be better.