We Downsized our Home for the Planet

We once lived in a 5,873-square-foot house with a playroom, gym, and three-car garage. But once we moved to a mountainous region on the California–Nevada border, we decided to downsize and haven't looked back since.

young family climbing on rock wall
This adventurous family is doing its part (and then some). Photo: Courtesy of Delaware Rock Gym

Back in Delaware, where we had a 5,873-square-foot house, our four kids each had their own room. They had a playroom in the basement overflowing with toys. My husband had a gym down there too. We had a three-car garage full of stuff we were “storing” (read: things we never looked at or thought about).

Then we moved to Lake Tahoe Basin, the mountainous region on the California–Nevada border, to help one of our kids pursue her dream of becoming an Olympic snowboarder. We saw a chance to embrace a greener lifestyle—and a smaller one. In August we bought a 1,904-square-foot house, where our three girls—now 14, 6, and 3—share a room and our boy, 11, has his own. We got rid of four bookcases out of the seven we had, so you can guess how many books we donated.

In the years before the move, we’d made an effort to teach our kids about climate change. When we lived in Alaska before moving to Delaware, and when we visited Iceland on vacation, we witnessed it firsthand. We’d seen many national parks, where our kids would fill bags of trash to earn Junior Ranger badges. We’d fed and petted sharks to acquaint ourselves with just one species at risk of extinction. And before we moved to California, we went to its Aquarium of the Pacific, in Long Beach. Reports estimate that 1 million species may go extinct within decades. I wanted my kids to see some of them, to understand that these were just a few of the beings our actions will affect. They got it.

They didn’t balk when, along with the cross-country move and the sacrifice that came with it, we all committed to being diligent about recycling, turning off lights, taking shorter showers, and using reusable utensils and water bottles. We have a friend who’s downsized all the way to living on a 48-foot catamaran; who were we to keep a big house we didn’t need?

We lived for eight months in rentals without our possessions, waiting until we found a permanent home before retrieving them. And we learned that there’s nothing like being without your stuff to make you realize how little you need. When our things finally arrived at the new house, we junked two truckloads and haven’t replaced a bit. Once you let go, it’s freeing—and it feels almost as good as knowing you’re doing your part.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's April 2020 issue as “Think Big for Your Family.”

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