Friday, November 7, 2008

THE SHAME OF DOWNSIZING

Since moving to Hilo, Hawaii we have had a lot of visitors from the mainland. This summer, when we proudly showed off our little rental in Hilo with its marvelous view and our new laid back life, we couldn’t understand the expressions on many of our visitors’ faces. It was definitely not envy; it seemed more like surprise, but not in a good way. We couldn’t figure it out.

It wasn’t until we recently read an
article about how stressful it is for people to downsize, particularly those under 55 years of age. The older set have social acceptance for downsizing as a part of preparing for or actually retiring. But for those under 55, downsizing has the stigma of career or financial failure.

It was then that we realized our visitors were reacting to how tiny our Hilo house is in comparison to the house we owned in California and they felt embarrassment for us. We realize now we were experiencing the effect of the “shame of downsizing”.

When we meet new people, many ask within the first moments of the conversation, “When are you going to buy a house?” The persistence and tone of the questioning makes it seem a lot like “renters” are in different and lower social class than house owners. After owning houses for over 25 years, it is a huge relief to not spend countless hours and money maintaining a house. We knew that owning a house improved your credit score but we hadn’t realized that house ownership was such a status symbol.

In our case, we are choosing to downsize our life by getting rid of our house and most of our stuff. This choice has allowed us to fulfill our dream of living in Hawaii .

But a lot of people right now are being forced to downsize by having their stuff repossessed and their houses taken away. Instead of a gradual and controlled downsizing, families are finding themselves living in cars and tents a few weeks after living in a large house in suburbia. We can’t even imagine how stressful, upsetting and terrifying that experience must be on families in that unfortunate situation. In our case, we can chuckle about people’s reaction to our downsizing. But we feel sorry that those enduring forced downsizing and having to adjust to a harsh new lifestyle must also bear this extra social stigma.

Since the world financial system started collapsing in October, we have had follow up conversations with folks on the mainland that are now beginning to see the merits of early downsizing.

11 comments:

damontucker said...

No shame in downsizing!

I too moved from the mainland long ago.

Downsizing in Hawaii is worth every penny!

Bill said...

We've been downsizing for about a year as I finish grad school, we are now back down to a 1-bedroom apartment! All with the single-minded purpose of living in Hawaii. We don't need all the junk and complexity.

Anyway, we will soon be on the islands!

Victoria Hokulani said...

Aloha friends, It won't be long before everyone realizes the Downsized life is THE life to live. Doing it on the Big Island is so PRICELESS since this IS the best place to be in the world, IMO.
We are the mortgage free owners of a house that is under 1000sq ft. With 2 homebased business and two adolescent boys it must be run efficiently without a lot of clutter to block the flow of commerce and daily living. Just the other day, an acquaintence made a remark to me that I could have perceived as less than complimentary. Something like "Oh, how can you live like that in such a small house, I could never do that". It was an effort not to let it run rampant over my psyche. I can tell you, that managing in such a small space can have its stressful moments, but all in all, I would rather be here than in divorce court over money issues and unpaid bills. I have a relative who built their 5000+ dream mansion and then ended up picking up the pieces of a broken marriage shortly after the final inspection. They ended up hating the house and everything it represented.
I know very well the feelings you are going through. For us it is particularly bad since hubby is an architect. He has lost one or two prospective clients over the years but for the most part he has a loyal clientele who trust him for his honesy and integrity. He is still busier as ever even in this challenging economy. We give credit to the marketing magic of the "Coconut Wireless" for that!
Anyway, always keep your mind and ego on a choke chain and jerk it back to your ideals when the bullies try to tell you that you are loser. We stand tall,proud, steadfast and get restful sleep everynight in our debtfree, less-stress, island paradise. Mahalo, for your great blog!

Thais said...

Building equity for one's children is a valid reason for home ownership, among others.

In times in which it is even more unlikely that our children will be able to afford the security of a owned roof over their heads, this is one of the few things, apart from the best education we can manage to give them, that has long term value.

Understandably, if one is childless, less is certainly more!

Anele said...

We are in the same condo we started out in 12 years ago. We almost bought into the whole status thing and got into a house that would've required us to be married to the mortgage and afford nothing else. Given the downturn in the economy now, we'd be up a creek and have been forced to downsize. We always get the "don't you guys want to have a "real" house?" Why? This place has allowed us to go to Hawaii every year, allowed us to buy 2 lots on the Big Island outright and will allow us to be able to split our time between here and there when we build. More house is just more to pay in utilities, more space to fill and more house to clean. Who wants that?

There's no shame in downsizing, it's the smartest way to live and unfortunately many people are learning that lesson the hard way.

Keahi Pelayo said...

Cycles happen in the market and down sizing is a natural occurrence.
Aloha,
Keahi

larry said...

when you consider that most people in the world live in even smaller "homes" than your rental and do not have running water or in-door plumbing it makes me wonder is it really "down-sizing" or is it "right-sizing?"

and i would give up "size" for less stress any day of the week!

Anonymous said...

Amen to all of you! This is my favorite website as I am also from Silicon Valley and actually lived in the same apartment complex as the "Hilo Living" website designers. This is an awesome website that I look at almost everyday! I am having a hard time urging my husband to sell our 2400'
square foot house that is so hard for me to take care of daily, and just do it!! Move to Hilo! He is agreeable to "part-time" living in Hilo which I am not sure is the right thing to do. Soooo, I continue (for now) my daily looking at "Hilo Living website. We'll see what the future has in store for us. Mahalo

Patricia Hickman said...

Yes, I blogged about The Simple Life last week. It's not a popular topic here on the mainland. If I may, I recommend Randy Alcorn's The Treasure Principle. It's a book about how simplicity brings happiness.

Anonymous said...

We own our house outright. Then we almost had to (and maybe still will) declare bankruptcy. 4 yes 4 lawyers have told us that in bankruptcy, the court will seize our paid off home and sell it. We will be able to keep $75k and the rest would go to pay off debt. If we had a mortgage, and less than $75k equity, we could keep it. So much for the paid off mortgage for the future kids.

stephanie said...

Downsizing is very important when it comes to retirement. A lot of people have these great retirement fantasies, which are too high-priced. Some people might need to retire to another state where the price of living is cheaper. While money is important, planning for retirement isn't all about money. I personally think is a great idea to get a certified retirement financial advisor if you need help planning for your future. Life after retirement should be very enjoyable. No one should spend time worrying about finances, but rather do things that they enjoy and now have time to do. These certified advisors will help to prevent stressful retirements.