The Neighborhood Next to Ours

The neighborhood next to ours in Portland

Back when we lived in Portland, the neighborhood next to ours was filled with street after street of large, beautiful homes, with big, green, well-manicured lawns and exquisite landscaping. The homes run the gamut of styles, from English Tudor to French Provincial, 50s Post Modern to Old Portland Foursquare, Mediterranean to Dutch Colonial. Volvos, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-end or new cars often sat in the driveways, and several of the homes had swimming pools. It seemed at least two, if not more, homes on each block had signs in the yards proclaiming that renovations, remodeling, or landscaping work was currently taking place there. The streets were lined with huge, leafy elms which kept the streets cool and inviting even on the hottest days, which was why I enjoyed walking there in the evenings during the summer.

It used to be my dream to live in this neighborhood. I wanted a beautiful lawn and landscaping, a bigger house for our family, a big elm tree in front. And for a while, Brett and I probably could have bought one of these homes. We instead bought a cheap house with a tiny yard up the hill from this neighborhood, with no trees at all in front. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made considering what happened to Brett’s income a few years later. Because we bought the cheap house we were able to weather his loss of income and then climb out of the debt that we accrued. We’d have gone bankrupt if we’d bought the bigger house, but instead made a profit when we sold our house before moving to Hawaii.

The cheap house turned out to be a great house, perfect for our family in a perfect location.

These days I shudder when I think about the prices of homes for sale here on Kaua’i, or in other places we considered moving, and the annual taxes on those homes. I can only imagine how much the upkeep would be, as well as things like heating them in the winter or cooling in the summer. We had a small patio installed at our cheap house, a real wake-up call to what extensive landscaping and maintenance would cost (a LOT). I don’t even want to think of how much we would have paid to furnish a larger home, even with vintage or used furniture. Actually, a bigger home would probably have ended up mostly unfurnished, but I’m sure we would still have been craving stuff to fill it rather than feel satisfied with what we had. We would have been living in neighborhood full of Joneses, trying to keep up with and most likely failing and feeling miserable about it.

This is our dream apartment for the future. Brett and I can happily imagine living a space this size these days (photo credit: Beazy/Unsplash)

I never saw it coming back then, how minimalism has become more and more attractive to us as we grow older. We don’t want or desire so much space now, so much room to fill and maintain. We’ve learned how to live in small spaces, including how to carve out individual space so we don’t feel crowded, even in a one-room studio. The older we get, the fewer things we want to own. It’s been a surprising journey finding how little we need or want, and what we can easily let go of.

I can no longer imagine myself in one of those big houses back in Portland. These days I admire houses around the island but don’t covet them any more. I’m no longer looking at real estate websites and dreaming about the houses that might work for us somewhere. Our dreams these days are of living in other places around the world, borrowing someone else’s house for a month or so, for as long as we are able, and then finally ending up in a small apartment, with just the right amount of stuff.


8 thoughts on “The Neighborhood Next to Ours

  1. I am closing on my retirement home, hopefully, in a couple of weeks. It is 720 sq ft, within walking distance of major hospital, major University with over 30,000 students, Target, Home Depot, Aldi, CVS, and it has a tiny basement for a storm shelter for tornadoes. There are great walking trails by the river, and a terrific farmer’s market. There is a nearby state park with a nice swimming lake. I will be close to one kid, who will be doing the repairs and painting, and two more kids will probably move back, or they tell me they are. They wanted me in this spot because they felt like I would be safe. I do not need stuff, I need peace. I hope I am making the right decision and feel like I am. I wanted to live near the beach but did not want to deal with al the hurricanes we seem to have here, plus it was too expensive. I can go visit the beach though, very often. My kids reminded me we always vacation there anyways and it will be four hrs away. So, although where I live now is small, I am going really small and will need to downsize. So, I totally understand what you are saying.


    1. Your retirement home sounds PERFECT! Great location, a nice size for a retirement home with enough room for you and guests. I agree with you about the hurricanes – for us here it’s tsunamis, and there are some locations we would never consider renting or owning in. Back on the mainland, it’s earthquakes, or the potential for earthquakes.

      For so long I thought I wanted big when it came to a house, but the first time we finally lived in a big house I hated it. We rattled around and the cleaning about drove me crazy. Small is my thing.


  2. I love my 1604 square foot house. I do want to get rid of a few things but do not ever see myself downsizing. When I built this home, I built it as my forever home and tried to design to age in place. Maybe when I am 90 I will change my mind. Different strokes.


    1. Wow – I had no idea your house was that big. Our house in Portland was 1800+ square feet and it felt huge to me. But, I’ve always like small spaces, so like you say, different strokes!

      When we visited Strasbourg, Brett and I lived in a 327 square foot studio for nearly a month with no arguments or bad feelings. We knew after that we could live in a very small space and get along just fine. I think our apartment now is around 600 square feet, but we could go smaller.


  3. There is something satisfying about living with less. It’s a process to get rid of a lifetime of ‘stuff’ and just keep what really makes me/us happy, but it continues. So much to be said for minimalism.

    I was living in what I thought was my ‘dream house’ when I got divorced, and selling it in a down market was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    As for the current time, we were happy to let someone else take over the mowing, raking, weeding and mulching. It was really lovely while we lived on the river, but we are both really glad to have less maintenance in our lives and more time to just be.


    1. What’s been interesting to me is that I have missed nothing we have let go over the years. Nothing. It was time for it to go to someone else. I love having less these days. I appreciate what I have more, and there’s less work maintaining it all giving me more time to do the things I enjoy.

      I’m with you on letting go of the upkeep. It’s basically a jungle over here, which is the reason we gave up the idea of owning a house over here. You have to be on the maintenance, yard and house, all the time . . . or else.


  4. I am at the middle point, torn between wanting a nice house and not wanting to own a house at all. Luckily I’ve never been a “keeping up with the Jones” type but I have my own mind pictures to keep up with.


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