Note from Casey: I’m so honored that my mom will be writing three posts here on the blog this month! She is a fantastic writer (and the official DIY Playbook proofreader!) and it’s about time her talents are shared with all of you. I’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers to hear about Jan’s journey moving to her gorgeous condo in the city and she is more than happy to share her story. Thanks, Mom!
Let Me Introduce Myself
Hi there, I’m Jan, or Janimal, as Casey and Finn often call me. I’m Casey’s mom and many of you have seen my feminine condo, here on The DIY Playbook blog. Apparently, some of you are interested in how and why I decided to sell my big home in the suburbs, purge all of my belongings and downsize into a small condo in the city of Chicago. So, while Casey is transitioning back into blog work and spending all her extra time bonding with beautiful Rory, I am happy to take today and the next two Thursdays to share my story of decluttering, purging, giving away, selling, searching for a new place, moving into the city and renting, buying a place and moving again and FINALLY, finding my own new style. I’ll share with you why I decided that it was time to downsize and how I made that happen.
I’ll warn you right now – it’s not a quick and easy story. It took a lot of time to make it through all of those steps and to come out on the other side with a beautiful new condo and new life in Chicago, but I’m proud to say that I DID IT and I couldn’t be happier!
How It All Began
Deciding it was time to downsize and move from the suburbs to the city began about seven years after buying my own house, after my divorce. In January of 2010, when I was leaving my marriage and changing my life, I purchased a house in the same suburb, outside of Chicago, where I had lived for 30+ years. My children grew up and went to school there and I was very comfortable there. I didn’t even consider anyplace else when I was looking for a new home. This little suburb was what I knew and that was where I wanted to stay. (At the time I thought I would be there forever!)
Those first few years in my suburban house were so healing for me. I was comfortable there and I had wonderful neighbors who have become life-long friends. I was doing some substitute teaching in the local schools, so I was feeling pretty grounded in my community. At first, when I bought my home, it didn’t seem enormous. It just seemed practical. I was used to having my children come home and stay, now and then, so I wanted plenty of rooms for them to use when they wanted to stay. I had four bedrooms, an office, a dining room, a family room, and a full, finished basement, along with four bathrooms and a huge yard! As I look back and think about it now, it was ENORMOUS! I entertained quite a bit and I hosted every holiday there with my family, but, honestly, there were so many rooms in that house that I hardly ever used.
When I moved in, I bought a small amount of new furniture and I painted every room to make it “my own”. I even did a small makeover of the kitchen, installing new countertops and a nice backsplash. I painted the cabinets in the island and installed a new butcher block countertop there, which I absolutely LOVED and I would do again in a heartbeat! I put in some new lighting, re-did my laundry room to make it very feminine and over time, each room felt more like “Janimal”.
But I was still using all of the old furniture and although it felt comfortable, it still seemed like a “re-run” of my old life. My style hadn’t really changed much at all.
The Slow Process of Deciding to Downsize
Gradually, I came to realize that my house was WAY too big for me (and I was feeling embarrassed because of my huge carbon footprint). When my children ended up with their own places in Chicago, I finally started to understand that they weren’t going to come and stay at my house anymore. They each had their own places and even when they did come to visit, they went back home at the end of their visit. All I was doing was a whole bunch of weekly cleaning in those rooms that no one ever used! I was starting to think that it was time to downsize!
The next thing that happened is that I got a part-time job in the city, working at a Jesuit non-profit organization. (I am still working there, now, full-time, and I am still passionate about the mission – we host spiritual retreats for people who have experienced homelessness and are in recovery from addiction. It is called the Ignatian Spirituality Project for any of you who are interested.) Because the office is in the city, I started driving 34 miles (each way), three days a week. Well, as any of you who commute know, when you are driving in rush hour traffic, in a big city, it takes lots of TIME! It wasn’t unusual for me to spend an hour and a half in the morning and then again in the evening, commuting. Ugh! It was such a “time suck” and I began dreading going to and from work each day – not to mention how that long commute beat up my car.
During this time, I also decided to go back to school to get my Masters in Spirituality at Loyola University Chicago. It took a few years and I graduated at the age of 62 (Believe it or not, I wasn‘t the oldest in my class!). I loved school and it was a wonderful experience, but that meant even more driving back and forth and MORE miles on the car. Living in the suburbs was not very practical for my “new life”.
Then, finally, the last thing that happened is that I became a grandma – or “Grama”, as my grandchildren call me. Since I was working part-time, I had a couple of days free and I started spending each Thursday with “my favorite kid”, Harry. (Now, with the birth of Harry’s little sister, Janie, and Rory, I am happy to say that I have three favorite kids!) My son and his wife live in the city and in order to visit little Harry and take him to our weekly music class, it meant another day of driving back and forth into and out of the city. Oh, driving was getting SO OLD and I knew more and more each day that it was time to downsize!
As bad as the commuting and time-wasting was, if I am honest, those are not the only reasons that I started thinking it was time to make a move. Even though I had some great neighbors, as a single woman, living by myself out in the suburbs, I started feeling pretty lonely. I lived in a lovely, safe neighborhood, but it was composed of couples and families. I think I might have been the only single woman living there! Most of my friends had moved to other suburbs or other neighborhoods, so I didn’t see them a lot unless we pre-arranged a get-together. I started feeling isolated and “far away” from everything, especially my children and my grandson, and I longed for some spontaneity. I wanted to be able to get together with friends or family and not have to plan every single visit far ahead and then spend the whole day getting there and back.
So, the idea of downsizing and moving to the city started to creep into my mind. I would imagine what it would be like to leave work and head home to a smaller place in the city, with a very short commute. I began envisioning walking to local stores and restaurants and taking the quick train ride (the L) into the Loop, whenever I wanted. I would visit my kids’ homes and imagine living there, instead of in my sprawling suburban home. And I have to tell you, I liked what I was imagining!
The first thing I had to do in order to make my big move was to overcome the fear of this enormous change. And one of the hardest parts was that I didn’t have a mentor to show me how to do it. I didn’t know anyone who had made the change that I was thinking about so I had to navigate all of this on my own. The fear of selling my suburban home and downsizing into a small place in the city kept me paralyzed for about a year. I have never lived in a big city and there were so many things that I was afraid of.
These are some of the questions I kept asking myself, “What kind of place can I afford?” “How do I know what neighborhood I want to live in?” “Will I like living in a building with others?” “Will the traffic be overwhelming?” “What kind of amenities do I need in my new place?” “Can I sell the house I’m living in?” “How will the timing between buying and selling work?” “Where shall I get my mortgage?” and so much more! For that year, while I was paralyzed and stagnant, the only two things I did was make frequent visits to my kids’ homes in the city and imagine myself downsizing and living in one of their places. The other thing I did was regularly check “For Sale” listings through various realtors to see what kind of places I could afford and then I would imagine myself living there. That was great entertainment at the end of a long day of work and commuting!
Imagining a New Life
For any of you who are starting to think that a big life change might be in the works for you, I say, “Start imagining that new life of yours!” It all starts by stepping into the role and using your imagination. Try it out and see how it feels. And don’t be afraid! We are all so much stronger than we believe and if I can do it, you can do it!
Next week, I will tackle all the details of putting my house on the market, purging, deciding what to keep and WHERE TO GO!! See you next Thursday and I’ll continue my story about deciding it was time to downsize!Jan