How a Family of 5 Gained ‘Shocking’ Freedom by Downsizing to 850-Square-Foot Home

Source: Jennifer O’Neill of Yahoo News.

Decluttering gurus and tiny-house vacationers have nothing on the Salzarulo family. Talya Salzarulo and her husband, Luke, gave up their 1,700-square-foot home to move into an 850-square-foot house — with their three children.

“We realized that the bigger house that we had purchased originally to have a family in was just not going to cut it,” Talya says in a frank interview about the unexpected joys and irritations their family has found since cutting their living space in half, as part of Yahoo Parenting’s “What It’s Like” original video series. “The bigger house, the nicer cars, the bigger paycheck, it wasn’t fulfilling me the way that I had hoped, and the way that it had before I had children.”

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Talya says their move — which has given them a hefty $1,350 more a month than they used to have, since their $1,800-per-month mortgage shrank to $450 with the new property — was an “easy decision” once she decided to stop working at her job as a college administrator. “I tried to go back to work after my son was born … [but] as I was sitting in my office looking around, I just realized that it wasn’t worth it … I wanted to stay home and be with my family full time.”

The Salzarulo’s 850-square-foot house. (Photo: Yahoo Parenting)

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The 27-year-old mother of three — Rose, Harvey, and Deyli (1, 3, and 18, respectively) — and wife of Luke, 30, a high school English teacher, explains: “The house that we actually had picked out for raising kids turned out to be the preventative factor in me staying home with my kids. So we looked around, and we bought a 100-year-old house that was less than half the size of our original home. And we packed up our stuff and sold what we couldn’t fit.”

Photo: Yahoo Parenting

They made the move to their current home, just two blocks from their former digs in Val Verde, Calif., in the summer of 2013. “We sold our old house for $305,000 and we purchased our new house for $102,000,” she says. “Because of what we owed on the old house we came out with $50,000. We spent that on purchasing the lot next to the new house and did a complete remodel because it was in need of some serious help. We did it ourselves and used a lot of recycled material so we were able to increase the value of the home significantly. Our home now appraises for $275,000 so that feels good to be so far in the green.”

Downsizing, however, didn’t feel good at first. “It was a difficult process because we had to take assessment of everything that we had,” she says. “And we had to get rid of at least half of our possessions … then we realized we still had far too many items. We ended up selling and getting rid of half of our stuff again. So we cut everything down to just a quarter of what we had owned.”

The kids’ bedroom. (Photo: Yahoo Parenting)

Ultimately, coming up with their keep list actually wasn’t as tricky as she’d imagined. “For a little while, it became an issue of, ‘Well, I already got rid of half of my kitchen items. So it’s time for you to get rid of some of your toys,’” Talya says. “But we were able to find a happy medium. We looked at everything critically and thought, ‘Does it serve more than one purpose? Is it something that is going to really be necessary to living a happy, fulfilled life?’ When you look at all your things through that critical lens, you realize you have so much more than you actually need. … It was so freeing and so nice to realize how much we did actually have.”

Photo: Yahoo Parenting

And what they really wanted, she adds, “was good quality time with our kids. And so when you look at things, you think, ‘I can either own this or I can stay home with my family.’”

The family as a whole, though, still took some time to adjust to the close quarters, which require all three of the kids to sleep in one bedroom — and all five of them to share a bathroom. “My younger kids have had an easier time switching to the smaller house because they don’t remember the bigger house. They don’t remember their own playroom and all the toys that they used to have. It is a little bit harder, though, on my 18-year-old because she has different likes and interests than my two younger kids, obviously.” The teen, who has brain damage and remains at a third-grade level mentally and socially, “made us a deal,” Talya says. “She told us that if she got a trampoline when we moved to the small house that she would do it with a grateful heart. So we bought her a trampoline and she’s had a great attitude since we moved in.”

Photo: Yahoo Parenting

And while they’ve gotten used to eating outside on the porch when it’s nice and on the couch when the weather is bad — because there’s no room for a kitchen table — the mom admits that privacy is an ongoing issue. “[It’s] really hard to come by in a small house,” she says. “And you have to get a little creative. If someone really needs to blow off some steam, you just go for a walk outside. I have found myself trying to lock myself in the bathroom for just two minutes to get a quick phone call.”

The bathroom, in fact, is the family’s biggest challenge. “We have had to stagger the use for the bathroom,” Talya explains. “I also try to give my kids their baths and their showers at night. That way my husband and my daughter can use the bathroom as they get ready for work.” Luke also uses the bathroom to “relax and check his email,” she reveals. “So for that time, we’ve had to get a little creative. I’ve had to pee outside a few times. Once [my kids in diapers] start using the toilet full time, it’s going to become even more challenging.”

Yet, the rewards of living small have more than made up for the snafus, she insists. “I feel now that I’ve moved to this smaller house, I feel like I have so much more and such a greater wealth of things than I did before … because just the perspective that you have changes so much when you’re looking at everything as nonessential to living a happy and fulfilled life. We really felt a sense of freedom [after the move] because we had so much more than we needed and we didn’t even realize it. And we’ve become so much more thankful for what we do own.”

Because the cost of living in this two-bedroom home is so much lower than before, Talya says she can “be the homemaker and the mom that I want to be. So I’m just so grateful, and I love every inch of this house because it allows me to spend more time with my kids.”

The close proximity of everyone was a surprising boon as well. “It really has brought our family closer together,” says Talya. “I thought it was going to bring us closer in a bad way. I was thinking I was just going to want to wring everyone’s necks, and we were going be too close for comfort and invading everyone’s personal space, but as it turned out, there was a closeness and a community that we were missing living in the big house with the extra square footage.” There’s no texting your kids to come to the dinner table, she adds, “because they’re right there. And when you cook, it’s a big group process. Everybody’s cooking; I’m not shut away in a kitchen on the other side of the house. It’s just so nice to be able to have that close-knit vibe with your family where you’re all together and you’re doing the same thing.”

Photo: Yahoo Parenting

Worries stopped with the change of address as well. “We’re no longer stressed about paying the bills and making sure that we’re doing extra jobs to earn extra money to pay a mortgage that we can’t afford, really,” Talya adds. “My husband is able to work just around the corner, just three miles away. [His teaching job] doesn’t pay the best. But because we live in a small home that doesn’t cost a whole lot, it’s a job that he’s able to have, and he loves it.”

The family plans on hunkering down there “for the foreseeable future,” she says. “I think, honestly, even if we decided to have another child, we’d be able to fit just as comfortably.”

Still, that hasn’t stopped some uncomfortable encounters with strangers.

“People tend to think that we’re crazy [and] a good portion of people also really feel sorry for us at first in a way that doesn’t make sense to me, because I feel so wealthy and so rich,” says Talya. “I have so much time to spend with my kids now. I have a beautiful, cozy little home. But people tend not to look at it as cozy. They tend to look at it as, ‘Oh, they must really, you know, be below the poverty line to have to change their lives so dramatically.’ But … if it comes down to having more square footage or being with my kids more, it’s going to be [being] with my kids more.”

Talya Salzarulo (Photo: Yahoo Parenting)

Still, she admits, “I have gotten people who have come to our house that have actually apologized and said that they were sorry that we had to live in such a small house. And that was a little shocking to me because I feel so grateful to live here. … To have people look down on that — and think that, you know, ‘Oh, their poor kids. And that poor family. They just, they weren’t able to cut it. And maybe someday, they’ll be able to get right and get the bigger house and be happy again,’ — I almost feel sorry for them if that’s their outlook on it.”

It wasn’t always her aspiration to live in such “cozy” quarters, as she admits: “If you would have asked teenage Talya if her dream house was 850 square feet with three kids in one bedroom, I would’ve said, ‘Most definitely not,’ but it is my dream house now. It’s where my heart is, and I absolutely love it.”

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