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Embracing The Art of Downsizing
by Nancy Nicol
Monthly payments, home improvement loans, septic pump-outs, water bills, taxes and upkeep have shadowed me for the fifty years I've owned properties on Cape Cod. Even though I stayed on good terms with banks and lenders, I worried, kept a mental list of what-ifs? I thought the tight feeling in my stomach was normal. Didn't everybody triage their bills in piles of must, maybe, ignore?
Working as a psychotherapist since the 80's, I've had the luxury of planning appointments around painting mornings. But I was facing big challenges - aging and retirement - and a new set of priorities moving forward. Would I focus full-time on my art? Could I manage a self-supporting, independent and abundant lifestyle on Social Security and art sales?
Last year, I made a conscious decision to get out from under. I would sell my home, pay-off the mortgage and live debt-free. Financial necessity combined with my "keep it simple" philosophy. I had built up substantial equity in the property. It would mean closing Gallery 5, a home occupation business started after I bought the house, thirteen years ago.
If I gave up my location, in the heart of downtown Wellfleet, would I lose my connection to community? How would people judge me? I didn't want to be a survivor…
I wanted to have it all - the complete studio, as much paint as I could possibly use, endless surfaces primed for brushstrokes. I wanted to set funds aside for my grandson's college expenses, have money in the bank. I wanted to finish my novel, start a new book, take trips every year.
My house went on the market. Time line: listed mid-May; four showings, and by June a serious offer; a closing August 23, 2013. I experienced some sadness but had no regrets. It was humbling and ego-busting, yet remarkably freeing.
Both my kids, initially skeptical, were supportive. That was a motivating force. I stayed with my daughter during the first month. I wrote checks and closed accounts except, for a charge card with no balance. I bought a Subaru outright.
I was sure of one thing - I was going to stay in Wellfleet. I could always rent. A very different option was Massasoit Hills, a mobile home park behind the drive-in, next to the Audubon Sanctuary.
This is a year-round community of business folks, musicians, artists, authors, retired school teachers and assorted working professionals. A few residents come for the summer.
The park's owner maintains high standards. I drove around the alphabetically named streets: Arrowhead, Bayberry, Cranberry, Deer and Eagle. There was potential, but the units were seldom available. I kept looking.
Things fell into place quickly after I noticed a "For Sale" sign in B-12's window. A few days later, I paid the owner $30,000 cash for a 14x40' one bedroom mobile home in as-is condition. This gave me 560 square feet of living space with high ceilings, closet space and a huge deck.
I hired local carpenters to gut, remodel and paint my new home. I didn't scrimp. Had the bathroom and kitchen tiled, bought all new appliances and heating system, installed Harvey windows and put down new floors throughout. Total transformation!
Renovations tallied up an additional $25,000. After I moved in, I added an 8x10' pine shed, an arbor and started gardening. There's even a picket fence. My very private backyard is a forest of songbirds and fireflies.
My monthly expenses are $450/month to lease the land, which includes snow removal, tree work and a dumpster. The park has a brand new septic system. My electric bill is $25/month, down from $250.
I maintain a part-time clinical practice because I want to, not because I have to. I paint every day, show my work locally and enter juried shows nationally.
I've drastically reduced expenditures. All superfluous 'stuff' is in storage. If the novelty wears thin, and I start to isolate, I can pick up the phone, drive five miles into town, get my mail and meet friends for coffee. The flex bus will pick me up at my door. I can even walk to the movie theater!
I am now a member of the small house movement. I'm a Tiny House blogger. Check it out. There are people who believe more is better and still put big footprints on this fragile glacial moraine.
Living in a mobile park is not to everyone's taste. But it works for me. There is no trailer trash here. It's pure joy to live debt-free. Downsizing has opened an enormous space in my life where there's always time to do exactly what I want.
Photographs published courtesy of Nancy Nicol