I think you’ll really enjoy getting to know Keri today. She wrote to me about her family’s recent decision to downsize to a much smaller home (right during COVID!) and I thought it sounded like a great story. I appreciate how thoughtful Keri was about the decision and how she was motivated by a desire to spend less money on housing and maintenance and to have a smaller ecological footprint.

Even thought their house is small it’s got tons of light and bright white walls and feels plenty big. It’s worth peeking into every corner. Welcome, Keri!

Hi! My name is Keri, and I live in my little rental cottage with my husband, Kieran, my 2 year old, Griffin, and my fat black cat, India. My husband and I have been together for over 10 years, which feels like a lot when you write it down, and have been married for 6 years.

I’m originally from upstate New York, and we got married at a really beautiful place called Elm Rock Inn in New Paltz, New York, in one of the best 3 day weddings I’ve personally ever been to. There was camping, hiking, bonfires, giant Jenga, jean jackets; it was amazing and very perfectly us.

Kieran and I first met when we worked together in fashion, but since then have diverted to different career paths. While I do still work in the fashion world quite a bit, I’m currently an Adjunct Professor (online of course) and running my own consulting business, East & Eversley, and have a number of small businesses in different industries that I support from an HR perspective.

I also maintain a “Job Seeker Support/Career Coach” business and maybe unsurprisingly, the work that I do one-on-one as a career coach has been VERY busy as people are trying to keep up with the economic changes of COVID-19.

Primarily, I help clients looking to better position themselves to look for a new job. I spend my days on career coaching calls, writing resumes, and developing strategies for my job-seeking clients. I love being able to help people in this way, and I’m happy to continue to work during this very weird time. 

Griffin is the coolest, craziest kid I know and I love spending time with him (and I love spending time away from him… is that okay to say out loud?). He is really his own person in all the best ways. He loves Halloween year-round, monster trucks, trains, and generally anything that makes loud noises and has a motor.

Kieran and I wake up in the morning and watch Griffin sing and read to himself in his room, and it’s amazing to see what kinds of things he comes up with on his own! He’s currently sporting a mohawk (he previously had a man-bun), and honestly, it fits him perfectly.

Kieran and I have lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut for almost all of the 10 years that we’ve lived together. We ended up here after we lost our very first apartment we lived in together in New York to Hurricane Irene.

To give you an idea of how unprepared we were for the Hurricane, we bought 3-4 sandbags and put them outside our front door, then took the opportunity to stay at a hotel that night, (with our cats thank god/the universe/wherever you’re at in your spiritual journey). When we returned in the morning, there was water up to the ceilings of our apartment, and a neighbor from a few blocks away said she found a framed photo of us on her front lawn after the water had dissipated. Unfortunately, we lost pretty much everything.

To be honest, the flood was really difficult of course, but it also gave us the opportunity to start over with all our own things (most of our previous belongings and furniture were hand-me-downs), and I have to say, we had a really great experience with FEMA and got to live in a Courtyard Marriott with a pool for 2 months. We really had it better than most.

After moving around Connecticut a bit, we now live in a town called Darien, which we love. The schools, library, and community activities are some of the best in the country, and we’ve got 2 beaches to choose from (only a 2 mile walk from our new place), lots of playgrounds, a beautiful downtown with lots of shops and restaurants, summer concerts and festivals and outdoor movies, and hiking trails in town as well. It feels like there’s always something to do (pre-COVID anyway!).

To be clear, it’s a pricey area. I believe our median home value right now is $1.3 to $1.5 million and the average household income is $200k. It’s frequently listed as the “wealthiest town in Connecticut” and is the 10th “richest town in America”. A lot of this cost and income has to do with the aspects I mentioned above, but much of it is because of our proximity to New York City (we are a 45 minute train ride from Grand Central Terminal in midtown.)

Historically, being close to the city was a real requirement for us as a family, especially when you’re working in the fashion world, but now I’m not so sure. The changes that have happened since March have really opened my eyes (and I think the eyes of many companies) to work situations that we may never have considered otherwise. It will be interesting to see how things shake out.

On a typical weekend in Darien you can find the average young family (there are many here) parking their strollers and scooters on the sidewalk and eating breakfast at our neighborhood place called the Sugarbowl (it’s been here since 1958!) or getting coffee at our local place, Neat, and sitting in the town courtyard. Then it’s off to the library or the Maritime Aquarium, and in the warmer months, rounding it out with take out or delivery dinner at the beach watching the sunset. Until I moved to Darien, I had never seen a beach get MORE crowded as the sun went down!

We moved into our rental in the middle of COVID-19, which felt insane, and you know what, it was. It was a tough move to do without daycare, without our friends and family helping, and with the added precautions required of our movers and painters. I think the reason the move even felt possible was because A) we felt so strongly about our decision B) you can fit a lot of stuff in a Range Rover and C) we were aggressively downsizing. Many, if not most, of our belongings went into storage and did not come with us, which felt unburdening, but honestly, they wouldn’t have fit in our new place anyway.

We had just spent the better part of 4 years renovating 2 homes (one we sold in Norwalk, CT, the other we were just finishing up and living in in Darien, CT), and started to truly live in our new space. Our Darien house that we were living in and most recently renovated was GORGEOUS. And it was huge, and had everything you could ever want in a home, and of course all new appliances, an amazing location, a fenced in backyard… literally everything.

I began to feel a strong pull towards downsizing, minimizing, and a life of sustainability in general over the past few years, and started to question the ways in which we were spending our time and money.

Did we really want to pay each month for a landscaper, or take entire weekend days (precious to us as a family as we work quite a bit during the week) to clean up the lawn? Did we really want to spend our time cleaning the house each week, all 3 floors of it, or pay someone to help us? Did we really want to be potentially burdened by our new mortgage, or provide ourselves with more financial freedom to take jobs (and vacations) that we wanted? It began to feel like we were in a bit of a vicious loop that I wanted to part ways with.

Come COVID-19, and the world CHANGED. Not that I need to tell any of you that. The pandemic changed the real estate market entirely, especially for towns right outside of New York City, where it felt like NO ONE wanted to be anymore, and priorities and the job market became completely unrecognizable from everything we knew.

It became very clear, very quickly that we were in a good position to make the downsizing decisions we had discussed, and mitigate the potential financial risk to our family by utilizing our big, beautiful Darien house as an income property. We quickly put the house up for rent, and had families from NYC clamoring for it.  We ended up with an amazing little family there, and it’s felt like a great decision. They love the house like we do and are making the most wonderful memories there.

I would say part of what allowed us to make this move so quickly was knowing our market and the rental options really well. Darien is a small community with mainly home ownership; renting is really not common, but we knew wanted to be here. Being in a cottage on someone’s property felt like a great choice for us as a family, and a living situation that wouldn’t feel very foreign to us (like being in a high-rise apartment building might have.)

I’ve found it to be generally easy to get used to being in a smaller space (our old home was 2400 sq. ft. and our new place is about 1000 sq. ft.) and I really like the challenge of it. It makes you rethink the way you do things and use things and store things and KEEP things in such a different way that I think is more sustainable than just having a big house and filling it up.

I worry a lot about the kind of world I’ll be giving to Griffin and his generation when he’s older, and I think this move towards less consumption, more mindful usage and purchasing, and living smaller and more simply is a big part of what will set that generation up for success.

So now of course, we’re home a lot in our new space. It’s taken some getting used to, and lots of working on the kitchen table, in our bedroom, etc., since we don’t have a devoted office.

Kieran and I have had jobs over the past few years that allowed us to “work from home” quite a bit already, but if I’m being honest, I always left the house to work. I went to one of the coffee shops in town, to co-working spaces (we have a beautiful, female-focused co-working space in town called the Everwell), to the library, and to the beach (did I mention I can walk there?!), so having those options taken away was pretty difficult for me specifically.

I can get very distracted at home by laundry, dishwashing, cleaning up toys… you know the drill! Now that the weather is nicer here in Connecticut I try my best to work outside and I find that helps a bit.

My new approach to an office now looks like what used to be my commuter bag, repurposed into a mobile workstation. I essentially have everything I need in a large Cuyana tote (cords, headphones, water, notebook, laptop, etc.) and now my office is wherever my tote is. The nice part about this “mobile office” is that it packs right back up and stores away at the end of the day. I am a big believer in keeping your environment clean and organized, so having my desk hidden away at the end of the day is really important to me

We’ve had A LOT of screen time around here and it’s a difficult thing to come to terms with. It’s a difficult choice to make for Griffin, but with Kieran and I both working during the pandemic (myself with consulting clients and he with his full-time job), I have no idea how we would have done it otherwise. I will say we’ve spent more time walking to our beaches than ever before, ordering lots of take out from restaurants, and discovering the hiking trails in our neighborhood (and I thought I knew ALL the places before.)

Griffin and I have collected many, many seashells, he can point out bat houses like no one’s business (is this a thing everywhere?). We see the same little family of deer on our trail almost once a week, he’s learned the difference between fiddler crabs and horseshoe crabs and hermit crabs, and has developed a very nice, somewhat affectionate relationship with our 10 year old kitty.

Kieran and I have been enjoying things we never really paid much mind to, or had time for, before. We make new cocktails together each week to use up what’s in the liquor cabinet (we’re on rum this week…so…mojitos?), we’ve completed LOTS of NY Times mini-crosswords, and I finally caved and bought a Kindle. I’ve always been a BIG reader, but in the pandemic I think I’ve read almost 10 books which is A LOT for me (or I would imagine anyone with a toddler around).

Griffin is smart and learns very quickly! There was a point recently where I was focusing on counting to 5 with him and hoping he would pick it up, then one day that week I was watching him on the monitor and he was casually counting to 20 in his room. By himself. I had no idea. I guess he learned it in daycare, or maybe from the iPad?! I think the isolation from other people has been difficult on him, but he has seemed to re-assimilate easily to school since it started back up.

We recently went on our annual family vacation to Block Island and we all just lit up while we were there. It was such a welcome break and also so familiar and even reassuring that life might be livable in a way we recognize again. I think we all recovered a bit during that weekend. We stayed at the Block Island Beach House which has direct beach access, a library of books to borrow, and giant crab legs on the menu. Everything you could want from a New England summer vacation and the ferry is only an hour’s drive away.

I would love for Griffin to remember how much fun we had and just how much we all experience and learn together. We love to travel and have done our best to make sure we continued even when Griffin came along, and I hope our minimal home still conveys that.

Even in our very small new place we’ve got seashells from Barbados, a Dia de los Muertos print from Mexico, a straw conical hat from China, tiny Buddhist statues from Chiang Mai, limestone rocks from a vineyard in Chianti, and I’m sure more items I haven’t thought of. Especially growing up in a fairly homogenous area, it’s incredibly important to me that Griffin is able to experience diversity and culture, and I hope we can do a good job of that. I hope he forgets all the screen time (unless it really did teach him how to count to 20!).

I love that we’re having more slow breakfasts now. Even though daycare has started, it starts at a later time, so our slow breakfasts really didn’t have to change. Not having to rush around in the morning to get us all ready and out the door to school and the train created a lot of anxiety for everyone and it’s such a welcome change to be able to take our time now.

I love hearing the way Griffin pronounces things and strings words together (maybe that’s the English major/avid reader in me) and I tend to egg him on a bit. For instance he calls “bathing suits” “baby suits” (a full sentence could look like “Daddy puts on his baby suit”) and now Kieran and I do too. It’s the best. I hope he calls it a “baby suit” until he’s 45.

I wish someone had told me that success, that life in general, doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s definition. I think people (and, of course, me included) move ahead with our lives on autopilot a bit, and take cues from those around us or those that came before us (parents, teachers, bosses, etc.) as to what success looks like.

In my current community for instance, there’s a fairly specific definition of this if you take a look around you, and it just doesn’t fit everyone. Like I said, some of our recent decisions have been very different from the norm, but I feel like I’m living a life more authentic to me in this tiny space, with my mini-crosswords and very few belongings.

We’ve positioned ourselves to take the time to explore what’s important to us and create our own definition of what a successful life truly looks like for us, and at the end of the day, THAT’S the future I want to leave for my baby.

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Thank you, Keri! I was surprised after seeing these photos that the house was around 1000 sq. ft. With the huge windows, the bright white walls and all the light it definitely feels bigger. It doesn’t feel crammed at all and feels incredibly livable. All of the charming furniture and curated art makes it feel so special too.

I also really loved what Keri said about having slower breakfasts because of the shutdowns. I totally agree! I think not having to rush out the door in the morning to get anywhere has been one of the best parts about all of this. We get a bit more quiet time with the kids, you can be a bit more mindful about what you are eating and take your time to enjoy a cup of coffee instead of gulping something down as you head out the door.

What have you appreciated more since the quarantine started? If you are spending more time at home, what do you like about it? What has been the hardest part?

SOURCES

Magnetic Art Frames

Jute Basket in Kitchen

Griffin’s table and chairs

Jungle Decals (I combined two sets!)


You can hear Keri talk about Intuitive career building on this podcast. Her company’s website is here and check out their Instagram and Pinterest too. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com