...because home doesn't happen overnight.

Q – Hi Dana,

I first want to say how much I love your blog. It’s one of the few I read regularly. I’ve been a loyal reader for several years watching you decorate and your transitions in life. I must say – I was really keeping my fingers crossed for that girl ;) We have two boys, ages 9 & 7, and the third is a girl. At age four now, she can draw a dragon and wield a light saber like it’s nobody’s business. In a tutu, of course! 

I digress. My question to you is do you ever have regrets or doubts about downsizing? If not the whole process, are there things you “miss?” Surprised you miss? What have you unexpectedly gained? What gains have been the most significant? Is there anything you would do differently such as buy smaller but not needing a total overhaul or was the demolition/ renovation worthwhile? – Ellen

front of house

{our previous house}

A – Great question, Ellen. And one that I get quite often. Before I delve into my thoughts on downsizing, I’d like to give you a little background on our decision to downsize.

When HH and I first discussed downsizing, it was mainly for financial reasons. I was working as a pharmacist and HH is an engineer. From a budget standpoint, we were completely comfortable paying for the big, new spec home that we were living in but we always had this elusive dream to own our home outright {no mortgage} by the time we were 40. We probably could have paid off our previous house in that time frame by following a strict budget that would have left us with little to no money to do much of anything else…like pay for extracurricular activities for our kids, pay for a good preschool for Everett, take trips, eat out sometimes, make upgrades to the builder basic finishes that we detested, etc. And we realized this. To make our no-mortage-at-40 dream come true, we would have been tied to a big house that had blah finishes {carpet, vinyl, standard tub/shower enclosures, etc.} and way more space than we needed. There were several rooms in the house that we didn’t use on a regular basis and they felt like such a waste. There was nothing wrong with the house per se but we’re house people and we get a lot from living in a home that we enjoy.

Also, I had become very unhappy with my job. I was good at it; I made good money; I worked with good people. To most people, that would be enough to keep them satisfied. But I was craving something else, something creative. My heart wasn’t in it and I was becoming more and more turned off by the entire pharmaceutical industry and what it stood for. At the same time, I was becoming more and more interested in decorating, designing and blogging. Downsizing could be just the break I was looking for to make a career switch in the future once our mortgage was paid off.

In the midst of the real estate fallout, most people saw an opportunity to “super size” their house {i.e., buy more house than they had or needed}. We saw it as a chance to downsize {i.e., buy less house than we had or needed}. In fact, I think downsizing has such a negative connotation associated with it. Like you’re giving something up or settling for subpar. Why not call it “right sizing?” That’s how we looked at it. Sure, we would be moving from a big house to a relatively smaller house but we didn’t need all the space or mortgage tied to a larger house. Together HH and I made the decision to downsize. We didn’t arrive at that decision overnight. HH was more reluctant to move than I was but, in the end, it was a collective choice to do what was best for our family.

baby bump 1

Oh, family. That’s another thing. Up until a week before we officially sold our previous home by owner, we were a family of four and thought we would remain that way. We were done having kids. Or so we thought. Then we discovered we were unexpectedly expecting and initially it threw a wrench into our plans.

Oh no! Maybe we need a big house after all? Will a three bedroom, two bath house be enough for our growing family? Is this a sign? Should we call off the whole thing? 

But after taking everything in, we quickly realized that downsizing was the perfect solution to our surprise addition. Our childcare costs were going to go through the roof with a newborn in the picture and me working nearly full-time. HH and I did the math and decided the money I would bring home after paying for daycare wasn’t worth the hassle of shuffling three young kids around. I was tired of missing their class parties and school activities too. After baby #3 arrived, I would quit my job and stay at home to care for the kids full time. Here’s the funny part. Just as HH was the one reluctant to downsize, I was the one reluctant to quit my job and stay home {even though I hated my job}. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but deep down I also knew it was the best decision for our kids and our family.

windows 1

{our house on inspection day}

So now that we’ve survived downsizing, do we regret it? NOT AT ALL. Even with me not working, we are on schedule to pay off our house in 4-5 years – a year or two before we turn 40. I’ve said it before. This house is not our dream house but it’s the house in which we are pursuing our dreams.

What don’t we miss about our previous house? We don’t miss living in a big house. That may have something to do with the fact that we lived in a 900 sq ft apartment for nine months in between living in our previous house and our downsized house. When we moved from our apartment to this house, we almost forgot we were downsizing! Cleaning our previous house was a day-long task that I dreaded every week. I can clean this entire house in one morning. While there are times that we {I’m talking adults as well as kids} need our own space, we make it work. Sometimes Layne hangs out on our bed reading while Everett plays in their shared bedroom to get away from each other. Other times, HH will wrestle with the boys in their room while Mabrey and I take part in more refined girly things…like playing peekaboo in her room. Haha. I don’t even miss having separate sinks in our master bathroom!

We don’t miss having carpet. We have only engineered wood and tile in this house. It is such a breeze to clean. Makes me wonder what disgusting things were living in our carpet at our previous house. HH and I have both said that if we ever have another house, there will be no carpet.

We don’t miss living in a newer, developing neighborhood with construction going on all the time. We like our established neighborhood with its mature trees and roomy lots. We like that the houses aren’t cookie cutter clones.

We don’t miss our old location. Here, we’re closer to HH’s work so we get to spend more time with him in the mornings and evenings during the week. He still leaves early and gets home late but we’ll take what we can get! We like the fact that we are in a quiet neighborhood nestled within city limits. We are close to everything. Layne can even walk to and from school if he wants.

Are there things we’re surprised we miss about our previous home? Yes. One thing. Our previous house had a neighborhood pool. This past summer we longed for a pool nearby to splash in. It’s one of those things that we probably wouldn’t think about if we hadn’t had it before. This year, we’re seriously considering a membership to a local pool just a few minutes away.

There are things we miss that aren’t surprising too. We miss the neighbors in our old neighborhood whom we had become close friends with. We knew we’d miss them. We keep in touch but, obviously, we don’t see them as much as we used to. The twist is we’ve made some really good friends here.

front door 3

surround sound 2

We miss living in a house that’s “finished.” Our lil’ Underdog has come a long way but there’s still a fair amount of work to be done. When we look around, it’s difficult not to see all the unfinished projects. The guest/kid bath is gutted. The driveway is in bad repair. There’s no landscaping whatsoever. Our unusable front door doesn’t exactly scream “Welcome!” The garage and attic are in desperate need of organizing. And then there are the little decorating tweaks that we’ve barely even started. I remind myself that it will all happen in good time. So, I’m trying to enjoy each step we take that gets us closer to home.

after 13

I miss living in a well-oiled machine. I had our old house organized and decorated for the way we live. Everything had a place and it was really functional. But it took me nearly four years to get it that way, so I need to give myself a break.

Are there things we’ve unexpectedly gained from downsizing? You bet. The schools in our new city are outstanding. We can’t say enough good things about our experience with them. It’s not that we had a particularly awful experience with our previous school district but the schools here offer our kids so much more and have been a huge help in tapping into our kids’ potential. If anything, we’d do it all over again just for the schools.

We’ve been surprised by how little space we really do need. Editing and purging our belongings are ongoing tasks that are necessary for keeping a small house clutter-free. But they’re pretty damn fulfilling as well. We have no room anymore for “what if”, “maybe” or “someday” items. Which reminds me. I need to get on the attic and garage organization soon.


We were genuinely surprised when several companies contacted us about partnerships pertaining to renovation, home improvement and home decor. We weren’t buying a new old house to feed the blog. Collaborating with some of the companies resulted in forging a few symbiotic relationships. Very cool.

We didn’t realize how much we would enjoy living within 10 minutes of three grocery stores that focus on healthy foods for a healthy lifestyle. I am cooking, people. And I’m actually starting to enjoy it. Surprise! I know, right? HH has noticed a difference as well although I think he’d say, “I love it!” to just about any dish I make if it meant I kept cooking. This may have more to do with me staying home than downsizing but, whatever the cause, we’re eating better.


We’re surprised that living in a smaller house has made us more affectionate towards one another. Our modest house forces us to be together. And that’s what family is all about, right? In our previous home, there were days where we would all be home together but rarely see each other because we’d be off in different parts of the house doing our own things. Here, we touch each other more. You know what I mean. Spontaneous hugs or little squeezes just because we’re close. It’s nice.

Parks! There are numerous parks and playgrounds within walking distance from our house. It seems we discover a new one every couple of months. We switch it up and frequent them when the weather allows. Our previous home had nearby parks but nothing that you could walk to {other than the small, usually overcrowded neighborhood playground}. We’d have to load everyone and everything in the car to visit the nearest park and that step alone was usually enough to make us say, “Ugh. Let’s stay home.”


On a more abstract level, we’ve gained confidence. The confidence to try something new and scary, to act on big plans, to live more simply, to prove all those people who think we’re crazy wrong, to bring an old neglected house to life, to pursue whatever dreams we may dream up, to make any house our home, to change career paths, to make new friends, to walk off the beaten path, to become completely debt free.

Of course, there are pros to downsizing that we expected. We’re well on our way to becoming mortgage-free. HH has a shorter commute. With a smaller home, we’re able to focus on higher quality materials and finishes that we couldn’t afford if we were installing them in larger quantities in a bigger house. We use every single square inch of our house on a regular basis and I love that. We’re able to send Everett to an excellent pre-K program. We’re able to let Layne participate on a competing gymnastics team. We have less space to take care of. We are discovering a new city.

Would we do anything differently? We’re not ones to focus on the past. However, HH and I keep bringing up one property we looked at during our downsizing adventure. It was a duplex in a highly sought after area. Each unit was ~1,000 sq ft and had its own kitchen, three bedrooms, one bathroom and a laundry room in the basement. It needed some work but was livable as is. When we were looking to buy, we had two kids and I was working. We had no idea we’d be expecting a third child and that I would quit my job to stay home with the kids. Looking back, the duplex would have been a sound financial investment. We could have lived in one side of the duplex and rented out the other side to cover the mortgage. Knowing what we know now, I think we may have jumped on that duplex. But bygones are bygones.

Could we have gone even smaller? Probably. But I’m really looking forward to having a second full bathroom this year.

demo from previous dining room

As for the sheer amount of work that we’ve put into our home, we don’t regret it. Every big project we’ve tackled – from removing interior walls to vaulting the ceilings to adding skylights – has been a huge learning experience and helped make our house work and feel like ours.

plank ceiling 6

Would less demolition and less renovations have been nice? YES! And easier. But we wouldn’t have found that house in our price range in this neighborhood. We had to make it.

happy mama and mabrey

Has it been easy? NO! Throw a new SAHM and baby into the mix and, well, things get complicated. And sometimes yelly.

Would I recommend downsizing and renovating to everyone? NO! You have to do what’s right for you and your family.

Is it worth it to us? YES! There’s still so much that needs to happen to make this house our home but we try to be patient with ourselves and the journey. Let’s be honest. We’ll probably get bored when/if everything is done.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

01.29.13 / Mix-n-Match

So I’ve been brainstorming ideas for reoccurring posts. I don’t want House*Tweaking to have a strict posting schedule but having regular posts scattered in with more spontaneous, of-the-moment posts seems like a good way for me to keep hitting ‘publish’ and feeling happy about what I throw out into the blogosphere. One idea I’ve come up with is Mix-n-Match.

These posts will be as much for me as they are for you. We’ve all heard that mixing styles, materials, colors, patterns, textures {yada, yada, yada} go a long way in making a space more interesting. But when I’m at a store or shopping online, I’m still reluctant to mix metal finishes and wood tones. Hopefully, Mix-n-Match posts will help you and me both to see how mixing all those previously mentioned things and even sources {I shop everywhere from Walmart to West Elm to etsy to thrift stores…and everything in between} can work together. One post might focus on basic pieces for a family room while another post may tackle throw pillows. Some mood boards might actually fit into my home while others will pertain to fantasy rooms or spaces that I think up in my daydreaming head. There are so many things to be mixed and matched. The possibilities are endless!

Without further adieu, here is the first installment of Mix-n-Match. I think this assortment of accessories would mix well in a masculine kitchen with rustic touches. A few of them might even make their way into my kitchen – if they haven’t already.

mix 'n match

1 – Turkish kilim rug Area rugs have a way of warming up a kitchen that makes the space feel less utilitarian and more homey. This works especially well in kitchens that are open to other rooms of the house. I’ve been searching high and low for a vintage rug for my own kitchen but am having a hard time putting money down on a piece that will surely get splattered with spaghetti sauce. A patterned rug is probably going to be my best bet.

2 – Stainless steel canisters I would keep these canisters on the countertop next to the stove and fill ’em with baking ingredients. The steel finish would tie in well with stainless steel appliances.

3 – Vintage pizza board I soooooo want one of these. {Maybe I’d stop burning the tops of my forearms on the oven every time I reach in for a pizza. Seriously, I have four scars from my pizza baking misadventures.} When not in use, it would look great hanging on the wall or propped up against the stove’s backsplash. The wood finish would pick up on other rustic touches while the round shape would help break up the straight lines of a kitchen.

4 – Brass soap dispenser I know what you’re thinking. Can you mix brass with stainless steel? YES. Yes, you can. Try it. You’ll like it. Oh, and if you already have an in-counter soap pump, use this brass baby for hand lotion at the kitchen sink.

5 – Brass lotus bowl Again, brass works. Adding another small brass item keeps the first from looking lonely. I like placing a small bowl close to the kitchen sink for dropping my rings, a bracelet or watch into when washing dishes.

6 – Spiral dots bowl Display this black and white bowl on an open kitchen shelf. The modern pattern is a nice contrast to sleek surfaces and touches of rustic wood.

7 – Elly dish towel In my opinion, every room needs a dose of stripes. These simple dish towels are the perfect addition to a masculine kitchen.

8 – Stemless wine glasses Corral a set of these no-frill wine glasses in a tray stocked with liquor to set up the perfect mini bar within the kitchen. The curvy shape and shiny glass bring a subtle sense of femininity and luxe to an otherwise pragmatic room.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Mix-n-Match post? Please leave it in the comments section below.

FYI – After a few collaborations last year, I’ve officially signed on with Wayfair to write a monthly post over on My Way Home. Expect to receive exclusive peeks into my home that don’t make it onto H*T. You can check out my first contribution here. It gives you a sneak peek inside our fauxdenza.

images: polyvore collage by Dana Miller, linked within