Simplifying in Costa Rica: Smaller House

When we first moved to Costa Rica, Kathia, one of the international family liaisons at the children’s school, showed us  4 different houses.  We fell in love with  Ana Victoria’s house though it was at the high end of the Monteverde market.

The house is approximately 1500-1600 square feet, not including the huge front porch.  It has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.  We are perched on top of a hill overlooking the town of Santa Elena.  In the evenings we are treated to glorious sunsets when the clouds are gathered just right.

Sometimes we have to interrupt dinner for these "sunset alerts".

Sometimes we have to interrupt dinner for these “sunset alerts”.

This is the view I wake up to every morning. Pinch me to make sure I am not dreaming!

This is the view I wake up to every morning. Pinch me to make sure I am not dreaming!

The house has an open feel and lots of windows. I feel I am outside even when I am indoors.

The house has an open feel and lots of windows. I feel I am outside even when I am indoors.

This is the view of the house as you drive up to it.

This is the view of the house as you drive up to it.

The best feature of the house is the front porch and the big yard. The kids enjoy playing here!

The best feature of the house is the front porch and the big yard. The kids enjoy playing here!

I came from Texas, where the term “rambler” was coined to describe houses that seem to go on and on.  Our home in San Antonio was 3,700 square feet with 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2 living rooms, a huge gameroom, and 2 dining areas.  I have to say I was not sure how well we would adapt to living in a much smaller space.  After living in this house for 5 months now, I have to say I am much happier here.  Our smaller living space has simplified our lives in many ways:

Less space, less stuff

I don’t have a lot of closet space in our Costa Rican home.  This is not a complaint.  It is a sigh of relief!  Due to a combination of our vast reduction in salary and diminished closet space, I cannot buy a lot of stuff.  I would not have anywhere to put it.  Kara and Tristan brought a few toys and art supplies from the US, and we have not bought them any new toys here.  Only two of the rooms have real closets, the others are really more like built-in shelving systems.  Our clothes have to fit in the drawers or shelves and there really isn’t anywhere else to store excess, so I cannot buy a lot of extra clothes.  My kitchen is wonderful.  I have an oven and an electric coffee-pot, both which are hot commodities in Monteverde.  But I don’t have a huge walk-in pantry anymore, so I keep all my non-perishable food in a small drawer.  This means that I have to really consider if I need a food item, because my space is rather limited.  I also have less counter space so I do not have room for extra gadgets like a stand-up mixer, panini maker, food processor, mandolin slicer, electric griddle, lemon zester,  dutch oven, melon baller, and cookbooks.  These are all items I used to have, but I don’t anymore.  And my life does not seem empty without them.

Smaller carbon footprint

The smaller house means we use less resources such as electricity, water, and gas.  I have 21 lightbulbs in the entire house, which is actually quite a lot for Costa Rica standards.  I used to have about that many lightbulbs in my master bath alone in Texas!  I shudder just thinking about it!  Because we have less space, we have less clothes, and we do less laundry, as we usually wear our clothes two days in a row.  I know many people are going to think this is gross, but it is true.  I am able to save water and electricity with the less amount of laundry this practice allows.  The house has a few skylights and the main living area has a lot of windows, which also helps us use less electricity.  We do not have central air conditioning or heating, as the weather in Monteverde is perfect.  On the days it does get a bit cool when it rains, I put on a fleece sweater, make hot chocolate for the kids, and bake some bread.  This warms us up just fine.  We do not have a water heater, but both bathrooms are equipped with electric showers.

More family integration

In addition to the fact I have more time and energy now, our smaller house means we get to interact as a family in a more meaningful way.  Since we have only one living area that is open to the kitchen/dining area, we all tend to gravitate to that same spot to work, relax, and play.  We watch TV together.  We talk more.  We are more involved in each other’s lives, instead of living in parallel worlds like we used to.   The kids work on their homework while I am in the same part of the house.  I can hear what they are up to through out the day since they can’t disappear into far-off rooms.  When their friends come over, I am able to keep track of their conversations and activities.  For me, the family bonding this has been the greatest blessing derived from living in a small house.

Living in a smaller house means we are spending more quality time together as a family.......

Living in a smaller house means we are spending more quality time together as a family…….

Saves money

Since I have less space to put stuff in, I spend less on stuff for which I don’t have room.  I spend less on all my utilities because the house is smaller.  My electric bill is $70-100 USD per month, which is a delight compared to our former whopping $350 USD we used to pay in Texas.  If I was better about hang drying our clothes on sunny days, we would save even more on electricity.  But I am lazy, and I have to admit I overuse my dryer.  Because we rent, we don’t have to worry about maintenance expenses.  But I know that for our next home purchase, we will stick to a smaller home to spend less money on purchase, resources, maintenance, and upkeep.

Saves time

When you have a big house with lots of storage space, you tend to accumulate a lot of stuff.  The kids had more toys to spread out in a huge space.  I used to spend a lot of time organizing, reorganizing, decluttering, culling, and seasonally rotating all our stuff.  I would also spend a lot of time picking up, putting away, and cleaning…even though I had a cleaning lady that cleaned the house every 2 weeks.  With a big house, even doing the laundry took forever because all the rooms were far away from each other, so I spent a lot of time walking from from each bedroom to the laundry room downstairs.  Now that we live in a smaller space with less stuff, I save time on cleaning, laundry, and organizing.  There is not a lot to have to put away or pick up.  The kids don’t have a ton of toys to spread out all over the place.  Also, I cannot stockpile like I used to in Texas.  Which means I don’t waste time making a spreadsheet of what I have, what I “need”, and what is on sale.  I shop by the week.  I live in the moment.

There are a few downsides to living in a smaller house.  I like to get up early in the morning on weekends to lounge in my pajamas, drink coffee, and watch mindless junk on Netflix or iTunes.  When I get up, the kids will hear me and get up too.  There goes my “me” time…  By the same token, if one of the kids gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, we all hear it.  Having a private chat on Skype with my sisters or mom is also difficult because the soundproofing isn’t great.  I am also bummed that I will have to put my parents and sister in a hotel when they come visit this holiday season.  There is no way I can comfortably fit 12 people in the house.  In the grand scheme of things, I would take the diminished privacy and hotel fees any day in order to reap the other benefits of living in a smaller house.

Have you downsized and found it liberating?  Are you thinking of downsizing your home to simplify your life?  Let me know in the comments below.

Pura Vida!

About Noemi Gamel

Noemi Gamel is a physician who prefers writing diverse children's fantasy stories instead of medical charts. She is a geeky nomad, too.
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7 Responses to Simplifying in Costa Rica: Smaller House

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