Extreme Downsize

How one Ottawa family traded more for less – and came out ahead

Emily Carty, 33, has always loved small spaces. Her husband, Chris, 34, and their daughter Maggie, 5, share the same appreciation for cozy living. Over the past few years, they’ve downsized from a 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-story house in Barrhaven to an 800-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Wellington Village.

In 2013, the Carty family moved to Barrhaven, and had a goal of becoming mortgage-free. However, before Maggie came along in 2012, the couple had decided that having a stay-at-home parent was a priority for their family. So they were working towards it on a single income which required strict budgeting and careful planning.

But as they neared that major goal, “we decided that living debt-free in Barrhaven wasn’t going to be our dream life,” says Emily.

When they thought about what they really wanted, they envisioned living in an apartment with a European lifestyle where they could walk to shops and cafés. They also preferred to stay close to family and friends.

They had a few Ottawa neighbourhoods in mind that might fit the bill. A duplex came up for sale in Wellington Village, that just happened to be only four doors down from Chris’ childhood home where his parents still lived. This neighbourhood was out of their price range, but it had an income suite, so though expensive, they put in a bid.

Their home is a duplex that was built in 1932, and when they moved in in 2015, there were many renovations required. The Carty family settled into the main floor apartment, a 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom, and renovated and rented out the upper one-bedroom apartment as an Airbnb.

Despite their love of small space living (even in Barrhaven they lived in the smallest home they could find), “when we moved here it was a big deal that it was a two-bedroom with an unfinished basement,” says Emily. Although it was a similar square footage to their previous home, there was no spare room, powder room, office space or playroom. But “we knew we wanted to live in the neighbourhood, so we were willing to make concessions for space.”

Emily was then inspired by the bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, “because we always had a lot of stuff. Even if we were in a small space, the closets would be full,” says Emily.

Typically the first to try something new, Emily began decluttering category by category. “I did all my clothes, then Chris saw it and he did it the next day, then Maggie did it.” They have allowed Maggie her own space to complete the process on her own. Over time, it became apparent that Maggie prefers a clean and clear bedroom.

Having started an intense decluttering at the end of 2016, the Carty family turned their attention to their vehicle. For his commute (which was now shorter in their new location, another key factor in their move), Chris had always either cycled or taken the bus, even in Barrhaven. Emily and Maggie were taking advantage of a more pedestrian lifestyle. They let their car sit in the driveway for about eight months just in case, but ultimately donated it.

After living amongst renovations that tightened their living quarters on the main level, and having become fans of Marie Kondo and minimalism, they started to seriously consider moving to the upper one-bedroom apartment. Emily had always thought it had a “great feel.”

They challenged themselves to an experiment of “camping” for a week upstairs early last fall. Today in their one-bedroom apartment, Maggie has the large and bright bedroom and Emily and Chris’ living room does double duty as their sleeping space. The open concept of the upstairs apartment is ideal for their family value of togetherness.

Living in a smaller space means that according to Chris, “our community is now part of our home.” Emily adds, “our home expands outside of our nest.”

The location serves their overall lifestyle well. They were hoping for a more active and pedestrian lifestyle, which being a block away from the main street affords them. There are many amenities in the area that cater to this vegan family, and lots of opportunities for Emily, who homeschools Maggie, to take her to the park, library dates, or meet ups with friends.

“Being smart with money has made a lot of options become available,” says Emily, but she believes that the life choices they have made such as minimalism, veganism, being eco-friendly or homeschooling are options that are available to any family – “If they think something’s awesome, then they can do it.”

Though their childhoods were more traditional than how they are living now, their family support has only grown over time.

To keep her accountable on her KonMari/minimalism journey, Emily started ‘The Not Busy Life’ in March 2017 on YouTube. Followers can take a peek inside their home and lifestyle via videos posted Thursdays.

Friend and follower Lisa Punit describes ‘The Not Busy Life’: “Her work absolutely inspires me. I like the way Emily is able to explain things…She never tries to force an idea down your throat, but rather, simply shares her experiences and her approach. It’s fun to watch and inspires me to try things too.”

As a family, they enjoy working towards a common goal and don’t spend too much time worrying about what others think. “You can’t please everyone,” explains Emily. For those that are considering big life changes, Emily says, “Just do it…it doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

For them, she says, “the changes didn’t happen overnight, but were years in the making.”

Adds Chris, “What do you actually want from life? Figure out what it is and how to get there.”

The choices they have made over time has allowed them to benefit from more quality family time, a simpler life, and more energy to pursue their family goals and priorities.

Ultimately, the Carty family has found happiness living a life that reflects their values.