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About the American Dream: Downsizing

We owned two homes in Minnesota over the course of 33 years. We bought the first fixer-upper for $25,000 and sold it for $89,000, allowing us to buy bigger. We upgraded and re-created these homes with paint, hard labor, second mortgages, perennial plants and love. We reaped the benefits of family stability, good neighbors and personal space.

When the recession hit, it decimated my husband’s architectural profession. Lucky for us, he landed on his feet with a dream job in San Francisco. Physically and emotionally, it was a difficult move—selling a house in a down market, pulling up stakes from our home state, adjusting to a fabulous yet complicated and expensive city, and downsizing. We traded a five-bedroom with hot tub on a third of an acre for a small two-bedroom apartment that costs nearly twice our former monthly mortgage payment.

I laughed for days at the lunacy of it.

But when I sat down to work out the finances, I uncovered a surprising story. I added up the interest we paid over the years, heating costs, lawn maintenance, second mortgages and required upgrades to roofs, decks, plumbing and heating, paint and other things. Even with just a fraction of the cost of our own labor thrown in, I realized we never made a dime on either of those houses.

Now we can move anytime it makes sense, sleep in and play on weekends, travel at will, volunteer much-needed help to schools and the environment, and devote ourselves to meaningful work. We’re free.

Margery Peterson is a reader from San Francisco.

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