Our journey to a small lifestyle

This article published quite a long time ago, is a well loved and popular piece. I believe that there is a strong movement towards smaller, quieter, more purposeful lives and I couldn’t be more excited. There have been changes in our home and lives since this post but we are still on a journey to stop and think about what we bring into our home and time. Feel free to email me |  janel at | if you would like to chat about our journey, or leave a comment telling me about YOUR personal journey. No two people or families want the same things, dream about the same things, or will travel through life the same way. And I’m so thankful for that! For now, here’s a bit about our story…

Why we choose a sensible/minimal lifestyle.


I have been so surprised at the interest you all have shown at our decision to move from a big house in the country with 25 acres to a 900 square foot house in the city-ish. I’ve talked about how we have been paring down our household goods and you all are so interested. I’ve talked about the little I survive with in my kitchen and still crank out crazy great recipes and you all are interested. I’ve talked about our decision to cut out events, activities, and more in our lives and you all are interested. And then I mentioned my transition to a capsule wardrobe and you all were crazy interested.

I realized it may be time to talk more in depth about our journey to a more sensible lifestyle.

Not that we are there yet. No, we aren’t. As I write this our big house in the country is still on the market and not sold. So, technically, we own a giant house in the country while we rent our little cottage.

As I write this we are still gathering all our belongings and getting them ready for a sale. The sale hasn’t happened yet, so we still have all of those belongings.

But still, we have made significant changes in our lifestyle, our habits, and our hopes and dreams that have us on a fast track to a more sensible lifestyle (some would use the word minimal to try to describe it, it’s not the same thing we don’t think). I know for many of you this post is not what you need, or never will need. That’s cool. We all have different hopes, dreams, and definitions of a beautiful life. But for those of you that feel overwhelmed with where your life has taken you. If you feel your life controls you and YOU don’t control your life, I hope that these series of posts can inspire you to take control back. Maybe not in the big way Nate and I have done, but in small ways.

Let’s start a bit back at the beginning.

2 summers ago Nate got his hand in a wood splitter. His right hand (dominant one). The doctors initially thought he wouldn’t gain movement or use in it again. Being our business was solely based on his ability to do manual work, this was a huge blow. To be fair, we had known for several years that something “had to give”. We were stressed, working all the time, had far too much to manage, and simply weren’t leading the life we wanted. But, that moment a couple summers ago was what put a wrench in our wheel and threw us off the cycle we had been on.

We started preparing for a complete and drastic difference in our revenue stream, making decisions as to who was going to be the sole bread-winner, and lifestyle changes to accommodate the financial changes that were sure to come.

Since I was now going to be bringing in a majority of the income with NellieBellie (and, at the time I was doing blog design full-time), we could live anywhere and I could still work. It seemed that things were set in motion for us that would start us down the road towards some necessary lifestyle changes. And, although we welcomed those changes, we weren’t terribly fond of feeling like control wasn’t in our hands. Feeling that we didn’t have control of decisions and changes was, by far, the hardest part of the last years of transition.

fall home tour29

One of the first decisions we thought about was where we would live. We agreed that moving from our 25 acre 2400 square foot home was necessary. We simply didn’t want to take the time and energy needed to care for it.

So, stay in the area or move to a new town was the first question.

We chose to move to a new area for a couple of reasons.

1. We wanted the kids to have easy access to a great school (the bus ride to the small local public school was over 45 minutes) with opportunities beyond athletics.

2. I personally wanted to get closer to the Twin Cities where a multitude of work events often took place. Moving closer meant I could get to more of them without such a huge time commitment the usual 1.5 hour commute took.

3. We wanted to get into a smaller, simpler lifestyle in an area with great outdoor living and healthy shopping options. We looked forward to the ability to bike, walk, and hike every evening without traveling to do so.

For all these reasons and more, we chose to move to Stillwater, MN. Stillwater is a small town along the river border of MN and WI and, for all intents and purposes, a suburb of the Twin Cities. It has a wonderful public school system, a beautiful historic history, great shopping choices (love the local Co-op here!), and loads of biking, running, kayaking, hiking, and more.

We originally moved from the country to an apartment in the historic district of Stillwater (you can see a quick tour of that apartment HERE). The apartment was the second and third floor of a historic mansion and about 1200 square feet. There was no yard to care for, no pets allowed, we were within walking distance of the library and shopping, and the historic trolley tours went by out our door. It was a wonderful place to start our transition to a simpler lifestyle.

The hardest part, for me, about that first year and a half was adjusting to sharing a building with other tenants. We shared the washer & dryer, garbage, mail boxes, yard, and more with 3 other tenants. Also, because we were on the upper floors we were always mindful of how much noise we were making. All things that renters are probably used to. But because we had owned our own home for all of our 18 years together, the lack of privacy and ownership was difficult to get used to.

So, we knew that a small house would be the goal. And when I say small, I mean small. We wanted something under 1000 square feed with a little yard, garage, and great neighborhood. In Stillwater, that is near impossible. This town is large home central. All the houses are like the Tardis, you think it’s little and then BAM — an addition is there making it twice or three times the original size. It’s crazy!

But then, a tiny little cottage came up for rent. 900 square feet on a corner lot with an itty bitty yard, patio, covered porch, garage, and allows an animal. I know! Can’t get better.

It really can’t.

Why we choose to live a minimal lifestyle.

So, now we are in our second year here in Stillwater and learning to transition to a 900 square foot home. We love the privacy and more feeling of ownership that comes with a traditional house. And we love how tiny it is. The amount of stuff we have is next in this place to nothing. But, we are learning all sorts of new things about ourselves, our lifestyle, the materialism that we didn’t think we were participating in but when it came time to start sorting through our belongings we realized how MUCH STUFF we had, what we truly enjoy, what we do when we are bored, how to make healthy choices, and what it feels like to not thrive on stress. Because we had been addicted to stress.

If you think that isn’t a thing, you are wrong. We were absolutely used to drama, family problems, stressful situations, more work than we could manage, someone needing us ALWAYS, and ending our day with I wishes. We were so accustomed to stress and drama that in all truthfulness, learning to lead calmer & simpler lives is extremely difficult! We find ourselves wanting to ADD a project or say YES to helping someone else’s problem or  NO to spending time with friends. Simply because we have not yet learned this new simper lifestyle and it’s many more hours of enjoyment, freedom, and simplicity. We feel guilty when we find ourselves sitting and watching a movie in the evening. I take bubble baths often. Whoa. I never thought I would say that!


The second decision we made, and are still working on, is to sell our home in the country (the pic above is just one of many gardens).

Financially we have the means to keep it and use it as a “cabin” for weekends and vacation. It is tempting, let me tell you! Here in Stillwater many folks keep cabins in the very same area of Wisconsin we have chosen to move from. They go there for fun and leisure. Ironic, isn’t it. It seems foolish to sell a property that many would love to have.

We went around and around about this decision. It finally came down to the same reason we decided to move… we don’t want to spend the time and energy to care for it. Regardless of how often we are there, it is still a 2400 square foot house on 25 acres. With taxes, utilities, and upkeep that go along with that. Time and energy we have chosen to put elsewhere. And, ultimately, finances we have chosen not so spend on a “once in a while” cabin.

Instead, we will rent a camper or hotel room when we vacation. Yes, it’s more expensive. But simplicity, in our opinion, will ultimately save us money and precious energy.

As I write this we are still working on getting the house up for sale. It is a huge undertaking. And, that right there is more than enough confirmation that we are making the right choice for us. The amount of time and effort it is taking just to get this place on the market is INSANE. No wonder we were always overwhelmed with the care and keeping of it.

The third decision we have made is to lease/rent as many major purchases as we can.

We have chosen to rent our home and lease our car. We are willing to buy, if necessary, to get the tiny little house we need. But, we prefer to rent and luckily, have found a tiny house we CAN rent. It can’t get much more perfect. Our car is a practical Subaru that gets us where we need to, has all-wheel drive for MN winters, and does all we need it to with a couple extra’s like heated seats and rear-view cam.

For us, renting and leasing eliminates the stress and energy that comes with owning your own home and car. We don’t have to worry about the upkeep and maintenance, we simply call the landlord when there is a problem. I don’t have as much paperwork associated with taxes, etc.., what projects we can take on are dramatically limited (no major renovations anymore!), and even the number of utilities we are responsible for are less.

We also like that stress has been taken off of us financially. Renting CAN be more expensive, in some cases. But, we feel more comfortable knowing that as we continue to make changes in our lifestyle we are not “stuck” in a long-term commitment to a geographic location. True, we absolutely love where we live and have no intention of moving but the ability to move and adjust to financial needs feels good and freeing.

For the sake of honesty I want you to know that we do have a goal of buying the home we are renting, if possible. We recognize that it often makes financial sense to pay for a mortgage than rent. But it will be an awfully small house and an awfully small mortgage for us to think about it. But, it’s not out of the question completely.

The fourth decision we have made, are making, and seem to keep making is about our source of income.

Lucky enough, Nate’s hand did not suffer permanent damage and he was, in fact, able to return to his business after a few months. This was a blessing and a hindrance, both. A blessing because our main source of income didn’t dry up, at all. He has been able to continue working as if nothing happened. A hindrance because the stress and difficulty of owning our own business is still tagging along. Financially, it’s hard to turn our nose up at the income it brings in. But yet, the business was/is draining and stressful. We are trying to balance what we need with what we don’t need. Can we get by with less, save less, do less, but work less? Or do we work more, save more, and stress less about money? We still haven’t gotten this quite figured out and are still working on it.

I still bring in an income with NellieBellie but without the design side of NellieBellie (why I stopped design work is another story for another day) it isn’t quite enough to support us on just my income. Almost. Close. Soon. And when it does it will be wonderful to have that choice. But, for right now Nate needs to keep a part-time or full-time job in some capacity. He always will, I’m sure. The choice right now is if we should stick with the business in some form. The business is a guaranteed source of income. Good income. But, it’s also a guaranteed source of stress and energy-drain as all small-businesses are. Alternately Nate could get a regular 9 to 5 job at a local business. Not as much income. At all. Not the security of what the business brings. Nor is there the stress of owning a business.

Ahhh, choices. Good and bad. I love having choices, for sure. But sometimes having choices is just paralyzing, in a way. Especially when there isn’t a clear way. You kind of find yourself standing and looking at the choices and wondering. Of course, the problem with standing and wondering is that often the choice becomes made for us in the waiting period. I’m not in favor of my indecisiveness making my decisions. That is the worst feeling.

If you think that it is these big decisions that are impacting our lives the most, you would be wrong. Very wrong. It is in the smaller changes in our lifestyle that I find the most effective and, ultimately, contributing to the large decisions. These smaller adjustments and changes have resulted in even having the ability to change major aspects of our lifestyle. The smaller changes are what I will continue to work on, strive towards, and talk about here on NellieBellie. Sure, I’ll update you often on the progress of selling our home or camper. Yet, learning to reduce our waste, live within a smaller footprint, and consume less material goods are what I’m most excited for. These are the small things that I know without a doubt change my daily life. And yours, too.

What are the small changes we have made, you ask? I’m so glad you want to know. Where to start?

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6 thoughts on “Our journey to a small lifestyle”

  1. Lily,
    I don’t see that I responded to this comment and if I didn’t, I’m so sorry! For me, it’s been a longer process than I realize. The actual work of simplifying has been a couple years. But the mind change to get to that point was years. Now that we’ve condensed our possessions down and simplified our daily hours I find I rarely am having to tidy or declutter anymore. It’s such a cool place to be!

  2. Great post, Nellie. Loving your blog!

    I was raised as a hoarder, you kept everything for a rainy day. It was only when I started reading blogs like yours and into-mind (which has a post on simplifying beauty routines, if you’re interested) that I realised I didn’t have to be drowning in stuff. It sounds so stupid, but it never actually occurred to me before that I could chose to live differently, that I could pare down my life to the essentials and not be falling over things in every room!

    Did you find simplifying things to be more of a long term, on-going project? Or do you tend to whizz through areas of your life in one go?

  3. Oh I love that… you are so right!! Simplifying and natural living are very different. Yet they seem to be spoken in one breathe. A minimal lifestyle is what I’m after and I find that having less gives me so much less stress, more energy, more time, and is exactly what I need. Adding animals, gardens, and worrying about being frugal isn’t minimal. It’s something wonderful, for some, I’m sure. But not me. I like the idea of a condo… and you are welcome for coffee in my 900 square foot anytime :).

  4. April Schroeder

    Thank you so much for sharing real simplifying.

    Many times those that claim to be simplifying their lives do the opposite of what you have done. They move to the country on a huge lot and homestead which is fine and sounds very appealing to me but, calling it simplifying is a bit of a stretch.

    Leaving the rat race…yes, simplifying…no way.

    That has caused me to feel that my condo living could not possibly fit into to simple life I was seeking. No, I needed to raise animals a grow everything to be simple. It left me wanting what I don’t have. Until I realized that its more about pairing down, freeing up time and lightening the load which can all be easily accomplished in a condo or a 900 square foot rental : )

  5. Hey Liz! Thanks. It’s a great way to make a living, that is for sure. I remember you all getting that farmhouse and re-doing it. Glad you are loving it. Simple life is the best, in my opinion :).

  6. Hi “Nellie” – love your blog!! Good for you and Nate!! You know Tom and I had our big house up north, and we bought an old farmhouse back close to where you and Nate lived and re-did the whole thing. It is much smaller than the big house we had. We had 2800 sq feet at our old house and at our present house we have 1200. Our mortgage is so low, love that! I have one credit card that I use for emergencies, but yes, we love the simple life too. I’m happy for you guys. You just sound really happy. That’s a good thing~

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