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A Tale of Small Living Big

Many people have asked Brenda and I what inspired us to build our current URBANEER Bungalow and what drives our passion for small space living. Married now for 33 years, we have completed 17 moves to 5 states and 3 countries. We have experienced and learned a lot on our journey and have decided to start to tell our story.

Below is the first installment.

“We need to get back to Barcelona.” My wife, Brenda, shared over a glass of wine one evening."

It wasn’t a literal comment. We weren’t headed back to Barcelona, Spain, where we spent little more than a year living in our mid 30’s. It was simply a statement expressing the need for our family to get back to the lifestyle we had briefly enjoyed in Spain – a lifestyle we had caught a glimpse of and something in us desired to have again. We were back in the states after two overseas.

Prior to Barcelona, we had lived outside Munich, Germany in a large suburban house, but we should have been in a small apartment in the city. We had two young kids, I was gone all the time and exhausted, and the house was so big it required a lot of our time and attention to maintain. While it was a beautiful house, it cost us a lot of time and energy.

When we moved to Barcelona, we decided to move into a tiny, 900-square-foot apartment in the center of the city. We soon learned that Spanish urbanites don’t entertain at home, as they don’t have the space. Instead, they go out. The city is their backyard and their lives are all about the experience. They put their kids to bed after dinner and then head out themselves for dinner with friends. On the weekends, their kids join them are often out past midnight.

We quickly found the 900 square feet bought us freedom. We no longer had to take care of the house. We didn’t have a lawn to mow. We didn’t have all the things that fill a large house that have to be tended to. All of a sudden, we had time to do things – like drive to France on the weekend.

We arrived back into the states and jumped back into the suburban lifestyle. We bought a 3,500-square-foot home then changed neighborhoods into a 5,300-square-foot home. We became slaves to our home. All the materials that fill the house up, all the chores to keep it maintained. We kept getting bigger and bigger even though we wanted to go smaller.

Our lives started to feel like a less than desirable lifestyle. This would be the time when Brenda would share her desire to go back to Barcelona.

Called the City of Design, Barcelona was so beautiful. I picked the kids up from the bus one day and noticed the garbage truck, sanitation worker and trash can were all the same color. They all matched. It cost the city no more money, but this well-curated everyday part of life makes such a difference. The parks were incredible. The city was so walkable and it reminded us a little of the Grand Rapids suburb, East Grand Rapids, we had lived in the early 1990s. At the time we were living in the woods of Virginia, but with our desire to live smaller we decided to move to East Grand Rapids.

We found a design for a home we loved – with a minimal lifestyle in mind. We hired an architect who could customize it, and next thing you know, we were back to building a life with a big home because every square foot could be justified and we just couldn’t give up any inch of it.

Even though we had every intention of creating a free life - we had made the same mistake for the third time, and we weren’t happy.

After several years, we sold our home and moved to a condominium in downtown Grand Rapids. It wasn’t perfect, but we loved the experience. We realized we still wanted to live in a home, but smaller and in closer proximity to all the offerings of a full urban environment.

The desire to move back into a house — a true, small house — led us on the journey of the URBANEER Bungalow. And that’s what it’s been, a journey: an ongoing discussion of what we value and want to pursue, a constant shifting in how we relate to the material things in our life, and a steady stepping into a freer fuller lifestyle.

It’s a continual return to Barcelona.


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