Downsizing: The Beauty of Downsizing, Not Because You Have To, But Because You Want To


Do you really need that great big car?

How big do you need your car to be?  Do you have 2 cars? Do you need 2?

I’ve written a few articles here about downsizing and what it’s meant for us – mainly to do with downsizing my car as that was the biggest revelation for me in terms of not being what I expected, but we also downsized our house and our life.

I’d like to tell you a bit more about all of that by putting it all together into one article which hopefully shows the beauty of downsizing, not because you have to but because you want to.

The beauty of downsizing, not because you have to, but because you want to.

Why I Changed My Car

When we first moved to the countryside, I downsized my car. Mainly because the car I had, a top of the range Alfa 166 wouldn’t fit on the small drive at the side of our new cottage. Also, as the Alfa was not a particularly cheap car to maintain, it seemed like a good idea to switch, given the new uncertainty of where our income was coming from.

I changed it for a 1992 Polo Coupe. I was eventually to own 3 1992 Polo Coupes (not all at the same time though I did own two at a time after the first one), but in a good way, I promise. The first one cost £500 and I didn’t really know what I was looking for. It was still a very good move buying that one, even though on the first day of owning it I had a petrol leak, an oil leak, a water leak and the exhaust fell off.

It’s a long story to explain why I bought a 2nd one as once I’d fixed the problems with my first Polo (which were amazingly cheap to fix, kind of the point of this article) it was an amazingly solid little car, leading me to stick with this car and model as I’ll go into a bit more below.

So anyway, let’s take a look at some of the cost differences in the Alfa vs The Polo…

The Comparison When Things Do Go Wrong

I changed the exhaust on my Alfa and it cost me around £1000 (and I could easily have paid a lot more if I’d taken the first price).

I changed the exhaust on my Polo and it cost £55 (fitted).

Since first writing this article and having had 3 Polos, I’ve had very few problems and these have been unbelievably quick, easy and super-cheap to fix. I think it’s mainly because it’s such a basic mechanical car and once you’ve made the right checks when buying it (which I did really well the 2nd and 3rd time but not so well the 1st) then there’s very little which can go wrong.

It’s only really the exhaust, a new battery and changing wheels (aesthetic change rather than a repair by the way) that I’ve needed help from a garage with. Seals, windscreen wipers, fuses, radiator grill, switches, radio, speakers, light bulbs and boot lock I’ve had great fun fixing myself. The car is so mechanical and with the help of a Haynes manual it’s really easy to change things.

So I might have a few more problems, but when things do go wrong, the smaller car is much cheaper to maintain, if it costs anything at all.

The Luxury Of Driving An Old Car

As a slight aside, I also find it a bit of a luxury owning an old car.

Yes, you read that right – a luxury.

I find it a hassle having a luxury car, and a luxury having a cheap old car.

If anything happens to it, it is easy to fix and as far as the odd dent or scratch goes, it’s much less of a drama than if you have a shiny new car. That’s why it’s a luxury – the luxury of driving around without worrying about your precious car.

I find it a hassle having a luxury car, and a luxury having a cheap old car.

So give it some thought – I’m not saying buy an old banger (which my polo isn’t, by the way) – but perhaps a smaller car will be more economical, cheaper to maintain, easier to park, a better fit for your lifestyle… than the big gas guzzler.

Why I Bought a 2nd One…

What is it about a car which is so old and so basic (the one in the picture) that’s so great?

So before I go on to tell you why I no longer actually have a Polo at all, let me first of all tell you why I was so happy with what I considered myself so lucky with a perfect example of why I loved having the set up I had, which not only saved me money but also gave me a lot of enjoyment and convenience.

Yes, that’s right, it’s not just about saving money, I actually LOVED my little Polo (and I also love my current car which I’ll tell you a little more about in a moment) plus it was extremely convenient.

Why I Bought A 2nd Polo

This is a long story. I am not going to bore you with the details but I will if you’re interested (in which case just leave a comment telling me so). Suffice to say, I had an even better money saving idea which involved buying a 2nd Polo and parking the first one in front of our little cottage.

The first basically became a place-warmer. As I said the reason for this is a long story (this is an obvious place for a plug and I honestly wasn’t planning to, but you can also read about this in our book – if you don’t want to buy it right away, check out the free preview first).

As well as being a place-warmer there were some other big benefits to switching my car for a 2nd Polo:

  1. the old Polo did have a few niggly little problems that I now no longer have to worry about (for anyone interested in Polos I’ve learned a lot about them now and these are common Polo problems so I’m happy to tell you more about those if you like, drop me a note here). Because I knew what I was looking for by the time I bought it I made sure the new Polo had none of these problems.
  2. instead of having my really beautiful Alfa sitting there and wasting away (you’re probably beginning to guess the long story now anyway, but there was a reason I didn’t just sell the Alfa – it was my previous place-warmer – but also a tragedy to let it sit there (I really didn’t have any choice)), I could put my old Polo there instead and have the added bonus of a supply of spare parts for my new polo.

The first picture is of my new Polo, the one below is my first Polo which I used for a while for parts (and also for storing things in the boot ;-)) – I later sold that and bought a 2nd white Polo just bacause I got a great deal on an even better car than I had and ended up with 2 white Polos, one ‘breaker’ for parts and one which I used.

What Are The Costs?

The new Polo (the white one) cost £370. that’s it, £370 and it had a long MOT and Road Tax for about 6 months.

The car was in a really good state and the sellers brother was a mechanic so I knew it had been well looked after. Plus I checked all of the usual problems old Polos are prone to and none of these existed in this car (e.g. a common problem is rust/holes in the filler-neck of the petrol tank but this car had had a new petrol tank fitted).

The previous Polo had cost me £550.

Servicing is really cheap because it’s all very mechanical and most repairs (which is really the point of this post) can be done yourself either with your bear hands or with a screwdriver. For some of the really complicated stuff you may need a spanner 😉

What Problems Have You Had With It?

None whatsoever.

OK, except the time I forgot to fill the tank and let the petrol run out. I thought it was a major disaster and was embarrassed when a helpful neighbour (who also happens to be a mechanic) told me it was a fuel transmission problem or something like that. He was basically trying to put it as diplomatically as possible that I’d just let the petrol run out!! One trip to the station with a jimmy can and that problem was fixed.

The car passed it’s MOT with one minor fault – a tiny bulb on the rear registration wasn’t working – I could have replaced that myself if I’d realised – and it cost just £1 to fix.

So What’s the Point? What’s The Example You Mentioned?

A few days ago, whilst driving home, everyone was flashing me. It was because I had no rear headlights. The next morning I got out my Haynes manual to check how easy it is to change the rear light bulbs (not difficult at all, you can remove the rear light cluster with your fingers only by pinching two plastic clips – no tools needed) and then opened the boot of the old Polo. I had changed the rear light bulbs in less than 10 minutes.

I also had a slight problem too with the headlight switch on the dashboard. It has two ‘on’ positions but for some reason for the last few weeks would only switch to the first position. So I changed that too – just by pulling it out, unplugging it and switching it with the switch from my old polo. Hey Presto! It works great again. That took me about 2 minutes, if that.

I have had several similar examples where I have just swapped parts from the old Polo to the new one myself and with such ease that I’m sure anyone could do it – battery, radiator grill, door handle trim, speakers…

Why I Wouldn’t Change It

The point is, if this had been a modern car, I’d almost certainly have to take it to a garage to get it fixed, not only paying a lot more but taking a lot more time and inconvenience. I fixed the problem with my car, along with another one which had been niggling me, both in under 15 minutes.

I could actually afford pretty much any car I wanted. I’m not a millionaire or anything, but I have enough to afford any car I choose, and I choose this one. I’m pretty sure, even if I was a millionaire, and it might make me a very weird millionaire, then I would still stick with this set up because it’s fun and I just don’t see the point in wasting so much money on cars.

So I’m happy with my little Polo. It actually drives really well, I have a great little stereo I could put in myself which plays MP3 discs and has an iPod input, it hasn’t had any problems, is cheap to run, and most things I can fix myself in minutes.

By the way there is one caveat. This is my car and the car I use for local journeys (say up to 50 miles). My wife also has a car which is much more modern and if we have long journeys (like if we’re travelling hundreds of miles) we use that one.

I wouldn’t recommend an old Polo for touring Europe, but as the vast majority of my time is spent locally these days (often not needing a car at all) the Polo suits me just fine.

Tempted? What do you think? I have to admit I haven’t been able to persuade many people so far to follow my example but I’m still very happy with it. What car do you drive?

Why I Had To Change It

So my worst nightmare happened.

My Polo got smushed.

I was driving along the motorway and overtaking a huge lorry. Just as I was nearly past him, he pulled out, clipping the back corner of my car and basically spinning me off the motorway. All at about 60mph.

It was a very scary moment and to be honest I was amazed and relieved to be alive more than anything else – but the car was a write-off.

I wrote a little more about the accident in this article:

3 Lessons That A Scary Motorway Accident Taught Me…

For two years I tried to find another VW Polo as good as the one I had (low mileage, good condition, 1.3L engine) but these are getting harder and harder to come by – that model particularly and even more so with low mileage.

As time was getting on and I needed another small car, I bought another small car (a Peugeot 306) which though not as cheap and simple as the Polo, is still a great small car, very reliable and fits my philosophy of not spending (wasting) too much money on cars (that one cost £800 & there’s a picture of it in the article above if you’re interested – it’s in very good nick).

Downsizing Your House

One other thing we did when we moved to the countryside, is we downsized our house.

We used to live an a fairly large 5 bedroom house in London, now we live in a small cottage.

Here are some of the luxuries of that move in no particular order:

  • The place is much more fuel efficient (not that that’s something that we have really quantified or ever paid that much attention to, but it clearly is much more fuel efficient than our previous property, being smaller and also aided by the fact we have a multi-fuel stove in the living room).
  • A smaller property is easier to keep in good repair. As there are less rooms to furnish, to decorate, to use, this means it’s less effort and expense to make them and keep them just how you want them – that is much more of a luxury than you’d imagine, as you get to keep on top of things and keep your property just the way you want it.
  • It’s cosy. It really is.
  • Having a smaller property stops us from buying stuff we don’t really need (and at the end of the day don’t really want even if at first we may think so). Do you ever buy things just to fill a room or a space? Well, we can’t do that. Having less space to put things in means you have less need for ‘stuff’ and tend to want less too.
  • We probably spend more time outdoors – we have a wonderful cottage garden which we use whenever we can, we go for walks often, though this is possibly as much to do with having a dog as it is with having a small house.
  • We don’t have a huge TV so as a result we probably spend less time watching TV – at least the TV (21″) is a pretty small feature in the living room. For me that’s a bonus as we tend to have a more varied (and healthier) range of daily activities than we did in London (even if our children’s social calendars is more impressive than ours these days – we do our best to keep up!).
  • Having a more cost living space means we’re together more as a family which we really like. Our children have their own rooms (and being teenagers are starting to spend a lot of time there) but we do see lots of them which would probably be less so in our old, bigger house.

I could go on but you get the idea.

Downsizing Because You Want To

So I get it that downsizing is often something that people have to do. They can no longer afford the big house or the big car – but even so, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something negative.

Quite the opposite.

In fact, let me just revise that a little.

I guess you could go too small. Don’t squeeze yourself into a tiny box and then have to sell one of your children (I actually did end up having to make a 3rd bedroom in our 2 bed cottage when we decided to stay here longer but that’s another story entirely and we do still fit ;-)).

The point here is that if you go as small as you can but not smaller, you’ll find a lot of beauty in small.

Try going as small as you can, but not smaller.

Each room in our cottage is easily big enough and bizarrely enough, the communal rooms are probably as big as those rooms in our old house (the bedrooms aren’t, they’re tiny – but we don’t need big bedrooms) – just excluding a few rooms we don’t really need (conservatory, 2nd reception). We use every room in our house now and have plenty of space when we do…

… and that’s the point here. If you use only what you need and use it well, then you can devote more of your energy to enjoying that time and space, to looking after it and to living in it.

And that’s what downsizing is (or should be) all about.


Downsizing: The Beauty of Downsizing, Not Because You Have To, But Because You Want To — 2 Comments

  1. I know this is probably not going to be seen and the post is years old however I have just done the same. I had an expensive BMW 330ci petrol and woke up one day realising I only use it really to go to work or potter to the shops or see the family 10 miles up the road. On the drive is my partner’s old Corsa 1.2 (she now drives a Tigra 1.8 – she always wanted a convertible!). Obviously, both being practically the same car, they are both easy and cheap to maintain and the biggest saving – fuel. I’m saving £90 a month on my commute alone. And the small corsa – what a charming little car. I have been questioned by many and even get asked “why the crappy small bubbly girly blue corsa?”. This post has reassured me I’ve done the right thing!

    • Hi Trev,

      This post is quite old now but I get notified of comments on all posts just the same, old or new, so here is your response 😉

      First of all, many thanks for commenting, particularly as you noticed the post is old but still took the time to leave a comment – very much appreciated!!

      Secondly, yes, of course you’ve done the right thing. I have been driving my current car for years (it’s a bit of a long story why I changed but now drive a Peugeot 306 – some details of why here: 3 Lessons That A Scary Motorway Accident Taught Me… – same principles apply, every day I drive this car, which I bought about 5 years ago now for £800, I am really happy with my choice. I take good care of it, save lots of money on petrol, parts, MOTs etc are really cheap. As a year 2000 car with no problems that I know of (I just changed the timing belt but that’s routine maintenance after a while) and low mileage, I don’t see any reason why I’m more likely to have problems with my car than a much newer & more expensive car – if anything the configuration & parts are much more simple.

      Like everyone I am often tempted with new cars, new gimmicks and new technology but there is something very satisfying 1) about knowing your car well & how you’ve taken care of it and 2) knowing that you have spent and will need to spend very little money on your car compared to many others who waste a lot of money on them – so when I get the urge to splash out on a new car I can usually talk myself out of it pretty quickly 😉

      At the end of the day, as a depreciating asset which it costs money every day to keep, a car is a liability, so we may as well, whilst being comfortable, make it as little of a liability as possible.

      P.S. I recently ‘retrieved’ a friends car for her as she’d hurt her back and couldn’t drive it home and that was a Corsa – I agree a nice little car and really nice to drive. Hers was black though, not girly blue 😉 so I guess I didn’t look too bad in it lol

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