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Family sold big house and gave away the money

Downsizing to smaller house and focusing on charity transformed Atlanta family.

By Teresa Mears Jan 19, 2010 7:47PM

Last Sunday’s Parade magazine told the story of a family who decided to sell their house, buy one half the size and give all their profits, about $800,000, to charity.


Ten years ago, Kevin and Joan Salwen bought their dream house, a 6,500-square-foot historic home in Atlanta. Except it didn’t bring the joy they had expected to the family, which included daughter Hannah and son Joseph, Kevin wrote in Parade:

It was a beautiful place, but as our children grew up, our sense of togetherness began to fade away. In the big dream house, we scattered in different directions. When we sat down at dinner, our conversations centered more often on to-do lists than on anything meaningful. On weekends, as we drove from activity to activity, the TV in the back seat kept the kids entertained and our family from connecting. Was money the problem? Probably not. But it certainly wasn't making our lives any richer.

The family’s big move was sparked by a discussion by Hannah, then 14, who challenged her family to make a difference in the world. Pressed by her mother as to whether she’d give up her home and her room to make a difference, she said yes and the family embarked on its project.


Eventually, they decided to sell the house and give the profits to The Hunger Project, which helps people in rural Africa, Asia and South America move from poverty to self-reliance. Kevin and Hannah wrote a book about the project, “The Power of Half,” which will be published next month. The family also has a blog.

Their project taught the Salwen family two big lessons: that having less can sometimes make you happier, and that helping others or otherwise finding purpose in your life is more rewarding than acquiring things.


Leo Barbauta, the author of “The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential, in Business and in Life,” extols the rewards of living with less at his blog, Zen Habits.

The beautiful thing is that you don’t need to earn more money or buy a bigger house or car or have a bigger company in order to have this better life -- you need less of all of that. It’s attainable simply by cutting back.

These concepts aren’t new, of course.


Joe Dominquez and Vicki Robin popularized simple living with their 1992 book “Your Money or Your Life." Many other authors have plowed that ground, too, and living well with less (less money and less stuff) is the everyday fodder of many personal finance bloggers, including MSN’s Living With Less columnist Donna Freedman

A Parade reader named Loril wasn’t impressed with the Salwens’ story. The reader commented, “I find it insulting that you would print this article at a time when many average Americans have LOST their homes due to the economic collapse. Families do not give away equity in their primary asset unless they are wealthy. I would bet that the Salwens have other healthy assets like college funds for their children, or we wouldn't even be hearing about their 'altruism.'"


Kevin Salwen noted in his article that most families can’t give up their homes and donate the proceeds. But, he said most people could find something to give, whether it’s time or stuff, and set out to make a difference in their corner of the world.


Barbauta of Zen Habits offers these tips to get started:

  • Do less. Focus on the things that make the highest impact, and drop everything else. You’ll have more room in your life for other things.
  • Have less. Having a life with a minimal amount of clutter leaves you feeling free, without the stress that comes with an overwhelming amount of stuff. And, of course, buying less stuff means you have more money, for charity, for choosing your work or for early retirement.
  • Produce less. Spend more time making better things.
  • Consume less.
  • Connect online less. This can consume our lives if we let it. Disconnect from time to time.
  • Connect with others, and your passions, more. This is how your life becomes better when you live with less. By cutting nonessential things out of your life, you make room for what you’re really passionate about.
  • Edit, edit. Simplifying isn’t a one-step process, but an ongoing process of focusing on the essential.

How would you like to edit your life? Are you wasting time and resources collecting and maintaining stuff that doesn’t enrich your life? Are you making the difference in the world that you’d like to make? If not, what’s keeping you from doing it?


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