Sell Your House, Downsize and Give The Proceeds To Charity?

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2008-07-1028

The real estate market hasn’t been kind to expensive homes for sale but there’s one mansion that deserves a second look. It’s not just any ordinary 6,500 square foot mansion with 5 bedrooms, 8 fireplaces and an elevator.

It’s a family’s dream home that they’re turning into dreams come true for others in a different part of the world. Ghana, to be exact.

The family who owns a historic 1912 house is from Atlanta, Georgia, and they’re doing a noble and truly novel act. Their house is listed for sale for almost $1.8 million and the owners (the Salwens include two kids and their parents) have pledged half the proceeds to an international cause for the opportunity to make a difference.

It all started with a seed of thought that turned into a full-fledged family project after much discussion among the Salwens. Like many others who dwell on the issue of “need” vs “want”, this family decided that a lot of what they had and owned would be better channeled towards helping others. Once their home sells, half of their profit — $800,000 will be used to assist 30 villages and impact the lives of approximately 20,000 people in Ghana.

Downsizing The American Dream For Charity

Here’s a look at the Salwens’ mansion:

house for sale in atlanta, georgia

living room in atlanta, georgia

kitchen in atlanta, georgia

The Salwens now live in a much more modest home (it’s less than half their original house) and are planning a trip to visit the places where their funds will be put to use. Here’s what their new house now looks like:

new house in atlanta, georgia     new porch in atlanta, georgia

We as Americans have so much. We love the concept of half. We are going from a house that’s 6,000 square feet to a house that’s half the size, and we’re giving away half the money. ~Kevin Salwen

Read more about this awesome tale on CNN.

People never cease to amaze me with their generosity. It’s quite cliche, but stories like this do stoke my faith in humanity.

Even though it was Joan Salwen’s idea to sell the house, it has been tough for her to give it up. “I have to admit,” she said, “I loved living in this house. Does that make me an evil person? I hope not because it’s a beautiful place.”

This story is also quite unusual as this type of act requires a significant amount of thought and emotional adjustment that impacts not just one person but several in a family unit. In this case, family values has made a strong statement. We’re all programmed to think “more” and “bigger” are better, but this example shows that there are those who’ve traded this way of life for the simpler, scaled-down stuff. And no, we’re not evil people because we love the big stuff — it’s human nature.

The concept of downsizing may seem challenging for some of us, as it is for me. But I’ve tried to do small changes here and there to make my life simpler and to be able to find ways to free up time to give more of myself. Baby steps I guess, especially when you think that “charity begins at home”.

Sometimes it may be a worthwhile exercise to reflect on what good “less” would bring to our lives:

Why Downsize? Why Simplify?

1. It is freeing.

When you’re no longer married to stuff, you achieve a form of freedom.

2. You’ll have less stress.

Theoretically, you’ll feel less pressured and dial down your stress. But that’s in theory. Any form of change, even the kind that is brought about through simplification, can cause stress, at least over the short term.

3. It is less hassle.

Stuff breaks down and a life revolving around lots of things has a tendency to break down more often as well. Less stuff equals less worries and maintenance.

4. It is less expensive.

See number 3. 🙂

5. It can allow you to make a difference.

Your “less” may become someone else’s “more”, just like what the Salwens have done.

6. Do we need everything super-sized?

Many of us have been bitten by the “Keeping up with the Jones'” bug. So when everyone around us has super-sized, we can’t help but feel like joining the party as well. But all this comes with a price: more money, more work, more stress. Is it worth it?

So I’ve come to ask: how much of our dreams are for things we simply want vs what we need? Which of your grand ideals do you think you can let go? What are our ambitions for? It’s human nature to want to have it all, but the story of a family who’s given up half their home to those in need reminds us that there are other ways to live.

Copyright © 2008 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily July 10, 2008 at 9:54 am

I was so excited when I read about this on CNN. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that a family was able to realize they were living in excess, and that they could actually do something to make a major impact in the lives of people who need help. The house they are selling is absolutely gorgeous, but definitely way bigger than something four people really need. I very much admire them and I hope more people follow their footsteps…if they can get anyone to cough up that much money for a home right now, that is.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal July 10, 2008 at 9:59 am

That’s a great story, but I bet they do it again with their new house!

Frugal Dad July 10, 2008 at 10:02 am

Great story! Thanks for putting this in front of us. I’ve often thought if I had came into a sizeable windfall I would love to use a portion of it do some good, rather than spending it away on material things.

jim July 10, 2008 at 10:07 am

That’s amazing and a great idea, at some point you have to recognize how ridiculous we’ve become about our possessions. I’ve been cleaning out crap I haven’t used in years! 🙂

Ben Goering July 10, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Awesome. I’ve always been determined that I won’t live in a very big house. I think Parkinson’s law applies to the size of your abode. The more space you have, the more you’ll feel obligated to buy.

Curious Cat Economics Blog July 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Very nice. I agree simplifying life is a great strategy to enjoy life more and improve your financial picture. Too much stuff largely leads leads to more hassles without enough benefit to justify the hassles in my opinion.

JB July 10, 2008 at 10:00 pm

This is a wonderful story. I know many people that have huge houses and hardly use that space. While it’s a matter of personal preference, I hope by the time I am ready to buy, I purchase a home is modest and small. I feel like the more space I have the more unnecessary stuff I will fill it with!

Vince July 11, 2008 at 11:16 am

Great story and great ideas! It really made me stop and think!

MoneyNing July 11, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Wow I admire that family! I bet they don’t have any of the luxuries that other people always want but they are much happier!

Joe Cline in Austin Texas July 11, 2008 at 10:56 pm

I’m impressed. In a society where people equate money with success it’s great to see that some people see the success in helping other live a better, healthier, longer life. Kudos.


RC@ThinkYourWayToWealth July 13, 2008 at 6:14 am

What an awesome idea! I would say most of us probably “dream” of wants more than needs. I think it is hard for people to realize (myself included) that the satisfaction of giving like in this example probably makes them feel better than any material “dreams” or possessions they might have had would.

Chelle July 13, 2008 at 8:20 pm

That’s amazing for them to do that…it would be nice if more people thought like that!

fathersez July 14, 2008 at 12:00 am

Wow, this is being really big hearted. Helping 20,000 people is no joke.

Really gratifying to know that there are such people around. God bless them.

Make Friends, Earn Money July 14, 2008 at 2:55 am

Down Sizing is definately more attractive now than a few years ago especially with the downturn in the economy. I think that it is wonderful that people would consider downsizing and giving money to charity, if we were all able to do this what a different that would make! Love the pictures by the way, they really add a nice touch to the post

New Orleans Food July 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Wow- that is certainly generous. I just don’t know if I could do that. It does spur me on to at least get some stuff to Goodwill.

Satyawadi Mishra July 18, 2008 at 11:22 am

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Mike July 19, 2008 at 10:10 am

Good gesture, but these people are idiots. Unless they actually do hands on management of that money in Ghana to establish someway for those people to feed themselves in the future then it’s all a waste. But hey, whatever makes you feel good inside is all that counts right???

hank July 22, 2008 at 9:15 am

I read the whole thing through thinking “wow, this is awesome and these people certainly are doing some good” – and I still do, but I got to Mike’s comment at the bottom and tried to see it from his perspective; and it does carry some weight. Ghana isn’t “puppy dogs and unicorns” by any means and the food may be stolen, people killed, houses robbed, etc also.

I know you don’t have all the answers on the story, but it’d be an interesting follow-up to see if it actually does go off without a hitch. I enjoy the idea immensely, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a negative thinker, just interested in seeing things from different angles, and Mike does have a valid point, but my fingers are crossed that it does change lives!

Silicon Valley Blogger July 22, 2008 at 9:35 am

@Hank and Mike,

I agree that by bequeathing a huge amount to charity that is dispersed to a large community, particularly in the 3rd world, you have to be extremely watchful and careful. There are good and not-so-good charities out there and for this size of donation, donors should canvas organizations to ensure that their funds are in good hands. Better yet, if they can, they should “follow their money” and see what kind of plans are in store for their funds.

I believe this family is doing just that — they’re visiting Ghana communities and looking into projects there to see how their money will be utilized.

Kim, Brisbane Real Estate Agent August 6, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Wow, that’s a fantastic family. I hope another generous, wealthier individual offers them $3.6m for the house! 😉

RetiredAt47 August 26, 2008 at 5:34 am

What a great story. Hopefully, everyone will benefit and be better off as a result of this family’s generosity. I agree wholeheartedly with your list, and am thinking what a positive impression this should leave on their children.

Escape Somewhere September 4, 2008 at 6:54 am

That is pretty awesome. We downsized a few years ago but I must admit we didnt donate half the money to charity.

Mike wrote:
“Good gesture, but these people are idiots. Unless they actually do hands on management of that money in Ghana to establish someway for those people to feed themselves in the future then it’s all a waste. But hey, whatever makes you feel good inside is all that counts right???”

I dont think that everyone doesnt do hands on management is idiots. Warren Buffett is giving away his billions and it would be pretty hard to say he is an idiot. He simply found and organaztion he trusted (Bill Gate’s foundation) that could manage the donations.

Cabe December 3, 2008 at 10:55 am

That is a really touching story. I hope that one day I am able to do something big like that and give it all away for charity donations. I give regularly now but I don’t have enough to really make a big donation like that. It is humbling to see the love some people have. Thanks for sharing.

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