Should You Downsize?

 

Fifteen years ago my husband and I looked for land to build a second home with the idea it would become our retirement home in the future.  Instead, we found the perfect piece of land not far from our work and activities.  We decided to build our retirement home right away and sell our then-current home.  We downsized.  With aging in mind we chose an open floor plan with wide doorways.  Hard surface flooring, energy efficiency and quality materials also topped the list.

Whether you are thinking of retiring or already retired, the question of downsizing may have crossed your mind.  There are many reasons to downsize in retirement.  Living in a home that fits your new or envisioned lifestyle is not the least among them.  

A smaller home may not feed your ego the way a large home signals success to friends and family.  You’re retired, right?  You’re forging a new identity where you can leave all the outward signs of a large, expensive lifestyle behind along with your work self.  That doesn’t mean you don’t live well.  You live life on your terms however you want.  Think about who you are underneath all the material objects including the big house.  Think about who you want to be and what you want to do in retirement.  Maintaining a large house usually doesn’t top anyone’s list.

A smaller home comes with lower utility bills and a smaller property tax bite allowing more money for travel or hobbies.  Speaking of travel and hobbies, fewer rooms to clean with less stuff to maintain, a smaller home affords time for doing the activities you want to do in retirement.  If you opt for a condominium home, you will pay a regime fee, but enjoy someone else performing the maintenance for the common areas and outer part of the structure.  When you jet off to an exotic destination on your bucket list, no worries about the lawn getting overgrown in your absence.

You may be thinking you need to keep your large home because you anticipate children and grandchildren visiting often.  Be realistic about how frequently they might visit.  How far away from you do they live?  What are their commitments to a spouse’s parents?  What are their work schedules?  Their school schedules?  When our oldest daughter’s large family visits, it is bedlam.  Air mattresses arrive with them, bodies and clothes are strewn everywhere.  That’s now reduced to once yearly as the ability for visits is dictated by school, college and work schedules along with various athletic endeavors like volleyball, baseball and football.  My son-in-law is self-employed and can’t take time off during the height of business.  Do you really need to maintain a three, four, five or six thousand square foot house for a once or twice yearly visit?  You’re retired, right?  Why don’t you go visit them?

I never was one for lots of knick-knacks.  My thinking always was, “Someone has to dust that.”  As a working mother I found ways to limit the amount of time spent cleaning.  I carry that philosophy with me today.  Even with that view, over the last few years I’ve handed plenty of items to my daughters and charities.  By choice my retirement life is more casual.  Gone are the entertainment-type parties and dinners, designer clothes and formal furniture.  Downsizing means decluttering.  In a smaller home there is no room for useless stuff.  In retirement, why would you want it?

Should you downsize?  I don’t know.  As always, that’s a question only you can answer.  I know it works for me.  Consequently, I do think you should consider it.

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21 comments on “Should You Downsize?

  1. Although we’ve done plenty of downsizing regarding stuff, downsizing our home is probably not in our future. It’s not big by modern standards but has more bedrooms than we theoretically need (but we love having two separate offices and a guest room). It’s also two levels so that’s certainly not ideal (although having stairs now while we are healthy is a good thing). We love our house and the neighborhood but a big consideration for us is financial. In our state, property taxes are a large source of revenue. Since we bought our home almost 25 years ago, not only do we enjoy no house payments, but we have a low tax basis.

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  2. This is very thought provoking. I finally live in a place I love, near supportive friends and neighbors – but it is not an “aging friendly” house. I’m also growing tired of all the maintenance. I’m much more aware of how long things take to get fixed, now that I’m retired (haha!) Perhaps I should take a look at some nearby condos just to see…..Been working on the decluttering and that does feel good. Thanks for your post!

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  3. This article is right on. My husband and I are currently thinking about this very issue. Bought the big house hoping kids and grands (8) would visit. They are too busy to visit often. Now the question is, do we move near one of three daughters and downsize or downsize here and have to travel to 3 different states! Love your blog, Carolyn

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  4. Kathy,

    It’s tough but smart to downsize. We downsized yo our dream house and now have no use for it at all. I think the retirees of the next decade will be serious downsizers. They will want smaller houses and a bigger community life.

    As usual, an excellent blog.

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  5. Once again, a very thoughtful article. The house in which we currently live was chosen for a retirement lifestyle. Your thought process was precisely ours. I was also a working Mom and had little need for knick-nacks. What a relief when we moved. My only question is how to do we part with Randy’s 2000+ books and all of my music? I am slowly giving away teaching materials to local music teachers, but I just can’t part with the rest. We’ll make room. 😍

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    • Joanie, You may not be able to part with certain things now. I know I can’t give up everything as some items have tremendous sentimental value and are part of who I am. I did give up a lot of books a couple of years ago donating them to a local library that was happy to take them off my hands. K

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  6. Excellent blog. Well done, Kathy!

    When I retired from full-time music teaching in 2013, I suffered painful Achilles tendons, and “hobbled” a lot when I walked my new doggies (for which my wife and I had acquired during post-employment). My house is a split-level, and everywhere you turn, you have to go up or down five steps (four sets). Even after PT and full recovery, I am amazed at the number of “perfectly suitable for seniors” ranch-style homes in our area being torn down and replaced with three-story “castles!” All of those stairs! If/when you lose your mobility, you would need multiple installations of stair-lifts. And the taxes? Astronomical!

    In an article I wrote for the PA state journal for professional music educators, I commented on this.

    The trend in our area for new construction for retirees is a one-floor patio home with a “great room” (kitchen, dining and family/game room areas) that incorporates the safety and ease of future “senior access” while accommodating the needs of multi-generational use of the residence, with these practical design elements:
    • Wheel chair access, especially in the bathrooms
    • Pull-out and pull-down shelving
    • Multi-level counters
    • Remote control blinds and windows
    • Slip resistance floors
    • Open floor plan
    • Bright, functional lighting
    • Flat-panel light switches

    (Source: https://houseplans.co/articles/planning-for-retirement-house-plans-for-seniors/)

    PKF

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    • Paul, Thanks for the additional design elements. Excellent advice if downsizing, building or remodeling. I have friends who recently purchased a ranch style home that was fitted for the previous owner to age in place. When someone asked if they wanted the bathroom grab bars removed, they said, “No, we’ll need them someday.” Planning ahead is a good idea. K

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  7. Kathy, I read something awhile back about truly understanding what your home needs to “be”. I have friends who their (small condo) home is their base camp – someplace to sleep and do laundry before the next adventure. Another retired friend built a home with a kid’s basement (media room, play room, and bedrooms) – she takes care of her grandkids 2 days a week. Another couple I know also went bigger and their kids/grandkids do regularly visit for the weekends. Another says his house is his museum – he loves his collectibles (and will keep them until he dies and then they go to real museums I think).

    We did downsize, but I called this house our “10 year” home – not worried about aging in place yet. We went with “toy storage” and “kitchen entertaining space” because that is what we wanted in our life right now (his/her). I want to do more entertaining (casual stuff) and the house we bought fits that vision. In the future we know we will downsize again and then we will focus on aging in place requirements. We’re both aligned to that also.

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    • Pat, I think you got it right! You have figured out what you need now, yet understand you may need something different in the future. It looks like your friends have done the same. Knowing what a home needs to “be” is the key. And, also the challenge. Like everything else in life, our needs for a home change with time and circumstance. K

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  8. We downsized to a smaller home in the country. While it seemed idyllic at the time the outdoor maintenance and upkeep as well as a longer commute to amenities has us thinking another move is in our future.

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    • Sometimes finding what fits your needs takes time. I live in the country, but am only 20 minutes from medical, art classes, restaurants and stores in two directions. That was an adjustment though as we used to live only a mile from some of the above! When you think driving time is time better spent on other things, it makes sense to live closer to amenities. And country homes can take a lot of time to maintain the outside appearance. Best wishes making a decision on another move! K

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  9. Perhaps we are the exception that proves the rule (the rule being that downsizing in retirement is the thing to do). We had actually planned to stay in our home throughout retirement, but for a variety of reasons decided to move closer to family. Housing in our new location is significantly less expensive; long story short, we ended up buying our dream home, which happens to have 4000 square feet! We have been here for nearly 2 years now, and are very happy. Home and garden projects have always been a source of joy for us, so the new home provides built-in, fun activities. All of that to say that downsizing isn’t necessarily for everyone. Decluttering — sure, regardless of stage of life. Another factor to consider is personality of the people involved: my husband and I are both introverts and really need our alone time. If we had downsized I fear it would have felt like we were always on top of each other, and I imagine that would have been problematic. Just another point of view and experience!

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    • Donna, You are so right with your point of view…downsizing is not for everyone! I failed to mention, our one story 2,300 square feet was perfect until we discovered our artistic talent. Last year we built a 300 square foot art studio to fit our new lifestyle. As Pat mentioned, what fits your needs is key to having the “right” home for you. It’s all about what your home needs to be. Self-knowledge goes a long way in making a decision to downsize or go to a one-story or stay in a large home or whatever. Thanks for your point of view. K

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      • I should also say that our “new” home is a 1907 Craftsman with lots of personality — and upkeep! Projects keep us happy.

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  10. My hubby and I retired three years ago and just downsized from 2,800 sq feet to 1,700 sq feet and love it. We went with new construction and now have lower utility bills, new appliances, new air conditioning system, a new roof and a smaller yard to upkeep! Best decision we’ve ever made especially since our kids and grandkids live less than an hour away!

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  11. We likewise upsized in retirement to our somewhat surprise. Although we do not have clutter needing to be housed, we had lifestyle preferences we weren’t ready to give up – his and her offices, a spacious guest room, space to entertain, and a wall for our piano. What’s been different in the new house is that we have left a lot of the space ‘as is’ meaning not filling every nook and crany with furniture. And the same for our backyard – we designed wide open easy-to-care-for spaces, with a focus on the surrounding views, not the yard itself. It all feels very easy to care for as a result, and we can leave it for weeks or months at a time with no real worries. And our master is on the ground floor, which has been great due to cooler temps while sleeping, and for a walker should that become an issue at some point in the future.

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