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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The Downside of Downsizing

Tiny Home Plan

One of the truths about retirement is, if you are a homeowner, the maintenance on your house does not retire with you. After a week of cleaning out gutters, touching up paint, having our roof inspected after a neighbor had to replace theirs due to hale damage, we ended the week with a Friday night emergency electrician call. Our hard wired smoke alarm sounded for over three hours. Putting in fresh batteries didn’t silence it. Neither did turning off the breakers. Martin and I were tempted to pull the detectors out of the ceiling. The sound was deafening.

Fortunately, our roof will last another seven to twelve years barring another hale storm. Who knew smoke detectors are only good for seven to ten years? Ours were thirteen so no surprise they failed, but did they have to malfunction on Friday night? After the electrician pulled them out of the ceiling, he’ll be back on Monday to replace them.

Tired of what seems like a constant repair or replace at the house and just plain curious, coming back from a shopping trip on Saturday, we swung into Lake Walk, a tiny home community. As a rule, we don’t shop on Saturdays. That’s the kind of week we’d had. Between the regular homeowner chores like mowing the field, picking blueberries, deadheading spent flowers and the additional maintenance on the house, a tiny home situated on a local lake with walking trails was tempting. We’d at least take a look to see what this growing trend was all about.

Martin and I were greeted by Randy, the developer and owner of the project. He explained that the residents would buy a tiny home and rent the lot from him for $450 a month. There would be forty-three tiny homes in all on four acres, with an additional eleven acres of trails and a central gathering place for residents to enjoy an evening visiting neighbors on a deck or around an outdoor fire. Set among towering oaks and other hardwoods, it all looked and sounded appealing. He had already sold three tiny homes, including two singles selling their larger houses to move to Lake Walk.

The largest home at 350 square feet plus a, yes, tiny loft, was inviting. Complete with hardwood floors, granite countertops, a fireplace fed by propane and lots of windows providing natural light, I envisioned myself living there — if I had to.

With just about everything built in, gone would be all of our furniture, some of which I’m admittedly attached to. The two bedroom closets would hold my clothes. I didn’t know where Martin would put his. And where would we do our art projects? Keep our art supplies? I suppose we could rent a studio someplace. Ditto for the exercise equipment —gone — to be replaced with a gym membership.

And where would I garden? As if reading my mind, Randy told us there would be community gardens for anyone wanting a space to grow vegetables or flowers. Hmmm…that sweetened the idea. However, there are no garages with tiny homes. Our tools, cars, Martin’s motorcycle and, oh, his bicycle, all outside waiting for hale storm damage in addition to the roof. Ugh! I didn’t like that picture at all.

Although the tiny homes were pretty, the woodsy setting beside the lake serene, I’d seen enough to know this was not for me, not yet. I didn’t even bother to ask if pets were welcome. As someone with seven cats, I thought that would be an issue just because of the numbers. Where would I house four litter boxes in 350 square feet? What about the three that are semi-feral cats used to being outside? The cats, like me, would probably be bored before long in such a tiny space. Then, Martin and I would be complaining about paying rent, neighbors too close for comfort, driving to the gym, paying rent, instead of walking through a door at our house, paying rent for an art studio and me without landscaping opportunities.

Everything has its pluses and minuses. Life is never without a downside and an upside. While caring for a large property and a not so large house takes work and money, where I am right now is where I want to be right now. The tiny home will have to wait.