Less House, More Home: Downsizing

Donna Ison

 

Size matters. But, many are deciding smaller is superior—at least when it comes to square footage. More and more mature adults are downsizing by choosing to live in smaller spaces with fewer things. According to a recent TD Ameritrade survey, 42 percent of Americans plan to downsize in retirement.  

According to professional organizer Emily Evans of Eliminate with Emily, “The purpose of downsizing is to make your and your loved one’s lives as easy and as stress-free as possible as you transition to a different stage of life.” Within this larger goal, there are primarily three factors that play a role; maintenance, money, health and safety. 

More and more mature adults are downsizing by choosing to live in smaller spaces with fewer things. According to a recent TD Ameritrade survey, 42 percent of Americans plan to downsize in retirement.

Maintenance 

Who wants to spend their golden years dusting rooms they rarely enter? As time becomes more valuable, people are choosing to spend more of it living and less of it cleaning, mowing, fixing and maintaining large properties. 

Denise Gerkens and her husband, Scott, opted for an extreme version of downsizing after their only daughter left for college. The couple went from a 3,400 square foot cabin on 2.5 acres to an 850 square foot “tiny house” on Herrington Lake. Gerkens said, “The big house just became too much to clean and maintain and mow. What used to take three hours to mow now takes ten minutes. What used to take all day to clean, now only takes a couple of hours.” 

Money

A second factor is finances. A smaller home usually equates to a lower mortgage, insurance, property taxes and utility bills. Don’t forget that this extra cash can be put to good use. According to financial guru Dave Ramsey, excess money should be used to pay off higher-interest loans and credit cards, go into a retirement fund or to purchase a smaller home outright, and thus be mortgage-free. 

Health & Safety

As knees begin to crack and hips go out on a regular basis, grand sweeping staircases become much less appealing. Step-in tubs, winding walkways, out-of-reach cabinets and slick hardwood floors can also become a nuisance. A single level home equipped for the physical challenges that accompany aging can bring ease of everyday living to the resident and peace of mind to their families. 

Even with all the benefits, the decision should be a calculated one. Reece Miller, principal broker of Signature Real Estate advised, “Make sure the pros outweigh the cons. Try and downsize, not downgrade.”  

So, before staking a “For Sale” sign in the lawn, people should ask themselves the following questions:

How much do I actually like my spouse? 

The adage “familiarity breeds contempt” is a nice way of saying that having someone in constant proximity can make you want to stab them with a spoon. With the recent restrictions from COVID-19, we have all seen how challenging it is to be up close and personal with family 24/7. If keeping a larger home will keep the marriage intact, it’s probably worth it. 

Will the grandchildren mind sleeping in drawers? 

Be realistic about how much space you’ll need for your grown children’s growing children. If they live out of town and will be staying with you during visits, it is important to plan sleeping arrangements, luggage storage and for a play area. 

Can I really bear to get rid of my bobblehead collection?

For many, the most difficult aspect of downsizing is parting with possessions. “The hardest part was figuring out what we could… or should keep. We had a lot of family heirlooms that wouldn’t fit in the new space,” stated Gerkens. 

Evans offered this wisdom, “Remember it is a just a thing and the memory you have of the person or moment it reminds you of isn’t going to disappear if you get rid of it. It is good to keep things that remind you of happy times, but if everything is special, nothing is.”

She added, “It’s really asking yourself the important questions for each item in the home and working through the process. Does it really serve you or bring you joy? Is it going to serve you in this next stage of life?”

If the task is still too daunting, a personal organizer can help designate what gets kept, given, donated, sold or tossed. Evans said, “Often times we can get overwhelmed by our own things. A professional organizer will come in and guide you through the entire process, start to finish.” 

If after all considerations, downsizing still makes big sense, it’s time to decide which type home will work best for you. Traditionally, the most popular have been senior living communities, condominiums and reduced-sized residential homes. But, there is a new housing option that combines the best of all three—a maintenance-free community, with fully-customizable units, where an HOH takes care of all exterior aspects from landscaping to snow removal to roof repair. 

One such property in Lexington is the luxury community of Patchen Wilkes. Principle broker Joey Svec explained, “We’re finding that the quality of life people want to have has really escalated. Just because you’re downsizing doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. Lifestyle is also important. We have many people that are still five to ten years from retirement, but want to be able to just jump on a plane and go on vacation or go see their grandkids and not worry about their house.”

The sense of community is also a huge draw. Svec stated, “We saw a neighborhood that was brand new and said, ‘We want these people to have the opportunity to know each other.’” Initially, the company held social events, but quickly the residents took over and began hosting each other. Walking trails throughout the premises promote interaction and give neighbors a chance to actually see and wave at each other. In these frightening times, a smile, wave and knowing the person next door means the world.  

For many over fifty-five, going smaller, makes big sense. On the front porch of their cottage, the Gerkenses have a sign that sums it up in four words—“Less house, more home.”