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As seniors approach their 80s, they are 5 times more likely to sell their home and rent a place than they were in their 50s. Meanwhile, the spaces they occupy trend smaller in the years following retirement.
But “downsizing,” as they call it, isn’t just the act of cutting down on square footage. In fact, the second biggest reason people move later in life is that they’re ready to usher in new beginnings.
But that doesn’t make the prospect of cramming 30 years of kids’ artwork and the bulky kitchen appliances you received as wedding gifts into a compact space any less stressful. 75% of seniors say the amount of things they own has made them reluctant to move.
It’s a whole lot easier if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel—your end goal, whether it’s the chance to spend more time with the grandkids or finally climb Machu Picchu. When the sorting and the cleaning and the going gets tough, keep your head up and get inspired by these 7 downsizing home ideas for reducing space but not lifestyle.
1. Trade space for a location that checks all your boxes
Have your kids—and perhaps more importantly, your grandkids—settled down a few states away? Maybe you always dreamed of living in the city, or near the ocean, but raising kids kept you in a more suburban area?
Downsizing to a smaller space can free you up financially and open up your location opportunities, but not everyone can afford Maui.
Luckily, you have more realistic options. Downsizers who are stumped on the “where should I go?” question are often looking for a place with a reasonable cost of living, lots of recreational activities, community engagement, and access to healthcare as part of their next move.
According to an analysis from WalletHub the top 3 cities that meet these criteria include:
- Orlando, Florida
- Scottsdale, Arizona
- Tampa, Florida
Warm weather and favorable tax rates also make these metros tough to beat.
But if you’re looking for smaller city living where your buck goes even further, the Milken Institute did a study specifically on aging well in small cities, with Iowa City, Iowa; ranking #1 for its access to healthcare.
Manhattan, Kansas; and Ames, Iowa; rounded out the top three small cities for retirement, touting both healthcare and financial security.
If coastal living is your dream, then Naples, Florida is the top pick from Coastal Living thanks to the Sunshine State’s low cost of living and a plethora of activities and retirement centers.
Other top beach picks for retirement include cities in Washington and Oregon, but Florida claims 5 of the top 10!
2. Think proactively about comfortably aging in place and extending independent living
Jon Bowling, a relocation specialist and top real estate agent in Cincinnati, Ohio, who sells 74% more homes than his peers, sees a lot of what he calls “resizing” in his area: homeowners who don’t necessarily want to cut back on space, but need to sell their home and find a property that better suits their current needs in layout and accessibility.
“What we’ve found over and over again here in the Midwest is that many homeowners who are in a traditional 2-story Colonial homes with a finished basement are moving to a ranch-style home.
Oftentimes it’s just as much square footage as the home they’re moving out of,” says Bowling.
In Bowling’s area, these ranch-style homes are some of the most coveted properties, and oftentimes a step up in cost. But a single story provides arguably a priceless advantage: the ability to age in place independently. So do a lot of other home features.
In fact, the National Association of Home Builders has an extensive checklist of features that make your house more accessible. Here’s a short highlight reel of NAHB’s recommendations:
- Single-story living, including a bedroom and full bath on the main floor, with no steps up or down between main areas
- Low-maintenance exterior materials, like brick or high-quality siding
- 5’ square circulation and turning space in kitchen, living room, and at least one bedroom and bathroom
- 3’ wide hallways and doors
- A covered entry with minimal steps into the home
- Covered parking with sufficient clearance for a wheelchair
- Minimal thresholds at doorways—flush is best
- A separate apartment for a live-in caregiver
Other items on the list, such as lever-operated door hardware and adjustable closet organization, are simple to incorporate into any home. But some of these boxes would be more difficult to add with retrofitting and more or less need to be part of the original structure.
While it feels strange to consider how a wheelchair functions in your home when you’re in your 50s or 60s and 100% healthy, such proactive thinking can truly pay off. Simply put, aging in place costs less.
The Retirement Living Information Center cites that it can cost over $82,000 per year for a room in a nursing home and $43,000 per year for assisted living.
Compare that to their estimate of having help in your own home for $28,000 per year, and it’s clear that there’s a financial benefit to aging in place, in addition to the comfort and independence it’s sure to bring.
3. Untether yourself from the burden of too much stuff
Homeowners preparing to downsize may have been in their current home for decades—which could mean a lot of accumulated possessions. Imagine how much better you’ll feel after a major purge.
It’s time to get sorting:
- Set aside your favorite sentimental items.
Those are coming with you, and you know it.
- Give family first dibs on great items you’d like to pass on.
If your niece has always loved that vase on the piano, or your grandson is a sports fan that loves your signed basketball, gift those items now! Consider hosting a family weekend where people can choose things they’d like to have. Write something about the items for those who take them, so they’ll know the story behind it.
- Make your kids take their stuff home.
If you’re still housing your daughter’s Beanie Baby collection from the 1990s, then it’s time for her to either take it to her own house or let it go.
- Host a garage sale!
Items like furniture in good repair, yard equipment, lawn tools, and baby gear are all hot items sure to go quick. Better yet, call it a “moving sale” and combine that garage sale with an open house!
- Auction off high-value items in an estate sale.
If a garage sale seems overwhelming and you still have a wealth of items of high value, you can work with a professional services company that will auction unwanted items for you for a percentage of the profit. Bowling mentioned this process worked well for a client who was moving across the country and recommended “Everything But the House.” They’ll do all the work for you, but be aware that these types of companies will claim as high as 50% of the proceeds, Bowling noted.
- Make donations to charitable organizations.
Don’t forget to claim the tax write-off.
- Bag up the rest.
Finally, a lot of stuff is just that–stuff. You can work with your listing agent to bring in cleaning crews to trash anything that isn’t worth bringing with you or selling.
No matter which method you choose, Bowling points out that fewer belongings in your home always improve the way your house shows when you sell it—and ultimately increases the amount of money you can fetch for it.
4. Design your new abode around your most treasured possessions
Think of downsizing as an opportunity to showcase your favorite items in all their glory, without the distractions of all that other clutter. Prominently featuring your most prized possessions eases the transition and helps your new house feel like home.
“Prioritizing the furnishings and art or mementos that mean the most to you helps make the transition smoother,” says Janet Lorusso, the owner of JRL Interiors, a design firm with designated Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) who provide “ReNesting” as one of their primary services. “Often, our clients find the move brings more freedom with less money required to create a wonderful, perfectly suited living environment.”
Lorusso asks her clients to identify their favorite furnishings such as couches, artwork, and treasures early on in the downsizing process so that her team can measure and plan efficient ways to accommodate those items in their new space.
Think about it:
- Your favorite family photos in desk frames scattered around your home might become a great gallery wall in your new place.
- Those small pottery sculptures you’ve collected over the years could look perfect displayed on floating shelves instead of an end table or curio cabinet.
- You could cleverly arrange your vast collection of hand-painted ceramic birds to boost the charm of a small nook in the foyer, or plan an entire room around your favorite wall statement piece created by a local artist.
- Creative use of slipcovers or reframing art can make any item fit the space you have.
5. Pick a place with amenities that match your hobbies and interests
Independent living communities are no longer just for the avid golfer.
Are you more of the art connoisseur or architecture enthusiast? When you downsize, look for a place that offers shuttles to your city’s skyline tours and trips to the art museum.
Does your extravert personality feed off social interaction? Find a place with daily happy hours and regular game nights.
55places.com ranked 2018’s top 25 active adult community clubhouses and noted that beyond the fitness centers and gathering spaces, which are now considered must-haves, “some builders are going above and beyond to deliver resort-style clubhouses with day spas, movie theaters, restaurants, and game lounges.”
Need help finding a place that meets your needs? Ask a HomeLight concierge to match you with a real estate agent who’s a local expert and knows the options in your community like the back of their hand.
6. Invest in creative storage options to comfortably conceal all your necessities
With a little creativity, the right configurations, and storage solutions you never thought of, you can maximize your workable space, even with less square footage.
Here are a few ideas (with product inspiration!) to get you started:
Hideaway under-the-bed bins for secret storage
Storage benches to clear up cluttered entryways
Closet space savers
- The Container Store’s Elfa Utility Shoe Storage Door Wall Rack
- StorageWorks’ Storage Bins with Cotton Handles
7. Use your savings on travel and experiences, rather than material items
Let’s say you used the proceeds from the sale of your current home to buy a smaller house with cash, and now you no longer have a mortgage. Think about what you could do with that extra thousand-plus dollars every month, not to mention the money in your pocket from selling off all that closet clutter.
But now that you have less space, you’ll need to ditch the retail therapy habit pronto and find ways to spend your time that don’t involve accumulating more stuff.
Learn a new language, instrument, or skill that would add value to your life or career. Travel to a place you’ve never been to immerse yourself in a priceless cultural experience. Spend more time with friends and family going out to dinner or seeing your favorite bands in concert.
Resist the urge to buy that handbag!
From sacrifice to lifestyle upgrade: Reframing the downsizing mentality
Downsizing can feel like a sacrifice when you’re leaving a home that you love if you don’t put careful thought and planning into this new stage. In fact, many people put off downsizing until a major life event or health crisis turns their life upside down.
However, if you can take a proactive approach, you get to take advantage of the financial benefits less housing overhead can bring, invest in new experiences, enjoy the excitement of a new location, or design a space that prominently features your favorite possessions.
Whether you’re looking to preserve your independence, join a vibrant and active community, or simply cut down on space, these 7 ideas will help you to make the right downsizing decision for your individual needs.