A few months after I had downsized and moved to Arlington from Atlanta, I met two women who’ve both become my close friends. Each had recently moved into my apartment community after going through divorces and, as you can imagine, they were a bit dismayed – “shell-shocked” is a better description – to find themselves in small apartments, and alone.
Their places were new and tidy, with sleek marble countertops, stainless steel appliances and nice balconies. Both Allison and Susan decorated their places with furniture, accessories, rugs, lamps and art they had owned and loved in their old lives, but their apartments were not “home.” Far from it. They felt like sterile new hotel rooms and my friends felt like they were visitors.
But within the first year of moving into the building, they were 80% “recovered” from the idea of being in a new place. Their apartments took on a personality of their own. Both found jobs; each had been afraid they’d be unemployable because of their age (mid-50s). But enterprising women with upbeat attitudes can almost always find jobs, even if they work in a less-than-perfect environment for less than they’d like to earn.
I sat down with both of them over drinks recently to talk about their downsized lives. “I was miserable the first couple of months, not really because of the divorce – that was a long time coming – but I missed my house, my yard, and my neighbors.” Soon, though, Susan said she was having a great time being alone. She read or watched movies at night or went out with friends in her new urban neighborhood. She traveled to see her only child, a son in college, when time and money allowed. She wasn’t too interested in dating, but she met someone who turned out to be a good fit for her. Susan recently purchased a condo in a nearby building. It was a smooth move this time, because she went from one 1,200 square-foot floorplan to another.
Life in Small Spaces
“The best thing about living in a smaller place is that it’s so much easier to take care of and it feels so much cozier than a big, open floorplan. And it’s totally me. It reflects my life and my personality. I take 3-day weekends pretty often and my building has a 24/7 concierge. It’s awesome not to worry about anything when I leave.”
Allison’s story is similar to Susan’s: Allison’s two kids were in college, the divorce was a long time coming, and the move to a small apartment seemed like a slap in the face, a “step down” in life. She had wanted to stay in the house, but after realizing how much upkeep would be involved (and how much expense she’d have to incur on her own), it was obvious they’d need to sell the house. “In retrospect, I’m so glad I got out of that house. Taxes, utilities, the security system, yard maintenance, and pest control were about the same every month as the mortgage payment.”
Dividing Up “The Stuff”
Susan and Allison both said that deciding who was going to get the nicest stuff was the hardest part. It had become a personal battle for both couples. Once they separated themselves from the need to ‘win’ any particular item, it was so much easier for them to move on and move out. They knew they’d have plenty to furnish their apartments, regardless of whether they got every lamp and painting they wanted.
Susan and Allison are lucky. They have college degrees, they’ve worked for most of their lives, they’re outgoing and socially comfortable, and they’re in good health – both physically and emotionally. They’ve come full circle in a relatively short period (two years) and are fully embracing their new way of life. “I’ve bounced back. I’ve reinvented myself. I couldn’t be happier,” said Susan. Allison added, “I cannot imagine being in some big house in the suburbs. I feel much younger and more energized now.”
If you’re going through a divorce and downsizing, take the “long view” and focus on reinventing yourself. Make new friends. Be comfortable in your new space. Rest assured that with time, you‘ll not only survive, you’ll thrive!