A sense of community holds special allure for many people, particularly those who are nearing retirement. One vexing challenge that often faces downsizers who want to remain in their communities is the limited number of developments and “communities” available that offer smaller-living options. Another issue that many people find challenging is that they’re accustomed to lots of space – large yards and large bedrooms with walk-in closets, two-car garages, and plenty of space to have dinner parties and overnight guests – and they cannot fathom the idea of moving closer to city centers, into an apartment or condo, or across town in an up-and-coming development.
Compounding the challenges of downsizing in the same community in which they’ve lived for many years is not only a fear of the unknown but also the worry that people might view their downsizing move in a negative light. (The term “rightsizing” or “smartsizing” can be substituted, and the response if anyone asks precisely why they’re moving from a beautiful home can be “I want to travel!”)
There’s also sometimes pressure from a spouse or significant other if both parties involved in decision-making aren’t on the same page; maybe one is a collector and refuses to discuss downsizing because it will mean letting go of a lifetime of memories in all the “stuff” that’s been collected.
Downsize sooner rather than later.
Many people fall victim to “analysis paralysis.” The longer they wait to make the decision, the more difficult it will be to make the move and the less likely it will be that they’ll enjoy the boost in energy that comes from a less-stressful life. “Do it before you think you need to, because once you know you need to, it can be too late,” according to Robert Miller of Roswell, Georgia, who moved from a four-bedroom, three-bath house to a nearby condominium development. By “too late,” Mr. Miller was referring to the fact that illness or injury could make it harder to pack up and move. “You never know what fate has in store. Right now, we’re both healthy, but you never know.” He also realized that there is a limited number of appealing condominium communities in the Atlanta suburbs, so he wanted to buy before the supply of affordable options tightened even more.
In an elective downsizing, take your time.
Lynn Foss of Waukesha, Wisconsin, moved from a home she loved into a townhouse in nearby Pewaukee. While she loved the house and the seven acres on which it was situated, she was no longer interested in taking care of everything. “I still can take care of the place, but I no longer want to.”
Overall, it was about a two-year process from the time she started thinking about downsizing until it was over. “I started gathering all the kids’ stuff into big piles in the garage, took photos of it, and emailed the photos to the kids with a note saying they had four weeks to claim it. Except for a couple of trophies, they didn’t want anything.”
Once all of her children’s items had been donated or tossed, she went through a similar process with family keepsakes, favorite furniture that wouldn’t fit into the new place, and artwork that she’d grown tired of. She took photos and sent emails offering the kids anything they wanted. Again, except for a couple of items, her kids were not interested.
Lynn fancies herself a great cook and a seasoned hostess. She still entertains, but on a smaller scale (drinks and appetizer parties instead of dinner parties). And while she has a futon and a sleeper sofa that come in handy when she has houseguests, she prefers vacation destinations when she wants her entire family to get together. “I’m kind of done with all the cooking and cleaning up after my family.”
In addition to a smaller home and a simpler to-do list, Lynn mentioned that another of the benefits of moving out of her old place is that the memories she created there are all that much sweeter now that she’s left. She added that the thought of the new memories being created by the young couple who bought it make her smile: “One of the best things about moving out of my house is knowing how much the new owners love it. They’re so appreciative of all the work I put into it, it’s as if I handed them a castle.”
Consider close-to-home options.
As people start considering whether they should downsize, they would be wise to start exploring communities within a 15- or 20-mile range of where they currently live. Downsizing to a nearby community is a much easier pill for most people to swallow than it is to downsize and move across the country.