Downsizing can sound overwhelming. Yet for seniors, it may be time to start thinking about transitioning to a simpler living arrangement. While there’s no hard limit on when seniors should downsize, often earlier is better. Let’s go through the key considerations of downsizing, including benefits, logistics, tips and how to know when it’s time.
The benefits of downsizing
Downsizing can be highly beneficial for seniors, especially as they reach retirement age. At this time, seniors may feel their family home becoming a burden to maintain – with empty rooms, high utilities and costly maintenance tasks. What’s more, retiring seniors often still have the energy for a move, making it an ideal moment for change. Here are some key benefits of downsizing:
- Keep aging in place: Often seniors want to age in place for the comfort, flexibility and low cost. Downsizing lets you do just that.
- Simplify lifestyle: With less overhead, you’ll free up your finances and have time to enjoy every moment.
- Cut costs on utilities and maintenance: Having a small home means you save on utilities, maintenance and other expenses such as taxes.
- Make logistics easier: Downsizing to senior-friendly housing means no stairs, multiple levels or long driveways. It’s also less cleaning work.
- Be closer to grandchildren: Family is important and seniors may benefit from living closer to family and grandchildren.
- Move to a warmer climate: Seniors may like the idea of moving somewhere warmer and more comfortable.
- Address medical needs: Staying close to medical care, or in a disability-friendly home, may be a top priority for seniors.
- Free up for travel: Retirees have all sorts of dreams. Without the burden of a large home and costs, you can more easily travel.
Living options for downsizing
Seniors have a range of options when it comes to downsizing. Every person will have their own priorities and ideas about what’s best. Some popular options include:
- Buying a smaller home, condo or apartment
- Renting a smaller home, condo or apartment
- Moving to a CCRC or Assisted Living care facility
- Moving in with a family member (adult child, sibling, etc.)
- Choosing a nomadic alternative such as in-home boat or van
These are all viable options for seniors. Buying an apartment, for example, could bring peace of mind for seniors living alone. At the same time, some may find that renting is a flexible choice that could save money in the long run by eliminating hidden home buying fees and maintenance costs.
A CCRC is another interesting option, though it’s quite pricey. If you have the funds, a CCRC is great for getting a continuum of care throughout your older years.
Finally, the best choice may be to live with another family member to save on costs and have company as a senior.
Questions to find out if it’s time to downsize
Deciding when to downsize can be tough. To help you know when it may be time, here are some key questions to ask:
- Do you feel overwhelmed by cleaning and maintenance?
- Do you have unused rooms in your home?
- Do you feel unsafe in your home? (due to a health condition or fear of being targeted by burglars)
- Is your home future-proof in case your health condition changes?
- Are you looking to cut your living costs?
- Do you feel lonely? Would you like to live with family or a community of other seniors?
- Do you want easier access to stores and social activities?
- Do you need help with personal care tasks?
- Do you want to travel or are you often away from home?
These are just a handful of questions to ask to find out whether downsizing may be the right move for you. In particular, if you answered yes to several of these questions, it may be time to plan downsizing.
Tips for starting the downsizing process
Downsizing is a long process that can take months of preparation. In particular, seniors moving from a family-sized home may find themselves with lots of spaces to clear out. To help you, here are some tips for getting started:
- Start small. Take the downsizing process one room at a time. You might even start with the most challenging space – such as a garage, attic or basement. Often these rooms don’t have essential items and most of them can be donated or tossed.
- Avoid the “maybe” pile. Know your options as you sort through your stuff. For example, we recommend the four categories Donate, Toss, Gift, Sell and Keep. Try not to start a “maybe” pile. Instead, making difficult decisions in the moment will help you make progress.
- Stick to a downsizing schedule. Simple goals such as clearing one room every week can do wonders for your progress. Try not to put off sorting and cleaning, as it can take much longer than you think.
- Focus on your lifestyle goals. What items are essential to your quality-of-life in your new home? If you read every day, you might want to keep your favorite armchair. Or if you’re a tennis player, your racket and sportswear should definitely be packed. However, other items such as collections or legacy items may not be suitable for your new downsized life. If you have trouble parting with a collection, it may be time to give it away to a loved one. This can bring you joy – and help you downsize at the same time.
- Be tough on your stuff. Downsizing is an opportunity to lighten your load. Try following the one year rule. If you haven’t used it in a year, it’s probably time to say goodbye. This includes duplicate items and decorative items that you may not have space for anymore. Of course, you may want to keep some nostalgic items – such as photo books or one-off memory items.
- Know your new home’s floor plan. It’s common for seniors to move furniture, only to realize it takes up too much space. You likely will need to get rid of most of your furniture, so study your new floor plan to figure out what may or may not fit.
- Give yourself space to be sad or nostalgic. Moving can be emotional. It’s ok to feel sad or nostalgic. Make sure you give yourself space to process these feelings.
- Ask for help. Enlist your family members or friends to help you out. Having somebody you trust can give you support when sorting and also help with errands, such as driving to donation locations.
Want even more downsizing tips? Take a look at our checklist for seniors moving to care facilities.
Downsizing can be an emotional, but exciting time in your life. By downsizing, you may free up your time and money, get the daily support you need and start focusing on your retirement projects. Though the downsizing process can be long and difficult, these tips will help prepare you for moving day – and beyond.
1. How to Cope With Downsizing Your Home, AARP, https://www.aarp.org
2. At What Age Should Seniors Downsize, Aging with Freedom, https://agingwithfreedom.com
3. Senior-Friendly Guide to Downsizing, My Move, https://www.mymove.com
4. Downsizing for Seniors: An Essential Checklist, Life Storage Blog, https://www.lifestorage.com
5. Downsizing Tips for Seniors, Senior Living, https://www.seniorliving.org