Thoughts on Downsizing

Ask any ten people to define downsizing and you will likely hear a few very different answers. One or two might describe leaving a long-term family home for a condo. Maybe another would offer a scenario of someone who succumbed to the lure of the tiny house movement. For another, the attraction to a more ascetic aesthetic might spring to mind. The one thing all of these descriptions have in common is the initial push of a highly motivating factor. While the specifics vary, when someone takes the action necessary for a major lifestyle change, they will be able to tell you their “why”. Properly motivated, we can do things that might have been truly overwhelming when all we could think of were reasons why not.

Reasons for downsizing might be financial, physical, environmental or spiritual. Whatever the motivating factors, it is a big dang deal to let go of a home even if it’s no longer affordable, easily navigable or at all practical. Once motivated to make a change, we can start to envision our new lifestyle.

The conversation in my own house recently has veered toward the current real estate market and, in related news, the inevitability of leaving our house one day. We started looking at the current value of our home and then smaller and more practical dwellings for us as we age and redirect our energies. We rolled into the envisioning and it was sort of fun and exciting. I hit an emotional wall a few days in while walking down my block and getting hit with the full force of how much I love our neighbors. We had to stop talking about it for a while. We have the financial and practical motivation and right now it’s enough to know that. The envisioning slowly continues.

To plan for life in a new home, it’s a good idea to start with what you like about where you now live. Is the view out of your front window pleasing? What’s your favorite reading chair? Can you part with one of your three sets of dishes? What about that vintage ashtray collection? Do you have a special space for your creative endeavors? You will eventually have to make some decisions about what you are unwilling to let go just yet. For the rest there’s help. More on that here.

Let’s move out your front door. Do you enjoy a certain anonymity or is there camaraderie on your block? Do you take a particular grocery store for granted? Can you walk to the library, ride your bike along a convenient path to work? Is proximity to a particular health care provider important? Being clear on what’s essential to your day-to-day enjoyment and where you are and are not willing to compromise will help you create a check list. A check list will help you stay focused and choose based on experience and self-knowledge rather than emotion and exhaustion. The goal here is to minimize, if not eliminate, setting yourself up for regret.

How important is where you live to your lifestyle. Is it just a place to keep your stuff and sleep? Is it truly your sanctuary? Do you like to entertain? If you have regular houseguests, how does that change? If your motivation is to reduce your footprint, where will you live? A tiny house? A condo? Maybe Cohousing or Cooperative living are right for you.

For you, visualization might be a simple bullet point list or a full-blown vision board. However you conceptualize it, knowing what you want and need will go a long way toward making sure that where you choose to live is aligned with how you choose to live.

If your downsizing plans include selling a home, it is never too soon to start pinpointing the value of your property. You do not have to be ready to sell or even sure you’re going to sell to ask me or your own preferred real estate agent for a Comparative Market Analysis. It’s helpful to have a good idea of how your home compares to others sold in your neighborhood. You need to know what repairs and/or upgrades add value and what’s better left for the eventual buyers. This will help you to be prepared when it’s time to put your plans into motion.

Given the time to consider the details, big and small, downsizing can be exciting rather than overwhelming. We don’t always have the luxury of time of choice and we don’t always use it to our advantage when we do. Given the gift of options, my friend Beverlie would say, “Choose or live by default!”.  If you’re having trouble getting started, go back to your motivation. Once you know your “why”, you can start planning your “when, where, and how”.

For me, it’s helpful to remember that before leaving California for Wisconsin, we lived in an RV for a month and then spent six weeks on the road to our new home. Not once in all that time did we need anything we didn’t have in that compact space. For a time, that was our retirement living dream. Taking the time to ask ourselves many of the questions posed here, we realized that wasn’t right for us. When we figure out what is, I’ll let you know.

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