How to Downsize from Your Empty Nest


You and that big house of yours have had a nice long run. However, lately you’ve been dreaming of a home and lifestyle that works for you right now. The National Association of Realtors reports that the average home size in 1950 was 1,000 square feet or less. What’s the square footage of your current home? And who is that space serving — you or your stuff? If you’d like to take the first step to save money, have less clutter, and more time to pursue your interests, read on for tips on downsizing and finding the right home for your golden years. 

Finding the Right Home 

After crunching the numbers and determining that moving makes the most sense for you, make a list of what works for you in your current home and what doesn’t. How do you see yourself living in 10 to 15 years down the road? Do you want to be near your children? Is a warm climate beckoning you? And what about some of those passions you’ve put on the back burner, such as living in a quaint beach town or taking in the excitement of big-city life? It’s finally time for you to focus on your priorities. 

If mobility is an issue, focus on single-story homes. If you’re done with yard work but don’t like condos or apartments, check out patio homes with amenities like swimming pools.

After deciding where to move, it’s time to get your house ready for the market. Two of your most valuable partners before this process even begins include a real estate appraiser and a home inspector. The home inspector can alert you to any issues that might interfere with a fast sell, while the appraiser can clue you in on fair market value and how quickly homes are selling in your area. Taking care of problems and knowing your home’s worth may expedite the process and help you get the most out of your investment. 

To Keep or Not to Keep 

As the late George Carlin once said, houses have become “a place for your stuff.” Andrew Mellen, known as “the most organized man in America” and author of Unstuck Your Life, says that clutter is nothing more than deferred decisions. He encourages you to make decisions based on comfort, convenience, and beauty. Object by object, ask yourself, “Does this item make my life more comfortable? Does it bring me convenience? Does it add beauty to my life?” Make all your choices this way and sort all of your belongings into three piles: Items to keep, donate/give, and toss/recycle. 

Of all the stuff you have in your home, perhaps the most challenging to part with are the items that have sentimental value. When evaluating these items, ask yourself what precisely are you sentimental about. Remind yourself that if you are sentimental about the object’s association with a person, place, or time in your life, you will retain that memory even without the object. 

Whatever you do, do not allow guilt to sway your decisions. If you hold onto boxes of the stained glass materials you inherited from a cousin but have no intention of using them, donate them to someone who will use them. Also, consider virtually preserving some objects. For example, instead of holding on to all your grown son’s childhood toys, either give them to charity (or to him!) or take photos you can store on your computer. 

Tips for a Smooth Move

You’ll do yourself a huge favor by hiring a professional moving service. What might take you weeks will take them a day or two, and any fragile belongings are much less apt to break due to insufficient packaging. Make sure to compare prices and reviews before deciding on your moving company. For moving day, prepare an “open me first box” to keep with you. In addition to any essential medications and your phone charger, have in this box:

  • Important paperwork
  • Toilet paper, a few towels, and toiletries
  • Bedding and pajamas 

In the path to your downsizing dreams, timing is key. There’s something to be said for taking the plunge when you’re healthy and able. While the process may feel daunting right now, keep your eye on the prize. You might find a whole new world opening up for you. 

Michael Longsdon

Michael Longsdon is the founder of ElderFreedom, which advocates for the rights and support of seniors. Through his site, he provides tips to seniors on how to downsize and age in place.

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