Sheri Koones is a best-selling author of books on real estate. For more than 20 years, she and her businessman husband relished life in their 6,800-square-foot Mediterranean-style property in a plush suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut.
“It was a fabulous house -- a great gathering place for family and friends,” Koones says.
But after the couple’s two children finished college and moved away to become chefs, they chose to let go of the place they adored, moving to a 1,700-square-foot home in a walkable section of downtown Greenwich. Downsizing from the family home, with its five large bedrooms, was a massive undertaking. This involved the sale or donation of many fine furnishings and other accumulations, including more than 1,000 books.
“We let go of 90% of everything we owned,” Koones says. Still, the couple are thrilled with their new life in the much smaller in-town property.
“We never had a moment’s regret; we’re happier than ever,” says Koones, who documented the couple’s moving adventure in her book “Downsize: Living Large in a Small House.”
Though the pandemic is easing across America, life with COVID-19 restrictions convinced many young families that big houses are better, especially with parents teleworking and kids spending more time at home. Indeed, many millennials are moving to outer suburbs or rural areas where large properties are more affordable.
But Koones insists that despite the pandemic, a minority of boomers -- born between 1946 and 1964 -- have retained a preference for the simplicity of small-house living. These are often empty nesters moving to city settings or retirement communities.
“There’s a great reshuffling going on,” says Susan Daimler, president of Zillow, a national real estate company.
Of course, not all downsizers are making voluntary moves. A fair number are leaving their large properties due to health or financial issues. But whether a move is voluntary or not, it can evoke bittersweet memories that delay the purging necessary for a move.
“Procrastinators have a hard time making decisions. They’re afraid they’ll regret getting rid of something, so they just let it sit,” says Claire Middleton, author of “The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering.”
Donna Leanos, a veteran real estate agent, recommends that downsizers consider hiring a firm that specializes in assisting with smooth transitions. Known as “move managers,” such companies offer downsizers a package of services. They help cull through the sellers’ possessions and arrange for the sale or donation of valuables. They also help handle the logistics of the move.
Assuming you can afford it, Leanos says it’s often easier to rely on a move manager than to turn to relatives for help.
How can you find a move manager in your area? One way is through the website of the National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers: nasmm.org.
Those who need less extensive help to downsize might wish to use the services of a professional organizer -- if only to help develop a step-by-step action plan. A local organizer can be found through the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (napo.net).
Here are a few pointers for those downshifting their housing:
-- Get started as early as possible.
Donna Eichelberger, who heads a move management firm for seniors, says many of her clients wait until their early 80s to make plans for a move. At that point, a health crisis can force the need to relocate on an urgent basis.
“Often, it’s a fall down the stairs that compels people to make an urgent move to a retirement community or an assisted-living facility,” Eichelberger says.
She says the most successful downsizers are those who anticipate the need to move well in advance of a possible health crisis.
“The happiest people are the ones who embrace change rather than resisting it,” according to Eichelberger.
-- Allow sufficient time for the home-editing process.
Vicki Norris, a former real estate agent and professional organizer, says it can take up to 24 work hours to declutter the average-sized room. To avoid becoming sidetracked, she says many home sellers need allies.
“(I)t’s good to have people there to keep your move in perspective and perhaps to lend some humor to the situation,” says Norris, author of “Restoring Order to Your Home.”
Are you unable to afford professional services for your move? If so, Norris suggests you request that friends come by to at least lend moral support.
-- Query family members about items they’d like to keep.
Older downsizers often hang onto nostalgic items they believe their grown children might want “someday.” But Norris says many parents believe their offspring will want many more things than they do -- including their childhood storybooks and grade-school art.
Norris suggests that downsizers ask grown children what items they value.
-- Create a memory book with photos of your place.
When Norris’ baby-boom-age parents retired and put their family home up for sale, they did so voluntarily. Even so, they found it emotionally thorny to let go of a residence where they’d lived for 28 years.
Still, the process of downsizing was eased after their listing agent gave them a book of photos showing all their rooms and furnishings just as they looked before the home was staged for sale.
“That way they were able to seal their memories --including how the dining room table looked when their whole extended family came over for Thanksgiving dinners,” Norris says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)