For 33 years, an engineer and his artist wife relished life on a 10-acre lakeside house in exurban Minnesota. They delighted in the wildlife they’d spot near their property -- including loons and sandhill cranes.
But age crept up on the couple -- now in their early 70s. Minor health issues began to surface, as did their annoyance with all the raking, mowing and snow shoveling their big yard demanded. What’s more, cleaning and upkeep of their spacious house was taxing.
“It was time to lighten our load,” the artist says.
A few years later, a prime townhouse unit became unexpectedly available in a nearby retirement community recommended by former coworkers. But to afford the new place, they had to declutter and put their lakeside home on the market promptly.
Though it was exhausting, the couple met the challenge. They did a massive purge of possessions -- giving away many to family and friends who attended their “farewell party.” Recently, their house sold in just four days to a surgeon who bid well over the asking price.
Overall, the couple is happy with their transition --though they miss their extensive flower gardens and workshop. They’re glad they planned well ahead and made the move while they still had sufficient stamina for the stunningly difficult moving process.
“We didn’t imagine how hard it would be,” the artist says.
David Ekerdt, an expert on senior housing, doesn’t know the couple in this true story. But he credits them for moving before any major health problems developed.
“If you’re going to downsize, it’s way smarter to be proactive. Start before you face a crisis. That way you‘ll have time to adjust to the new area and make friends there,” says Ekerdt, a sociology professor emeritus at the University of Kansas.
Of course, an increasing number of baby boomers want to age in place and stay in their present homes. This is exacerbating the housing shortage across the nation, says Doug Duncan, the chief economist for Fannie Mae, the giant government-sponsored mortgage company.
One factor that’s anchoring many retirees to longtime residences is that they’re holding low-rate mortgages and don’t want to buy a new place at the current market rates, which are much higher.
“The people who own those houses aren’t going to change houses anytime soon,” Duncan says.
Still, many Americans are compelled to sell and downsize for financial or medical reasons. Here are a few pointers for downsizers:
-- Remove excess furniture early in the process.
For most people, one major step toward downsizing involves dispensing with large pieces of furniture. Beyond family heirlooms and precious antiques, many find this process relatively easy because they don’t have sentimental attachments to most furniture.
Sid Davis, a longtime real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home,” suggests one way to clear space and furniture quickly is to put it up for sale. He says many of his home-selling clients find it relatively easy to sell superfluous items through online outlets. However, you’ll likely want to sell antiques through a reputable dealer.
“There’s always a good market for furniture,” Davis says.
He says downsizers often make enough money selling oversized furniture to buy new, more appropriately sized pieces for their smaller home.
-- Try to avoid renting a storage unit if possible.
Many downsizers succumb to the temptation to place their belongings in a storage unit before they move. But Beverly Coggins, the author of “Three Steps to Downsizing to a Smaller Residence,” strongly advises against this course.
“Storage units are expensive. And for most people they’re just an excuse to postpone making decisions on stuff they need to eliminate,” she says.
She says many people feel especially anxious about letting go of things given to them as gifts from relatives or close friends. But she says such feelings are needless.
“It doesn’t mean you love the person any less because you can’t keep everything they give you,” she says.
To be sure, you’ll not want to cast off items with unusual meaning to you, like family pictures and love letters. But unfortunately, you may not be able to take everything you value to your new place. In such cases, Coggins suggests you take photos of the treasured items. These can be framed and hung up in your new domain.
-- Consider charities with pickup services.
Many downsizers find it easier to let go of extra belongings if they know they’ll go to good use. That’s why Coggins and other professional organizers often advocate contacting nonprofit organizations interested in collecting serviceable items.
Very often, charity groups will pick up items from your home, a convenient way to eliminate excess belongings. Also, with a pickup appointment you’ll have a definite deadline for your work -- which can serve as a motivating factor.
The Salvation Army, for example, offers pickup services in many areas. To learn more or schedule a pickup, visit the organization’s website: (salvationarmyusa.org) or contact its toll-free number: 800-728-7825.
-- Focus on the positives in your future.
In reality, many seniors must downsize to cut expenses, whether to reduce utility bills, upkeep costs, property taxes or an outstanding mortgage balance. Yet many who must move to a smaller home find that doing so has its favorable points -- including less financial stress.
Coggins also notes another benefit of downsizing. With fewer home upkeep demands, you’ll have more time to focus on those most important to you.
“When they downsize, many people realize more fully that it’s relationships -- not stuff -- that bring happiness,” she says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)