Every day in America some 10,000 people turn 65 -- a reality that will have intensifying consequences for the nation’s housing markets going forward as more boomers let go of their properties.
Take the case of an empty nester in her 60s who’d been living in an oversized Oregon house for 44 years. A combination of health issues and recent weather challenges convinced her that she could no longer handle solo living in her place.
The woman’s transition to a 700-square-foot apartment in a retirement community led to a surprisingly positive outcome, says Mary Spann, the founder of Upside of Downsizing, a firm helping seniors reduce their belongings to transition to smaller quarters.
Living a simpler life with fewer homeownership responsibilities is proving a fulfilling experience for the Oregon woman, who relishes the sociability of her retirement community.
“The night I first moved in, I did a little happy dance to celebrate,” she says.
Spann says it’s remarkably common for many people who must downsize to experience a sense of liberation after scaling back their material lives.
Of course, the actual process of sorting through one’s worldly possessions can be tremendously laborious. In many cases, downsizers must make hard choices among items they genuinely wish to keep but can’t accommodate in their new space, such as book collections, sports trophies or mementoes from family vacations.
“When you’re going to a smaller house, you must decide which things have the most meaning for you,” says Beverly Coggins, the author of “Three Steps to Downsizing to a Smaller Residence.”
A professional organizer since 1995, she says she’s learned it’s best for those downsizing to break the work into chunks rather than to attempt marathon sessions.
To avoid excessive fatigue, she encourages downsizers to focus their work on the times of day they have peak energy. Also, she recommends they spend no more than four or five hours on these tasks at any given session.
Here are a few tips for those who must move to a smaller domain:
-- Eliminate 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 the websites of local newspapers. However, you’ll likely want to sell antiques through a reputable dealer.
-- 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 Coggins strongly advises against this course if you can avoid it.
“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 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, smaller place. In such cases, Coggins suggests you take photos of the treasured items, like a grand piano passed down in the family. These can be framed and hung up in your new domain.
-- Look to charity organizations for 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.
-- Attempt to stay focused 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 the people 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 email@example.com.)