Successful Aging: Have a downsizing conversation even if you plan to stay in your home
Q. I am a healthy and active widow in my late 70s. My intention is to stay in my home forever. That is until a good friend visited and said, “You should be moving; the house is much too big with too many stairs. Move before you have to.” That jolted me since I love where I live and love my home and community. It’s where my late husband and I raised our three children. After 40 years, what should I reluctantly be thinking about? Many thanks. D.M.
A. Thank you for your question which has at least two parts. The emotional part may be the more difficult one. Home is full of memories and memorabilia. It’s where children are raised, holidays are celebrated and special dinners are shared. Our home is part of our routine, it is familiar and within our comfort zone. We may have a beautiful flower garden, fruit-bearing trees, a bird feeder or maybe even a pool. And then there is the ocean. We may have neighbors who have become friends and stores, markets, movies, restaurants, doctors, hospitals or houses of worship that are familiar to us. Our home gives us a sense of stability and certainty. If just a few of the attributes mentioned are part of our lives, it’s a lot to give up – for the unknown.
Now to the practical part…
You are not alone in wanting to stay in your home. A 2022 Michigan University survey found that 88 percent, or almost nine out of ten, of adults age 50 and older want to age in place. A 2021 AARP survey similarly noted that 77 percent or almost three out of four want to do the same. AARP respondents identified their priorities in making a move. A majority would consider living in an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to be close to someone while maintaining their own private space. An ADU is a small home built on the same land as a larger home. They would want to live in a community that has in-home high-speed Internet, clean water, safe trails for walking, running or biking and well-lit community parks. They would consider moving if they could live independently, have a lower cost of living and more affordable housing choices.
Here’s the rub. Most adults are not prepared to age in place.
Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers” (2018, Mango Publishing) noted in a recent conversation that “aging in place is haphazard. You may think neighbors and friends will help, but that’s not a contract. They have agreed to nothing.” Her final comment, “Solo agers have no business to age in place; that’s not a plan.”
Not all older adults want to downsize. The pandemic served as a motivator for many to rethink their lifestyle and what is important. Family ranked high. Even before the pandemic, fewer empty nesters were downsizing according to Jessica Lautz, Vice President of Demographics and Behavioral Insights for the National Association of Realtors as quoted in Forbes (July 17, 2022). Rather than less space, many older adults indicated they wanted extra space, particularly for their children and grandchildren who come home for the holidays. That extra space would have been useful for the many adult children who moved in with parents and grandparents in the early months of the pandemic. Zillow research reports that number was three million, an all-time high.
If downsizing and relocation is a consideration, the first question to ask is, “Why do I want to do this?”
Is the current space too much to maintain?
Is it just too big for one or two people?
Are the costs for home ownership too high considering taxes, insurance, heating and general maintenance?
Have friends and neighbors moved or died?
Do I want to be closer to children and grandchildren?
Am I lonely?
Is transportation an issue particularly if one is no longer driving?
Is it pressure from peers and adult children?
Do I want to use the equity in my home to travel?
Do I feel the need to be closer to medical services?
Then there is something called pre-downsizing. Ellen Ryan, in an article for the online publication Next Avenue, offers several reasons to pre-downsize: You can work at your own pace without pressures or deadlines; you are physically up to the task; your loved ones will have less to do; you may be so happy with a decluttered environment that you may decide to stay in your home longer.
Most experts in the field suggest planning early in deciding whether or not to downsize and relocate. Given that the average home has 300,000 items, it’s never too early to sift and sort, regardless of the decision.
D.M. Thank you for your important question. In this holiday season and all seasons, know kindness is everything.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity