Downsizing After the Kids are Gone: Advice for Empty Nesters
Now that the kids are moved out, your house seems awfully big and quiet. While you could stay in the same home throughout retirement, it’s a lot to maintain and much of the space goes unutilized. Rather than spending your time cleaning a house you hardly use, why not downsize into a more comfortable home?
Downsizing is a popular option for seniors for several reasons. Not only does a smaller home mean less space to clean and maintain, it’s also more comfortable for adults coping with aging-related changes. Rather than cautiously navigating staircases, seniors can live in a compact home where everything they need is just a few steps away. Furthermore, since smaller homes tend to be more affordable, downsizing enables older adults to move closer to city center. This, in turn, empowers seniors to stay active and engaged in their community as they age.
While downsizing is a great way to make home life easier in old age, the actual act of selling a family home and moving takes a good deal of effort. Rather than wait until their current home has become unmanageable, aging adults should plan to move shortly after becoming empty nesters.
First, consider what your needs may be over the coming decades. While some age-related disability is impossible to predict, it’s important to plan now for reduced mobility later in life. Homes that offer single-story living are best for older adults because they eliminate the need to climb stairs. This greatly reduces the risk of falls, which the National Council on Aging identifies as the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in seniors. Single-story homes also tend to have more open floor plans than multi-story dwellings, making them more accommodating to disability-related modifications.
While not every senior will need to remodel their home, many find that updates are necessary for safety and convenience. The rooms most likely to require remodeling are the bathroom and kitchen. Seniors may require improved lighting, lower counters, easy-to-reach appliance controls, and updated cabinet hardware in the kitchen. In the bathroom, common additions are grab bars and a curbless shower. Since these are also the most expensive rooms in the house to remodel, according to The Cheat Sheet, seniors should factor the cost into their home purchasing budget. The average cost to remodel a kitchen is just under $22,000, while a bathroom remodel averages around $10,000.
Once you’ve found a home that suits your needs, you’ll need to plan for the transition into a smaller dwelling. For most people, that means getting rid of a lot of stuff. An easy place to start is asking adult children to claim any belongings stored at the house. Even a small amount of sentimental items can add up to lots of clutter, and you’ll have plenty to coordinate without dealing with your children's things as well.
Next, consider where you can reduce clutter throughout the house. While you don’t need to get rid of everything, sentimental belongings should be pared down to a small collection and all non-essential items donated, sold, or disposed of. Start with the rooms that tend to collect the most stuff, like bedrooms and offices. Afterwards, focus on reducing duplicate items in the kitchen and bathroom. While you may have once needed a dozen towels or plates, you can probably get by with just a handful in retirement.
While it’s wise to cut down on belongings, it’s not always easy. Even minor items can gain nostalgic value over the years, and it’s hard to view your own belongings objectively. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task of downsizing, call in a professional organizer to help. According to HomeAdvisor, these services cost an average of $483, an expense that’s well worth the time and stress they save.
Downsizing your home saves money, energy, and injury in old age, but the process itself can be taxing. Manage the stress by taking a measured approach to house hunting and letting families and professionals help where they can.
Janis Peterson, REALTOR®, GRI, ABR, SRES, CSP
Main Line Homes Luxury Real Estate Agent