Senior Downsizing Guide

For many seniors, downsizing is the first step toward more freedom and independence, physically and financially. In fact, around 40% of adults move during retirement and about half of those downsize. While empty nesters may be giving up the old family home that's full of memories, they're also avoiding the high cost of insuring and maintaining it — to say nothing of rising utility bills and dangerous staircases.

Downsizing gives seniors the opportunity to move to a more vibrant and well-connected neighborhood, whether nearby or in another state. Given all the benefits, it's not surprising that about 12% of all home buyers aged 45 to 67 downsize. If you no longer need a big house with room for the whole family, it might be time to find a smaller place that meets your current and future needs. You'll find more tips to help you make a smooth transition in this guide.

What Are Some Signs That It’s Time to Downsize?

Philosophers say that the only constant in life is change. Chances are your life has changed considerably since you moved into your home. Although individual circumstances vary, here are a few of the most common reasons why people downsize:

  • Financial needs: If you've owned your home for years, property values have likely increased. Downsizing can help you use your equity for more important things like medical care, vacations or investments.
  • Physical needs: Mobility limitations can make it more difficult to navigate stairs to a basement laundry room or upstairs bedroom. Moving into a single-level home or an apartment with an elevator can be a more practical solution.
  • Medical care: Many seniors receive medical care and personal assistance at home. However, sometimes it's more convenient to receive these services in a specially designed facility that offers 24-hour care.
  • Home maintenance: From changing light bulbs to mowing the lawn and repairing plumbing issues, homeownership is hard work. Many senior communities can handle these tasks for you.
  • Location: Family is probably the number one reason why people move. You may be downsizing to move in with family or you may need extra room for relatives who are joining you. Downsizing could also allow you to move into a more desirable area or a warmer climate.

Things To Consider Before Moving as a Senior

Moving, especially downsizing, is a big decision. You need a good reason to uproot your life and build new connections in a new place. You should also think about how your needs might change in 5 or 15 years. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I close enough to friends and family?
  • Will I have a good support system?
  • Are there clubs and groups related to my hobbies and interests?
  • Are there opportunities to participate in recreational activities?
  • Is there a senior center nearby?
  • Will I be able to keep up with maintenance and yard work?
  • Will the current area out-price me if I'm on a fixed income?
  • Can I afford all of my expenses, including utilities and property taxes?
  • Will I be able to afford the same place if my personal needs change?
  • What options are available if I need medical care or help with errands?
  • What type of emergency services and amenities does the area offer?
  • What will I gain from moving? What will I lose?

What Should You Look For in a New Home for a Senior?

Senior housing comes in many forms. There are 55+ communities for active seniors who enjoy golf and recreation, independent and assisted living communities that provide personalized services and continuing care retirement communities that offer multiple living options on one campus. Seniors may move into a private condo, apartment or smaller home closer to friends and family. Before you downsize, here are a few things to consider:

  • Location: Look for housing in an area close to friends and family. Other things to consider include crime rates, climate and recreational amenities.
  • Housing: Consider what type of housing you prefer. Do you want your own home with a yard or is an apartment or suite enough?
  • Maintenance: Are you comfortable performing household maintenance now and in the future? If you want to cut down on chores, look for an independent or assisted living facility that offers maintenance and housekeeping. 
  • Medical needs: In many cases, medical care can be provided in your home, but it may be more convenient to receive these services in a senior community. You may also want to look for a location close to hospitals and medical facilities.
  • Setting: Senior living communities and 55+ housing developments typically offer a wider variety of social and recreational activities to help you lead an active lifestyle.
  • Price: Your budget can determine what type of housing you choose. Make sure to plan for medical care, utilities, entertainment and other expenses. You may also qualify for affordable housing.

Downsizing Tips for a Low-Stress Move

Proper planning is critical for a stress-free transition. Instead of focusing on the past and all the memories you're leaving behind, remember that downsizing is the next step toward a new future. Use these tips to get started:

  • Be realistic: If you're transitioning from a three-bedroom home to an apartment, you'll need to make significant changes. Measure key pieces, such as sofas and dining tables, to see if they will fit comfortably in the new space.
  • Start early: Give yourself 2-3 months to complete the process. Parting with personal possessions can trigger grief and anxiety, so pace yourself. Respect any physical limitations.
  • What to keep: Instead of focusing on how much you need to get rid of, make a list of things you want to keep, such as your favorite armchair, lamps or family heirlooms. Next, you can focus on identifying items you want to sell or donate.
  • Digitize, digitize, digitize: Paper clutter can be overwhelming. In most cases, it's safe to toss papers that are more than 3 years old, including tax records. If you have a large collection of photos, music or videos, hire a grandchild or tech-savvy niece or nephew to digitize it.
  • Throw a downsizing party: Once you know what you want to keep, invite friends and family over to distribute the rest. Relatives may be happy to take home a special coffee mug or piece that reminds them of you, or they may encourage you to get rid of items that are no longer needed.
  • Spread the love: By donating, you can feel like your valued possessions are going to a good cause. You can donate business apparel to local charities or university career closets. Animal shelters need old towels, and homeless shelters are always grateful for extra coats, blankets, hats and gloves. Some organizations even offer pickups.
  • Ask for help: Don't be afraid to ask members of your circle for assistance or recommendations. Professional movers are there to help with the big items, and some senior living communities offer move-in assistance. Hiring a professional organizer or downsizing specialist is another option.

How To Get Help Finding Senior Homes and Senior Living

To learn more about senior living communities in your area, contact SeniorHomes at (800) 748-4024 to speak with a senior housing advisor. Their services are free. They're dedicated to helping seniors and their families find housing and care.

This guide has kindly been provided by our friends at SeniorHomes.com.

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