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Should Baby Boomers Downsize Their Home?

Should baby boomers downsize their homes?

My husband, Scott, and I in our “tiny house.”

Should baby boomers downsize their home? That depends.

My husband, Scott, and I downsized from a 3,000-square-foot home to a 400-square-foot casita almost two years ago. We’ve never been happier.

If you’re a baby boomer who has downsized or are planning to do so in the future, you’re not alone. Recently, there’s been a cultural shift with more people interested in living minimally and choosing to live with less. And not just us boomers who may be empty nesters.

Part of the trend may be due to author Marie Kondo’s popular book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” which encourages minimalism by urging readers to get rid of things that don’t bring them joy.

Then there was the whole “tiny house” movement. More and more people began choosing experiences, adventures, and seeing the world over a big house with a huge mortgage.

Although minimalism isn’t exactly the same concept as the hippie movement in the 60s, you boomers may relate. Remember when many young people thought society had been corrupted by capitalism and the materialist culture it created? Although a more radical time, it dawned on many that while pursuing “success,” people lost sight of the more meaningful experiences life had to offer.

Of course, this is a personal and important decision that’s not for everyone. But, why should you consider moving to a smaller home?

Why Downsize? 

The pandemic made many boomers rethink their priorities.

After being separated from family during the pandemic, some wanted to move closer to their children and grandchildren. If their kids live where the cost of living is higher, a smaller house may make the move possible. If their children have large properties, tiny houses may be an option.

Some boomers lost their jobs or watched their retirement dreams fade as the pandemic raged on and were forced to look at other options. That may have included selling their large family home and downsizing to cut expenses.

In fact, money is a primary motivating factor when deciding to downsize, according to a survey in the article, “The Upside to Downsizing.“. When respondents were asked why they might want to purchase a smaller home, 59% of baby boomer homeowners said saving money was their primary reason for doing so.

Others, like myself, chose smaller digs as a lifestyle choice. True, Scott and I wanted to save more money for retirement, but we also wanted to live a simpler life to have more time for meaningful activities and pursue our goals and dreams.

The survey showed that desiring less responsibility and more freedom definitely played a part in the decision making. A third of boomers (38%), perhaps empty nesters, stated their previous home was simply too large. Another 36% claimed their larger home was too much work to clean and maintain. The survey revealed 22% wanted to reduce stress and 16% liked the idea of reducing clutter.

That was certainly the case with my husband and I. After my son was granted full custody of his children, we volunteered to move into our two-room casita and rent the main house to him and the kids. We had been considering downsizing for awhile.

Turning 60, we wanted to make the decade count while we were still healthy enough to do so. By this time, I was tired of the responsibility of cleaning a big house. Fascinated with living a minimalistic lifestyle, we watched endless episodes of “Tiny House” programs on HGTV. It soon became apparent, we wanted to spend more time on meaningful activities and new adventures. In other words, a large home no longer served our needs.

Although, I have to admit, there was a bit of trepidation downsizing from a 3,000-square-foot home to a 400-square-foot casita. Would we really enjoy it? The answer is a resounding yes! We have absolutely no regrets and savor our newfound freedom.

My son’s rent payment on the house covers most the mortgage and we split the cost of utilities. In addition, because we have less space to store possessions, we consume less. These changes have allowed us to save money and realize some of our dreams now and inch closer to other goals.

Since we downsized, we were able to achieve my lifetime dream of traveling to Africa. We just purchased a travel trailer and are having fun camping now and are one step closer to realizing Scott’s dream of traveling the states together after he retires.

Without the responsibility of caring for a large home and yard, we feel our time is better spent in spiritual activities and volunteer work. Not to mention, I now have more time to work on my latest writing project – a book on writing in retirement that is currently in the editing process.

Perhaps author Sheri Koones put things in the proper perspective. She encouraged using the term “right-sizing” instead of the word “downsizing,” which can feel like you’re being deprived. Right-sizing focuses on what is “right” for you now – on what’s really important to you – and finding a way to incorporate those priorities in your life. Right-sizing allows you to create the lifestyle you want with more money to enjoy it.

For example, maybe you want to relocate to a warmer climate. A smaller home can allow more time and money for outdoor activities like golf, tennis, or cycling. Perhaps you want to live in an exciting, bustling city within walking distance of restaurants, bars, theaters, and shopping and choose to live in a smaller condo or apartment.

Right-sizing can open doors.

The Downside of Downsizing

Of course, saying all this, there are some cons to downsizing.

In the survey, respondents cited having less space and privacy as the most difficult adjustment to downsizing. Interestingly, almost twice as many Millennials and Gen Xers complained about privacy issues than baby boomers.

Half the respondents admitted getting rid of possessions was a big challenge.

Moving, no matter the circumstances, is stressful and can be expensive.

If you enjoy gardening, you will probably have less space to do so. And if you love entertaining guests, a smaller home may get in the way.

My Tips to Downsizing

As one who has been there and done that, here are some tips for those of you who want to downsize like me:

  • First of all, this is a big decision. Don’t rush it. Consider all your options when it comes to downsizing with your lifestyle goals in mind. Do you want a smaller one-level home that allows room for friends, family, and those precious grandchildren to visit? Are you social and want to live in a 55 and older community that offers a variety of recreational activities? Or are you adventurous and want the freedom of a home on wheels like a RV, trailer, or tiny house – or maybe even a houseboat? Is it more important that you live in the city or do you need a yard?
  • Not sure what you want? You may want to rent an apartment or a tiny house before making a purchasing decision.
  • If you are downsizing, it’s important to consider just how small you want to go. Even 50 extra square feet makes a big difference in a small home. After purchasing our camping trailer, I realized that these 200-square-feet “tiny houses” or living full-time in a RV is not for me. I prefer a foundation under my feet. We are fortunate to have a separate room for our bedroom which allows us some personal space. Also, unusual for tiny houses, our fairly large bathroom actually has a double sink. Believe me, that makes a big difference! Give careful thought about what’s essential to you.
  • When it comes time to let go of your treasures, work on one room at a time so you’re not overwhelmed. Remember, photo albums that take tons of space can be digitized. If you have collections, try to choose a few items that mean the most to you and either sell the rest, or perhaps a family member may want part of it. In my case, my son agreed to keep my treasured antique book collection in the main house. If you have an emotional attachment to certain items, you may want to consider storage options.
  • You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true. Light colors and keeping clutter to a bare minimum makes smaller spaces appear larger.
  • Make your outdoor space count. To help solve the problem of a lack of space to entertain guests, we fixed up the courtyard where we have room for two large tables. We use that space often for ourselves as well, for outdoor dining and extra living space.
Should Baby Boomers Downsize Their Home?

Outdoor dining in our courtyard.

Should Baby Boomers Downsize Their Home?

Make your outdoor area count.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I soon found out storage is everything when you are living in a small home. Be sure to use lots of hidden storage and multi-purpose furniture. Here are a few of my secrets to make your space count along with photos:
Should Baby Boomers Downsize Their Home?

Wall shelves are your best friend. They store our dishes in the kitchen. Shelves above our small desk stores books and knick knacks. In addition, the small table in the photo folds out to make a large cutting board for more counter space and has three shelves underneath to store kitchen items.

Should Baby Boomers Downsize Their Home?

This awesome table lifts up to double as a dining room table or large desk. Baskets underneath are great storage. A sleeper sofa can add extra bedding.

Drawers are great for storage. Our bed has four large drawers underneath and our entertainment center has three large drawers for storage.

Hooks are useful. Hung in a bathroom, they make a great place to store towels. In my bedroom, hooks are used to hang my purse and necklaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

juliegorges

Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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18 Responses

  1. Barry Silverstein says:

    A great engaging story about real life downsizing with some excellent advice. Nice job, Julie!

  2. This is so great, Julie!
    We have changed the way we do things, too. More me than him, though. 😉
    I no longer want to do all the dusting and up keep. The more things we accumulate, the more there is to clean. So, we have been trying to buy less and always getting rid of things now.
    Thanks for sharing your insightful article, Julie.

    • juliegorges says:

      My husband, Scott, was also a bit of a pack rat and had a harder time parting with things. On the other hand, I find it liberating to get rid of stuff! And like you, knick knacks began to mean moving them to dust, which made them much less appealing. I’m proud of Scott, though. He did a good job of letting go of things that he realized no longer held any value for him.

  3. Carmela says:

    very nicely written article with practical tips on downsizing. The smile on your face is says everything regarding your decision.

  4. Lorraine Tilton says:

    Loved this!!!! ❤️

  5. I’ve also watched a lot of tiny house shows. And I follow a couple on YouTube who lives in a camper van. The idea is interesting. I may try for a short period in the future. My biggest concern is I have trouble with small enclosed spaces. I like winter so there might be certain stretches where I’m stuck inside for long periods of time. Don’t know how I’ll handle that. You’re giving me something to think about. Great post.

    • juliegorges says:

      Admittedly, it helps that we live in a place where you can use outdoor space most of the year (with the exception of summer which are scorching). Makes the smaller indoor space not so confining. Whatever you decide in the future, I wish all the best!

  6. Julie says:

    Really great tips for anyone considering downsizing. If you like gardening and will have less room for it, you can always have windowsill herb gardens or usually there are community gardens you can volunteer at.

  7. Rebecca Lyndsey says:

    Wonderful tips for someone considering this. Glad it was a happy decision for you guys.

  8. Cat Michaels says:

    Julie, you need to submit this to “Tiny Houses” magazine, if there is such a thing! Love your suggestions and photo tips. Kudos to you for fitting into that lovely small space. We rightsized a four years ago, moving into a home with about the same square footage. Main living spaces (Bedroom, writing room) on the first floor and a bonus room for play space on the second. We wanted to settle into first-floor living before we had to -:D.

  9. Hi Julie, great advice for those considering this option. As for us, I can’t see it ever happening. We have taken too many years to build our dream home and now it’s a reality we’re staying put. There is a smaller house on our property that one of my son’s and his family are living in, maybe one day we’ll do a swap but at the moment I like knowing I have the space for the rest of my family when they stay over.

    • juliegorges says:

      Yes, I know many boomers would agree with you and are staying put in their family homes. Everyone and their needs and wants are different, for sure. Glad you are happy there!

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