Retired Americans are downsizing. According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, 27% of all American renters are over 55, and they accounted for 44% of renter growth from 2005 to 2016.
Whether you’re moving closer to the city, switching to a smaller, easier-to-maintain house, or looking to give your retirement fund a boost, downsizing makes a lot of sense for older Americans. But how do you go about it?
Downsizing tips for seniors
1. Be Realistic About Your Goals
Why are you downsizing? Is it to save money? To be closer to all the cultural opportunities the city center has to offer? To be closer to friends and a community of other people your own age?
Good reasons, all. But not all of them are true for every person. Don’t move into a big-city high rise if you hate crowds. If you’re moving into an apartment to save money, make sure your monthly rent payments aren’t higher than your mortgage. And for goodness sake, don’t move into a retirement community if you don’t like other retired people.
2. Hire Movers Who Specialize in Senior Downsizing
If you’re over 55, the days of renting a U-Haul, then calling a couple of friends and bribing them with pizza and beer are over. Let someone else do the heavy lifting. Better yet, let someone else help you plan the entire move… and pack. Senior moving experts like Gentle Transitions in Minneapolis help downsizing seniors plan and execute every step of the move — and they even box things up. Whether it’s a move from a huge house in Edina or a small Minneapolis apartment, movers are a great help.
3. Pack What You’ll Use — Store or Donate the Rest
If you’re doing your own packing, be judicious about what makes it into your new space. Remember, you’re downsizing. You won’t have room for both pairs of fly-fishing waders and all 300 volumes of the World Atlas. Unless you’ll be leaving on safari in the next six months, put that canteen into storage. Unless you plan on hosting a formal dinner within a month of your move-in, go ahead and pack up the finger bowls and wedding china.
An air-conditioned storage unit within a reasonable distance of your new home will allow you to live in your new place without feeling crowded. Just label everything, and be sure to pack the unit so that it’s easy to find things when you need — or want — them.
4. Downsize Your Furniture, Too
Sure, that 18-foot sectional looked great in your old living room. So did the grand piano. But a smaller apartment means that your old pieces might need to find a new home. Measure everything, and map out a furniture floor plan before you start the moving process. If a piece doesn’t fit, aesthetically or size-wise, find a new home for it.
It can be bittersweet to let go of the bed you’ve slept in for the past two decades, or the easy chair your husband still falls asleep in every Sunday afternoon. But instead of mourning a piece of furniture tied to your old life, why not commit to step #5?
5. Embrace the Chance to Redecorate
Downsizing to a new place in retirement is a big change. But it’s also a new opportunity. In a new apartment, you’re free to embrace a new vision for your personal space. Have you always dreamed of going sleek and minimal? Did you spend your entire 30-year mortgage wishing for a more functional kitchen? How about a library?
Your new apartment is a step into the future, so don’t let it become a museum of your past. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep cherished objects and keepsakes, or that you have to throw away your photo albums — far from it. But you should give yourself leeway to try something new. When you’re starting over in a new space, you can finally try out that red accent wall, or use your “office” as a meditation space. Giving your new place its own design identity can give you a fresh start in your new home, and allow you to embrace new hobbies and interests.
After all, you’ve still got a lot of living to do.