How difficult is it, really?
Downsizing is about way more than just physically changing houses. It’s about changing your life. There’s a huge psychological shift from raising children to being without them – it changes a lot of your relationships – and I’ve found from clients that there’s a certain melancholy around that change, around getting older.
I have found one of the most successful ways to downsize is to keep moving forward. Getting excited about the potential for a fresh start and about becoming a couple again, makes all the difference.
Try thinking not about the memories and the life you are leaving behind, but the benefits of moving — like no more big house to maintain, no more walks to shovel, lawns to cut, pools to empty. I find that once clients do sell, the feeling is one of tremendous relief. A new home gives you a better sense of control for cleaning, storage, organizing, and the process of downsizing actually frees you from the burden of stuff.
And with Toronto’s booming real estate market, with family homes reaching record high prices, especially in established residential neighbourhoods, your gains can be staggering. While the housing market is relative – you still need somewhere to live – there are plenty of new developments that offer smaller, better space for a lower price tag.
Of these infill developments, I have found that townhouses offer the best of both worlds, taking up less footprint than a lowrise home, and usually in an enclave close to commercial and retail space as well as transit. And thanks to advances in space planning, the interiors are spacious and light filled. Large windows keep you connected to the outdoors, which is good for the soul. Trafalgar Ridge in Oakville and Heritage Gate in Mississauga by Dunpar Homes are two good examples of well-designed luxury townhome communities that have a strong appeal for the downsizer.
Sometimes, out of a reaction to fast urban life, people will sell up and get out of the city. You need to carefully think about this, because the downside of country living is the potential for isolation.
Wherever you currently live you’ve built up relationships with the doctor, pharmacist, green grocer, local takeout, neighbours. Moving to the country might feel like you’re off the treadmill but it also takes you out of a community you’ve become part of.
The key is to find smaller, or more compact, or better designed space in the city, preferably in a familiar neighbourhood. You can opt for a condo, but not everyone is willing to give up the stand-alone home, so a viable alternative is a townhome.
They’re especially attractive if you can rough-in an elevator for when you may need it. Studies show that walking up and down stairs actually extends life, but it’s good to be prepared if the time comes when the stairs could be an obstacle.
One of downsizing’s biggest challenges is knowing what to keep and what to toss. These decisions are really hard because it’s about more than sofas and chairs, it’s about memories.
Because it’s such a big decision, take your time and think it through carefully. A book that I recommend for helping you make these decisions is Lyndsay Green’s “The Perfect Home for a Long Life.”
Here’s my to-do list for the process:
- First thing is to get a floorplan of the new home to see what will fit. Even better would be to hire a designer who knows how to plan space and make furniture work.
- Start downsizing right away by asking family if there is anything they want – and don’t be offended if they don’t. Sell the rest through consignment, or give it away. Paring down is easier in the unsentimental areas of your home, like the kitchen or bath – it’s hard to get maudlin over 12 bars of soap, or stacks of sandwich containers.
- Be ruthless about your existing furniture – most of it is too big and heavy for new homes. When purchasing new, keep in mind scale and proportion and choose pieces of furniture with open legs and arms such as dining room chairs. This allows the eye to travel through, enhancing the feeling of space.
- Unless you are moving into Downton Abbey, family heirlooms are just more clutter. Select one or two pieces that you truly love and then part with the rest.
- Those priceless pieces of art made by your kids? If they don’t live with you, let them choose what they want, keep one or two items for framing, and get rid of the rest.
- Pictures really are worth a thousand words but even so, they take up space. Look at ways to pare down – digitize them all (there are companies that will do this for you very reasonably), and display in digital photo frames that constantly revolve the images.
- In your new home, stick with a consistent colour palette — carpeting, drapes and walls in the same pale neutral palette will expand the room.