Over the years, you’ve probably felt like your home’s footprint just wasn’t big enough. Whether the closets were too small or the number of cabinets too few, you may have dreamed of relocating to a larger space.
But as a senior, that once-too-small abode might be more space than you need—or want.
At the same time, the sentiment of moving away from the home where you raised your family or enjoyed gardening for decades pulls at your heartstrings, leaving you confused as to whether or not downsizing is the right decision.
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Anytime safety or physical limitations like the inability to live alone or use stairs exist, it’s time to consider relocating. But there are a few other less obvious indicators for seniors to downsize, too.
Here’s a look at the top signs that indicate it might be time to trade in your current dwelling for a smaller, easier to manage space, and tips on how to find the right next home for you.
1. You have unused rooms
Jamie Novak, a professional organizer and author of “Keep This, Toss That,” says having rooms you rarely—or never—enter unless it’s to air them out or vacuum now and then is a sure sign it’s time to downsize. Sure, having a bit of extra space to stash trinkets and holiday décor is handy. But maintaining a large house with multiple unused bedrooms goes beyond having an extra closet or cubby.
“All that unused space is room you’re paying to heat or cool, paying taxes on and have to clean and maintain,” says Novak. “And that can be a lot of resources spent for nothing.”
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2. Your yard gets the best of you
“It shouldn’t be difficult to keep up with the maintenance of the home,” says Novak. Granted, no one expects you to look forward to tasks like mowing the lawn or giving the fence a fresh coat of paint. But if these and similar projects are becoming physically difficult to complete, it’s probably time to discuss options that require less upkeep.
“Additionally, having to pay for help to accomplish the tasks is another indicator that it might be time for a smaller space,” says Novak.
3. You’re too far from family
Not able to take in as many of your grandkids’ soccer games or dance recitals as you want? “If you feel isolated in your home, are too far from family or assistance, or all your friends have moved away, then you might want to downsize and move closer to loved ones,” suggests Novak.
4. Just too much stuff
If you’re constantly hunting down gadgets, gizmos and more that you’ve stashed in the basement, attic or back of a closet, Novak says you might have too much stuff. “It’s tempting to hang on to every piece of memorabilia or want to fill up all the empty corners of a large home to make it feel less open.”
But having too many odds and ends is a clear sign you’ve got too much space to fill. “And downsizing will force you to pare down and prioritize what you actually need to hang on to,” adds Novak.
5. You home is a goldmine
Your home’s value may have appreciated to the point where it’s more profitable to cash it in than hang onto it. Novak suggests consulting two to three realtors to have a market analysis performed and explore both your selling and buying (a smaller house) power.
Where should you go?
Once you’ve made the decision to downsize, look for out these key features in a new, smaller, home.
Of course, you want to be near family members or reliable friends. But you also want to look for a new neighborhood that, if possible, is close to amenities and services (e.g., physicians, shopping and restaurants) that are important to you.
Opportunities to build your social network near your new home is another important considering. A community that promotes a more active lifestyle is a bonus, says Rob Krohn, the franchise marketing manager at Epcon Communities, a builder of 55-plus communities. When you have walking trails, a park, a pool or a community center, you’re more likely to get out and enjoy life in your area.
Krohn notes that even if they’re not a problem today, having to navigate stairs can become a burden as you age.
“Even an entryway with a few stairs should be avoided when you’re looking for a long-term home,” he says. “Look for the opportunity to choose or add a no-step entry that is level, so there is no uphill climb.”
As you walk through any home you’re considering, imagine trying to navigate the spaces in a wheelchair. Are there thresholds to cross? Are the doorways wide enough to pass through without marking up the woodwork and trim? These details may seem unimportant now, but they’ll almost certainly impact your daily life in the future.
Think about the personal care needs of your bathroom. Even though you may have no trouble walking right now, could you get into the shower or on the toilet from a wheelchair or with the aid of a walker? “A roll-in shower and an elevated toilet—both with grab bars—provide a long-term solution,” says Krohn.
Consider the height of the countertop for today and tomorrow. “If down the line you or your spouse require a wheelchair-accessible home, vanities with a lower sink and room for the chair to fit underneath might be options to consider if building a new home or remodeling a space,” says Krohn.
A walk-in closet with no threshold is essential, but you should also be able to adjust storage space—like shelves that can be moved to a lower position, if necessary. You’ll also want light switches that you can reach from your bed.
Krohn notes that drawers provide easier access for storage than cabinet doors. “And consider cabinets with pull-out drawers to make it easier to access small appliances, pots, etc,.” he advises.
It’s not uncommon for seniors to suffer falls at home due to insufficient lighting. Krohn suggests eliminating those dark spaces in your new home by installing (or hiring an electrician) an ample number of light fixtures. “Dimmers can help control the amount of light, and there are many light switch options available that will make lights easier to turn off and on.”
No matter what amount of space you downsize to, Krohn says the feel is what’s most important. And he cautions against settling for a property that doesn’t feel comfortable.
“You want your new, downsized space to feel like home, even if it’s smaller than what you’ve be used to for years,” he says.