Empty nesters whose children have left home for the first time to go to college or live on their own may feel more than grief or loneliness. They may want to downsize and move to a condo or smaller house.
While empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical condition, it can be difficult to get past the fact that children are no longer filling a house that can now seem much larger for a couple’s needs. Seeing an empty bedroom or two may be all some empty nesters need to convince them that it’s time for downsizing the family home.
Downsizing a home that you’ve spent most of a lifetime accumulating stuff for, and then moving to a small house or condominium, can be full of choices. Here are some considerations for empty nesters looking to downsize:
How much stuff can you get rid of?
For Liz and Jac Grimes, who are wedding officiants in North Carolina, downsizing from a 3,400-square-foot home to a 1,100-square-foot apartment meant getting rid of many of the things that are part of the responsibility of home ownership: lawnmower, leaf blower, trimmer and snow shovel.
The move after 27 years in their home also meant giving cherished items to their children now, instead of upon their death.
“Don’t hold onto things just because you think your children will want them when you are gone,” Liz Grimes says. “The kids are not going to want full china, silver and crystal sets, or old furniture.
“Have the kids go through the house before you move and take those things that they have said ‘When mom is gone, I want that,” and let them take it. Enjoy the fact that they are enjoying something while you are alive.”
Downsizing for seniors can also require getting rid of any artwork and other mementos you’ve kept from your kids’ childhood, Grimes says.
“If something does not bring you the joy when you see it, get rid of it,” she says. “Just because a child made it for you in third grade and they are now in their 40s, you don’t have to keep it. Take a photo of it, ask if they want it back, and then discard it if they don’t.”
Much of your furniture may also be worth selling or giving away when downsizing, since it may not fit in a smaller home. Check the floor plan of your new home to see how your furniture might fit.
Getting rid of stuff can be one of the most difficult parts of downsizing as an empty nester. Don’t make it easier by renting a storage unit or cramming things into your smaller home, unless they’re things you’re going to use during the year, such as holiday decorations.
“Don’t get a storage unit that is too large,” recommends Grimes, who has a storage unit for holiday decorations, car care products, camping supplies and other things they need occasionally. “Don’t move the junk you never access just to hold on to it. Organize the storage unit so that you can access everything in it with limited need to move stuff. Only store things you will use over the course of each year.”
Put extra rooms to good use
If your child is away at college and may return for visits, or you expect other visitors at your new, smaller home, then set up a guest room.
“Our youngest son was away at college when we moved, so we kept his bedroom for holidays and summers,” Grimes says. “After he moved into an apartment we turned that room into our office.”
A child’s bedroom doesn’t have to be replicated in your new home, she says. They’ve grown and moved on, and so should you, Grimes says. And if you don’t want a guest room, then use an extra bedroom for a hobby.
Downsizing to a smaller home doesn’t have to mean turning any extra bedrooms into hobby rooms or offices. If you’re worried that being an empty nester in a smaller home will leave you with less space to enjoy time with your children or grandchildren, then have a few guest rooms for a long weekend or holiday, says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics who recently downsized from a 3,000-square-foot house to a 1,200-square-foot apartment in Riverdale, N.Y.
“Make sure to move into a home with an extra bedroom or two, or a convertible office in order to maximize your home’s usefulness,” Backe says.
Rent out a room
A big advantage of downsizing is lowering expenses. But for new empty nesters, downsizing to a townhouse or smaller home can be too big of a first step. A smaller step that could still result in saving money could be keeping your current home and renting out a room. Or it could help make another home affordable. A home equity loan or reverse mortgage could also be used to make a home affordable.
Ed Gallagher, a single dad who used to live in Colorado Springs, Colo., but moved to a three bedroom house in San Diego about two years ago, says that renting a room in his home through Airbnb has helped him in many ways.
“It has allowed me to own a larger home than I could afford otherwise in an expensive housing market, though still downsized from my much larger home in Colorado Springs,” Gallagher says.
Renting a room on a short term basis on Airbnb was more profitable than renting it full-time as a monthly room rental, he says.