Being an empty nester means the next stage of your life is about to begin. Whether the kids are off at school, starting families of their own, or moving across the country to follow their dreams, it’s time to shift your focus back to how you want to spend your time – and where. Downsizing your home can be the first step in this new stage, giving you the chance to start fresh in more ways than one. With so many factors to consider from financial to emotional, it can be difficult to know where to start when making the decision. While the ‘right’ time can be hard to define, we can help you find the right time for you.
Here are 5 questions every empty nester should ask themselves to decide if downsizing is right for them:
1. How do I want to live?
Being an empty nester is a chance to give yourself back some of the time you’ve dedicated to your family over the years. With the kids off on their own, downsizing can give you the freedom to use that time how you want to. Before jumping ahead on the where of your next step, take a moment to think about how you want to spend your time so you can find a home and location that matches the lifestyle you want to live.
A good place to start is if all your time was free time, what would you be doing? Would you spend your time working in the yard or on your next home improvement project? Would you lock up the house and head out for weekend getaways? Do you want to live close to local trails and parks for morning runs and bike rides? Do you want to spend more time entertaining family and friends? Whether your passions include curling up with your next book club pick in a cozy corner of the house, finding your center at yoga class, or starting a food blog, think about what you want to be spending your extra time doing first and work backwards from there.
2. Where do I want to live?
The next step is to consider where you want to live and what type of home you want to live in. Do you want to live off the beaten path where you can write your memoirs? Do you see yourself in a high-rise, amenity-rich apartment building in the center of the city? Do you envision a vibrant downtown where you can walk to your favorite restaurants and meet up with friends, but still have the option to escape from city life?
The type of lifestyle you live, the type of home you live in, and the location of that home all go hand in hand.
When deciding on a location, make sure to also ask yourself the tough questions. Is it important to stay close to the kids? Do they know where they’ll end up yet or do you want to wait until they settle down? Do you want to stay close to the city or neighborhood they grew up in? Are you ready for a fresh start in a completely new location that they’ll be excited to visit?
What type of home you’d like to live in will be dependent on all of the above. More than ever, close-in, walkable neighborhoods are becoming a popular option for downsizers. Not quite in the city, but also not far from the traditional idea of the suburbs. This concept of new suburbanism offers an in-between.
For that in-between, many new homes find the perfect middle ground by being built in walkable communities that are close to nearby cities. This means they offer the added benefit of an accessible location with nearby stores, restaurants and other community amenities. They also provide easy access to public transit for residents to easily commute in and out of the city for work, day trips, or just an evening out.
For the home itself, think through what you'll need and want for the future. If entertaining is important to you, take a look at homes with an open floorplan concept. If you anticipate taking care of an older relative, or kid back from college for the summer, consider a multi-generational suite option. How many bedrooms will you need on a day-to-day basis vs. during family visits? If you love to cook, a larger, open kitchen with lots of counter space may be your focus. If you love to sit out on your porch with a glass of wine or cup of coffee, a rooftop terrace or balcony may be your focus. Take a moment to think of what's most important to you in a new home and go from there.
3. What will be the financial benefits of downsizing?
Most empty nesters have owned their current home for a decade or more and are likely to walk away from the sale with a profit. Depending on the market and where you choose to buy next, you can take that money and put it towards something beneficial, something new, or something fun. It can act as a down payment for your new home, lowering your new monthly costs, it can pay off any existing debts, or it can even go towards something you’ve been dreaming of like a second honeymoon. Whether you use that money for travelling, your retirement fund, or to redecorate your new home, it gives you the freedom to choose.
If you choose to buy a new construction home, it’s also more likely that the home will be built using newer, more efficient technology, which can also contribute to lowering your monthly energy bills. This means it will be cheaper to heat, cool, and maintain. A new home will also minimize work that needs to be done around the house, as well as ongoing upkeep and maintenance, which can add up over time.
Another way to think about the financial benefits of downsizing is to think about your larger home you have now. With the kids gone, how much money (and energy) is being spent to heat, cool, clean, and maintain rooms that aren’t being used? If you take those costs away and add that to the general, day-to-day costs you are no longer spending on the kids (extra groceries, new clothes, cell phone bills, etc.), it will add up quickly. You can take that money and put it towards funding your daily expenses, refurnishing your new space, or spoiling your grandkids.
Cost can be extended to more than just price tags. How much energy and time are you spending on home maintenance, yard upkeep, cleaning, replacements, upgrades, and home improvement projects? Unless you genuinely enjoy these types of projects, you’ll be saving more of your own time and energy in your next move.
4. How do I plan for the future when downsizing?
A common misconception about downsizing is that it’s equivalent to retiring. Most downsizers still live a full, active lifestyle – they just have more time for it. That being said, most empty nesters who decide to downsize will stay in their next home for years to come and it’s important to take the time to consider and plan for what the future may look like when it comes to both the location of the home and the actual home itself.
A few questions to consider: Is this the home you’d like to spend your retirement in? Will you need to take care of older relatives? Are you planning ahead for your own health? Is this the last, or next to last, home you’d like to live in?
There are many options when it comes to next steps. Private in-home elevators in townhomes are more common than ever, offering the freedom and longevity of keeping a home over the years, as well as the option of taking care of older relatives. Condominiums offer one-level living, typically with easy access to elevators, amenities, and more for all types of lifestyles. Even one-level single family homes offer the accessibility you or your loved ones may need in the future.
Both townhomes and condominiums also eliminate the physical and financial toll of maintaining a yard, which can become more difficult throughout the years. Whether it's hiring help to mow the lawn through the summer, shoveling snow in the winter, or raking leaves in the fall, you won't have to worry about any of it in a townhome or condominium.
5. But what will I do with all my stuff?
The shoeboxes full of greeting cards from loved ones, the closet filled with the kids’ art projects and toys from their childhood, the basement that holds holiday decorations, high school yearbooks, and unused sporting equipment – these are all versions of sentimental clutter. A home, especially a home you’ve owned for decades, is full of items and objects that hold unforgettable memories and sentimental value. When faced with the idea of downsizing, many empty nesters can’t imagine saying goodbye to the treasures they've collected over time.
It's important to remember: downsizing doesn't mean starting over. Instead, it's an opportunity that emphasizes holding onto what's important. Start by taking it one step at a time, room by room. Assign sticky notes to items you want to keep or donate, and be honest with yourself. As you go through everything you’ve accumulated from souvenirs and gifts to clothes and books you’ve had for years, consider its value to you. Do you still love the vintage coffee table from your grandparents’ house? Do you still need the salad spinner you never took out of the box? Do you remember the last time you wore that sweater?
Make sure to have the kids go through their things as well. Give them a certain amount of flexibility on what they can leave with you and what they need to take with them. While many families pass heirlooms on later in life, consider passing a few on early. That way you can see the joy it brings them and know the traditions are being kept up every time you visit them in their own homes.
The more items you donate, give away, or set on the curb for trash pickup, the more space you have to imagine. What would you do with an extra room? Would you turn it into a home gym or yoga studio? What about an in-home library and cozy space for reading? A home office, an art room, or a music room? While consolidating and wondering if you need to hold onto another box of your kids’ school papers, remind yourself of the fresh start you’re moving towards and how you can make it your dream space.
If you still have items you can’t part with, consider renting a personal storage unit. You won’t have to say goodbye too soon and the units will be cheaper than holding on to a large, empty house.
When discussing and deciding if downsizing is the right move for you, consider each of the factors and weigh what’s most important to you. If your biggest concerns are space and saying goodbye to a home you’ve loved for years, think of it as creating a space for new memories rather than giving anything up. While standing still is always the easier option, moving forward will be an opportunity for a fresh start in the next chapter of your life story.
For more considerations on whether downsizing is right for you and your family, click here.