THE BLOG
09/03/2015 07:33 am ET Updated Sep 03, 2016

7 Tips for Downsizing Without the Heartache

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It isn't uncommon for people to want to downsize to a smaller home either when they retire or just before retirement. Let's look at reasons they do that, some of the heartaches that can be associated with it and 7 tips for avoiding that heartache.

Why People Typically Downsize: The reasons people downsize include ones such as having less upkeep and cleaning; getting rid of an 'empty nest' home after the children have left home; moving to a maintenance-free development where someone else has to worry about lawn care, snow removal and exterior repairs; moving to a community with other retired people (so you have something in common with your neighbors); moving to a retirement community, where there are special services, such as meals, transportation, a clubhouse, and planned activities; saving money (including saving on the mortgage, taxes and utilities); special features needed preparing for 'aging in place' (such as having no stairs, for example); and moving to a more hospitable climate.

The Heartache: Downsizing is not without disadvantages, however. People may experience sadness when they do it. Some examples are: leaving their beautiful large homes; moving away from their longstanding friendly neighbors; moving further away from family members; leaving the neighborhood which they love and to which they've become adjusted; liquidating at least a bit of their favorite furniture (some of which may have been in the family for generations); and leaving a home that may hold many precious memories (such as where the children were born and raised.)

I downsized recently (three years into retirement). I did it without the heartache, however. My experience can serve as an example of some ways to do this.

My Before and After: I moved from a 3,000 square foot house to one that's only 1,000 square feet. I left 2 1/2 baths in favor of a single bath. My previous home was on three levels - the new one is all of one level (except, of course, for the Kansas-required basement for a tornado shelter). I left a finished basement for an unfinished one. I moved from a house with a deck and a patio to a home with neither. Due to the difference in the size of the dining rooms, I had to get rid of my dearly beloved Scandinavian teak dining room table and eight chairs. I traded that for a small, albeit cute, little kitchen-like table with only four chairs.

I was sure I'd miss the old home terribly and feel deprived. I feared I'd view the new house as a place I was going to die. In fact, I'd planned to buy myself some extravagant gift as a consolation prize. But, on the contrary, I find I don't miss the old house at all. I never even think about it. This greatly surprises me and the people who know me well. I attribute my acceptance of my new abode to seven strategies I employed in making the move:

1. I bought a house with something special: I didn't buy just any old small house. I got one with something special (a kitchen that had just been remodeled top to bottom with state-of-the-art everything). That was one of my most critical criteria for selecting a new house. So I feel better about losing my previous lovely, spacious home.

2. I got rid of some furniture: Too many people try to keep all or most of their furniture when they downsize. Even though most of mine fit in my new home, some did not. This included the table and chairs. They would have fit but would have overwhelmed the space. I've seen too many 'downsized houses' that are so crowded with big furniture you can hardly walk around. It makes the home seem smaller than it really is.

3. I am making the new house 'my own.' I've been busy decorating - namely, painting, carpeting, getting special window treatments, and buying some new, more appropriately-sized furniture. I've also been doing some landscaping. These activities, too, have helped prevent me from feeling sad over my losses.

4. I am making a point to get to know my new neighbors: I'm looking at this move as an opportunity to make new friends, and it has, in fact, turned out that way. And I find these new friendships are enriching my life.

5. I am making an effort to still spend time with my previous neighbors: Even though it takes a little more travel time to see my old neighbors, I'm doing it and enjoying it very much. (This, of course, will only work if you move to a relatively close neighborhood in your same city.)

6. I am exploring my new surroundings and finding advantages to the location: I have discovered there are many advantages to my new location. It is much closer to many places I frequently go. So I'm saving a lot on gas and can avoid what for me are dreaded trips on the expressway. The new home is also near a marvelous farmer's market that I love to frequent. So I view the new location as a worthwhile tradeoff.

7. I have had an attitude adjustment: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have had an attitude adjustment. I have learned to view my years in my old house as being in a distinct stage of my life (being a busy professional), and my new home as that for my next stage of life (being retired). And I've learned not to think of my new house as the place I'm going to die. Instead I view my retirement years and an opportunity for further growth, accomplishments and excitement.

By following these tips, you can have a successful and happy downsizing experience, too.

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.)