Downsizing: From an Empty Nest to a New Abode


If your dream is to rid yourself of a high-maintenance large home and to start a new life in a smaller place where you can shrink your "honey-do" list, you can prepare for that move earlier than you think. Whether you’re ready to sell your home and make the move immediately or your move is planned for a year or two in the future, you can take some steps toward your goal right away.

Talk to your family

Before you make any physical moves, you need to recognize that selling a home, particularly if this is where you have raised your family, is an emotional decision as well as a financial choice. You may be surprised to hear that the adult kids who seem unsentimental to you won’t want you to move because they like the idea of home staying exactly the same. You and your spouse or partner need to have more than one conversation about how you envision the future – and, if you live alone, this may be a conversation to have with your closest family members and friends. Make a list of your priorities for the next phase of your life and share it with others to develop a strong sense of your goals for the future.

Talk to a Realtor and a lender

Before you start looking at your ideal new home, schedule two meetings: one with a Realtor and one with a lender. If you work with a financial advisor, you should discuss your plans with that person, too. A Realtor can provide direction regarding the value of your home as well as some suggestions of things you may need to do to get it sold quickly and for the best price. At the same time, a Realtor familiar with where you want to live next can give you a broad idea of what you can get at different price points.

A lender can go over your finances and tell you how much you qualify to borrow. It’s best to do this early in the process in case there are credit challenges that need repairing and so that you have a thorough understanding of your cash needs and your housing budget before you start shopping for your new home.

Plan for the future

As you begin looking for your next home, you may be thinking about the here and now and getting excited about the idea of living in a smaller place. If you’re planning on buying a place that you’ll stay in for the next decade or more, though, it’s a good idea to think about your future needs for aging-in-place and for potentially expanded family visitors including grandkids. A floor plan with a bedroom and bathroom on the same level as your kitchen and laundry room is a good idea, even if it starts out as an office or guest bedroom. Having an extra bedroom and bathroom, if you can afford it, can be a nice option for guests and your future resale value. If that stretches your budget too far, you can always look for flexible space that can accommodate a sleep sofa for company.

Start editing your possessions

Getting organized for a big move can be daunting, so some empty nesters opt to hire a professional organizer or a "senior moving specialist" with experience helping people downsize. If you’re moving to a smaller place, it’s essential to pare down your possessions and to organize everything efficiently in the new place.

You can start long before you move by clearing out your storage closets, attic and garage and developing a plan to recycle or donate things you don’t want, trash some items, sell others and keep only the most important items. If you have adult children, ask them to help sort their own possessions that are still in your home and ask if they want anything that you don’t plan to keep. One trick organizers use is to take photos of items to see if your long-distance family members want them. If you have sentimental attachment to something but won’t have space for it, take a photo of it as a keepsake.

One option is to rent a storage space for a few months or a year. If you find that you haven’t missed the items that are in storage, it may mean you’re ready to donate or sell them.

After you’ve tackled the peripheral spaces of your home, take a hard look at your clothes, your linen closet, your furniture and your decorations to decide which things are necessities for your new home.

Consider repurposing items

While it may be tempting to get rid of everything you own and start fresh, don’t forget that replacing all your furniture, linens and decorative items can quickly add up to a major expense. Instead, think about repurposing or refinishing some of your furniture. For example, if you’re tired of the dining table that’s been the setting for decades of family dinners, think about cutting down the legs and using it as a big coffee table or about stripping and staining or painting it for a new look. Bookcases and foyer tables and end tables and dressers don’t have to stick to their assigned purposes and can become multifunctional items in your new home. A dresser can be used as a sideboard to store china and tablecloths, a low bookcase can become a nightstand and a foyer table can become a narrow desk for your laptop.

Maximize efficiency in your new home

Once you are ready to move onto your new place, consider installing a closet organizing system to increase your closet’s storage capabilities. Countless organizing options can be found in stores and online to streamline every cabinet, drawer and closet. New furniture can also be purchased with an eye for efficiency, such as a dining table with leaves that fold down for a minimalist look when you’re not entertaining and beds with storage drawers underneath.

You can make your move from a big home to a neat nest easier by giving yourself plenty of time for planning and packing and investing in some organizational aids.