Downsize for Your Golden Years

When children move on to establish their own lives, many homeowners find themselves with more home than they really need and more upkeep than they really want. Reaching the stage of an empty nest is an achievement. It’s also an opportune time to look toward a more manageable home and the freedom to pursue your own interests in your golden years.  

Decluttering the Old Home

The first step toward downsizing is to declutter your home. Experts cited by Allstate recommend beginning with large items first, as this will open up space and help you navigate the smaller items and give you a sense of accomplishment right away. Eliminate old and worn-out pieces and oversized items that you won’t have space for in a smaller home. Furniture and other items can be donated to charity or thrown away; check with local municipalities for disposal guidelines, especially on larger items. Once you’ve taken care of the large items, sort the smaller ones in a similar manner. Go through closets, shelves, and cupboards in every room, sorting unused items for donating or discarding.

Sentimental items can be the most challenging. If you’re hanging onto things because you think your children will want them, professionals recommend asking about those items specifically.  Parents are often surprised that the boys’ collection of football trophies and the girls’ old movie posters aren’t as sentimental as perceived. What your children don’t want can be added to the donation and discard piles.  

As you replace items that are worn or used, discard the old and keep only the new items. For instance if you purchase a new, smaller coffee pot, donate the old one to charity. Mementos like photographs or newspaper clippings can be scrapbooked or, better yet, scanned and saved electronically. If you are feeling really overwhelmed by this task, it might be time to call in the help of a professional organizer. According to HomeAdvisor, the national average cost of hiring a professional organizer is $487.

Choosing a New Home

The first thing you need to figure out when buying a new home is how much homes are selling for in your area. For example, the median price of homes in San Diego is around $633,000. It’s smart to look for a home that is easier to maintain and will accommodate your needs as you age. That means not only a smaller space to care for but also one that is either designed for aging in place or will be relatively easy to modify. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most likely rooms for modification when making a home safer and more accommodating for the aging process. Some specific items you should look for or add to your home are:

  • A floor plan allowing you to live on the ground level, with a full bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom on that floor. Consider adding a shower to an existing powder room or converting an office or dining area into a bedroom as needed.

  • Consider adding anti-scald devices to faucets throughout the home.

  • The bathroom on the ground level should provide a hand-held shower head, grab bars, and a seat in the shower.  

  • The shower stall should be free of thresholds.

  • Toilets should be 17 to 19 inches tall with grab bars on each side to provide stability.

  • Lever handles, rather than knobs, should be installed on doors, cabinets, and faucets.

  • Ample light fixtures provide better visibility.

  • An abundance of windows adds natural light, improving visibility in the home.

  • Entryways to rooms should be zero-step, free of thresholds.

  • Railings on each side of stairwells.

  • Entryways to the home that are zero-step.

  • At least one entrance to the home should be both zero-step and covered.

  • At least one entrance to the home should be accessible and offer a doorbell.

  • Entrances should offer a place to set packages while opening doors.

  • Smooth flooring that isn’t slippery.

  • Flooring should also be durable; wood and tile are good examples.  

  • All entrances and exits to the home should be fitted with railings.

  • Doorways should provide a minimum of 32 inches of clearance.

  • Floor space throughout should offer five-foot by five-foot clearance for maneuvering with a wheelchair.

  • Equip base cabinets in kitchens with rollout trays and lazy susans.

  • Upper kitchen cabinets should be mounted three inches lower than standard height for better accessibility.

  • Kitchen counters should offer two work heights, including one at a seated position.

  • Install a pull-out spray faucet.

  • Refrigerator and freezer unit should be side-by-side.

  • Consider a wall oven or oven with a side-opening door.

  • Microwave should be at counter height or mounted into the wall.

  • Dishwasher should be raised and provide push-button controls.

  • Consider adding drawers in the lower kitchen cabinet area.

  • Consider appliances with easy to read controls.

  • Laundry appliances should be front-loading.

  • Laundry appliances should be raised 12 to 15 inches above floor level.

  • Install task lighting in the kitchen area.

  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home and ensure you can hear them in the bedroom.

  • Exterior walkways should offer good traction and be free of steps.

  • House numbers should be easily visible from the street for emergency personnel.

  • Some professionals recommend the home should offer a low-maintenance exterior in brick or vinyl.  

  • Landscaping should be composed of low-maintenance plants and shrubbery.

Aside from accessibility, downsizing at this stage in life is an opportune time to reframe your lifestyle. How do you see yourself in the coming years, and what do you want to include in that vision? Today recommends thinking through what will make you excited about the move:  “Owning a home into old age should be rewarding — both financially and personally. Older owners should save where they can, but also splurge on renovations that make them most excited…. a beautiful outdoor patio...could become the perfect space to spend time with grandchildren or host friends and family.”  

Happy, Healthy Golden Years

Choosing to downsize from an empty nest is a golden opportunity for your golden years.  Declutter your belongings and select a home that will accommodate you safely and happily for aging in place. Make choices that are practical but also exciting. Your wise decision will make your golden years the best yet!

Jason Coleman