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By Lee Cutrone, September 2018
Moving to a smaller home can be freeing and invigorating!
Last year, when empty nesters Julie and Monty Burlingame traded in their 6,600 square-foot center hall cottage in the Garden District for a 2,800 square-foot townhouse in the Irish Channel, they let go of a home that had been in Julie’s family for 94 years. But the couple, in their late fifties and early sixties respectively, says the benefits of a more compact, easy-to-maintain residence and of a new adventure outweighed the sentimental bond. “I have not looked back,” says Julie. “There is a huge weight that’s been lifted off my shoulders.”
A New Beginning
In fact, downsizing isn’t just for those moving into retirement communities and assisted care facilities. For many people, including empty nesters and suburbanites moving to urban areas, it’s a great way to begin a new phase of life.
Both Mary Hines of H&H Estate Sales and organizer Kay Morrison of The Occasional Wife say downsizing cuts across age groups these days because of the trend toward living with less clutter. As a result, more people are vying for the same houses. “Everyone wants a small cottage,” says Latter & Blum realtor Margaret Stewart.
Advice From the Experts
According to Stewart, the local demand for small houses in excellent condition exceeds the supply, making it a seller’s market with hefty price tags.
To make the search easier, she offers these helpful hints: ready your home to sell while looking for your smaller replacement, cast a wider net by including up-and-coming neighborhoods, consider the ease and amenities of a condo rather than the architectural charm of a house, and if you can afford to buy before selling your existing home, don’t wait.
She also recommends estate sales and professional organizers so downsizers can streamline their belongings. De-cluttering helps ready your home for sale and makes moving easier.
“A lot of people in their late 40s and 50s seem to be downsizing,” says Hines of H&H, which regularly helps clients lighten their loads. “They don’t want the upkeep of a big house, and their children aren’t at home anymore. They want something smaller and more manageable.”
Hines and her partner/sister Gail Bergin have several key tips. “Keep the best of what you have and things that mean something and part with the things that don’t matter,” says Hines.
H&H recommends using proceeds from estate sales for updating or modernizing pieces you have – reupholstering, for example. That way, you have the necessary and cherished along with something fresh for your new beginning. When pieces you love don’t transition well, the sisters suggest hiring a professional decorator for advice. They can repurpose a piece (an armoire might become a bar for instance) or find the right spot for a piece that’s out of scale.
Professional organizers can help tackle the entire process from sorting, packing and estate sales to moving, unpacking and organizing. To prevent clients from being overwhelmed by a task that takes time and can be emotional, she advises, “Zero in on critical places, such as attics and basements, where the majority of the items can be purged and that will make a big difference.”
She directs downsizers to focus on taking the things they love and need, and make three categories – keep, sell and donate, and if having an estate sale, wait to donate remaining items until after the sale. She also emphasizes that downsizing is a great time to pass things on to your children. Morrison and Burlingame both advise allowing yourself enough time, too.
“Realize it’s going to take a minute,” says Morrison. “And there are resources that can help.”
- Start looking sooner rather than later – competition for smaller homes is stiff.
- Get your home ready to sell while looking for your downsize opportunity.
- Expand your search to include up-and-coming areas.
- Opt for condo living’s minimal upkeep and amenities.
- Have an estate sale to lighten your load.
- Hire an organizer or decorator to help you make the most of your smaller space.
- Downsizing takes time, don’t let the process become overwhelming.
Lee Cutrone has been a freelance writer for 26 years. She writes profiles of people, places, businesses and trends, as well as home and garden articles, fashion features, shopping guides, health and wellness pieces and more.