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How to Turn a Downsizing Idea into Reality

Tips & Trends

From Rory S. Coakley on some of the latest real estate news and happenings.

Big changes in your life, like downsizing and moving to a smaller place, usually begin with a few small pricks on the periphery of your consciousness. Eventually, they migrate to the center of your thoughts, in the process becoming an idea whose time has come: Let’s move to a smaller place!

Then the challenges begin. How do you turn your idea into reality?

Once you start, you are likely to find that this life-changing process is fraught with conflicting priorities and compelling choices, but not the ones you had expected. You’re not torn over what to keep and what to give away. Instead, you are stuck on where to move and whether to live in an apartment, a house or something truly different, like a houseboat.

To help organize your thoughts, clarify your choices and determine your priorities, I offer the tool that many journalists use to frame a story and explain events: the “5 W’s and 1H”: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

Who? Whom do you want to live near? Your kids and grandkids? Siblings? Lifelong friends? A community of similarly aged adults or a diverse population of all ages? If your relations with your children and siblings are great, proximity to them may top your list of priorities. If you don’t get along so well, it might seem like a bad idea. But it can actually help to heal old wounds and build a better relationship, because living near your relatives offers the opportunity for frequent, short and less-charged interactions rather than one long one that extends over the increasingly tense two or three days of your annual visits.

An adult community whose residents are close to you in age has the promise of neighbors with similar interests, but check it out. You may discover that you’d rather have a mix of ages and interests. If the decision to move to a new town is made solely to live near your dear lifelong friends, have a Plan B. Their life circumstances may suddenly change, and they could decide to move elsewhere or divorce.

What? What kind of home do you envision for the next chapter of your life? Are you ready to check of out suburbia and say goodbye to house and yard maintenance forever? Or do you enjoy gardening, barbecues on your outdoor deck and chatting with neighbors over the back fence? In other words, which is more compelling: an apartment, a smaller version of what you live in now, or something completely different and more exotic, like a beachfront cottage in Hawaii?

Do you want your downsizing destination to have features that allow you to seamlessly “age in place”? This could dictate single-floor living, three-foot-wide doorways that a person with a walker or wheelchair can pass through easily, and a bathroom that’s large enough for a wheelchair turnaround and equipped with a roll-in shower.

What activities do you want to accommodate in your downsized home? Give yourself a lot of opportunity to ask this question again and again. Initially, you’re likely to insist that you will be doing the same things you are doing now, because any admission that you will do less and need fewer rooms is a tacit acknowledgment that you’re aging.

When? When do you want to move? You might be trying to coordinate this with your retirement in six months, but such a schedule is unrealistic. It might take you six months to a year of rumination and leisurely conversations with your partner just to decide where you want to move and what you will be moving into, especially if you start with very different ideas.

It might take you another six months to a year, depending on the amount of stuff you have, to organize your move. First you have to decide what to take and what to give away, and then who to give it to; organizations often differ on what donated articles they will accept.

Although you may be planning a huge blowout yard sale, be prepared to conclude that it’s more work than you can take on. Going through all your possessions is exhausting for most people. If the downsizing includes getting your children to take their own things, tell them as soon as possible. It’s not a task they will embrace with enthusiasm, especially if this is the house where they grew up, and they are likely to wait until the last minute.

Where? Where do you see yourself living? Some people want to maintain ties with their neighbors and live close enough to continue meeting them every morning for a daily constitutional. Others focus on the weather and living in a place with warmer winters than the ones they experience now, although if you’re a winter sports buff, you may long for the opposite – a place that’s colder. Still others who are downsizing rate proximity to desirable amenities as being most important. This can mean a community where someone can play nine holes of golf every day or swim 25 laps in the community swimming pool, or an urban locale with great restaurants, varied entertainment, museums and opportunities for taking up all those activities that you have planned to do “someday,” like photography or gourmet cooking.

An important aspect of moving to a new town that is often overlooked, however, is the months and even years you will spend creating a new life for yourself and making new friends. Even if you arrive with a “social beachhead” because your children or siblings are well-established there, you can’t spend all your time with them or depend on them to create a new social network for yourself.

Why? Why do you want to downsize? What is dissatisfying about your current home? As you sift through the pluses and minuses of each choice, stepping back to consider the overriding issues can bring some clarity to the process.

How? How will you finance this, and how much money will you have to buy a new place? This is the most central question of all, because once you have worked your way through the “5 W’s,” the size of your bankroll will determine what you can afford, and that, in turn, will determine the size and location of your smaller home.


If you would like to suggest a topic for comment in one of our future emailers, please let me know. You can always reach me at or by phone 301-340-8700. I look forward to hearing from you!

Rory S. Coakley
Coakley Realty, Inc.
20 Courthouse Square, Suite 107
Rockville, MD 20850

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