I Downsized Once — Why I’m Considering Doing It Again

A smaller space could be key to living a bigger life.

You’ve heard the phrase “they grow up so fast,” but it sinks in when your kids head off to college or get their own apartment. You might be considering downsizing when your “nest” is empty because you realize your home just isn’t the same after your kids leave and start their adult lives.

We didn’t wait to start thinking about it after they left. Instead, we talked with our kids and started making plans to downsize when our son was a senior in high school. We decided to put our house on the market after he graduated and closed on the sale just after he left for college.

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Do we regret our decision to sell? Not one bit. We loved our home, but without the kids there, it was just another house. We treasure the great family memories we made there, but we said goodbye to our 1,700-square-foot home with the in-ground pool, family room, garage and big yard that came with it. We also left behind a lot of work to maintain the pool and yard, and we got rid of about a third of our possessions.

We invested some of the proceeds from the sale and used the rest of the money to remodel a 1,200-square-foot rental home bought as a foreclosure for $44,000 almost 25 years ago. We moved in last winter, and we’re enjoying our downsized life. Our retirement accounts are bigger, we have a smaller lawn to mow, no pool to clean and much less space to keep picked up. We have more free time and more money and we don’t miss anything from the old house but our kids.

But, we’re already considering downsizing again.

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Our original retirement plan was to snowbird. We’d enjoy winters in the small Florida condo we purchased in 2012 for $45,000 and summers in our downsized home in the Finger Lakes region of New York. However, we’re rethinking that plan now and wonder if we’d be just as happy owning only the condo and renting when we want to spend time in New York. This is a big shift in thinking after owning homes for more than 25 years. We’d never really considered renting, but sites like Airbnb and VRBO have made finding short-term rental properties a much easier option to consider.

Even though we’re pleased with how little time is required to keep up our smaller house, and we’re happy with the lower insurance, utility and tax bills, renting might be easier and cheaper than maintaining a house we only use for part of the year. (We’re getting out of the landlord business and have no interest in renting it out when we aren’t there.)

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Can we handle downsizing into our 950-square-foot, two-bedroom condo 1,500 miles away, though? That’s what we’re thinking about seriously now. Selling our New York house would help boost our investment accounts further, and reduce our possessions and workload even more. We’d trade living in an even smaller space with having more time and money to enjoy traveling and seeing our kids who now live in different states. We’re thinking about the freedom we’ll have to lock the condo door and go — no lawn to mow, no gutters to clean, no worry that pipes will freeze in the winter. We’d get to just focus on traveling, experiences and time with family and friends.

Nothing is decided yet. Will selling our house buy us the freedom to look forward to the future while still being able to enjoy aspects of our past? Or will we regret becoming renters in the community we’ve lived in for almost 30 years? Only time will tell.

If you’re considering downsizing for the first (or second) time, weigh your options carefully. You’ll never know for certain until you try it, of course, but be prepared for a range of feelings. You may feel excitement about the freedom you have or you may miss the extra space and the comfort of the home you gave up. Think about having a backup plan in case you aren’t as happy as you thought you would be.

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