Q. My husband and I are in our late 60s, in good health, and are active. We live in a home that is more than we need and recently have been talking about downsizing and purchasing a smaller place. We have different views on whether we should look for a one-or two-level residence. From a safety perspective, I feel we should avoid stairs. My husband does not see that as an issue. What are your thoughts and what else should we be considering? L.J.
The subject of downsizing typically comes up when children no longer are at home and the challenges of aging become more evident. In making a decision, it can be useful to look at the benefits as well as the downside of relocating into smaller quarters.
Let’s begin with the benefits. For some, it’s financial. In Southern California, if you have lived in your home for a lengthy period of time, you likely will sell it for considerably more than you paid. Assuming you have that extra cash, you can use it for travel, hobbies, savings and more. Also, you will likely spend less on maintenance and utility costs in a smaller place. Note that extra cash is not a guarantee.
Moving to a smaller place also means less work in cleaning rooms you don’t use and in the never-ending yard work leaving you more discretionary time. There is also the opportunity and chore to get rid of stuff because of less space to display or to store items.
And Americans typically have a lot of stuff: Average American houses contain 300,000 items. Although the size of houses has doubled since the 1950s, one in 10 families rent storage space. And speaking of extra space, in the average home of 2,700 square feet, 80 percent of the space is rarely if ever used.
Now to the downside. Moving out of a home where you have lived for a long time is full of memories. These are memories of milestone events including your children’s activities as they were growing up. They are memories of birthday parties, graduations, holiday celebrations and more. A move also may involve leaving your community and friends and family that live close by. A move means letting go while cherishing all that was good – while making room for new memories.
Then there is the space issue. You may have less space for the beautiful large buffet your parents brought with them from Europe, your work-related reports and files and the shelves of books. You might have to part with the favorite books you have read to your children and their elementary school artwork. (I still have a pre-school dinosaur made by my now 19-year-old grandson.) In addition to less storage space, there often is less living space. For some, having a more intimate living arrangement could create a problem.
Moving is an opportunity to declutter that involves a lot of work. The challenge is making the decisions about what to keep, toss, give to family and friends or just donate. It’s going through the closet full of clothing, the extra china, silverware, serving pieces, old wedding gifts and the cooking utensils, sporting equipment and memorabilia you collected in your travels. There are services that can help with this task.
Now let’s talk about moving to a one or two-level residence. Here is what we know. One in four adults age 65 and older fall each year with most falls occurring in the home; 20 to 30 percent result in a serious injury. Stairs can be risky for those 85 and older. A report from Reuters reported this group had a high injury rate related to the use of stairs. Also, with advancing years, navigating stairs may become difficult because of chronic pain, inflexibility or vision issues.
One might consider eliminating stairs as an insurance policy. No one knows if he or she is going to be that one out of four each year that will fall and if that fall will be related to stair usage. Additionally, we will not know how normal aging or a chronic condition will affect our mobility.
Another consideration is to determine if you want to live your advancing years in this new place. If that’s the case, it is important to have a living environment that will accommodate normal age-related changes and possible illnesses or accidents. The goal is to live well and safely while retaining as much independence as possible.
The good news is that you are having the conversation.
L.J., hopefully, these points will help you evaluate your situation and lead you to the right decision. Thank you for your good question and stay well.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity