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Rowling & Associates Blog

Downsizing Your Home: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

by Erika Fettner

It might be time to give up on your dream home! Even though it is exactly what you wanted, maybe you raised your kids in that home or spent 25 years there, you might realize that the upkeep needed to maintain it takes too much time, energy, and money.  Downsizing your home might be an option you should consider.

I’m starting with the Ugly for one reason: giving up your dream home is extremely hard.

I had a 3,200 square foot custom home on 2 acres with a small orange grove in a secluded area. It was fabulous! We had plenty of room for grandchildren to play, all our favorite activities, like quilting and billiards, and it felt like we were living in the country, but was only minutes from the city. As much as we loved this house, as time wore on it just became too much to maintain. We spent almost every weekend caring for the 2 acres, so we didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a gardener. The mature citrus trees required enough water to make me cry at the sight of my water bill every month. We eventually realized this house was cutting into our free time, and the extra money we were spending on utilities might be better spent on some bucket list vacations. At a certain point, it became apparent that the pros of downsizing our home started outweighing our emotional attachment to what was our dream house.

The Good: We moved less than five minutes from my husband’s work.

This has cut down on both his gasoline consumption and his commute time. He is now much happier because he has more time for the things he loves doing. Our water bill has been cut by two-thirds and the extra time and money we have has given us the opportunity for some much-needed R&R. I now have time on the weekends to spend with my grandchildren and to do what I want. An added benefit that we didn’t count on is my husband’s desire to eat lunch at home. He is not only saving money from going out to lunch on a daily basis – it’s so much better for his health instead of eating fast food!  Financially, we were able to cash out on some built up home equity and roll that into savings, all while taking advantage of some historically low interest rates on our new mortgage. Overall, we are spending less on our monthly housing budget allowing us to save even more before retirement.  

The Bad: I had enough stuff to fill a 3,200 square foot house and now live in a 1,600 square foot house.

Do the math, I now have enough stuff to fill an entire second house. So, four garage sales, eight trips to the Salvation Army, many listings on Craigslist and a U-Haul truck that took my piano and other furniture to my daughter’s house in Phoenix, and I still have a garage with boxes that I’m still not ready to give up, but don’t have room for in the house. Downsizing your home means you need to make some hard decisions about shedding a lifetime of possessions. This can be liberating, but it takes time to actually come to terms with discarding that which you have accumulated.   This process can be very emotional and stressful if done hastily. Planning is the key to getting through it unscathed. In retrospect, I wish I had started years ago; not when it became an absolute necessity. Additionally, I prematurely deemed my husband coming home for lunch a benefit of our move, when it also means I have an additional mess in our kitchen thanks to his daily healthy and economic lunchtime routine!

Tips and advice:

  • Make a pro/con list. While making a decision to sell your dream home can feel very emotional, writing down the pros and cons can really help you see everything in black and white on a page in front of you. Without emotion being involved, if the list you create while talking about staying in your current home has too much in your ‘con’ column, it’s time to sell!
  • Assess your finances. How much are you spending each month on mortgage, property taxes, utilities, monthly upkeep, gasoline, and commute? How much would you spend if you potentially moved to a new location? Remember – your time is also valuable. If you think about the hours of your day in terms of an hourly rate – you are losing that amount per hour in commuting and yard work. Wouldn’t you rather be “spending” that hourly rate on doing things you enjoy?
  • Talk to your partner and friends you trust. Sometimes, you are too close to the issue to see that you have a problem – or that there’s a potential solution! You may need someone to help you identify the issues and make your lists – and work with you to meter your expectations.

So at the end of the day, my advice – lists are your friend! Ultimately…there are worse things than cleaning up your husband’s lunch plates. Downsizing your home can lead to upgrading your lifestyle!