Downsizing for Seniors: the Complete Guide


Retirement is a new stage of life, and many seniors want a new environment to go with it. That’s why so many older adults decide to downsize. However, this comes with challenges. 

Decades worth of memories, habits, and stuff makes moving complicated. Here is a guide to determine if you should downsize, find the right place, and make moving a breeze.

Is Downsizing Right for You?

Not all seniors need to downsize. However, it’s a good call for many. 64% of seniors state that they plan to stay in their homes at retirement, but around 51% of retirees aged 50+ eventually move into smaller accommodations.

Are you spending too much on current housing?

Just cleaning our gutters can be time consuming and expensive
Home maintenance can become expensive.

Many people live in large family homes in great school districts. This is perfect…when you have kids in public school. Once your kids are out of the house, however, you’re paying extra in heating, cooling, and taxes that you don’t really need.

Selling your home can shed the extra expenses that accrue with a larger home, such as utilities and upkeep. When researching, consider agent commissions, taxes, and any moving expenses involved. There may be repairs or improvement costs if you need to bring up the value of your house.

If you’re considering your options regarding downsizing, check the current market price of your home to see if selling is feasible given the market environment. It’s good practice to check back periodically as the market fluctuates. PennyMac’s Home Value Estimator is reputed to be the most accurate pricing tool.

Beware of inflating the value of your home because of sentimental memories. Memories are not what potential buyers consider when determining the value of a home. Starting fresh and leaving your old lifestyle behind can be a difficult choice.

Do you have too much clutter?

Too much clutter can be solved by downsizing
Garage clutter

Downsizing is also valuable for seniors who feel they have too much stuff. Generally speaking, clutter grows to fit the space available. If you downsize, you’ll be forced to make decisions you’ve been putting off, such as whether you truly need four slow cookers.

Going through your excess stuff is hard work, but it’s well worth it. Research shows that having a neater, less cluttered environment reduces anxiety and improves happiness.

Will your current home be difficult to get around as you age?

One of the most important reasons to downsize is if your current home will be unsafe or difficult to navigate as you age. For example, lots of stairs means lots of hazards.

Even if you don’t have any trouble getting around your house right now, look at your space critically and ask if it will stay manageable as you age. If not, it could make sense to move into a more senior-friendly property.

Selling or Renting Your Current Home

Sell your current home to downsize
Home for sale

Local housing markets often fluctuate, so check what’s happening. Find out the average time it takes to sell similar homes in your neighborhood, and pay attention to what other homes in your area are selling for, as well.

Renting Out Your Home as an Option

If you’re not ready to sell, consider renting out your home, especially if you don’t have a mortgage or have low payments. You could receive a small profit. When deciding to rent, a property manager can help you get the most out of it.

Another option would be letting other family members move in and take over the mortgage payments if you wish to keep the home in the family. If you decide not to move, you’re surrounded by loved ones to continue making cherished memories.

Finding a New Place

Finding a new, smaller home can be exciting
New home

Once you decide to downsize, you’ll have to figure out where you want to live.

Start by reviewing the local housing market.This can give you a sense of what kind of properties are available at your price point. Understanding your market is the first step toward figuring out what you should look for.

You could also look into retirement communities in your area. Retirement communities are a great option, because they typically come with plenty of amenities and a built-in community of your peers. And, housing built with seniors in mind is sure to continue working for you as you age.

Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need assisted living, it’s worth checking out sooner rather than later. The fact of the matter is, the time might come where you need help with day-to-day tasks.

Moving into assisted living will be a lot less stressful if you’ve already toured the options. Plus, you’ll have an easier time evaluating the facilities in your area now, when the pressure is off.

If you’d prefer to save more money on downsizing, then consider sharing a home with roommates. Not only can home sharing reduce overall living costs, it can help satisfy the need for socialization, and you can rely on someone to be there in case you’re in need of assistance.

Downsizing and Moving 

Moving into a smaller place can be stressful, but rewarding
Moving day

You can begin downsizing once you’ve found your home, or you can start the process as soon as you begin your search. Either way, you’ll need to go through all of your stuff and figure out whether it should move with you.

Start with items in storage. Generally speaking, the dustier something is, the less likely you are to need it. Throw out or donate all broken items, duplicates, and gifts still in their box. Evaluate sentimental items honestly, and only hold on to items that are truly meaningful.

When it comes to the move itself, your best bet is to hire movers. You don’t want to risk injuring yourself trying to lift boxes or heavy furniture in and out of a moving truck, and pros save you the trouble.

Costs will vary depending on several factors, such as how far you’re moving, how much needs to be moved, and even the day of the week. However, making room in your budget for movers pays big dividends in convenience.

Finding the perfect home for retirement might be complicated, but it’s well worth the effort. Your golden years are the time to relax, enjoy your loved ones, and explore the things you’ve always wanted to try. With the right environment, you’ll be able to live the retirement you’ve been dreaming of.

Jason Gottschalk is the chief editor for Vibrant Aging Insider. He has a passion for working with older adults. He currently runs a nonprofit senior services company in metropolitan Washington, D.C. Prior to this, he was the Executive Director of a large retirement community and cofounded a technology company which developed senior support artificial intelligence, both in metro D.C.

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