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How Do You Know When It’s Time to Downsize Your Life?

By Sherry Bronson February 14, 2023 Lifestyle

There’s only one good answer to the question of when to downsize – before you have to.

As we age, the psychological benefits of choice increase and the opportunities to choose decrease. Things happen to us that are beyond our control. We don’t ask for diminishing eyesight or hearing. It’s not a choice when body parts get creaky or just plain wear out.

This is a story of choices – the choices of my wise parents.

The Life of Youth

My parents raised us on eight acres abutting the Mississippi River. Dad had raspberries, fruit trees, a vegetable garden and honey bees. A luscious rolling lawn spanned the distance between the house and the river. He mowed it weekly all summer. Inside, Mom had her six full sets of service-for-12 china, the wedding crystal, a cup and saucer from every city she’d ever visited and countless other treasures.

“We’re Downsizing!”

I’d married and moved away, but on a visit home Mom took me aside. “Your dad’s hip is bothering him. He doesn’t complain – you know your father – but it has to be painful because he’s stopped golfing. We’ve been talking about selling this place and getting an apartment in town. What do you think?”

Perhaps for the first time I noticed that age had crept up on my fit, energetic mother. She was 64 but Dad was 70. Like a flickering old-time movie, memories flashed through my mind: holidays here, and summers – my girls tagging after their grandpa, their lips and fingers stained red from the berries they’d plucked along the way. But I knew what I had to say.

“I think you’re smart to make the change before you have to.” She hugged me.

“That’s what we think too.”

Within months the house sold and there was an auction in the front yard. “Gram! You can’t sell these!” My oldest daughter rescued the wedding crystal. She still has it.

Their new home was a two-bedroom, second floor apartment in a building where they already had friends. The building had no elevator. Mom believed that climbing the stairs would be good exercise for both of them.

Five years later, she was tired of carrying the basket of clean clothes up two flights from the laundry room in the basement. Again, before they had to, they rented an apartment in a new complex where there were no stairs to climb.

Time for Assisted Living

When Mom was 84 and Dad had just turned 90, she cornered me again. “We’re thinking of assisted living,” she said. That blind-sided me. I wasn’t ready. In my mind, assisted living translated as: The Final Move. But Mom was certain, and by that time Dad’s mobility was challenged and Alzheimer’s muddied his once-clear mind.

“Have you looked at what’s available?” I asked her, hedging my response, playing for more time.

“Not yet. But there are only two options here in town.”

“Let’s go check them out,” I said. I wanted to witness the horrors for myself. We first went to the newer one across from the YMCA. Mom drove herself and Dad to the Y three times a week. He sat with the other husbands and drank coffee while Mom joined the aqua aerobics workout in the pool. It would be convenient for them to live right across the street.

My eyes popped when we went inside. Elegant furnishings, a grand staircase to the upper level balcony, the chandeliers in the dining room, and the staff in their crisp uniforms felt like a well deserved step up. Mom was uncharacteristically silent.

Laden with brochures and price-lists, we thanked our tour guides and exited to the parking lot. “What did you think?” I asked. Mom looked unhappy.

“It’s nice. The other one is by the church,” she said. They’d been members of Zion Lutheran forever and they attended every Sunday. I decided not to press her for more feedback on the first place until we’d seen option two. We rode in silence to the next stop.

I turned off the highway onto a tree-lined drive with rolling hills that met evergreen forest at its border. The building branched out from a center hub all on one level. Mom’s countenance brightened but she remained cautious.

We parked and walked through the main doors into a space that felt like our living room by the river. A stone fireplace flanked by comfortable sofas and chairs anchored one end. An upright piano next to a juice and coffee bar stood to the right by a row of windows that filled the room with light.

When we left, their name was on the waiting list. “We would feel at home here,” she said.

On the drive back to their apartment I fished for more information.

“The first place was beautiful.”

She shot me an indignant look. “Like a hotel,” she said, and that was the end of that.

Of Losses and Gains

Their names came up far too quickly for me, but they took to their new surroundings with the same grace and good humor characteristic of all their transitions. The windows of their new home framed ancient pines and roving deer. Winter, summer, spring and fall, their view of the world was magical.

When Dad died it was hard for Mom. But for every meal she sat in the dining room with people who knew and loved her. Until the end of her own life, she was an active participant in the daily activities and special events. I’m grateful that she knew better than I the right time and place for that last transition.

Now more than ever I’m seeing the kindness in their choices. Their wise moves made it easy for us, their children. They never relinquished control over their circumstances but let go and adjusted before ill health or age forced them to it. We never had to step in and say, “Mom, Dad, it’s time.” What a precious gift that is.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you made the decision to downsize your life? What has been the hardest thing to let go? What have been the benefits of making these choices for yourself? Please share in the comments.

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Renate Huf

I have been having the same decisions to make and in the end decided I am not ready to move to a retirement place. Yes I have my limitations but am in a financial position where I can buy the help I need for the garden and the house if that situation should arise. My partner is presently looking after all that and that keeps him busy and he loves it. I am 73 but in my head I am only mid 50‘s. 😀

Ana Gavrilis Stran

I have recently decided that my 3 bdroom, 2 story house is too much to take care of thus will be downsizing. How much is still a question for I like the stairs for exercise and I have a boyfriend who is blind n is also considering a change.
Love the opportunity to decide n make changes.

Lisa

I am in the unenviable situation of having tried to persuade my parents to move to supported living which they refused too.
I moved in retirement to the coast.
Unfortunatly they are now in a large house with an unmanageable garden still refusing to move.
Expecting my grown up children who live near to sort their day to day life out and l awaiting a major crisis any day soon.
Selfish springs to mind taking no responsibility or forward planning for their old age.
I will never expect or want my poor children to be responsible for my welfare its not fair too they have their families and life to live.

Susan

I’ve experienced that with my own parents, Lisa. I wasn’t a wanted child in the first place, but it was expected that I’d be the one picking up the pieces later on. I wouldn’t impose any of that on my own son. Let him have his own life and enjoy it.

FY!

This was a lovely story and brought a tear to my eye. May it always be that beautiful.

Cherie Peacock

It had been a long time thinking I could (not should) downsize (especially items I could do without). Then along came flooding from Hurricane Ian – 20″+ water in the house. That certainly took care of my procrastination. Most furniture, especially fabric covered, went to the pile in my yard. Much was added to the pile, including all family photos of many generation. If it had been washed by Gulf water and more, it pretty much had to go. The “leftovers” fill one 16′ PODS and a couple of van loads. Ended up unable to rebuild. I’ve downsized in square feet (not by much) at a different location in FL closer to my son. Not ready for a condo; certainly not ready for an “old folks” home. Here I am in my mid 70s starting over. I believe some areas of our country offer more choices for senior housing, but not in the Orlando area.
The story of the couple and their daughter was lovely. Thank you for that.

Beth Rice

I live in Ft Myers Fl
lots of people had no choice…. Better to lose our stuff than our lives…

The Author

Sherry Bronson is a writer and traveler. After downsizing, she spent ten thrilling years in Bali, then a year exploring Mexico. Now, she's in northern Minnesota rehabbing a derelict hunting cabin on the family farm. On her blog, Sherry encourages readers to fearlessly and fully live their own authentic lives.

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