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What Do You Do When You Want to Downsize – But Your Spouse Doesn’t?

By Rita Wilkins December 28, 2023 Lifestyle

As an interior designer for the past 35 years, I have had the opportunity to help baby boomers design their first, second and even third homes, their beach houses, mountain retreats, and country cottages. I’ve helped them upsize to larger and larger homes (because that’s what baby boomers did!), and now, at this stage of life, baby boomers are deciding whether to age-in-place, right-size or downsize.

The irony is, for years I helped my clients upsize and buy more stuff. Now they need help with downsizing, decluttering and getting rid of all of the stuff they accumulated or inherited.

Many baby boomers continue to hold onto the idea that more is better. They struggle with letting go of the big house they raised their children in, the memories made around their kitchen table, and the beautiful things they’ve collected over years.

Yet, many other boomers are excited about giving all of that up and moving to a smaller, more manageable home that gives them the opportunity to experience a simpler life with less stuff so they can finally enjoy their heard earned freedom.

But what happens when one spouse wants to stay in the big house and the other wants to downsize?

Downsizing Is a Matter of Choice

This might sound like an impossible scenario where one partner will inevitably get what he/she wants and the other will have to sacrifice their own wants and needs. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Throughout my career, I’ve found myself in the middle of these sometimes heated and very lively conversations, but I have learned to embrace the role of middleman so I can help both parties win together.

To begin, all couples should know they can “have it all.” All they have to do is figure out what “having it all” means to them and then determine what compromises each spouse is willing to make.

As a third party, I’m not tied to the emotional aspects of the decision, but by walking them through a series of well-developed questions I can assist them in moving the discussion forward to a win/win conclusion.

For couples who find it difficult to come to a decision together, these top 7 tips may well diffuse the downsizing battle.

Hear Others’ Stories

As a rule, it’s never good to only discuss the matter between yourselves. Talk with family, friends, and colleagues who have successfully downsized, right-sized, or have chosen to age-in-place.

Gather information and learn as much as you can from their experience. Ask them:

  • What were their experiences, both good and bad?
  • How did they come to their conclusion?
  • What were some of the obstacles/fears they faced? How did they overcome them?
  • Are they happy with their decision?
  • If they could recommend one thing to assist in the decision making process, what might it be?

Talk It Out

Determine and discuss all the reasons why one partner wants to stay and why the other one wants to go. Each should list:

  • Their reasons for wanting to stay (memories, neighborhood) or move (more freedom, less stress, new lifestyle).
  • Their reasons for not wanting to move (fear or change and of the unknown) or not wanting to stay (difficulty managing around, inability to utilize the space, higher expenses).
  • Their questions and concerns and share them with their partner.
  • What past experiences, both good and bad, might be influencing their thinking.
  • Which areas they are willing to compromise and which they are not.

Know What You Want

Before you step into the process of moving, create a vision for your new lifestyle. What will your new life look like if you downsize? What will it look like if you stay in your old home?

Are there similarities between your vision and that of your spouse? Which areas could you compromise on, i.e., declutter first, rent a smaller place for a short period of time, etc.

Do Your Due Diligence

Once you have all the answers figured out, weigh the pros and cons of downsizing or not downsizing. Don’t forget to analyze the costs associated with

  • staying in your existing home (i.e., roof replacement, home maintenance, renovation for aging-in-place).
  • moving (i.e. buying, renting, moving costs).

Prototype and Try Different Lifestyles

Whatever your decision, don’t go all in right away. Dip your toe in the water. Experiment with living in various places that you are curious about by planning a several weeks long vacation to see if you would like it or not (i.e. city living, community living, living near family). Most of all, have fun!

Rent for a Period of Time

Keep your options open. Having a limited time commitment (i.e. renting for a few months) will help allay your fear of making a change that one or both might regret.

Phase Your Decision by Decluttering Your Existing Home First

Have the experience of living with less by editing and decluttering your existing home before you make the decision to downsize.

Sell, donate and consign items that no longer serve a purpose or that you no longer want. You may decide to stay a while longer or you might decide to take the next big step and downsize.

The best advice to diffuse the dueling downsizing battle is to keep an open mind and communicate your thoughts by sharing your concerns, as well as, your hopes and dreams. In the end, what matters most is opening up the conversation to discuss how you both can design a new life you will love together.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What appears most difficult when considering downsizing? If you had to make that decision, would there be mutual agreement? How do you go about compromising with your spouse? Please share with our audience!

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Oh this is sooo tricky. I’m keen to move from lovely big old house, husband loves it here. Will introduce your questions! 🤞

Lily,I do hope that they will open the door to a positive discussion and outcome for both of you!
Rita Wilkins,
The Downsizing Designer

The Author

Rita Wilkins, known as The Downsizing Designer, is a nationally recognized interior design and lifestyle design expert, Tedx speaker and author of Downsize Your Life, Upgrade Your Lifestyle: Secrets to More Time, Money and Freedom. She challenges baby boomer audiences to reimagine, reinvent, redesign their lives to live abundantly with less. Learn more at

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