For many, downsizing is more accurately described as “right-sizing.” Popularized by author Sheri Koones, the idea of a smaller home is that it helps people live compactly and reduce the typical avalanche of stuff.
It’s not about giving up everything, but instead deciding what’s really important and then finding ways to better incorporate those priorities into one’s lifestyle.
Shrinking a home’s total square footage might not be the right fit for everyone, but it does offer economic, lifestyle, and emotional benefits for some.
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The Rise of Downsizing
Living minimally has always been a lifestyle choice, but lately, more and more people are opting to live with less and less. Minimalism went mainstream with Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” which urges readers to get rid of items that don’t bring joy.
Downsizing as a trend goes hand in hand with minimalism, the urge to have fewer objects and live in a smaller space. It’s part of the cultural shift of valuing doing something over having something. Three-quarters of Americans value experiences more than things, one study showed.
That shift and home building data suggest that it’s not just empty-nesters looking to purchase a home with less square footage. The National Association of Home Builders reported the slight shrinking of the average home size in recent years.
The choice to downsize a house is personal, but it’s one that many homeowners are taking on.
Signs It’s Time to Downsize
No matter a person’s life stage, there are a few signs that may signal that it’s time to downsize.
Housing expenses are too high: The traditional notion is that no more than 30% of a person’s gross income should be spent on housing costs. (The number has been debated, but the 50/30/20 rule has wide support: 50% of post-tax income goes to essential needs, including housing, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings.
If the cost of the mortgage, upkeep, and additional home-related expenses far exceed a 30% of a person’s budget, it might be time to think about downsizing. This could apply to a retired couple now living on a fixed income or a first-time homeowner who has a hard time paying the mortgage without roommates.
No ties to the location: Remote work is on the rise, and that could mean employees are no longer tied to their neighborhood, city, or state. Similarly, the kids might be out of school and parents no longer feel the need to stay in the school district. When a homeowner no longer feels committed to their property’s location, it might be time to consider downsizing.
A lifestyle change: It could stem from limited mobility or simply fewer people living in the house, but if rooms or even floors aren’t being used weekly, it could be time to try a smaller space.
Home equity could be used: Depending on the amount of equity a person has in their home and the value of the market, they could be sitting on a potentially huge payday. The proceeds from the sale of their home could be a significant down payment on a smaller property.
The Upside of Downsizing
Downsizing can sound restricting, but there’s a lot to benefit from:
- Less upkeep: A smaller home means less upkeep overall. A bigger home requires more maintenance, cleaning, and possibly yardwork.
- More affordable: A survey of downsizers showed that they spent 62% less on a new home than on the house they owned before, according to Homes.com. A smaller home will probably come with a smaller mortgage payment or none at all. On top of that, the less space, the fewer things that can go wrong in the home. Additionally, a smaller space typically means lower heating and cooling bills.
- A fresh locale: In general, smaller homes typically cost less, so that could create the opportunity to move into a small place in a more desirable or exciting neighborhood. It could cost more on average per square foot, but with less square footage overall, up and coming neighborhoods might be attainable.
- Freed-up money: A smaller space with fewer expenses and less upkeep can translate to a bigger budget for travel and experiences.
The Downside of Downsizing
Downsizing has its perks, but there are a few potential drawbacks to the life choice as well.
Less space: A smaller footprint could mean sacrificing a guest room, having fewer bathrooms or losing some garden space. Homeowners thinking about downsizing can be forced to make tough decisions about what truly matters to them in their day-to-day living space.
Cost of moving: Overall, downsizing is a more affordable lifestyle, but don’t discount the cost of selling a home and moving. Remember, when selling a home, real estate agent commissions and other fees can eat up to 10% of the sales price of the home. Selling should lead to a payday, but homeowners take on expenses when prepping their property for sale. Additionally, a full-service move can cost thousands, move.org notes.
Stress of sorting through stuff: In a recent survey, 45% of respondents said moving is the most stressful event in life, ranked a hair above divorce or a breakup. Downsizing can be particularly stressful because not everything can go with you. It could mean parting with keepsakes; paring heaps of clothes, shoes, books, holiday decorations and the list goes on; or deciding to go without some beloved items because they simply don’t suit a smaller home.
Staying minimalist-minded: Downsizing isn’t just a one-time choice; it’s the conscious decision to live with less. The initial work of downsizing is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome, but there’s the ongoing choice to live with less and resist buying and accumulating more stuff.
How to Downsize: Steps to Get Started
Explore alternative housing: Before diving headfirst into downsizing, it’s worth trying out a smaller way of life. That could mean renting a smaller home for a week or two in a new neighborhood. Downsizing can mean a lot of things, from a tiny house to a condo, or moving from a four-bedroom to a two-bedroom. Getting an idea of what downsizing will mean on a personal level starts with understanding how small you’ll go.
Start organizing: Sorting through all your worldly possessions and deciding what to get rid of can be exhausting. Getting started on organizing sooner rather than later can save downsizers time and energy. Starting to live with less sooner can make the transition a little easier.
Research your property’s value: Knowing the value of your current property, as well as the equity you have, can help create a road map to more affordable living. With an idea of the market value and the proceeds, you’ll have a good idea of what your down payment could be.
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