Minimalism is definitely picking up steam. From tiny houses to the KonMari method, downsizing is definitely on the rise.
Just remember that by focusing on the things you really enjoy, you’ll be more satisfied and happy. After all, you’re better off being wealthy than rich.
TOP STORY: Downsizing
The decision to downsize one’s living arrangements isn’t reserved for seniors nor for those who own a home. It might or might not mean a move to a place with a smaller footprint or fewer rooms or even require an address change. Downsizing in place can be positively liberating, too.
What we typically think of as downsizing however usually does mean fitting into a smaller space and there are many reasons people do it. Aging is definitely one factor. The bigger the house the more dust to be dusted and floors to be scrubbed. Maybe the house is unsuitable for aging in place; too many stairs, trip and fall hazards, impossible to navigate with a walker or scooter.
Some reasons are financial. With the kids grown and gone, why continue to heat, air condition, and pay property taxes on two bedrooms and a bath no one uses? That big chunk of equity might fund early retirement, travel adventures, or starting a business.
Maybe the size of the home is fine, but its layout no longer works; too many bedrooms but no space to entertain; a monster yard that eats up leisure time. It’s in the wrong place; the wrong climate, too far from the kids and grandkids; or wouldn’t it be great to live in the vacation house full-time? Urban migration is a big deal for empty nesters; foregoing the suburbs for an apartment or condo close to restaurants, theaters, and public transportation.
Whether you are merely cutting back on space, on clutter, or planning to upend your lifestyle, there are good ways to approach downsizing that are sensible, efficient, and cost effective; and bad ways that can make you crazy, exhaust your body and spirit, and cost a lot of money.
Making a Plan
Downsizing requires more preparation and planning than other moves. Upsizing means plenty of places to put “stuff”—maybe space to acquire more of it. Moving to even slightly smaller quarters will mean items, repurposing others. Drastic reductions in size might require ruthless decisions. This move may be the first in decades. Decades in which to accumulate tons of stuff.
Costs are another consideration, especially if the move is between cities or states. The more stuff that makes the trip, the higher the final bill. Local moves, in-state and under 100 miles, are priced by the man-and-truck-hour. HomeAdvisor.com estimates $100 per hour for a two-person crew and seven to 10 hours to move a three-bedroom house. Even if you probably have to rent a truck and buy packing materials. Long distance moves are a combination of distance and weight. Estimates for a 1,200-mile move averaged around $150 per pound.
It makes sense to determine early on what stays and what goes. Get rid of the wrong stuff and you will end up replacing it or wishing you could. Dispose of too little and face a second round of downsizing furniture that didn’t fit and tchotchkes without a home. And after spending “50-cents a pound” to transport it.
Measure, Then Measure Again
You might let some of your possessions inform your choice if you have options of where to move. Write down the dimensions of important pieces and measure potential properties against them. (As an aside, don’t forget to measure the height Ceiling heights can vary.)
Realistically, however most downsizing will be guided by the new space not vice versa. This means you need a very detailed floor plan.
Sketch out the rooms and measure, not just the length and width of each room, but distances along the walls. Will the couch fit between the fireplace and the window? Is the dining room big enough that you can walk around the table and chairs? Can the closet door be opened without hitting the dresser? Indicate locations of doors and windows, and the sill height of the latter. Note impediments like floor registers, and essentials like electrical outlets. Include storage spaces. Drawing to scale is not necessary, accurate measurements are.
Attacking the Stuff
The first round of “does it stay or go” will be guided by this floor plan. If it doesn’t fit you must omit.
Think creatively. A small chest might fit under the shorter clothes in a closet. Keep the shoes but ditch the boxes and use hanging bags. Under bed storage is great for seldom-used items such as serving trays, off-season clothes or holiday stuff. A cedar chest could be converted to a TV stand; a bedroom dresser into a living room sidepiece with accessories on the top, extra linens inside. The piano has to go, but the bench could be extra party seating or a bedroom bench for putting on shoes.
As you go through rooms, cupboards, and closets be honest with yourself. Do you really need 12 sets of placemats and napkins? When was the last time you looked at your high school yearbooks, used the George Foreman grill, remembered you even owned a tagine?
Technology can help. Photo albums take up space, digitized pictures in an electronic frame do not. Upload your music into the cloud and throw out the CD jewel cases.
Classify every item you own into an appropriate category; keep, give, donate, sell, toss. Keep is the easy one. You want to keep it all. Well you can’t, but it’s a good place to start. After all it is your stuff and you have the right of first refusal.
This is where we introduce our favorite downsizing aid—those bright colored stickers from the office supply store. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes so buy a bunch and establish a code; green square = gets moved, yellow dot = yard sale, blue square = give to “X”. For the code to work you have to remember it so WRITE IT DOWN and distribute copies liberally through the house.
There is no sticker for “toss.” Those items go directly into a trash bag and are hauled to the curb immediately. The longer a “souvenir of Chicago” paperweight or dried prom corsage hangs around, the more likely it will end up on the moving van.
Incidentally, if you anticipate tons of trash, local regulations or common sense may dictate arranging for a dumpster. They aren’t cheap, but with the meter running in the driveway you might get done a little faster.
You can’t sell a home in the midst of chaos so break your downsizing into two phases—an initial pass to get rid of the obvious junk and pack up stuff not needed short term, hold the yard sale, and haul stuff to a donation center. Your home will “show” better because excess furniture “shrinks” rooms and clutter distracts buyers and keeps them from visualizing their own things in your space. Once the house is sold you will have several weeks to pack up and get rid of the rest.
Southern California is, despite rumors to the contrary, continuing to grow. A recent report from JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle, Inc.) shows that Los Angeles and Orange County are the largest two metros in the country with 714,057 and 243,725 new residents respectively since 2010. JLL researcher Paulina Torres says career is the primary driver. Many of the new arrivals are from the East Coast and most are from cold weather regions.
“The cost of living, especially concerning housing, is the greatest challenge to face when considering living in California,” adds Torres. “Still, superior weather, diverse landscapes, and specialized job opportunities continue to attract the nation’s highly educated population.” Kelsi Maree Borland, GlobeSt.com
Tips and Strategies
Check charity policies in advance. Some specialize in certain items; many won’t pick up donations and some that do won’t enter a home.
Old furniture, comic books, tools, high quality china and crystal, toys in their original boxes, can sometime have more than yard sale value. Check on-line or in a good reference book for prices. If you have a lot of potential collectibles, consult an appraiser. Auction houses maintain expert faculties and often won’t so you will probably know exactly what your budget should be.
Don’t overlook your own skills. If you have the time and the expertise you can cut your budget significantly. Don’t despair if the skill part is a little shaky, the internet has a wealth of guides and (better yet) videos designed to teach a novice to do almost anything. Some are specific to a single product—why is the washing machine making that noise? With a model number and a properly framed search question you can learn why and what to do about it in minutes.
On the other hand, time is money and many tasks require tools or equipment missing from the average homeowner’s toolbox. If you have the luxury of both extra time and a flexible bank balance, weigh the value of DIY versus professional help.
WHICH GENERATIONS ARE BUYING?
Millennials still made up the largest share of home buyers at 38%: Gen Xers (40-54 yrs) consisted of 23% of recent home buyers. Younger Boomers (55-64 yrs) consisted of 18%; and Older Boomers (65-73 yrs) consisted of 15%; The Silent Generation (74-94 yrs) represented the smallest share of buyers at 6%.
All generations of buyers continued to utilize a real estate agent or broker as their top resource to help them buy and sell their homes.
2019 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report, National Association of Realtors
Repair and/or Replace
The repair and replace budget is more complicated. First, make a list of all the major components of your home that may need replacing and find the replacement cost of each item. Then try to come up with an approximate age.
If the house was built 8 years ago, chances are the furnace was as well. A thirty-year-old home is probably on its second roof. Back then roofs lasted 20 to 25 years which makes yours five to ten years old. The seller’s disclosure or the sellers themselves might nail ages down more precisely and provide information about warranties. Ask your home inspector for educated guesses, check appliance bodies—some are date stamped by the manufacturer.
Even if you don’t know the age of anything you can Google the life expectancy of most systems and appliances on-line. A refrigerator, for example, lasts an average of 13 to 14 years. Some, of course, die the day after the warranty expires. Still, work with what you’ve got.
You can winnow components from the list according to how long you plan to be in the house. Gutters may last 30 years and become someone else’s problem.
Make the most educated guess you can about the remaining life of each component and rank order them by “expiration date.” This should give you a fairly good idea of what you can expect to spend over the next five years, ten years, and into the future. From this information it should be fairly easy to determine how much should be set aside each month as a reserve for major replacements.
Combine the two budgets and divide by 12. The is the amount that should be put aside each and every month to ensure you can handle the ordinary and the disastrous. Avoid any temptation to dip into these funds for a special night out, a vacation, or a new pair of shoes. If you are one of “those” people, turn the account over to a trusted ally who will ask for justification before allowing you access.
TINY HOME, SHRINKING FOOTPRINT
Is the tiny home craze good for the planet? A recent survey says yes indeed. The survey of 80 downsizers who had lived in homes measuring under 400 square feet for at least a year found that the ecological footprint of each had shrunk by 45%. Maria Saxton, a Virginia Tech PhD candidate, found that downsizing influenced lifestyles and reduced environmental impacts in unexpected ways. Tiny house occupants were more likely to eat fewer energy-intensive food products, travel less in motor vehicles, and drive more fuel-efficient cars than before downsizing. They also purchased less, recycled more, and generated less trash. Fast Company
A Possible Option…
One final option, presented with caveats. Home warranties are available that cover many repair and replacement costs. Some cover appliances, others provide whole house coverage. There is often a deductible and you may or may not be able to use your own plumber or electrician. One common complaint about the warranty companies is their reluctance to let go. They seem to prefer constant repair calls to providing a replacement. If you decide to purchase a policy, ask questions and get references.
Whether the builder just handed you the keys or you have been in the house for 20 years, it’s not too late to start a maintenance budget. There will always be a potential disaster ahead. Why not plan for it?