When home maintenance overwhelms, a move often comes to mind: Is it time for senior living, or to occupy an adult child's in-law suite? Should we downsize to a smaller, lower-maintenance living space?
Louis Tenenbaum, the nation's leading authority on aging in place, cautions against thinking of downsizing as a simple solution. A move of any kind is a complicated process, involving emotions and changes both subtle and significant—and for couples, there is the added possibility of conflicting opinions.
Home Versus House: Assessing Value Inside and Out
Finding the right, safe housing is a better approach than downsizing, Tenenbaum says.
Multigenerational households are becoming more popular, but even close-knit families may struggle with the arrangement. You may be upgrading your physical space to better suit a new life stage, but in doing so, you may be leaving behind neighbors, your favorite grocery store, your local pharmacist, banker, and perhaps a church. Many active adult/55+ communities boast low-maintenance, one-level living with a laundry list of amenities, but no services should needs arise.
By choosing one-level living, you may eliminate stairs inside the house, but are there steps to get in from the outside? Adding a driveway ramp, grab bars in the shower, or any other significant changes to construction may be helpful, but they could detract from your home's value, per Jennifer Pickett, Associate Executive Director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM).
One size does not fit all for aging in place, and these considerations must be part of the preliminary “to move or not" conversation, says Tenenbaum.
Downsize In Place
Smaller isn't necessarily safer, and downsizing doesn't always require a move.
Most modern homes are filled with stuff we don't need or rarely use. “It's never too soon to downsize or declutter," says Pickett. “We all should start downsizing at age 50, if for no other reason than to avoid leaving that job to our children," she says.
Bogged down by boxes of old photos? Hire a professional or enlist relatives to help you organize these cumbersome yet valuable items. Taking a digital inventory of your possessions allows for more independence too, says Pickett, who recommends the HomeZada system for creating smart templates, making sure your valuables are adequately insured, tracking your inventory during a move, and more.
After you've decluttered your house—which includes laying out expectations and timelines for grown children still occupying storage space—Pickett advises a home safety assessment. At the top of that list? Get rid of throw rugs, a major fall hazard.
Pickett recommends thoughtful space planning—a reorganization of your furniture and most functional items. Stop using that wobbly stepstool to get mugs from a kitchen cabinet. Instead, install a strip with hooks on your backsplash (or under your cabinets), or place mugs on a countertop tree. Updated and improved lighting and colors throughout your home also make it a safer, more functional place as you age... no mail forwarding necessary.
Size Isn't Everything
When I cared for my young daughter following double hip surgery, our tiny home did not easily accommodate her wheelchair, walker, and other post-op accoutrements. Opting for less square footage cannot be the only consideration in downsizing; instead, focus on making your current/new space work more efficiently and safely to meet your needs.
Perhaps you need to downsize your schedule. Are there weekly engagements that can move to a bi-weekly rotation? Should you volunteer on a part-time basis rather than full-time? Instead of reducing the size of your home, can you add supportive services, like a home companion who can do light errands or housekeeping?
Future unknowns can quickly disrupt the most carefully designed age-in-place plan. Your spouse may suddenly pass away. You may lose mobility after a fall or require intensive care after surgery. In those cases, shifting to a smaller space may not suffice.
Still, planning ahead is crucial. Read this post to decide if you're ready to move, or review different examples of aging in place in What Older Adults Want You to Know About Caregiving.
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