Recognising emotional barriers to downsizing.

Credit: Downsizing
Recognising emotional barriers to downsizing.
Written by: Ron Reed

Downsizing can be an emotionally-charged decision – even when you know it’s a smart choice financially. We explain the common stumbling blocks with tips on how to deal with these.

Contemplating downsizing involves navigating a range of emotions and uncertainties. No surprises there, after all downsizing is a major life change.  

People spend their entire adult lives working to afford the best possible home they can, they become emotionally attached to it, and downsizing can seem like a step backwards - even if it makes perfect sense to release cash to live on in retirement.

Thinking about preparing for your old age, with the possibility of ill-health and death down the track can be confronting, and it's all too easy to defer a decision. Do-nothing seems like an easier option in the short term.

But denial definitely doesn't help, so stay focussed on the positive aspects of moving to a new home, and the negative aspects of staying put. You are entering an exciting  new stage of life where you are free from many of the responsibilities you've had for decades. Now the kids are grown, and you don't need to work, it's time to enjoy yourself and plan the sort of lifestyle you really want.

Reducing cumbersome home and garden maintenance is a big factor driving downsizing decisions, as is the attraction of a well designed newer home, better suited for hosting family and friends, in a location offering more convenience and an attractive lifestyle. Most new retirees plan to travel more, so a lock up and leave property is far more practical, too.

It pays for prospective downsizers to recognise some common emotionally-driven hurdles for what they are, and deal with them rather than put them in the "too hard" basket.

“Where will I put the furniture?”

After decades in the workforce and raising a family, many downsizers face the dilemma of what to do with a collection of furniture built up over many years. There may be an emotional attachment to particular pieces which won’t easily fit into a new home, especially if they’ve been handed down from other family members.

Putting what you don’t need in storage is no solution, as this just creates additional costs, defers a final (emotional) decision, and sidesteps the point of appeal that downsizing is a fresh start.

It makes more sense to acknowledge the perils of buying a new house simply because it fits your existing furniture. It costs less to buy new furniture than it does to buy a new home, and downsizing can be a fun opportunity for a completely new beginning with furnishings that are more appropriate to your new lifestyle.

Moving house at any stage in life will inevitably involve decluttering and a long overdue clear out. The process is even more painful where people associate lifetime memories with various household items and possessions. Part of the emotional journey in downsizing is being selective and practical in deciding what to keep and what to let go, and other family members may offer practical support in helping to sort and dispose of possessions.

“I won’t know anybody”

Anxiety about leaving a familiar environment is a common feeling. You may be
reluctant to leave your old home because of a perception that you have good social contacts nearby, even though in reality the people you once mixed with may have moved on long ago. Younger neighbours and family members may work long hours, limiting opportunities for daily interaction and support. As mobility and social contact declines over time, many older people living alone suffer from loneliness and depression.

A fear of change is a major barrier to decision-making, which only increases with age. It’s much better to move house while you are relatively young and active, rather than be forced into a traumatic relocation later in life due to ill-health or the death of a partner, when it will be far more difficult to cope with.

One of the major selling points of downsizing into purpose designed over 50's housing can be the social life and sense of community that residents share. For many people who’ve worked hard for decades, and raised a family, there is a new sense of personal freedom in retirement and they relish the opportunity to socialise and enjoy themselves in the company of like minded neighbours and friends.

In purpose built housing like retirement villages, lifestyle communities and other over 50’s developments, access to social and recreational facilities can provide opportunities for both formal and informal get-togethers, and it’s worth taking the time to consider these benefits.

Features such as pools, spas, billiard rooms, libraries and on-site cafes all offer social hubs. But don’t just focus on the availability of these resort style amenities – they’ve probably already been highlighted in the marketing material. Also consider the opportunities for personal social interaction they generate.

Further enquiries will highlight whether any clubs or social groups have sprung up around these facilities. A regular billiards competition for instance, or book club, that operates within the village can offer extra reassurance that you're not just buying a property, you’re becoming part of a welcoming community.

Don't let the conflict between your head and your heart put your plans on hold - recognise these common barriers to decision-making, and think about the lifestyle you really want in your retirement. After all, you've worked hard and you deserve it!



Watch the new Downsizing Property TV show here:

Improving Service and Challenging Stereotypes

Take a quick 2 minute survey to let us know what you are searching for and how you use the internet. It is anonymous and will produce statistics to help us ensure our services are relevant and to challenge some common stereotypes about older adults not being online. Thank you for your time!

Seniors Housing Online has regularly been featured on the national television program "A Current Affair" along with retirement properties selected from the website, representing different styles and price points