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Aging In Place, Or Then Again, Maybe Not

Downsizing may make more sense, even for boomers who still have their health


When we built this house 17 years ago, I was a mere 40 years old. It’s a huge undertaking to custom-build a home, especially when you’re closely involved in every aspect of the job, from drawing up the design and blueprints to choosing the fixtures to poring over paint chips to doing the construction clean-up.

On moving day, I remember telling my husband that it would take men in white jackets to haul me out of this house, and even then I’d put up one heck of a fuss. But you know what? A lot of eldercare water has flowed under the bridge since then, and it’s given me plenty to think about.

Both of our mothers became young widows. In fact, neither my mom nor my mother-in-law still had husbands in their lives by the time they were my current age. And even though they managed to live in their own homes for many years after losing our dads, both they and the houses seemed to be in ever-increasing rates of decline.

For one thing, the houses—-purchased to shelter multiple children, as ours is meant to do—-were just too large. Our mothers ended up sequestering themselves into one or two favored rooms and using the rest of the house like a paid storage unit—-not good. There were closed bedroom doors that could not be opened (if you valued your safety!) unless it was to fling the latest trashbag filled with junk mail on top of the heap.

There were basements and attics and garages so stuffed with stuff that our mothers finally took to using their existence as an unveiled threat: “You just wait. Someday, you’ll have to sort all this out. I don’t intend to do one thing except add to it, so there.” Yikes!!

These family homes were shut down many years ago now, when we had no choice but to move our mothers into care facilities. I still remember the months spent sorting and purging and dividing the valuables and giving away, selling, and trashing the rest. A truly exhausting (and yes, I’ll go ahead and say it, thankless) job. Our mothers never understood what we went through, and that’s fine.

What isn’t quite fine with me anymore is expecting my kids to bear a similar burden, when we could right now put a plan in place to begin the process of downsizing.

These days, as I contemplate a future with less money available in retirement that we’d projected even a few years ago, it’s starting to make so much sense to me to consider trading down from this relatively large house to a small house, patio home, or even 2-bedroom apartment. As much as I would not have believed at age 40 that I could be thinking like this at age 57, I no longer feel a need to age in place—-at least not in this particular place.

What if, by eliminating the need for exterior maintenance (a 3-acre lot requires significant upkeep and and long gravel driveway must be plowed after big snowfalls) and interior repairs and updating, we actually found a way to free up more time, energy, and money for pursuits we now find much more compelling?

I’ve decided that the last thing I want for the rest of my life is to end up trapped by a house that I’m not able or willing to maintain. What if getting out earlier (while we’re fully able to made independent decisions and do a lot of the heavy lifting), rather than sticking it out till the bitter end, turns out to be the best answer to an age-old question?

I, for one, am giving it some serious thought.

Posted by Katy on 02/10/11

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Are You a Late Boomer?

If looming retirement is catching you off-guard between an aging parent and a revolving-door kid, you might be. If you've delayed travel only to discover they've changed the names of all the countries, you are. And if you're a member of the Baby Boomer Generation who's ready to give back but you've forgotten where you put it, stay tuned. From healthcare to personal finance, from career changes to volunteerism, it's time to boom where you are planted.