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Downsizing Your Home: When Is It the Right Time?

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​Owning a house has long been part of the American Dream, and with housing prices nationwide skyrocketing, it can be difficult to know if it’s a smart choice to sell and move out. That said, there are several scenarios in which downsizing is not only an attractive but even pragmatic idea. If your home has started to feel too big or costs too much to maintain, it might be time to think about a change. Here, we’ll share the signs you should be looking out for to know when it’s time to downsize — and when it’s not. 

When Should You Downsize Your Home?

It’s easy to justify staying in the same house, even after your kids have left and bought houses of their own. After all, you never know when having a little extra space might come in handy, right? But the bottom line is that when it comes to homes, bigger isn’t always better, especially when there’s unused space that only serves to drive up your bills and the number of hours you spend on household chores. 

And while it’s okay to wait until you feel ready, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good and practical reasons to start thinking about downsizing sooner rather than later. Here are four reasons it might be time for you to reap the benefits of downsizing. 

1. When It Makes Financial Sense

For millions of people, the cost of housing (even as the market rests on shifting sands) means not being able to buy a home in the first place. On the other hand, a person might buy a house only to discover later that the size of the mortgage payments and property taxes is no longer manageable. A sudden medical expense or unexpected life event can also cause extreme financial stress and make the monthly payments unaffordable.

There’s no easy way to reconcile yourself with downsizing when the reasons are financial, especially since there’s often little you can do except move out. If you’re no longer able to afford your home, you may need to act as quickly as possible to avoid even greater financial consequences.

Signs that it might be time to downsize for financial reasons include:

  • High or increasing amounts of credit card debt used on everyday expenses such as food.
  • Unexpected significant expenses, such as medical bills that require you to take out additional loans.
  • Trouble funding mortgage payments within your budget.

2. When You Want to Travel More

Not every reason for downsizing is devastating or unfortunate. If you’re a jet setter and spend a lot of time traveling each year, whether it’s for business or pleasure, downsizing can actually put more travel money directly in your wallet.

That said, you’ll still want to have a home that’s comfortable and familiar to return to after your travels, but it doesn’t need to be huge — unnecessary, underused space isn’t worth keeping in the long run. 

Downsizing to a smaller home or apartment can provide you with a cozy rest stop in between your adventures, with all the essentials you need before you hop on your next flight. You’ll also be saving a lot of money — lower mortgage payments and upkeep fees can allow you to redirect your savings toward your trips instead. If you’re worried about storage space, remember that it’s likely more cost-effective to downsize and then put extra belongings in storage while you’re away. When you come back, you can grab what you need from storage, and have a safe place to keep it when you leave again.

3. For a Minimalist Lifestyle

Embracing a simple and minimalist lifestyle is a longstanding trend — and it’s not going anywhere.  Whether you’re looking to move into a tiny house in the middle of the woods, take your life out on the road in a camper RV or simply move into a small studio that can fulfill your basic needs, downsizing can help you shake off any extra, cluttered space and attain greater peace of mind. 

You don’t have to live a monastic lifestyle to be able to practice the core principles of minimalism. Many people find that simply reducing the number of things they own and rely on is enough to help them live with more joy and gratitude.

Minimalism isn’t all about living on the bare minimum. Check out our guide on how to declutter your life and become a minimalist — without giving up the things you love.

4. After Retirement

Your kids are adults now, perhaps buying homes of their own, and it’s just you and your partner living in your home. If this sounds familiar, then it’s one of the best times to start thinking about downsizing.

Downsizing after you retire can help you live on a fixed budget so that the money you gain from selling your home can be used to assist with your retirement income.

Plus, as you get older, it’ll become harder to manage the size and upkeep of a large house, as well as navigate multiple floors. In fact, stairs often represent a significant hazard to seniors and are the leading cause of injuries (fatal and non-fatal) for adults ages 65 and older.

If your retirement coincides with a shift toward a snowbird lifestyle — traveling south or to warmer climates for the winter — then downsizing your home can make it easier to own and maintain two households through the seasons.

When Is Downsizing a Bad Idea?

Downsizing isn’t for everyone, and even if it is, it may not be the right time for you. Here are a few situations where it might be smart to hold off on moving out.

1. When Your House Is Appreciating Quickly

If your home is gaining value rapidly, it might be wise to wait the market out before buying a smaller house. Neighborhoods in newer areas of town often see homes appreciating in value at impressive rates, especially if there is a new development, investment in local public services and schools, or an influx of business to the area. Under these circumstances, it often makes sense to hold off until the price climb levels out, and then to sell your home when it’s worth more.

2. When You Regularly Entertain Guests

Do you love to host? Whether it’s having friends over for a quiet dinner or making your home the go-to destination for neighborhood events, prolific hosts might find that having extra space is actually an important, non-negotiable part of their lives. Just because the kids have moved out doesn’t mean that spare room is going to waste — at least not if you love to have people at your home.

3. Before Your Kids Have Started Their Careers

Nearly 23 percent of millennials live with their parents. In the post-recession era, high housing costs and low wage growth have stymied millions of millennials who’ve left college only to enter a meager, hyper-competitive job market. 

If your kids are still in college, hold off on downsizing. Chances are high that they might need to move back in with you temporarily after they graduate. 

Is your child graduating from college in a year or two, or a recent grad? Share our guide to Adulting 101: How to Prepare for Life After College to help them navigate the stressful months of post-grad life.

How to Downsize Your Home

In the end, downsizing is an extremely personal decision that involves plenty of variables specific to each family. Some people may find excitement and catharsis in leaving the big family home behind and starting a simpler life, while others may find it challenging to part with the roots they created — and cultivated — over many years. If you find yourself ready to move on, check out our recommended reading on how to get your home in first-rate shape before putting it on the market:

  1. Essential Tips for Packing and Moving While You Sell Your Old House
  2. Tips on Staging a Home for a Quick Sale
  3. How to Move Across the Country

Need tips on how to make the most out of a small space? Check out:

  1. 10 Bedroom Storage Hacks to Increase Space
  2. 9 Small Space Storage Hacks for Your Living Room
  3. 7 Ultimate Storage Hacks for Tiny Bathrooms
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