May 11th, 2021 | Real Estate Advice

Smartsizing – The New Downsizing: An Ottawa Homeowner Interview

Is downsizing your home the right option for you? Recently we caught up with Erin and Peter, past clients of the Susan Chell Team, to talk about their experience downsizing their family home. The couple is in their 50’s and chose to move to a smaller home instead of waiting until retirement. To make the situation even more interesting, they bought and moved during the pandemic!

Erin and Peter loved their home in the Civic Hospital neighbourhood where they lived for 23 years, raising two children. The home was a dream for entertaining and hosting their extended families and friends. The footprint was large, with a hot tub, covered patio and immaculate landscaping.

When Priorities and Circumstances Change

Like many couples at this stage in their lives, Erin and Peter cared for their elderly parents who lived out of town. They travelled back and forth to their childhood homes in Sudbury and Montreal for nearly five years while managing work and life in Ottawa.

After three of their parents passed away and their children moved from Ottawa for university and work, the perfect entertaining home no longer served their needs. It was time for a change.

They struggled with the idea of a move but knew that leaving their large home would allow them a more flexible lifestyle. After many heart-to-heart discussions, Erin felt ready to sell but Peter was more attached to the home and not quite ready to let go. It took nearly a year to come to the mutual agreement to sell the house and buy one with a smaller footprint.

Reactions to the Move

When they decided to sell, their daughter was upset, adding more pressure to the situation. She saw the family home as her childhood anchor point and was not willing to accept that a visit to see her parents would no longer be in “her” family home.

Erin and Peter also dealt with some surprising feedback from friends and neighbours about their decision. “You’re too young to downsize”, “You’re ageing yourselves” were typical comments, not surprising, since downsizing is traditionally an approach to retirement.

Meeting the Needs of the Family

Erin and Peter reassured their daughter and son that there would always be room for them in their home, but in the end, they made the decision that best met their needs. This move wasn’t going to be an extreme downsize; it would be a transitional one that would support their lifestyle change but at the same time accommodate their family needs – not necessarily retirement.

The Change of Space

Erin and Peter knew it when they saw the new house – it was the one. Their new home’s footprint was an immense change, but the aesthetics were perfect for their new lifestyle.
Their family home, built in the 1930’s, was a traditional and historic home with lots of space. Their new home was a 4-year-old, 4 -level townhome with a modern style. The home had a very different layout, but a more functional footprint, allowing all the space to be used to its fullest.

Buying, Selling and Purging During Covid

No one could have anticipated the challenge of preparing for a move during a pandemic, along with the enormous task of weeding through 23 years of furniture and other items to fit in their vastly different 4 level layout. However, the plan was in place; they had to see it through.

Erin and Peter took different approaches to let go of their belongings. Erin was focused and decisive, Peter was more emotional. It was a large journey, letting go of the memories that happened in their home. It took 18 months of sifting, sorting, organizing, cleaning, and packing. Finding forgotten treasures, memories, and junk. Since their children were in their own homes, several pieces of furniture went directly to them. The task of moving everything else was enormous.

The process to remove the excess furniture and household items was a mixture of selling, donating, and throwing away. They kept what they could to best work with the new size and footprint of their new home. Some things were easy to give away to neighbours and friends and other items were donated or stored. Charitable donations were challenging to organize during COVID; donation centers were not accepting certain items due to health restrictions.

The purging and cleaning was challenging, often requiring full time attention that meant juggling work schedules, taking some time off and also enlisting the help of others. It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions and was exhausting work.

With their energy waning, the last effort was to move the remaining “maybe” boxes and pieces to offsite storage. One day, after the move, they would sift through these items.

The Huge Benefits of the Move

With the purge and the move now over, Erin and Peter have realized a number of benefits including:

1. More time for hobbies and exercise

Erin summed up the feeling in one word – Joy. Freed from the multitude of household and maintenance duties, they both had more time to be spontaneous to enjoy activities and fun. Peter found new interests in running, fitness and picked up hockey again. They both walk more, aided by the addition of their new dog, Alfie. When the pandemic is over, they plan to reactivate their travel agenda.

2. Operating Cost Reduction

This was a significant benefit beyond their expectations. Their smaller, more efficient home resulted in lower heating costs despite the two furnaces that manage heat flow within their taller layout. The move was just 3 km away from their last home but resulted in much lower property taxes and even the addition of a condo fee to replace the water bill, building insurance and almost all the general maintenance expenses meant some savings. Overall, these clients are happy with the reduction in costs associated with their new home.

3. Maintaining community and building a new one

Since their new home was just a short drive away from their old neighbourhood, Erin and Peter are able to maintain ties with their past neighbourhood, while also being able to form a new group of friends and neighbours. Interestingly, their new neighbours are at similar stages of their lives. Many are in their mid 50’s with similar professional backgrounds, and were motivated to find time for hobbies and travel through “smartsizing”.

4. Home footprint worked even during the pandemic

Despite the smaller footprint the new home has worked well during the pandemic, even when their son came back home when his university moved to online. With three adults in the home, they made it work. They don’t have separate rooms for their offices anymore but Erin made a cozy and functional office space in a vacant bedroom and Peter did the same in the family room. The couple works on different floors, allowing for mini-escapes to the kitchen or other areas when needed.

5. Time reclaimed

With the cost savings and modifications to their lifestyle, Erin and Peter have improved their finances and are now in a much better position than five years prior. The cash flow improvement may even allow Peter to consider shaving one or two years off his planned retirement date.

Key Takeaways

Erin and Peter’s journey has provided some thought-provoking insights:

1. No one is too young to downsize

Look at your own individual circumstances. Family and friends have your best interests at heart, but ultimately you are in the best position to decide your future.

2. You don’t have to wait until you retire

If you are feeling the weight of your current home, it may be time to consider a downsize. A move can be emotionally and physically draining, do it when you are motivated. Do it so you can enjoy more active years ahead. The word “downsize” doesn’t have to mean a permanent move, your living space can evolve and change as your lifestyle changes.

3. Get on the same page with your partner

This is a big decision that will impact not just your living space but your family, emotions, career, and priorities in life. It will be a difficult conversation, but the more aligned and transparent you are with each other, the better you will move toward your shared goals.

4. Think of a downsize as a way to upsize your life

Look at the downsizing experience with a positive attitude, consider what you will gain as opposed to what you will miss. Erin and Peter earned more time and energy to focus on activities. The backyard and hot tub suited their past lifestyle, but in recent years the novelty wore off. They still plan to do much entertaining in their new home, but their gatherings will be more intimate.

5. Fitting your existing furniture into a smaller home is a big challenge

Erin admits that fitting large antique furniture pieces from a historic home into a modern home’s size and aesthetics was a big challenge. If they did it all over again, they would have gone with newer and medium-sized pieces more in keeping with the new home. Their interior is now an eclectic mix of modern and traditional, but they made it work to suit them. Getting to that stage required a lot of effort.

6. Too much stuff or not enough storage?

Erin and Peter have different opinions on this topic. Peter feels the new house doesn’t have enough storage space, while Erin believes they still have too much stuff, including offsite storage that still needs to be sorted. They know their next move will require another downsize, but they’ve done it before, the process will be a breeze compared to this first one.

Overall, Erin and Peter are thrilled with their new home and lifestyle. Interestingly, those friends that once questioned their decision are now re-evaluating their own views about downsizing, thinking of it more as smartsizing. Even their son and daughter have come to terms with the new version of “home.” All’s well that ends well.

Are you thinking about smartsizing your life and downsizing your home? Contact us at Susan Chell Team; we would be happy to discuss some options and ideas to better meet your lifestyle needs.