Is Downsizing the Right Choice for You?

As you contemplate your options for where you’ll live after you retire, you may be considering moving to a smaller dwelling.

Downsizing might make sense for both financial and logistical reasons, but it might not be an advantageous choice in every situation. There are many factors you should consider in order to decide whether downsizing is right for you.

Here are some of the pros and cons of moving to a smaller home.


You will gain access to the equity in your house.

You probably have a significant amount of net worth tied up in your home equity. When you trade your current house for a less expensive one, you free up that money to invest in other ways or simply to have more money to spend. However, a smaller house may not be less expensive if you are moving to an area with higher real estate prices.

You may lower your monthly costs.

A smaller house will probably have lower utility bills, lower taxes, and cost less to insure. But if you’re moving to a different geographical area, these costs may be higher in your new locale, even for a smaller home.

You will have less to maintain.

A smaller house means you’ll have less to clean. If your new house has a smaller yard, that will require less effort to maintain. If you move to an apartment, a condo, or a retirement community where exterior maintenance is included in your monthly fee, you will eliminate that chore altogether.

Downsizing will force you to reduce your possessions.

You have probably accumulated a vast array of possessions over your lifetime. Tidying has become a popular craze over the past few years, but you may not feel any urgency to toss your unused possessions if you have no plans to move in the foreseeable future.

You will probably find that it is liberating to get rid of all those things you no longer use.

You’ll also leave fewer possessions for your heirs to sort through and dispose of after you’re gone.

One part of wisdom is knowing what you don't need anymore and letting it go.    - Jane Fonda

You can move to a home that’s better suited for aging in place.

A one-story floor plan, or at least a floor plan with a bedroom and all necessary facilities on the first floor, will make it easier if you should require a walker or wheelchair during your later years. You can make other adjustments as needed, such as replacing door knobs with lever handles. If you or your spouse should someday require a wheelchair, you should evaluate whether doorways are wide enough and if countertops, cabinets, closets and bathroom facilities will still be accessible.

You can move to an area where services are conveniently located.

As you age, you’ll appreciate being closer to medical providers and stores where you shop frequently.

You should also consider whether good public transportation or city-sponsored transport vans are available, and if there’s a strong senior center in the area that provides activities as well as support services.


Moving is costly.

The cost of moving or disposing of your possessions, the realtor’s commission, and the money you spend to fix up and furnish your new home could easily amount to 10% of the cost of your current house.

Your house might require a lot of repairs and upgrades before you can sell it.

You may be perfectly satisfied with your house’s decades-old fixtures and you have learned to live with a few things that don’t work as well as they should anymore. But when it comes time to put your house on the market, your realtor may suggest that walls need to be repainted and carpet needs to be replaced, and all those repairs you have put off for years now need to be made. All of this will cost money.

Moving is a hassle.

It takes a lot of time and energy to pack and unpack. For everything you’re not going to move, you will need to sell it, donate it, dispose of it, or make arrangements for your kids to come and get what they want. (Reality check: Your kids probably don’t want much of your stuff – they have plenty of their own.)

You will also need to stop and start utilities and change countless addresses. And while the idea of tidying may seem appealing, you may find that it’s difficult to part with possessions that you have an emotional attachment to.

Your monthly expenses may increase.

The monthly fees in retirement communities and condominiums are often substantial, and they will probably increase over time. The homeowner association or condo fee may surpass the amount of money you will save on utilities. In some condominiums, you may have to pay extra for parking or storage space.

Your new house could have problems of its own.

If you buy a house, you could be inheriting problems that need to be fixed. Before you buy, try to find out how old the air conditioner, furnace, and hot water heater are. Make sure your home inspector does a thorough check on the roof.

Aside from problems you may encounter, if you want to do significant remodeling at your new house, that will add to the cost.

If you are married, you and your spouse may have less room for personal space.

You and your spouse probably enjoy having a place to go when you want some time away from each other. This is where you go to work on your hobby, listen to music, or read. In a smaller house, there may not be room for each of you to have your own area, and you will spend more time in close proximity.

You may be emotionally attached to your house.

Even if you determine that it would be financially beneficial for you to move to a smaller house, you may not want to go. Plus, you are familiar with your current neighbors and your surroundings, and you will have to re-orient yourself in your new locale.


Here’s a tool to help you compare the cost of moving vs. the cost of remaining in place.

Please feel welcome to comment below.

How to find the best place to retire is covered in greater depth in my book The Quest for Retirement Utopia. This book will suggest new possibilities for where and how you might retire. It will help you clarify what factors are most important to you. It will help you evaluate each place realistically and dissuade you from making a poor choice. And it will provide you with the resources you need to make the most informed choice.
The Quest for Retirement Utopia will help you find the retirement spot that’s right for you!

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© 2021 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Small house: Dillon Kydd
Burning money: Intellectual
Man mowing the lawn: Pexels
Moving boxes: Lindsey Turner. Some rights reserved.
Lounge chairs: JamesDeMers

6 Responses

  1. D. Tropf says:

    I have helped a number of friends go through things after the death of a spouse or parents. It always takes much longer than anticipated and usually ends in overwhelm. My partner and I have been working on decluttering our home for over three years now. His wife had been quite the shopper before she passed away and the house was FULL. We’ve sold things online through eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Nextdoor. We’ve had yard sales. I cannot tell you how many van-loads of stuff we’ve hauled to thrift stores or the dump and we’re still not finished! Hence, my advice is if you have been in the same home for a decade or more and are thinking of moving in the next FIVE years, start going through things NOW. Do a little each week every week. Do not wait until you are packing to move to go through and dispose of items – you will be overwhelmed and end up moving things to the new home that you neither want nor need. Also, there are services that can help you including professional organizers and Everything But The House.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Lots of excellent advice here. Thanks!

      When my parents passed away, my sister and I had one week to go through everything in their house that they had accumulated in their lifetimes and dispose of it somehow. (I live in Arizona, they lived in Ohio.)

      And I, too, have moved stuff just because I didn’t start far enough ahead of the move to get rid of it.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Kenny says:

    I feel fortunate that along the course of my life I have adhered to a fairly minimalist approach to living. I couldn’t downsize if I wanted to, unless I wanted to go tiny house! But it is one level, and I put lever handles in some time ago, and I’m envisioning grab bars in the shower to make this an age-in-place house. 🙂 Similarly I have little in the way of possessions. We are all prisoners of our own stuff, and the more stuff we have, the tighter is that prison. I hope in some ways this will ease the shift into retirement…

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Kenny,

      You have certainly done a commendable job of not accumulating unnecessary things – far better than I have. That probably means you have been able to save more for retirement and enjoy life more along the way.

      We did a fairly good tidying purge a few years ago, but there still seems to be stuff everywhere. We need to do it again.

  3. Wm DeyErmand says:

    The first thing any home owner should do in preparing to retire is bring the house up to date. People fail to do this because their lives have got too busy or due to aging. Also Real Estate people have this term, “staging to sale”. To make the rooms look bigger, they suggest painting with lighter colors, removing “clutter”, less furniture, and personal effects. (Downsizing) Better to be still working to cover the expenses involved with moving, selling and purchasing a home before retirement. (If you can transfer with your job to your retirement location, do it!) Many are selling “as is” so make sure you make a list of things that will have to be repaired on any house you are considering, before bidding on the house. Hopefully your friends and family will save you the expense of visiting if you have room enough for vacationing visitors in your new home. This also provides the extra space, couples sometimes need.

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