I write regularly here on the topic of downsizing your home because it’s something we think about often. We spend most of our time in a house that is much larger than we need. We also have a lot of equity tied up in that house. That equity could likely be put to much better use.
The question of whether (and when) to downsize a home also has emotional aspects.
Everyone is susceptible to becoming emotionally attached to where they live. This includes baby boomer parents who are facing a downsizing decision for financial reasons. I empathize with parents and kids alike who are in this situation. It is difficult to contemplate breaking that emotional attachment to the childhood home. But many times it should or must be done to preserve a reasonable financial future for the parents. Sometimes it is the adult children who should come forward and encourage their parents to surrender the large house for something smaller – more affordable and easier to care for. This can relieve present and future burdens for everyone.
Ideally, the parents would have the time and resources to create a gradual family downsizing transition. By this I mean actually acquiring the smaller home while still occupying the larger home. During the transition, the entire family can work together to create new bonds to the smaller home. One way that can be done is to hold traditional family celebrations in the downsized home. This builds memories and hopefully acceptance. Granted, this strategy cannot be used by many because of finances or because the downsizing decision may come later in life.
Harvey Araton, the author of the Times piece, couldn’t write about himself in the article but I know that he is downsizing with children who are not yet independent That strategy also makes sense, as the children can create new bonds to the home before they become independent.
Part of the problem with the angry children in the NY Times article is that they felt betrayed or lied to. That problem can be avoided by not making promises or representations to your children earlier in life. Proclaiming that this is a “forever house” can build up unrealistic expectations. Even if you honestly believed you would never downsize the family home, it helps to plant the seed that it might happen well before it actually does.
There is a downsizing bottom line. To me, that bottom line is that financial and practical considerations must trump the emotional ones. The warm glow of family home nostalgia will quickly be chilled if the parents suffer financially from trying to maintain it. The negative emotions associated with home downsizing can be overcome much more easily than can a negative cash flow.
What are your thoughts on the emotional side of home downsizing?