As an interior designer for the past 35 years, I have had the opportunity to help baby boomers design their first, second, and even third homes, their beach houses, mountain retreats, and country cottages.  I’ve helped them upsize to larger and larger homes (because that’s what baby boomers did!), and now at this stage of life, baby boomers are deciding whether to age-in-place, right-size or downsize.  The irony is, for years I helped my baby boomer clients upsize and buy more stuff.   Now they need help with downsizing, decluttering, and getting rid of all of the stuff they accumulated or inherited.

Many baby boomers continue to hold onto the idea that more is better.  They struggle with letting go of the big house they raised their children in, the memories made around their kitchen table, and the beautiful things they’ve collected over years.  Yet, many other boomers are excited about giving all of that up to moving to a smaller, more manageable home that gives them the opportunity to experience a simpler life with less so they can finally enjoy the freedom they’ve worked so hard for.

What happens when one spouse wants to stay and the other wants to go?

When one wants to downsize and the other doesn’t?

It might sound like an impossible scenario where one partner will get what he/ she wants and the other will have to sacrifice their own wants and needs.  But it doesn’t have to be that way!  Throughout my career, I’ve found myself in the middle of these sometimes heated and very lively conversations, but I have learned to embrace the role of middleman so I can help both parties win together.  I start by telling couples they can “have it all.”  All they have to do is figure out what “having it all” means to them and then determine what compromises they are each willing to make.  As a third party, I’m not tied to the emotional aspects of the decision, but by walking them through a series of well-developed questions I can assist them in moving the discussion forward to a win/win conclusion.

For couples who find themselves on opposite sides of the downsizing battle here are my top 7 tips:

 

Top 7 Tips to Diffuse the Dueling Downsizing Battle

 

  1. Have them talk with family, friends, and colleagues who have successfully downsized, right-sized, or have chosen to age-in-place.

Gather information and learn from their experience.

  • What were their experiences, both good and bad?
  • How did they ultimately come to the conclusion they did?
  • What were some of the obstacles/ fears they faced? How did they overcome them?
  • Are they happy with their decision?
  • If they could recommend one thing to assist in the decision-making process, what might it be?

 

  1. Determine and discuss reasons why one partner wants to stay and why the other one wants to go.

A. Partner who wants to stay

  • List reasons for wanting to stay in your existing home (i.e. lifetime of memories, neighbors, and neighborhood).
  • List reasons for not wanting to downsize (i.e. I don’t like change, I’m afraid of not knowing if I’ll like it or not, it’s out of my comfort zone).
  • List questions, concerns, and share with your partner.
  • What past experiences, both good and bad might influence your thinking?

B. Partner who wants to go (downsize)

  • List reasons for wanting to downsize (i.e. desire for a new lifestyle, more time and freedom to pursue what matters most to you, less stress and overwhelm).
  • List reasons for not wanting to stay or downsize (i.e. stairs are getting difficult, we don’t use all the space, the expense, and maintenance of having a larger home).
  • List questions, concerns, and share with your partner.
  • What past experiences, both good and bad might influence your thinking?

C. List areas that you are willing to compromise and not willing to compromise.

  • A partner who wants to stay.
  • A partner who wants to downsize.

 

  1. Create a vision for your new lifestyle.

A. Independent of each other, have each spouse create their own vision for their new lifestyle together.

  • If they downsize
  • If they stay in the existing home

B. Compare similarities and differences between the two visions.

C. Discuss areas each could compromise (i.e. declutter first, rent a smaller house or apartment for 3 months)

 

  1. Do your due diligence.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of downsizing or not downsizing.
  • Analyze the costs associated with staying in your existing home (i.e. roof replacement, home maintenance, renovation for aging-in-place).
  • Weigh the costs associated with moving (i.e. buying, renting, moving costs).

 

  1. Prototype and try on different lifestyles/ travel to different locations.

Stick your toe in the water.  Experiment with living in various places that you are curious about by planning a several-week vacations to see if you would like it or not (i.e. city living, community living, living near family).  Most of all have fun!

 

  1. Rent for a period of time.

Keep your options open.  Having a limited time commitment (i.e. renting for a few months) will help allay your fear of making a change that one or both might regret.

 

  1. Phase your decision by decluttering your existing home first

Have the experience of living with less by editing and decluttering your existing home before you make the decision to downsize.  Sell, donate, and consign items that no longer serve a purpose or that you no longer want.  You may decide to stay a while longer or you might decide to take the next big step to downsize.

 

The best advice to diffuse the dueling downsizing battle is to keep an open mind, communicate your thoughts by sharing your concerns, as well as, your hopes and dreams.  In the end, what matters most is opening up the conversation to discuss how you both can design a new life you will love together.