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4 Tips to Downsize from a Large Home to a Smaller One

Whether you’re a recent empty nester or simply looking to lower the amount of your mortgage, many Americans are now opting for smaller houses - bucking a century-long trend of building bigger. But if you’re used to bonus rooms and basements, downsizing from a large home with rooms to spare, to a smaller, more functional house can be a frustrating transition.

Shop for the everyday, not the exception.

If you’re still in the contemplation stage of downsizing, take some time before you start the house (or condo) hunt to determine how much space and how many rooms you actually use on a daily basis. Most of us tend to fill whatever space we have - regardless of the size of that space

Think about it, how many people do you know with empty rooms in their house? If you’ve grown accustomed to a larger home, then it’s easy to confuse how much space you really need, versus the amount that you’ve grown accustomed to.

Remember that owning a home is an investment in your financial future; the end goal is to ultimately own your home outright. Try to avoid making spaces to entertain, a basement for the grandkids or extra bedrooms for relatives your top priorities while shopping for a new home, instead focus on what makes sense for your financial future. 

Bigger isn’t always better.

Many of us are unaware of just how used to large houses we’ve become. According to Property Shark, the average number of people per household is now just over 2.5, compared to 4.54 in 1910, meanwhile the homes continue to get larger. The of a new home in the U.S. last year was just over 2,400 square feet; that’s over 40% bigger than the average size 40 years ago! By comparison, our British counterparts’ across the pond have an average house size of just over 900 square feet.

While a larger home can mean more space for a growing family, room for hobbies or a spot to enjoy the outdoors, remember that more stuff often means stress. One research study found parents’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings, and that three-quarters of those studied couldn’t park their cars in their garage because they were too jammed with things!

Photo of a couple selling their house

Trust that you will adjust.

Downsizing shouldn’t feel like downgrading. Consider the positive aspects of going smaller; for example, last year a Boston College report found that taxes, insurance, upkeep, and utility bills typically run about 3.25% of a home’s value. So a smaller and less expensive house may mean saving on more than just your monthly mortgage payment. Freeing yourself from time and money spent maintaining a big house can mean more time to volunteer, join a community group or explore local parks.

Expect to shed (and shred) stuff. And then some more. 

Another benefit of downsizing? Getting rid of closets (or entire bedrooms) full of outdated holiday decorations, old clothes and unused exercise equipment. For some however, the thought of parting with cherished, lifelong items can be the biggest barrier to downsizing. When going through your old items, tackle one area at a time, go slow and think electronically. 

Here’s a practical lens to use when going through your items – if all your stuff were destroyed, what would you replace?

Can’t decide what stays and what goes? Here are a few ground rules to get you started:

  • If it hasn’t been worn or used for a year, donate or toss it. Come back to an item at least twice before deciding to put it in the “keep” pile.
  • Scan old paperwork and store it electronically instead. (If you’re a tech-savvy cook, then do the same with recipes!)
  • Consider renting gear that you only use once or twice a year – like lawn or kitchen equipment.
  • Ask your family if they’re interested in special items or furniture that don’t fit in a smaller home; then set a time limit for them to decide if they want it.
  • Bring any adult “kids” memorabilia where it belongs – their own house or apartment.
  • Donate any duplicate or “I’ll use this when…” items.