Letting go of the home you’ve been making memories in for years can be hard. Some couples have lived in the same home for decades, and saying goodbye to those rooms where you watched your kids grow up isn’t always easy. (Believe me, I know.)
But you know what’s even more difficult? Trying to downsize your house when you and your spouse or partner aren’t on the same page about what you want to do next.
What happens if you want to move someplace new and he wants to stay where he’s always been comfortable? Or if she wants to be near the kids and you want to enjoy the benefits of a peer community? Or if you want to see the mountains every morning and she wants to live by the beach?
Simple: you work it out together.
Okay, so maybe it’s not THAT simple. In fact, for some couples, downsizing their home is the most complicated choice they’ll ever make together. But the key word is “together.”
Here are 4 tips to help couples get on the same page about downsizing and make big lifestyle changes without feeling like one (or both) of you are losing out.
1. Think of Downsizing Your Home as a Giant Reset Button for the Rest of Your Life
If you’re like most couples, taking care of your family has always been your top priority, and this may have stopped you from doing all the things you always said you wanted to do “someday.”
Well, now your kids are all grown up and off living their own lives. So what happens when there’s nothing else holding you back? What do you do when “someday” is now?
The first thing you need to do is check in with your partner and ask yourselves the big question: “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”
There’s just one problem: you probably already told people what you thought you would do when this time came, and now you assume that’s what’s expected of you. “Oh, we told Jim and Jane that we wanted to retire to Florida back in 2010, so I guess that means we have to move to Florida now, right?”
Just because you always said you’d retire to Florida, or move to the coast, or stay in your hometown forever, that doesn’t mean you actually have to, no matter how much you think people expect you to do it.
Your friends and family just want you to be happy, so of course they believe that what you say is what you really want. But if you made that statement five or 10 or 20 years ago — or even yesterday — and it’s no longer a true representation of what you want, you don’t have to do it!
What we want in life is often circumstantial, and it changes over time. And so do we. What you wanted when you were 20 or 40 may not be what you want when you’re 60, and that’s okay. What’s not okay? Not speaking up about the ways your desires have changed, and yoking yourself to a future you no longer want.
(On the other hand, here are the four communication habits you should avoid at a time like this.)
2. Be Honest About Your Desires and Your Fears
You’re not going to feel good about your next steps if you’re secretly harboring worries or, worse, remaining silent about what you really DO want.
If you’re afraid to move away from the neighborhood you’ve lived in for years because you don’t adapt well to change, you need to discuss it as a couple.
Likewise, if you’re desperate to have a new experience after being in the same place for so long, you need to be clear about that, too.
I’ll give you an example. My partner and I met in the city, because we were both working big city jobs and living big city lifestyles. That’s who we were then. Today, she’d like to stay in the city, but I’d rather leave. What I want in life has changed over the years, and she and I need to figure out how to find a happy in-between. It’s a balancing act, but we can’t find that balance if we’re not both willing to talk about it honestly.
“But won’t talking about our differences cause an argument?”
Yes, it could. But by discussing the issue, we can dig deeper and figure out what we both actually want. Does she really love the city, or does she like being active? Do I hate the city, or do I just want more peace and quiet? Talking this out can help us unravel it and weave the circumstances of our lives back together in a way that we each feel even better about. But NOT talking about what we want — or what we’re afraid to lose — would only lead to resentment down the line.
3. Get Serious About What Really Matters
If you’ve lived in the same place for a long time, you’ve gotten comfortable. You have a routine. You have friends and acquaintances who see you a certain way. You have your favorite restaurants, you know where everything is stored in those unmarked bins in the basement, and you’ve memorized the recycling schedule. Your life is on autopilot.
So why upset the apple cart?
Don’t panic! Change isn’t a bad thing.
Your routine might benefit from some disruption. You can always find a new place to eat breakfast on the way to work. You can handle taking the trash out on Tuesdays instead of Thursdays. You can find someplace else to stash all the junk in the basement that you haven’t needed in years — or, better, get rid of it entirely and stop letting it bind you in place.
The small secure everyday-ness of your life is not the big picture of your life. Don’t make big decisions based on those minor details, or you’re going to wake up in the same place twenty years from now, and you still won’t have any idea what’s in those boxes in the basement that you just couldn’t bear to get rid of.
4. Look Forward to the Future, Rather than Only Looking Backward
The act of downsizing your home means you have to get rid of some things. This may feel like you’re giving something up — like you’re surrendering your memories, or your identity, in order to live a “smaller” life and “do more with less.” And, yes, this can feel depressing. Moving stirs up a lot of emotions, and you’re going to need to work through the ups and downs together.
But those lows feel a lot less dark when you realize you’re not just moving AWAY from what you’ve always known, but you’re actually moving TOWARD something new and exciting.
Downsizing your home is going to save you money on your mortgage and utilities. It’s going to save you time cleaning rooms you no longer use. It’s going to give you a chance to offload a LOT of things you don’t use anymore. And it’s going to give you the chance to define yourselves all over again, and try on different hats to see which ones suit the NEW versions of you.
What are you going to do with all this extra time and money?
Is this when you start painting watercolors again, or tinkering with photography, or writing that novel? Is this when you’ll finally have time to go fishing, or golfing, or run that 10K? Think of all the vacations you can plan now, the distant friends and relatives you can venture out to see, the skills and hobbies you can rekindle or develop from scratch. And speaking of rekindling, think of all the time you’ll get to spend making new memories in your new space, and creating a whole new life for yourselves that wouldn’t be possible if you kept running in place.
Downsizing your home isn’t the end of your story. It’s the beginning of the next chapter. And you still have a lot of pages to fill — together.