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Downsizing, 5 Years Later: Any Regrets?

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Five years ago this month we downsized for early retirement. With a series of yard sales, charity pickups, and gifts to friends, we reduced the volume of our possessions by about one-half. We then carefully staged our 4-bedroom family home where we’d lived for 17 years and put it on the market with a trusted realtor.

The house sold within 24 hours. Before we knew it, and long before expected, we had placed our remaining possessions in storage and launched on a 6-month road trip in our small RV. That trip concluded with settling in our ideal retirement location, a medium-sized mountain town in the American southwest, where we still find ourselves today.

So how is it going for us now, five years later? Do we have any regrets about downsizing our life and moving to a place half the size in another region of the country? Is there anything we’d do differently? Has our downsizing “stuck” or have we re-inflated our lifestyle?

For starters, let’s define “downsizing” as it relates to retirement: Generally speaking, that term means selling a large family home and moving into a smaller space for the empty nest stage. That implies less and smaller furniture, appliances, tools, gear, and so on. In our case, downsizing also applied to vehicles — both number and size. In some cases downsizing could even apply to discretionary expenses like dining out, travel, or recreation. But, given the opportunities you finally have for your free time in retirement, you might not want to short-change yourself in those departments.

Housing

In Tennessee we owned a 2,200 square foot, 4-bedroom house with 2-car garage, sunroom, and decks on a spacious treed lot. At the end of 2013, once we had settled in Santa Fe, we were renting a 1,200 square foot, 2-bedroom townhome with 1-car garage, essentially no front yard, and tiny back yard.

We still live in that 2-bedroom townhome today. In general, we like the convenience and the maintenance-free lifestyle of renting in an urban area. We love our neighbors and we’ve grown accustomed to the ease of small-city living. We are within a 10-minute drive of just about any service we need on a regular basis: grocery stores, drugstores, restaurants, and doctors. And when something goes wrong with the house, we pick up the phone, call the management company, and they take care of it.

We’ve had to make modest adjustments to living in a smaller place. Though, it hasn’t been that big a change. Our previous home was not large by many standards, and held a family of three people plus pets, whereas now there are just two of us. We’ve moved furniture and adjusted rooms to live here more comfortably and efficiently. Overall, though Caroline would appreciate more space, functioning with several fewer rooms hasn’t been a big deal.

We’ve also had to make a small psychological adjustment to not owning real estate. On the personal side, there is a cost to feeling you aren’t in complete control of your environment. Maintenance on our place, while we don’t have to pay for it, has been of variable quality. And we hold our breath each year when the time comes around to renew our lease, knowing we might have to move on short notice, or watch the rent go up. On the investment side, we have to make sure we are exposed somehow to real estate asset classes, or accept not having that diversifier in our portfolio.

We are open to the possibility of owning a home again, down the road. But, much as we love Santa Fe, and despite having spent a number of days house shopping, we haven’t seen a compelling reason to own here yet. The area presents a number of issues including water shortages, bureaucratic government, unreliable contractors, competing land interests, and inflated prices, that make owning here less than desirable for us.

Vehicles

Like most modern couples, for all of our married life, we owned and maintained two vehicles. At the start, each of us commuted to jobs in different directions. When, at times, one or the other of us was working from home — me starting a business or Caroline raising our son — we kept the two cars out of habit and convenience.

In the lead up to my retirement in 2011, we sold my wife’s Volvo station wagon and started “sharing” my Toyota Prius. I considered that a down payment and trial run for the frugal, downsized early retirement lifestyle that I was targeting.

I say “sharing” because at the time Caroline was still commuting to her job. And, in later years, she has done the lion’s share of the shopping and errands for us. So, for the nearly eight years that we were a one-car couple, she put most of the miles on our vehicle. And that was fine with me. She tolerates shopping; I don’t. For my minimal errands, I was happy enough to bicycle around town. And that was facilitated after our move by our convenient downtown location. Even when she would travel and leave the car at the airport for a week, there was little inconvenience to my lifestyle.

Then, last year, we added another vehicle. Caroline got a late-model used Subaru Forester, and I inherited the older Forester we had swapped the Prius for. The second vehicle was purely a splurge based on our financial stability and the growth of our retirement assets. Living frugally in our early retirement years, running a small blogging business on the side, receiving a small inheritance, and lucking into a long bull market have all given us a financial cushion.

And so Caroline got a “new” car and I got my own vehicle again. The additional expense, after the initial purchase, has been negligible: probably less than $1K/annually for insurance and maintenance. The costs per mile driven look about the same to me whether you’re operating one or two vehicles.

The second vehicle has been a nice luxury for us, though not a necessity. I generally use “my” car just once or twice in a normal week, usually for outdoor activities. And, I still get a kick out of being able to go out on my own, without having to ask for the keys!

Stuff

During our child-rearing years, I had always fancied us a relatively frugal and modest family. Had you been a dinner guest in those days, you would likely have found our house relatively spacious and uncluttered.

But I can vividly recall the yard sales we held out of our garage and driveway on sultry Tennessee days five years ago. The quantity of stuff staged in our two-car garage for those sales was unbelievable and overwhelming. Used toys, old furniture, tools, clothing, books, kitchenware, camping gear, you name it. The garage was packed full from side-to-side and front-to-back. It took us two full days of yard sales, plus several trips from friends outfitting other homes, and finally a call from a Goodwill truck to liquidate the dregs.

Now, in retirement, it feels sometimes like we might be rebuilding our “estate.” Truth is, we have added back a non-trivial amount of stuff. Not a week goes by without several Amazon boxes appearing at our doorstep. But much of it is consumables, and the rest — gear, clothing, tools, small appliances — doesn’t take much space. Our 2-bedroom townhome has about the same amount of living space as it did when we arrived nearly five years ago. We aren’t adding bulk. About the only large items we’ve added since moving in are some patio furniture, an Ikea chair, and bicycles.

Importantly, we haven’t significantly re-inflated the cost of our lifestyle. The items we’ve added are “one-off” — they don’t increase our monthly living expenses by requiring more space or maintenance. We still make do without an external storage unit. And, when I got my own vehicle last year, we were even able to consolidate storage space in our small garage to make room for it.

Lessons Learned

Downsizing five years ago closed out one major chapter in our life, and opened another one. It was not an easy process. There were tears — sadness at saying goodbye to our family years and many of the accompanying possessions. There was a lot of hard work and many difficult decisions. But the process was inevitable. Only the timing was open to choice.

In our case, we downsized immediately after my wife retired. And we did it quickly. It was all over in about two months. That was largely because our house sold so quickly. Based on what we saw and heard about the real estate market at that time, we had every reason to believe that our home could take 6-12 months to sell. We didn’t necessarily want to remain in Tennessee that long if not required. So we jump-started the process. But when our house sold overnight, we were caught by surprise.

In retrospect, having little more than a month to complete our downsizing and move out of our family home added trauma and time pressure to the start of our early retirement. The emotional toll was high. Though we don’t regret the decisions we made, and are happy where we wound up, if we had it to do over again, we wouldn’t want to feel so rushed about leaving our family home for new pastures. Ultimately, though we left too fast, we don’t regret leaving.

Thinking back, do we miss anything particular about our family home? It was a functional house in a nice location in one of the better neighborhoods near the city. It had all the room we needed, and a green space with trails across the street. But, in the end, we just weren’t attached to that house.

Caroline would like more space in our current rental — separate offices, and a guest room. Sometimes she feels “cooped up.” I’d always appreciate a little more front yard privacy than urban living affords. But it’s hard to think of anything specific that we miss — other than maybe the gas fireplace, and the remodeled kitchen. And those are luxuries that we could find or recreate, if they were truly important to us.

How about the stuff inside the house? Did we sell or give away anything during our epic yard sales that we later regretted? With that many items changing hands, there was bound to be a misjudgment or two. But, truth is, only once or twice in the intervening years have I ever thought of something I might be missing — usually a functional item, like a tool. And stuff like that is easily replaced when you need it, while the psychological benefits of not having it, and a host of other junk, in your life are immense.

Downsizing Benefits

The initial and most tangible benefit of our downsizing was financial. I wanted no chance of damaging our nest egg at the start of our early retirement. Not only did selling our family home add about a quarter-million liquid dollars to our investable assets, but it eliminated many of our largest ongoing obligations. (Note that downsizing your home also downsizes your insurance, maintenance, taxes, and utility expenses.)

Yes, in theory, those expenses are included in the monthly rent we eventually paid in our new location. Though, depending on the area, the rental analysis can work in your favor. When I ran the numbers, it did for us.

Also, for us, the financial freedom, especially in the first six months while we were on the road living out of our RV, was tangible. We’d cut our monthly expenses to the bone and we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted for as long as we wanted. It was a great feeling!

At this point we have settled into a new and very different life in Santa Fe. Yes, the transition involved some pain, perhaps more pain than necessary due to the speed with which we sold our family home. But some discomfort is unavoidable when going through life’s major changes.

The underlying reality is that there is no point in hanging on to the past. That just delays your ability to enjoy what’s next. Our child-rearing years were done and over. And downsizing was simply a necessary companion to that fact. We kept the things that really mattered and got rid of the rest.

Not infrequently I hear heartbreaking stories about older people living in huge houses surrounded by the clutter of their earlier years. Whatever we face going forward, we won’t be counted among those sad cases. We’re grateful to have worked through our family stuff five years ago, so we aren’t bogged down by it now, and our descendants never will be.

Downsizing early has allowed us to focus not on “stuff,” but on experiences, which are the main source of happiness in most of life, including retirement….

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Comments

  1. The biggest issue for me with regards to downsizing and moving are our friends. As an adult, I’ve moved 5 times (including across country) and have always made new friends, or should I say acquaintances, mostly through our children’s activities and school. Some good and lasting friendships have been made in each location. But as we approach the “downsizing” period of our lives, I wonder if I really want to start over with regards to friendships, particularly as the children will be gone.

    • Steven Nichols says:

      Leaving friends behind is challenging. We moved from the east coast to the west coast once the kids were out of the house. We discovered that making friends without the flow of kid-related activities required intentionality on our part to be friendly and to reach out to make new friends. It also changes the nature of the conversations you have with these new friends as you don’t have kid-activities in common. It takes time to reach the depth of friendship you had previously. Nothing that can’t be overcome, but it is different.

  2. Christine Dowling says:

    We downsized 8 years ago. We live in our RV. The best part of downsizing was the feeling of lightness, having no possesions to worry about. Our rule now is that if something new comes in something has to go to make room for the new item. This certainly focuses the mind if you see an item you think it might be nice to have. Luckily I have never been a shopper!

    • Excellent post, Darrow (as always). Would love to hear more from you or others about the full time RV life. We want to give it a try but not sure we are ready.
      As always, thanks for Sharing!

  3. Gary Hellenga says:

    In the years since retiring (and even a few times before), we have done several long-term house swaps, or rented our house out short-term and rented a house overseas. On these occasions, with another family coming to live temporarily in our home, we boxed up our personal possessions and stored them, and gave tons of stuff to Goodwill! Doing it every 2-3 years helps us keep our “stuff” in check! I’ve yet to regret anything I’ve given away.

  4. Darrow:

    Thanks for the update, your story has been a fun one to follow. It sounds like things are going well as many of us had expected given your measured, deliberate and very wise approach to things. I hope to emulate the “Straight Arrow”
    Darrow approach to my early retirement including the timeframe to begin at age 50, remain active and spend in a way which brings value vs over consumption. Looking forward to what the next 5 years will bring…all the best!

  5. MITCHELL D BOLEY says:

    I my case I didn’t downsize that much but told myself I could no longer buy two (low mileage used) cars every four years with combined mo payments of about $750. That went out the window late in year two of retirement. My rational was the rising stock market had made it okay to spend some gains plus the interest rates were just 2%! Now I tell myself I will “definately” keep these two cars for at least 6 years. We’ll see. I’ve also spent on two 3 week European vacations in the past year. I am 59 and my wife 52; I tell myself it’s okay spending more now while younger knowing I’ll spend less later. Our spending in the first three years of our retirement have been determined by the luck of a rising stock market AND and I will add, an ACA subsidy, which saves us about $10 K per year. And no, I dont feel guilty about taking it, especially with a pre existing condition, even though I vote Republican.

    • MaryBeth says:

      Interesting comment on the guilt of receiving an ACA subsidy.
      The idea of having some other American go to work every day to pay for my health insurance, has been one of the big obstacles stopping me from retiring early.
      It just feels so wrong to let others carry my load. I envy your ability to be ok with it.
      I tell myself that this is what we voted for when we picked Obama, so its the law of the land.
      You’re a great example for me….Thank you.
      MaryBeth

      • Chris Mamula says:

        I think it is fascinating that people feel so strongly one way or the other about ACA subsidies, b/c our health care system has become so politicized. I’ve never heard anyone feel guilty about having employer based health care subsidized, but that is exactly what happens when you receive this form of compensation without being taxed on it. I’ve also never heard of anyone feeling guilty about using tax advantaged retirement accounts, tax benefits of investing in rental real estate, or people in high COL areas using mortgage deductions to their advantage to name just a few ways that the tax code benefits some to the detriment of others. The fact is the ACA is a tax law that effects how we pay for medical insurance. As with all other tax laws, some will benefit disproportionately. I hope we can continue our policy here and avoid turning this into a political debate, which is not relevant to what this site is. But I think it is worth discussing why people feel guilty about this aspect of the tax law if it effects their retirement decision and prevents them from living the life they desire, which is what this site is about.

        • MaryBeth says:

          I think it just comes down to how I was raised.
          I’ve always been taught that I don’t have the right to the fruits of someone else’s labor.
          In the case of health insurance, in all honesty I can continue to work and not have to mooch off someone else to pay my way. But I really would like to retire early (43) and stop sitting in rush hour traffic, put up with an overly-demanding boss, etc, etc. And if someone else is being forced to pay for my health insurance, I guess you are right that I’d be foolish to not take what I’m entitled to as an American. Its a big monthly bill and I really don’t want to pay it if I don’t have to.
          I just need to get with the program and stop feeling guilty about it.

          • Chris Mamula says:

            Thanks for the candid reply. I’m certainly not pushing you to “get with any program”. I tend to think the same way and have the same values in general. I just don’t understand the logic of keeping yourself trapped due to guilt, unless you think it is your obligation to pay the maximal amount of taxes possible and choose to bypass all tax advantages (401(k) contributions, etc).

            The fact is that the tax code benefits those that save, invest, and build businesses. It also is friendly to those with low incomes (retirees, poor, etc), while punishing those that keep themselves tied to a W2 job and spend all they earn.

            If you’ve put yourself in a position to retire by 43, I’m sure you’ve paid considerable taxes (income and other) up to this point, and likely will continue to be active in retirement paying taxes on consumption items and likely will end up doing other productive things which you’ll end up paying taxes on (like starting hobby businesses, doing part-time jobs) etc. Also sure you used tax laws to your advantage to accelerate wealth building (tax advantaged saving, legal tax deductions, etc) so don’t understand inconsistency of guilt with ACA. You’re certainly not alone as I’ve heard this frequently. Just trying to understand it.

          • MaryBeth says:

            So here is the difference.
            When using your example of 401K, all I’m doing is “protecting” a bit of the money I’ve already “earned” from being confiscated by the government. No guilt because all I’m doing is protecting what is already mine.
            But with Obamacare, I didn’t earn anything. If I get a subsidy, all I’m doing is taking money from someone else who earned it. Instead of paying the full premium myself, someone else is paying my bill. And that just feels so wrong. For instance, if I keep working, that unfortunate person won’t be required to pay my bill, but if I quit, they will be….Its just hard to get my head around why I have the right to demand that of some other American just because I don’t want to sit in traffic any more….Because if I think about it, I’ll bet their sitting in traffic too.
            See the difference?

          • Chris Mamula says:

            I do and I don’t. So are you an employee who gets health care from an employer now? If so, do you feel guilty that you are receiving that benefit (income) without paying any income tax on it? This means other tax payers are paying a portion of your health insurance. Not trying to nit pick, but I think it’s fascinating b/c the complexity of the tax code creates a lot of gray areas, most of which people either don’t care about or aren’t even aware of. Appreciate the ability to have an actual nuanced conversation, without all of the dogma that usually accompanies this topic. ACA is such a hot button issue, so it creates a lot of emotional responses leading to what I would consider irrational or at least inconsistent decisions and thought patterns. Again, I’m not being critical or arguing with your viewpoint. I’ve heard your argument from many others and trying to understand it.

            For the record, I’m not defending the ACA. As a former health care provider think it has many faults and essentially expanded a very broken system without fixing anything except for pre-existing conditions and even that is not a real fix, b/c without a mandate to have insurance, it puts all risk on insurance companies which will drive up costs and burden those who are paying and voluntarily playing by the rules. Also, for the record, I’ve never used an ACA plan and never received a penny of subsidy b/c have always been covered by my or my wife’s employer. If we had to make the decision today, would be a coin toss between subsidized ACA plan or health sharing ministry (HSM). Curious if you’ve considered HSM as an option if opposed to ACA subsidies. I’ve written my thoughts on both here: https://www.caniretireyet.com/flexible-health-insurance-early-retirement/

            Thanks again for your honest feedback as I think through these issues and how to write about them going forward.

          • MaryBeth says:

            Somehow I feel a whole lot less guilty having my health insurance “subsidized” as an employee -versus as an early retiree.
            I think the root of my guilt is not wanting to be a burden on my “neighbors” if I decide to no longer work.
            Thanks for the link on the Health Sharing Ministries.
            They certainly feel a lot more “fair”.
            As I understand it, everyone pays in the same amount, and in return, everyone gets the same level of service.
            Nobody is subsidizing anybody – Sounds a lot more like the American values I remember….and therefore a whole lot more appealing……And sustainable.
            Thanks for the chat….and maybe a solution
            Best, MaryBeth

        • MITCHELL D BOLEY says:

          There are government deductions, handouts, tax credits, etc for every income level of Americans. No matter what it’s called, it’s still a government dollar, 100 cents no matter what.
          Rich and poor take them, in fact rich folks probably take more. So to not take what’s available to you is foolish.

        • MITCHELL D BOLEY says:

          There should be a health care system that allows people the freedom to retire early. The ACA is it right now; if not let us buy into Medicare. It is a benefit to the country to have more people retiring early, opening up opportunities for younger people. Its a shame to have a couple million dollars and conclude that you still cant retire yet because of health insurance costs. Just read last night that now Republicans are going after pre-existing condition protections. This country is backward on Heath Insurance. It’s a shame

  6. Darrow: I always appreciate and enjoy your perspective. Thanks you for sharing your reflections on this topic in such a thorough and thoughtful manner (as always). You have an enviable life!

    I am 50 and ready to quit corporate America and start my adventure stage. Unfortunately my partner is not ready yet, so I’m trying to decide how to proceed. Reading about your experiences is helpful.

    Cheers!

    • SuperDave says:

      I feel your pain! My wife is not ready yet, either….MMM says to try and sell the freedom and lifestyle…but she wants comfort and reassurance that we will have enough for a very comfortable retirement! Good luck!

  7. Thank you Darrow for once again sharing the details of your personal experience. It is good to hear about the emotional toll of moving forward with a life change. I also just experienced a “quick close” on my family home and moving into a rental. I love getting rid of the excess stuff for sure, but leaving familiar neighborhoods etc., is uncomfortable right now as our wonderful neighbors and friends watch us move out. I am thrilled to downsize and appreciate my future adventures to come. Not to mention the capital I now have towards that life. Thanks for the inspiration and taking time out of your family life to share.

  8. The underlying reality is that there is no point in hanging on to the past.

    Sage advice, and I struggle with this sometimes. I have a good deal of sentimental bones in my body, and they sometimes don’t serve me well. As you said, you can’t move on to what’s next if you hold on to the past. I’ll keep trying.

    Great post, thanks for writing.

  9. My husband and I downsized about 2.5 years ago. Every day off for the year prior, I chose one thing to go through…a closet, a chest of drawers…you get the picture. Anything we forgot we had or had not used in a year went to Goodwill. Amazing how many things we held onto (and moved to 3 houses!) because “someone might need them 🙄”. Absolutely freeing to have what we want and need, and know where everything is!! My 2 bedroom home is easy to clean, HOA takes care of yard and snow. I actually have much more time to see my friends and family. As a visiting nurse for 30 years, I have witnessed the burden of people getting older in a home that is large, cluttered, and difficult as well as expensive to maintain.

  10. We seem to have violated many of your points, Darrow. When we moved to TN eight years, into a 5K sqft house, the wife was already retired and I joined her four years later. We have too much due to the fact that I need a lot to maintain this house, and we do have two vehicles that we bought new. But we also have done some things right in this adventure called retirement, including:
    1. Our vehicles (an F-150 and an H3), although bought new, are a 2012 and 2007 respectively. We hold onto vehicles since we buy ones that last.
    2. Although we doubled the size of our house, our property taxes are a fraction of what we paid in the North, and we have no state income tax as well.
    3. I am “ruthlessly” parring monthly expenses. For example, I switched from a DirecTV account that was over $200 (we had way too many services) and moved to a DirecTV Now streaming account for $50. Also, I just cancelled our ADT service in favor of Simplisafe. Yes, I had to buy the hardware upfront with SS, but the lowered monitoring cost of SS means the system is paid for in less than one year, and we have many more coverage points than we did with ADT.

    Lastly, by planning our lifestyle in advance we are able to travel 4-5 months out of the year. But with our SS we only spend something like 2+% of our assets in any given year. With the market the way it has been we are technically worth more now than when I quit working. Life is very good, my friend. Good article; enjoy the comments from others as well.

    • Phillip says:

      ChuckY. I see nothing wrong with what you’re doing so long as you can afford it and are spending on what you enjoy. I also occilate between spending conservatively and spending more for immediate enjoyment once we semi-retire (spouse will work part-time primarily for health benefits). The only thing really stopping us is that our kids are still minors and busy with school and activities. Although we will probably downsize from our 3000 sq. ft house, we may very well spend more on our next house (we like the psycological comfort of home ownership) to live where we want. We will likely pay in full for this new house (we don’t want the stress of a mortgage) but recognize it’s much more prudent to rent a more modest place and invest the capital from the sale of our existing house, given our plans to travel extensively. To try and keep costs in check, we will first travel to low cost destinations like southeast asia to (hopefully) let our assets grow before vacationing in higher cost regions like Europe. But there’s something to be said about coming home to your own place that you enjoy and the nice place that we envision is hard to come by as a rental. We have a 3% spend rate of assets targeted (doable since there’s no mortgage or rent, just property taxes, insurance and utilities plus an allowance for maintenance), so I don’t think this plan feels risky. Life is good and although we love our kids, we would rather enjoy our hard earned wealth and benefits from past frugal practices instead of leaving our kids huge inheritances.

      • Phillip, sounds like you guys are thinking things out very well. We did pay off the mortgage on the new house within six months of moving in 2010, so we never have any outstanding credit, since we pay off all credit cards monthly (they are all cash back cards, btw). We travel extensively now like you all plan to do, but we stay in one place like North Myrtle Beach for, say, three months at a time. Basically it is a second home so “traveling” might not be the best word to describe it. And while we did do the big house thing, our next step will be the either go completely homeless and travel year round, or plunk and RV down permanently somewhere and use that as a base for taxing purposes and to supplant any travel that we cannot do for a full twelve months per year. It is nice that so many of us have the wherewithal to make such choices, and not have them made for us. Best of luck to you and yours on your adventures.

  11. Great retrospective, Darrow…

    ..and all the more fun to read as I have had the privilege of visiting you in your Santa Fe place.

    Like you, we sold our 3000 sq ft home in 2013 and downsized by about 2/3rds. From there we went to a two bedroom 1200 sq ft loft rental for two years. Then, with a little more downsizing, to a 980 sq ft 2BR high rise apt just two blocks away for another two years.

    When we realized we were traveling almost 1/2 the time and for the remainder the apartments were just very expensive storage for our stuff, we gave up the apartment and gave away another 2/3rds of our stuff, including the very elegant furniture we had acquired in the 1980s. It had served us well for 30+ years, but no regrets letting it go.

    Shortly after becoming “homeless” we bought a beach house where we plan to spend two months each spring and two more in the fall. We have settled in to do the renovations and have furnished it nicely, but inexpensively. If and when we sell it all that stuff will go with it.

  12. SuperDave says:

    I a man curious to hear how some of you empty nesters’ opinions on moving away from or to your grown children. Our Son goes to college in a year and we could retire once he is done, but wonder how “where the adult child (children) settle after college” has factored in to your locations decisions? We currently live in NY and don’t want to settle here after retirement because of the cost of living, but what if our Son stays here? Curious what you all think.

    • I have two perspectives on this question. As a daughter whose father took early retirement while I was in college, it was really hard, traumatic, even, for my parents to move to Florida from Massachusetts. When I graduated, I didn’t have any way to get back “home,” and had to start my adult life in a strange place (because I didn’t have a landing spot). They did the house-emptying and moving while I was away at school, and it would have been nice if I could have participated in their purging process. As a parent of two adult children, I know now that it’s common for kids to take a few years to figure out what they want to do and where they want to do it, and if we’d moved to be near them we’d have found ourselves alone in Montreat, for instance, or in the Twin Cities. It’s good to give them the freedom to figure out their adult lives without having to take their parents into consideration.

    • Super Dave, when we left NY in 2010 for the South, our only child was still in NY working. It was tough on all of us but as usually happens with younger people, she and her fiance decided to move to NC for better job prospects. Long story short, instead of being a 15 hour or so drive from her, we are now only 5. The moral? Things will change rapidly for many of our kids, so don’t base your life on them completely. You could stay in NY and be miserable with taxes and the climate, get yourselves into a position that you cannot move eventually, and they will have to leave for jobs or what not. Look to what is best for yourselves first; you will then treasure the time with the kids more when you do get together.

  13. Flyoverokie says:

    Hmmmm…..We downsized 13 years ago when we moved from 3200 sq ft in the city to an old 1600 sq ft farmhouse in the country on acreage. Like you, the garage sale went on for a while. We added 500 sq ft to this house and never plan to leave. In addition, my wife’s mother’s furniture will be headed this way at her death. Though frugality, good fortune and a excellent employer, we managed to pay off the land and house so we feel quite blessed. I enjoy all your articles, keep ’em coming.
    (BTW, I ran all over Signal Mtn. in the early 1960s and played fearlessly on the edge of little falling water falls.)

  14. David Ralston says:

    “Not infrequently I hear heartbreaking stories about older people living in huge houses surrounded by the clutter of their earlier years.”

    Really? Aw, the poor things. I really don’t agree with that statement….”surrounded by the clutter of their earlier years.” That makes it sound evil, or horrendous, but it’s not!

    Don’t you think, perhaps, one man’s (or woman’s) clutter is another’s precious, attached to, sentimental, fun to be with….stuff! Well, I’m here to tell you, it is! One has a lifetime involved and enjoying these “things”….why should we sell them, or give them away?

    We live in a 3400 sf home near Seattle, and we love it! I’m retired, my partner is semi-…and we have a house full of beautiful things and memories of our life….why would we sell this, unload all our sentimental “stuff”, just to go rent a small townhouse in Santa Fe? Makes no sense to me. I think we’ll be here for as long as we can, because we love it here.

    • Darrow said: “The initial and most tangible benefit of our downsizing was financial. ”

      So that’s a very specific reason for making that kind of change.

      The initial and most tangible benefit of our downsizing was financial. Many people feel the pull of ridding themselves of things they haven’t valued or used in years/decades. I have a good friend whose mother was widowed and finally moved into a more suitable living situation (no 88 year old needs to live alone in a split-level with a steep driveway!), they moved out what she wanted/needed and her adult children were left with months of sorting thru, selling, donating, trashing, 40 years of “things”. As she had an empty nest, she back-filled it with “things”.

      This same friend is now an empty-nester and is slowly/methodically going thru her own extra bedrooms and closets and attics so that when they are ready to downsize (they already own rental properties in the size they’d like to settle into) it’s not a massive project for them (let alone their children).

      It’s wonderful that you are so content in your living situation — we should all strive for that. Personally we live in a 2100 sq ft home and are basically empty nesters and realize we have begun to use a spare bedrooom as “storage”. Some of it is legit (youngest is home following college graduation and not yet out on his own) but we know some of it is just “things”.

      • Ugh — sorry for the dupe. My browser was misbehaving and I’d thought I’d lost the original reply

    • Darrow wrote: “The initial and most tangible benefit of our downsizing was financial.”

      So that was key to his peace of mind and goals. It sounds like they later have appreciated even the non-financial impact.

      I have a good friend whose 80-something mother became a widow. Finally after 2 years alone in her split-level (no 88 yo should live alone in a split level with a crazy steep driveway!), they moved her into a better living arrangement with services (should she need them). What was left was a house (that raised 5 children) that was filled to the gills with “things”. It took her months to sort, give to family, sell, donate, trash what was left. The same friend (an empty nester and semi-retirement) is slowly/methodically going thru her home/extra rooms/closets/attics to get rid of “things” so that when they choose to downsize (or live w/o stairs) they don’t have such a huge tasks (or worse, leave it to their children to do/help).

      It’s wonderful that you are happy in your living arrangements — we should all strive for that!

  15. Darrow-

    Great post! And, as we’ve discussed, the similarities btwn our FIREs are remarkable.

    – FIREd 4yrs ago this month
    – Retired from eastern Tennessee
    – Moved West (Cali for us)
    – Moved from a 2,500SF home to a 2BR/1BA 1,200SF home; could use another BA but, the view is to die for
    – Renting in FIRE versus buying; long term lease & great landlord adds some stability
    – Two vehicles to one; although we did this 18 mos before FIRE
    – Purged, purged & purged some more prior to moving
    – Avoided ‘rushing’ our move by delaying the relo 3+/- mos so we had control over timing
    – Live in a walkable urban-ish environment just outside SF
    – Live near best/good friends, which is primarily why we returned despite high COL
    – Regrets: giving away so many books, missing close friends in TN
    – We are still purging a bit, organizing memorabilia, digitizing photos and the like

    All in all, we couldn’t be happier with our choice. Thx for the trip down memory lane.

  16. It’s great to hear from you again, Darrow! I hope all is well.

    My wife and I have only moved once, and it was truly surprising at how much we had accumulated in our 800 sq. feet of living space.

    I’m a minimalist by nature, but also have strong sentimental leanings. Quite the quandary. We’re big believers in the psychological burden of owning things, particularly things with engines. Now that I’m FI, we’re focusing our efforts on downsizing and streamlining our possessions and have found the freedom from doing so exhilarating.

  17. Darrow
    Great article as always. I may have missed it but do you have any regrets about selling the house? Especially if you owned it outright. Living by your rules I’ve managed to pay off mine and, based on history it appreciates 5% a year. If we choose to downsize I was thinking we keep the house and rent it. What say you? – keep the great material coming!

    • Chris Mamula says:

      Chris,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Darrow is taking a well deserved break from most of the day to day activities of running the blog, including managing the comments. I will give you my $.02 that I like the diversity of having a paid off rental property that cash flows better than truly passive paper assets, while rents and property values tend to (but don’t always) keep pace with or exceed general inflation rates. Just keep in mind that real estate is not a passive investment. You need to manage it which takes some time and effort, or hire a property manager to do it for you, so you will need to factor that into your decision.

      Best,
      Chris