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Deciding to downsize: Picking what’s right

  • Chase Binder helps her husband Bud Binder remove old skis from the garage attic in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. "Goodbye, garage attic!" Chase said, after all the skis were down, explaining that it was the last time they would ever have to go into the attic. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

    Chase Binder helps her husband Bud Binder remove old skis from the garage attic in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. "Goodbye, garage attic!" Chase said, after all the skis were down, explaining that it was the last time they would ever have to go into the attic. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.

    (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

  • Chase Binder's organization system sprawls over a table in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

    Chase Binder's organization system sprawls over a table in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.

    (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

  • Chase Binder, right, and her husband Bud Binder remove curtains in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

    Chase Binder, right, and her husband Bud Binder remove curtains in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.

    (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

  • Chase Binder watches from the doorway as her husband Bud Binder directs his son Eric Binder while navigating a large piece of furniture down the stairs of Chase and Bud's home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. Chase and Bud's grandsons Jack Binder, 5, and Sam Binder, 3, play with cardboard packing material. The Binders are downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

    Chase Binder watches from the doorway as her husband Bud Binder directs his son Eric Binder while navigating a large piece of furniture down the stairs of Chase and Bud's home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. Chase and Bud's grandsons Jack Binder, 5, and Sam Binder, 3, play with cardboard packing material. The Binders are downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.

    (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

  • Chase Binder helps her husband Bud Binder remove old skis from the garage attic in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. "Goodbye, garage attic!" Chase said, after all the skis were down, explaining that it was the last time they would ever have to go into the attic. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
  • Chase Binder's organization system sprawls over a table in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
  • Chase Binder, right, and her husband Bud Binder remove curtains in their home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. The couple is downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
  • Chase Binder watches from the doorway as her husband Bud Binder directs his son Eric Binder while navigating a large piece of furniture down the stairs of Chase and Bud's home of 41 years in Bow on July 26, 2014. Chase and Bud's grandsons Jack Binder, 5, and Sam Binder, 3, play with cardboard packing material. The Binders are downsizing from the 12-room house to a four-room condominium and have to be out of the house by mid-August.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

Until a year ago, my husband, Bud, and I pooh-poohed the idea of downsizing and moving out of our four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in Bow. After all, we’re healthy and still have all our marbles. Our part-time work schedules have space for all the yard work and, though it’s not especially fun, we’re both able to lug laundry baskets up and down two flights of stairs.

Besides, we’ve been in our home for about 40 years. Just cleaning out the closets could take another 40. Downsizing? Impossible and unnecessary.

But last spring our financial planner posed a question.

“Suppose you had to downsize,” he said. “What if something – a health issue, some unforeseen event – forces you to downsize? Why not explore the options and see what might work for you. Think of it as homework.”

Then came the zinger.

“Choosing to downsize before it’s necessary means you do it on your own terms. You’d be calling the shots.”

Ah, control!

I shoved visions of overstuffed closets to the back of my mind and started doing the research – like shopping for the ultimate long-term vacation. Important considerations would include where we’d want to be, what kind of housing we could find and afford, and how we’d expect our days to shape up.

Most importantly, though, we’d need to agree. For years, Bud and I had been operating on a largely unspoken plan of “aging in place” – staying in our home as long as possible. We even joked about installing those elevator chairs you see on TV. Staying would require adjustments, but it could be done. It certainly was the path of least resistance.

Downsizing would be a 180-degree turn. A complete change of perspective and thought. For me, invigorating. Bud? He gave me that “whatever, dear” look and sat on the sidelines.

I started by chatting with people who had already downsized – friends, colleagues, extended family members. Anyone and everyone who had been through the experience. The results came rolling in.

“Oh my God, best thing we ever did!” said one couple who left their custom-built hilltop home in Bow for a riverfront condo in Manchester.

“Every day I wake up and smile,” said another who moved from a large home in Concord to a hilltop condo in Bow.

“How do I feel? One word – ecstatic!” said a longtime friend.

Full speed ahead, but how to decide?

At first, everything was on the table. Just moving to a smaller home, finding a condo community, even continuing care. A bit of market research and thought helped me focus, though.

Smaller homes all seemed to need some renovation – a process that might well gobble up any financial gain from selling our larger home, and we’d still have yard work.

On the other end of the spectrum are continuing care facilities. Concord’s Havenwood-Heritage Heights is a retirement community that cares for seniors 62 and older. For many folks, it’s a superb option and sometimes the only solution. But for Bud and I? From an emotional standpoint, too much help, way too soon. We may be 70-ish, but we really don’t even consider ourselves seniors.

That left condos, possibly the best of both worlds. A fine melding of individual rights and communal responsibility, in spite of the negative aura from things like lack of design flexibility, intrusive restrictions and developments gone bust. As the summer wore on, I watched condo units come on the market – and stay on the market. I watched more being built.

Meantime, I continued searching for the perfect argument – that irrefutable nugget of wisdom that would convert Bud from being ho-hum to being wildly enthusiastic.

It turns out that couples rarely have a simultaneous epiphany.

“My wife came to the idea before I did,” said one friend. “But we’ve downsized twice now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Often, though, it’s the wife who is reluctant. She’s raised her children in the home. The very walls speak to her of family celebrations, milestones. Leaving seems like loss. In our case, I had to have a hand on Bud’s back from the beginning.

Then, in late summer, after months of being unable to find something ready-built that would inspire us to make the move, a breakthrough came. Friends, new owners at the Stone Sled Farm condo development in Bow, invited us for cocktails. We stepped into their detached unit and were immediately wowed by the wide-open floor plan. Bud inched from the “so-why-are-we-thinking-about-this?” column over to the “I-can-do-this!” column.

Days later, after meeting with developer Alan Johns of Preferred Homes Inc., we reviewed Stone Sled Farm’s site plan, found a lot with a view, were assured we could have some freedom in designing the interior space and took the plunge. We reserved a lot in Phase Two, slated for construction in 2014. We’d have months to work with the builder on tweaking floor plans – maybe even better than finding a ready-built!

We moved into the fall feeling we were on the same page, if for different reasons. Bud would have more: his long-dreamed-of view and a main living area with lots of open space. I would have less: about half of the living area to clean and a few flowers pots to tend to instead of massive perennial beds. For us, downsizing would indeed be moving away from something, but more importantly we’d be moving toward something – new living space, days free of the need to mow, weed, clean, repair, plow and shovel.

I was expecting a straight-line journey to our new life (silly me!), but in fact we seesawed through the winter, awaiting news of a construction start date. Most friends and family members applauded our decision, but occasionally we’d get, “Gosh, won’t that be sad after 40 years? And think of the work!” Bud would frown and tumble off the path. I’d work to get him back – then wake up at 3 a.m. myself, wondering if downsizing was right for us.

Truthfully, we both needed another breakthrough. We’d had months to ponder budgets, investigate financing, write out bucket lists of features and look at untold numbers of floor plans – none of which called out, “I’m it. You’re home!”

Something was missing. But what?

The answer came from a completely unexpected quarter, an interior designer. Oh, we’d heard the claims, how a good designer can transform livable space into “wow” space. But not for us, we thought it was a frill, surely. We can pick colors and order window treatments online.

In fact, the designer who our friends recommended was the key, the last tumbler clicking into place and opening our minds and hearts to the move. She took our so-so draft floor plan and with a flick of her red pencil said, “Of course you can have your walk-in pantry. Just move this wall a few feet. And how about a pocket door from your closet into the laundry room, a charging station in this corner of the pantry and a coffee bar at the end of this counter?”

Bud and I looked at each other and grinned. This was it. Our new home. It turned out that visualizing specific aspects of our daily lives was more important than we imagined. Morning coffee. Charging our cell phones. Laundry.

Not only did we now agree, the air fairly crackled with new enthusiasm – energy to get us through the next phase, managing the tortuous process of selling the house, making the numbers and logistics work and divesting ourselves of 40 years of “stuff.” Arriving at that new rhythm. As one friend said, “We downsized our home and upsized our life. We have more time, more money – we can enjoy ourselves so much more.”

We can hardly wait.

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