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Downsizing in Retirement

The high cost of moving, both in money and angst

En español | Downsizing your home in retirement can be traumatic. Not only that, expensive. I know. My wife, Sara, and I have done it twice.

See also: Are reverse mortgages too risky?

The first time was when we moved from a five-bedroom house to a two-bedroom condo in a retirement community. We were in our 60s, working long hours at demanding jobs. Sara was tired of all the work a big house required. I no longer wanted to mow grass, rake leaves and shovel snow.


Sara and Stan Hinden. — Michael JN Bowles

Now, two decades later, we have again simplified our lives. We now rent a one-bedroom apartment in an independent living residence that includes meals. We no longer have to worry about grocery shopping and cooking.

But it cost us quite a lot to get here, both in money and angst. Here are things to consider before making a similar leap.

Your old place. If you own your current home, you may have to sell or rent it before moving. But the depressed real estate market can make that tough. Think hard about the danger of being caught paying for two homes at once if you just go ahead and move. Sara and I happily escaped that burden — we decided to rent our condo, not sell it, and managed to find a tenant in a short time.

Moving costs. Unless you've got a dozen grandchildren willing to pack and move you, you're going to have to hire professionals. The cost will depend on how much stuff you're moving and how far. Sara and I moved only 10 miles. But we took most of our furniture and 90 boxes of belongings. We also hired a company to unpack it all and arrange our furniture and wall hangings. The total cost: about $4,500.

The new place. Once you move into your smaller home, be prepared to spend some money to make it comfortable. At our new building, we paid to build extra shelves for storage and extra clothes racks in the closets. We also bought a new microwave, a new TV and a new dressing table. That totaled about $3,700.

Your stuff. Paring down can be the hardest part — saying good-bye to possessions lovingly acquired over the years is a task mixed with sadness and disappointment. I still wince recalling how in the first move I trashed dozens of scrapbooks containing political articles that I had written for my newspaper over a 15-year period.

Once again, in this move, we had to choose between the things that we wanted to keep and the things that were expendable. The obvious "keepers" were items associated with significant events in our lives: the birth of children, graduations, weddings and memorable vacation trips.

Next: Political memorabilia and a dollhouse. >>

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