Carolyn Roper, an active member of the Atlanta Regional Advisory Committee on Aging, spent some time chatting with me about her personal experience with downsizing. Carolyn and her late husband of fifty-three years moved twelve times before finally settling down in a three-bedroom condominium in metro Atlanta. For fourteen years, they lived in this spacious condo that was accessible to their church, their doctors and their hospital, Emory University Hospital. She lived two more years in that home after her husband passed away before deciding it was time to downsize: her home and belongings. Carolyn chose to move to an independent living tower.
“I thought everything in that condo space would fit anywhere! Silly me!,” Carolyn exclaimed as our conversation began.
Megan Malasarte: What brought you to the decision to downsize your home?
Carolyn Roper: Downsizing your home is a change one should NOT make immediately after losing someone you spent fifty-three years of your life with. Once two years passed, that’s when I started looking into a smaller place.
MM: What features were you looking for in your new home and surrounding neighborhood? Were these easy to find?
CR: I didn’t so much look at the features of the place since the physical features made little difference to me. It was the community and neighborhood features that I was looking for: friendly neighbors that were around my age and shared the same interests as me. Proximity to good restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores and bus lines were also important to me. I had already looked into two neighborhoods before that were easy to find and narrow down since one of them would accept my cats and the other didn’t!
MM: What were some of the challenges you faced throughout the process?
CR: It was very hard figuring out what items to keep and donate. A friend of mine drew the layout of my new place and immediately, I could tell that I’d have to do something with about half of my furniture. My children didn’t want anything of mine, so I would donate some of my belongings to a store that delivered to refugees. My kitchen was a challenge to downsize as well. I had friends help me pack it which was helpful because they’d tell me what they thought I wouldn’t need any longer or one would volunteer to take something to their organization’s auction.
Dan and I had boxes of materials from jobs, our children, previous experiences that even though we knew we’d never use them we held onto them. It was a grieving process choosing a box to sift through each day.
MM: Could you share some of the pros and cons of downsizing?
CR: The benefit is that there are less things to claim, less to keep up with. There are more opportunities to enjoy the fewer things you treasure. There was a piece of furniture that took up so much room but it belonged to someone in the family. It was my husband’s chair, but it no longer gave me joy because there were other things of his that were more valuable to me than that chair! One of the distinct advantages of downsizing is giving things away you don’t love anymore but can become useful to someone else. Gaining more space has been great! It even gives my cats more space to wander. It’s all mostly good. It’s knowing you’re meeting your own goal of being more efficient. Finding a new home for these items is a joy in the whole process. It allows you to decide what of your history you want your children to remember.
Another good thing about downsizing my clothing is that my church has a clothing bank that serves older adult living facilities for people who are in need. I felt good about giving Dan’s clothes to a place like that.
MM: How was the transitional period between moving and adjusting to your new home?
CR: In a way, it did take some time to adjust to my new place. I just continued to involve myself with the volunteering I’ve done at my church or my commitment to ARC’s ACA meetings. I did not give up any activities and would even add more activities to do. It seemed like I haven’t stopped to catch up with myself for the year and a half I’ve been here.
But eventually one day, I woke up and realized, “I’m at home.” It helps having neighbors who are welcoming and willing to share with one another. I miss having a dishwasher and washing machine, but that’s a part of being in this community. I am happy and joyful to be exactly where I am to have my friends and church close by.
MM: What sort of tips would you offer to someone new to downsizing? What was the most surprising part to you?
CR: When one is looking at a specific location possibly involving a waiting list, it’s good to choose a place where you know your timeframe. Plan accordingly. Having a plan, purpose and someone who cares about you to help along the way is so important. Having that person is helpful throughout the packing process along with a schematic drawing of where things will go in your new home. It will help you and the movers so they know where to place the items in case you can’t be there.
It helps knowing what outcome you’re looking for to get you through everything. The surprise was that it really happened!
If you’re planning for the next chapter in life whether it’s downsizing to a new home or retirement, visit Empowerline for more information and resources.