Empty-nesters and retirees know the feeling well. Your life, which was filled with responsibilities, schedules, and people that relied upon you, has suddenly changed. Maybe you’ve retired and now have forty hours per week all to yourself. Maybe you last child living at home has finally sprouted their wings and made their own nest. You look around and think, “Now what?”
If you are like a lot of people at this stage of life, you wonder whether it’s time to start down-sizing your living arrangements. There’s a lot to consider—how much you like your current home, financial circumstances, whether another location would be better suited to your life.
It may be time to ask yourself whether your home meets your needs and desires. It’s an emotional process that many people find very difficult. Here are some questions to consider that may make your decision-making process a bit easier.
How Do You Spend Your Time?
Oprah Winfrey has been quoted as saying, “How you spend your time defines who you are.” How you spend your time can also help determine what you need from your living space. Use your monthly calendar to do a little detective work. See how often you are home and how often you entertain. When you are home, what do you do in your free time?
If you enjoy hosting gatherings once or twice a month, then having extra seating is important. If you build custom furniture in your spare time, you probably need some place to serve as a workshop—one that’s preferably not in your living room. If you don’t have people over often, or tend to enjoy a lot of quiet time to yourself, an extra dining space may no longer be necessary.
Instead of a monthly calendar, you can keep an informal log and track your activities for a couple of weeks. Looking at how you spend your time can give you insight on what’s really important to you.
Are You Using All of Your Space?
As we go through different phases of life, the way we use our living space changes. Because these changes don’t tend to happen all at once, you may not notice that it’s happened at all. Think about whether you use all of the bedrooms you have—maybe for a hobby room or out-of-town guests—or whether you only go in them to clean. Have you tapered off from hosting large holidays or do you still enjoy a house full of people? Your answers may help determine whether you value having a separate dining room, an extra bedroom, or a large kitchen or not.
It can be hard, though, to be objective about how much of your living space you are actually using. Try leaving a small notepad in rooms that are less frequently used. When you use the room, jot down what you used it for and the date. Keep track for a few months and see what emerges. You may be surprised at what you find, and this can give you important information in your decision-making process.
Do You Live Alone?
It’s a fact that many Americans live alone during their retirement years. Of course, living alone doesn’t automatically mean feeling lonely. Some people thrive by living alone and relish time spent in their own company. Living alone, though, can be a risk factor for loneliness.
Think about what living alone looks like for you. Do you have children, grandchildren, and friends visiting often? Do you get out to attend social events or clubs? If you have a robust social life, a little isolation can be a welcome respite from social interaction. If you spend multiple days a week without seeing anyone socially, you may want to explore living arrangements that have built-in opportunities for social interaction.
Consider your options. Senior living communities often have scheduled events and spur-of-the-moment gatherings in their shared spaces. If your child or another relative wants you to move into their in-law apartment, you’ll have companionship and still have time to yourself.
Do You Drive?
Whether you currently drive or whether your driving status is likely to change in the future plays a significant role in determining if your living arrangement suits your needs. Living in a bedroom community away from public transportation or a walkable city makes driving almost a necessity. If you don’t drive, many goods and services can be arranged online, but there is a downside to that convenience—feeling isolated.
Loneliness is a concern for retirees. For many elders, loss of loved ones, family and friends, increases social isolation. Planning time for seeing friends and family takes some effort and maybe even travel. Living within walking distance to stores and places to eat can increase your social connections, which is important for your mental and physical health. Alternatively, housing that includes community spaces, such as senior living communities and assisted living facilities, provide frequent opportunity to meet with neighbors on a regular basis.
Can You Keep Up with Home Maintenance?
No matter where you live, your home needs to be maintained—cleaning, repairs, yardwork. The question is who is going to be responsible for that work and expense. Are you able to stay up with the cleaning—and are you cleaning rooms you never use? Can you afford to have the roof replaced? Are you ready to let someone else handle the mowing, raking, and shoveling?
Physical limitations are an important consideration when it comes to home maintenance. As we age, many of these tasks become difficult to do on our own. There are financial considerations and quality of life issues as well. Maintaining a larger home is more expensive and more time-consuming than maintaining a smaller one. Senior living communities, condos, or assisted living facilities take care of most if not all home maintenance tasks, which make them attractive options for seniors.
The Next Steps
Only you can define what is most important to you in your senior years, but that doesn’t mean you have to decide on your housing options all on your own. Adult children and grandchildren can help by researching local options and acting as a sounding board. Outside of family, there are lots of resources for helping seniors navigate the process. Local senior centers, veterans’ services, and senior move managers can all offer support as you make your decision.