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May 17, 2013

Down Sizing in Real Life

Deciding to downsize to a 55+ community was a wonderful decision for us. But not so many years ago I was put off by the idea of being around "old people" ALL of the time. Now I look around in my 55+ community and everyone looks just like me. Here is a little bit about our journey and how it has worked for us.

Why Did We Downsized When We Did?
My husband and I actually downsized twice. The first time we moved because we were still young (60 and 64) and wanted to try out a new lifestyle. We did not think it was our "last" move and we did not choose a house because it was a place we could grow old in.  That made the moves easier. We were downsizing without realizing.

We were empty nesters and our frugal side told us that we did not need nor did we want four bedrooms, a family room or even a basement. We were done cleaning and doing the giant amount of yard work. No amount of sentimentality could over come the practical part. We gave up our yard and moved into a condo.  The community was young, hip and new. We liked that a lot.

Then we traveled.

Ten years went by and we were tired of all the travel. We realized that practical needed to guide our lives again. It turned out we missed our yard and the exercise we got when we worked outside. We realized what a barrier steps would be if we were ill or injured and our condo was built on four levels. That fear presented itself when I fell on a golf course and sprained my ankle severely. We decided that the time had come to live on one level again. It was so painfully obvious it was not even a choice anymore. It was what we needed. That was when we moved into a 55+ neighborhood. We have lived here for almost 2 years now. I was 69 and my husband was 73.

Where?
This brings me to ContentmentContentment is an actual place in my mind. The place is relaxing, happy, comfortable and you fit in with the people around you. The trouble with the place called "Contentment" it is ever changing.  You cannot recognize that a new place might have that name until you are ready. It might be an apartment, a small house in the woods, a retirement community or even an assisted living facility. You might think today as you look into the future that you would hate one or the other of these choices. BUT...on the day or week that any one of those is right for you, you will be happy to be living there. It will be where you belong. But not yet if you are not ready. We have found that all of our living situation have been unique to a particular time in our lives. What we loved when we were very young is not what we want now.

That brings me to the people I suppose. The people that you are surrounded by can be a real deal breaker. That is why some are so horrified to think about living in a place where everyone is old or young or loud or even of a different nationality. It is all about the people. When I open my door I am very glad to see the person from across the street.  How would you feel about looking out the window and seeing your neighbors walking by? Many of my neighbors are using walkers now but I don't care. I don't think I would have felt that way when I was younger.

When you retire, you give up a world of people that have a lot in common with you. After that you may find a hole in your life. So who would you like to hang out with at this stage of your life. Would it be people that share your life experience, age mates for example? That is what we discovered we liked.

We were like many of you. We did not want to be with old people all of the time. I remember staying in a 55+ town where everyone within the city limits was 55 or older...much older. There were no public parks with play ground equipment or even a school. The grocery was filled with nothing but old people. It was almost spooky. I wanted to drive to the nearest town and stop at a school so I could watch children play. It drove me nuts! It was just too much of a good thing.

Then we took our Motor Home to a RV resort that was 55+. Grandchildren visited, we were near schools and neighborhoods with families. The grocery stores were used by every age. We discovered that we were at home there. The neighbors were age mates. We shared common experiences even though we came from every walk of life. It was such a positive experience that we began to think about finding a similar place back in our home state.

But that was not easy. Even though the boomers are coming into their old age we found there was not much choice in the area where we wanted to live when we decided on downsizing again. But, as with most things, it all worked out. There were two houses for sale in a very small neighborhood two blocks from our daughter. Both were all on one level, had a small yard and the covenants required that you be 55 or older. We chose one and made the move.

Our 55+ neighborhood is near a much larger neighborhood that is home to families, schools, pools and a community center.  Our neighborhood shares garage sale days and walking paths with them. It is just close enough to young people to make our area seem alive and vital.

We think our neighbors are older than we are but we seem to fit right in. We both are very active and think young even though we may not be as young as we feel. The truth is we look like everyone else. In the end the important thing is we are happy.  We live in our current version of a place called "Contentment".

My private back yard.
How?
Down sizing is not something people do without realizing what they are going to sacrifice. Memories, things and even neighbors all come into play. They also worry about their physical ability to do what is necessary. Even though they want to downsize they are stuck! This is what I have discovered:
  1. Memories go with you no matter where you live. I carry those in my mind and in pictures. 
  2. Worldly possession are just that. I know you might think I am nuts, but you will actually be relieved when you have less to dust or store. If you think you can't part with "stuff", put it in storage for a while and if you don't go look at it or even think about it again, give away.
  3. Neighbors are a little harder. But if they are age mates, they will be doing the same thing you a thinking of doing. Remember God gave us cars, taxis and public transportation for a reason. Gather together for special dinners on a schedule. I think you will find that the need to get together lessens with time. 
  4. My visiting patio in the front yard!
  5. As for the physical part, I need you to remember that this move is like eating an elephant. Take very small bites. It is doable if you just do it a tiny bit each day. If you and your children have a good relationship, they will help. 
This part of our life is ever changing. Each time I talk about down sizing or living in a small space I am reminded that the story is never the same. It is always good to have the conversation. Change is a good thing for many reasons and it reminds us that we do have choices, nothing is forever and we can't predict the future until it is not the future anymore. 

Be well.

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