Downsizing – why bigger isn’t always better

The word ‘downsizing’ sounds a bit too much like ‘downside’ for our liking. We prefer to think of the process as ‘focusing’, ‘freeing up’ or even ‘simplifying’.

Because moving into a smaller house – whatever your age – is about deciding what’s really important to you. If you go for it, you are in a way transferring your assets from ‘stuff’ to ‘experiences’.

Your home doesn’t have to be a castle, packed with overwhelming, multi-generational clutter that’s seldom seen and never used. Your home can, if you wish, be a rucksack; a simple base from which to enjoy the world outside.

So do you want a set of place mats or a trip to the theatre, a wardrobe or a weekend break, posh made-to-measure curtains on new brass curtain poles or a holiday? If you’re at a point in your life where you’re simplifying, you can go for the latter choices.

You’ll find whether you’re in a small house or a large one, the birds outside sound just as tuneful and the hugs inside can feel just as warm.

So if the time is right for you to move to a smaller home, don’t be scared or depressed by it. Embrace the inner adventurer in you and enjoy ‘simplifying’.

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Focus on the advantages

A few people like cleaning and carrying out regular spells of home maintenance. It makes them feel busy and virtuous. The rest of us will feel liberated from the tyranny of household chores in a smaller home, and welcome fewer rooms to clean, fewer skirting boards to paint and fewer weeds to pull out of the garden. Life’s too short for dusting ... isn’t it?

You’ll also have smaller annual household bills in your smaller home – less to pay on taxes, gas, electricity, water – and the difference can be a monthly cash boost to improve your general quality of life.

Using less energy means a smaller home has a lower environmental impact – needing fewer resources to build it and to maintain it, all benefitting the planet.

And you’ll have a lower mortgage to pay, or perhaps no mortgage at all. Online calculators on ‘how much house can you afford?’ are based on the idea that we spend up to a third of our net income on mortgage repayments. Wouldn’t 15% be better?

There’s also plenty to be said for the fact that buying small can free your mind. The more stuff we own, the more our stuff owns us…

Finally, if you buy a more affordable home, obviously more people will be able to afford it when you move on – a smaller house is easier to sell.


Something to consider

Downsizing is still a major life decision, despite all the advantages laid out above.

As well as taking on the usual practical elements of moving house, people can underplay the emotional impact. If you’re moving from the family home where you brought up the kids for 20 years, that’s a lot of history you’re leaving behind.

Often it’s the unexpected stuff that gets you, like your daughter’s primary school gloves. Tears may flow so it’s worth being prepared and reminding yourself about why you’re doing this. And really, why have you still got those gloves anyway?

In fact, you’ll need to have a general cull of possessions if you simplify, and while some people find that surprisingly liberating, others get worried, even panicky about it.


The future

So if you’re going to simplify, you have two jobs to do at the same time: reduce your possessions and look for your new home.

Reduce possessions gradually if possible – probably over several months. Go round the house room by room, drawer by drawer, and be ruthless.

Target the attic and the garage in particular where all the half-forgotten stuff lives. Hack through the kitchen and the bathroom where the unsentimental stuff lives. And be unforgiving with clothes, books, CDs ... all the collections which are, when it comes down to it, baggage.

If you really can’t decide whether to keep or chuck, get a friend to say ‘aww come on, you haven’t used that for years!’. You’ll find that’s nearly always what they do say.

Sell stuff at auction, car boot sales and on eBay, and whatever’s left give to the charity shops.


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Now assess the stuff you’re keeping. Measure your furniture and count your storage cupboards. You will need to know how your worldly goods will fit into your new space, particularly the larger items like the sofa, the wardrobe, the table and your bed.


Simultaneous job two is to properly research your new home. Visit property websites and register for updates, keep an eye on local newspapers covering the areas you’re interested in and make yourself known to local estate agents and builders, so you’re at the front of the queue when relevant homes become available.


Unless you really have a favourite street or village you’re targeting, look for houses in areas on the up. Analyse the specifics; a new bypass, a new local school, an improving train service. Locations with the greatest investment potential are those where long-term plans come to fruition after you buy.


Be relaxed if you can, take your time. You're not going anywhere until the moving stars in the property heaven all align. 


Bargain hard at both the selling and buying ends – especially if you’re not in a hurry. The bigger the sale gap between your larger old house and the smaller new one, the more you will have to spend or invest on your new low-maintenance, high-fun lifestyle. 


The last word

For years, the mantra for home ownership in Britain years has generally been ‘buy as big as you can afford’. That of course is still true in many cases, but you rarely hear ‘get small, be happy’.

Research carried out by property website Rightmove recently revealed that 40% of those intending to sell their home in the next year were motivated by a desire to trade down.

So you’re not in a tiny, eccentric minority if you simplify; you’re actually part of a growing trend.