Downsize without Leaving Your Home

Photo: Robert Benner Sr./flickrHow to downsize means different things to different people. It may involve selling your house and buying a smaller property, or simplifying life in your current residence. The commonest reason for wanting to downsize is a change in your family situation. However, empty nest syndrome, divorce, or widowhood is a challenging experience in its own right -- without the additional trauma of leaving your familiar home and neighborhood.

Here's a fresh possibility: think about how to downsize without leaving your present home. To guide you, check out this list of practical steps you can take.


Decluttering is an excellent starting point. No matter what your plans for the future may be, a streamlined, organized home will help take you in the right direction. Paring down your possessions can help you see this new stage in life as an adventure. It will also spare your heirs the hassle and emotional strain of taking care of this task once you are no longer able.

If you do not have the time or emotional resources to sort out trash from treasure yourself, ask your children for assistance ... or find a professional home organizer. Holding a garage sale is a time-honored method of repurposing reusable possessions, but be sure to get an expert appraisal of any items that may be valuable. Recycle any non-salable objects; in a municipality which does not provide pick-up for bulk recycling, you may need to hire a private haulage service.

Transform and Renovate

When you require fewer bedrooms or a smaller overall space, the universe may be handing you an opportunity to create the home that you’ve always wanted.

Transform a bedroom into the home office, hobby room or entertainment center of your dreams – or even all three. One caution: when a multitasking area will be doubling as a guest room, balance your needs with those of your prospective guests. For example, small grandchildren and expensive electronics do not mix well.

Similarly, you can reconfigure your main living area. Unite your dining and living rooms into one "great room" if you prefer that layout. You’ll no longer have to worry about containing noise and clutter from various family members’ activities. If your plans include less time preparing meals, part of your kitchen could become a separate laundry or mudroom.

CAVEAT: When your current downsizing is just a step along the path to eventually selling your house and purchasing a smaller one, avoid any highly personalized remodeling work that might limit resale value.

Prepare to Age in Place

This might be a good time to get ready to age in place, especially if you live in a mild climate like Southern California’s. While you are already making renovations, you may ask your Anaheim remodeling contractor to install senior-friendly features such as shower safety bars, a toilet with elevated seat, a medical alert system, or sturdy railings on both sides of your staircase (or better yet, an in-home escalator).

On a larger scale, building a ground floor bedroom and wider doorways to accommodate a wheelchair will accommodate you or your spouse in case of decreased mobility.

Earn Extra Income

Lifestyle change, especially losing a spouse, often means a drop in income. Try to recognize the moneymaking potential of your home.

Renting a newly vacant bedroom to a student or Airbnb members offers additional income. If you’d like more privacy, remodel your basement, your attic or that bonus room over the garage as a rental unit. All of these should have private access; basement living quarters are required by law to have strictly defined egress via a window or exterior door.

Another moneymaking option is to build a fashionable, resource-efficient tiny house of 500 square feet or less in your yard to rent out -- or to live in yourself. Check local zoning laws, HOA regulations, and possible property tax increases before proceeding, and make sure your contractor pulls the necessary permits.

Laura Firszt writes for

Updated December 13, 2018.

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