The Census Bureau reports that the average American will move 12 times during his or her lifetime. Most moves involve moving up in size to accommodate new family members or to an improved living space. Yet when it comes to downsizing to move into a retirement community, many view it as part of the agony of old age. This occurs largely as a result of four common misperceptions:
Myth #1: It is not possible to downsize without feeling overwhelmed.
The kids may have moved out years ago, but their bedrooms are still full of furniture. Closets bulge with clothing, and framed portraits fill every wall.
The process of moving from a large house into a 600 to 800 square foot apartment in a retirement community does sound daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Many retirement communities help coordinate the move through people who specialize in downsizing.
Dr. Betty Ball was referred to Becky Cox and Heidi Adams when she decided to move to Cornerstone Retirement Community in Texarkana this year. Both Cox and Adams work as independent consultants for the community and provide a wide array of senior-focused moving services - from helping clients decide what to keep, to staging and decorating the new residence.
"I want the new residence to feel like it's more than a home. I want it to feel like it's their home," said Cox. "We don't insert our taste into the process. Our focus is to make the move as easy as possible for them so that in the end, they're rejoicing."
Downsizing consultants can help seniors decide which items to take or let go, plus they can coordinate the move. They can help pick out colors and décor and determine how to arrange items to fit the new space. They can also organize closets and cabinets.
"When I arrived at my new apartment at Cornerstone, it was all done and it was really nice. That was the best part of the whole downsizing process," said Dr. Ball.
If hiring a consultant is not an option, rest assured you can still accomplish downsizing on your own, or with the help of friends and family. The key is to start with small projects, like cleaning out one closet. Tackle projects one-by-one, then reward yourself when each task is complete. Start small and build momentum. Over time, you will find you can indeed downsize without feeling overwhelmed.
Myth #2: Downsizing is always a depressing process.
In truth, the vast majority of people who decide to move into a retirement community often find the process of downsizing to be liberating, like starting a new chapter. The sadness of letting go of certain items quickly fades as they make new friends and get involved in activities in their new community.
"The process of downsizing wasn't sad for me," said Dr. Ball. "I was ready to go. I was living where younger people surrounded me, and they didn't have time to visit with me, nor did they share my interests. Here, I keep as active as I can."
When Chris Terry decided to move to Cornerstone, she had lived in her home for 45 years, and when it quickly sold she had to downsize fast. Her nephew helped her move from a 3,000 square foot home to a two-bedroom apartment. She has since downsized again to a one-bedroom apartment with a study.
Moving to Cornerstone before finally moving entirely out of her house ended up being a good strategy that Terry recommends to others who are contemplating the move to a retirement community. It gave her the ability to arrange furniture and bring things over as space allowed.
"Pick only the things you'll miss the most," she advises. "At 93, there are a lot of things I don't need, and I'm not going to worry about all of it, because life's too short. I'm busy all the time now. I don't want to miss any of the things they offer here."
Myth #3: The living space in a retirement community will feel crowded.
While it is true that 600 square feet can fill up quickly, Adams says the trick to achieving the right fit for a retirement community space is to keep only the things that are sentimental, functional and comfortable. If you fill your new space with the items that fulfill all three of these priorities, you won't be tempted to cram too many things into a smaller living space. She also advises clients to repurpose items in new ways. Mix them up in new arrangements, or refresh them, such as placing a new shade on an old lamp.
Surrounding yourself with familiar items, arranged in new ways, provides a comforting presence, but also underscores the "new life" aspect of the move. And once you settle in, you can congratulate yourself on accomplishing the ultimate goal for retirement community living: Rightsize.
Myth #4: Moving to a retirement community will feel like it's your last move ever.
No matter where you live, time waits for no one. Moving to a retirement community won't stop the passage of time, but instead of feeling like it's the end of the road, the move could actually extend your life. Loneliness affects many seniors living at home, and research has found that social isolation is a potent a cause of early death.
The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported late last year that a lack of frequent face-to-face contact with family and friends almost doubles the risk of depression in older adults. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents become more prevalent when we lose connections with others.
Contrast life at home alone with life in a retirement community, and you will see a vastly different picture: People enjoying the company of others who know and share similar life experiences. They have plenty of social opportunities, and today's retirement communities place a strong emphasis on enabling residents to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. The maintenance-free lifestyle provided in retirement communities also means residents have more time to do the things they want to do, rather than the chores they have to do living in a house.
"I still have a few boxes I haven't opened since moving to Cornerstone two years ago, and I obviously haven't missed their contents," said Terry. "I don't have to pay real estate taxes, and if the roof leaks, I don't have to call a roofer. I don't miss those things at all. I have a good housekeeper here, and I have lots of friends. I feel so safe, and I feel like I've done the right thing. I don't live in the past. I go on."
Signs that it may be time to consider retirement community living
- You live alone and feel isolated from friends and family
- You have face-to-face contact with others less than once a week.
- You feel depressed and lonely for a majority of days each month.
- You are weary of tackling home maintenance chores and cooking.
- You are bored most of the time.
- You are frightened at night and feel vulnerable in your own home.
- You live surround by younger people who don't share your interests.