Downsizing is a big job - but don't put it off

Felicity Price in her family room filled with books and treasures. Twenty-eight years of accumulating stuff is a habit ...
TESSA CHRISP

Felicity Price in her family room filled with books and treasures. Twenty-eight years of accumulating stuff is a habit that is hard to break.

OPINION: Downsizing not as easy as it sounds.

Dropping a couple of dress sizes is about as easy as dropping a couple of house sizes and takes just as much effort. You'd think it would be simple, popping the house on the market and waiting for the offers to pour in. But if your house is as tired looking as your favourite old frocks, then you've got your work cut out. As we have.

After 28 happy, sun-drenched years, our four-bedroom family home no longer resounds with teenagers slamming doors or playing loud doof-doof music on the stereo. In fact, on most days, it's awfully quiet. The teenagers have grown into adults and have flown the coop. But the 28 years of sun-drenching and wear-and-tear have turned the family home into a faded, worn, chipped and tired old renovator's dream.

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The carpet needs replacing, the roof needs painting, the skirtings are chipped, the paint has worn away from the window frames, and the colour palette that looked so funky 20 years ago would horrify anyone under 50 brought up on neutrals and whites.

The dining-cum-reading room in Felicity's house is dubbed "The Blue Room", but buyers these days are more likely to want ...
TESSA CHRISP

The dining-cum-reading room in Felicity's house is dubbed "The Blue Room", but buyers these days are more likely to want a neutral colour scheme.

So it's off to the roof man to repair and repaint, and down to the hardware store to spend a small fortune on masking tape, sandpaper and paint. Colour? Not anymore. Black-white is what they're painting everything these days apparently, with a few shades of grey or beige thrown in. Forget any personality. Paint it white. And save any pops of colour for the cushions.

Then there's decluttering. The real estate agent took one look at our living room and visibly blanched. Way too much personality. The dozens of family photos, the overcrowded bookshelves, the groaning desks and coffee tables, the vast array of containers and condiments on the kitchen bench – they've all got to go. Less is more. Minimalism is key.

Except 28 years accumulation of stuff is a hard habit to break. And where to put everything? We've started by emptying and sorting through two bookcases, and a pile of books (admittedly smaller than it should have been) to go to the church book-sale. There is a similarly daunting pile of pictures great and small removed from the walls for the repaint that can't go back up again. And that doesn't even begin to address the family photo frames, the knick-knacks, the family heirloom silver and china handed down over generations.

Felicity's kitchen is full of treasures, which now need to be rationalised.
TESSA CHRISP

Felicity's kitchen is full of treasures, which now need to be rationalised.

The garage is beginning to fill up with extraneous furniture and books and, by the time we're done decluttering, the garage is going to be filled to the rafters with all the stuff from the house, unless we can toughen up and take it to the eco-store before the house goes on the market. Because potential home-buyers will want to at least see inside the garage, if not find a space for a small car in it.

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The kids have drawn the line at accepting any more of our displaced stuff. Nor are they remotely interested in the antique-looking family-inherited furniture – curvy cabriole chair and table legs don't go at all with the IKEA-like white cabinetry favoured by Gen Y. And they're not alone. The market for antiques has plummeted, apparently, as baby boomers begin to offload the furniture they've inherited from their parents and their parents before them.

There's also the risk that putting our house on the market in the spring will coincide with dozens of other baby boomers downsizing at the same time, flooding the market for four-bedroom homes for sale and draining the market for small townhouses to buy.

A corner of Felicity's dining room: she says her kids are not interested in inheriting antique-y family treasures.
TESSA CHRISP

A corner of Felicity's dining room: she says her kids are not interested in inheriting antique-y family treasures.

In the UK and the United States, businesses are springing up to cater for just this, with two of Britain's biggest housebuilders setting up special divisions to cater for downsizing boomers by "changing designs for four-bedroom family houses traditionally aimed at young families and first-time buyers, to offer some properties instead designed with a larger master suite and two flexible study/bedrooms" for the growing number of active lifestylers over 55, according to the Financial Times.

The biggest concentration of mortgage-free home ownership, in New Zealand and the UK, is among people over 60, and surveys have shown that about half of us plan to downsize at some stage before the ultimate downsize to a six-foot box.

It's easy to see why smaller homes are popular with us Boomers: out go the big, time-consuming garden and the big two-storey house with all the echoing empty bedrooms; in comes the small, modern, easy-care townhouse and pocket-handkerchief-sized courtyard, preferably lock-and-leave for those Silver Nomad trips in the caravan round New Zealand next summer.

Boomers will make up nearly a quarter of the population of this country in 25 years' time, so that's an awful lot of plus-sized family homes coming on the market in the next few years. We'd better get in quick, before all the other oldies wake up to the benefits of downsizing too.

 - Homed

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