Is it Time to Downsize from the Family Home?

Moving is always stressful, but for a senior, it can be overwhelming. The family home holds a lifetime of memories. If family isn’t nearby to help out, it may be time to call the experts.

March 23, 2015 | | Over the Next Hill

So, the kids have moved on, the family home feels empty. Yet there is no end to the chores, both indoors and out. And it’s taking a lot more time than it once did to wash the windows and cut the grass. The stairs are getting steeper, the job jar is overflowing, and there is a persistent niggling feeling that there really should be more to life.

Making a good lifestyle choice at the right time could make the difference between anticipating your retirement years with joy and hope, or with dread.

Well-known area residents Gary and Pat Vipond had lived in their large country home for 32 years. Their four children grew up happily roaming the grounds on their Caledon estate, but maintaining the 3,800- square-foot house on 20-plus acres was now becoming a hassle.

Before life defined their margins for them, they became proactive in the hunt for their next home. Pat remembers watching her own parents move from the family home in Etobicoke to full retirement at their cottage. “It wasn’t the right move for them. They left behind all their support systems and most of their friends. Although the area was familiar to them, the transition was too drastic,” she says.

Pat and Gary Vipond moved proactively from their Caledon acreage to an Orangeville bungalow: “What a delight it is to be able to walk to meet friends at a local café,” says Pat. Photo by Rosemary Hasner / Black Dog Creative Arts.

Pat and Gary Vipond moved proactively from their Caledon acreage to an Orangeville bungalow: “What a delight it is to be able to walk to meet friends at a local café,” says Pat. Photo by Rosemary Hasner / Black Dog Creative Arts.

With this in mind, Pat and Gary were lucky to find a beautiful bungalow on a tree-lined street in Orangeville. Pat says when she first walked in the front door, she could see the potential of the house. They did some renovating with the help of their contractor son, and have been enjoying their freedom ever since.

“What a delight it is to be able to walk to meet friends at a local café, to our doctor, lawyer, dentist. The size of this house is so much more manageable, and with a bit of shuffling, we are still able to squeeze in our entire family of 25-plus for Christmas dinner,” says Pat.

The Viponds were fortunate in that they had family to help with the actual move. The clearing out of belongings accumulated over 33 years was a horrendous job, and one they couldn’t have done without the dedicated help of their children.

Brenda Alderdice, Caledon’s Downsizing Diva, says, “I went through the downsizing transition with my dad, and learned firsthand how difficult the process was for him. When an opportunity came up to get into the downsizing business, I jumped at it. I love dealing with seniors.”

Brenda emphasizes the time to look at options for the next phase is before a crisis. “For seniors, often there is a trigger that changes their path, such as a fall, restricted mobility, diagnosis of a progressive disease, loss of a spouse, loss of a driver’s license or financial setback,” she says. “Any one could precipitate hasty action and result in loss of control of where and how you live.”

Moving is always stressful, but for a senior, it can be overwhelming. The family home holds a lifetime of memories. Photographs, furniture, day-to-day items, and the boxes in the basement the kids left behind. It all must be sorted. Determinations must be made on everything from tattered sheets and towels to the most precious family treasures. If family isn’t nearby to help out, it may be time to call the experts.

And that’s just what many people seem to be doing. The concept of senior-move management professionals was initiated in the U.S. about 12 years ago. Downsizing Diva is a Canadian franchise that is opening offices across the country. As one of the first Canadian franchisees, Brenda has seen her business grow significantly in just four years. She now employs a team of seven, and has recently expanded from Etobicoke and Caledon to Dufferin.

Following a free initial consultation, Brenda develops a quote outlining the services she recommends. “I encourage family members to be present during this discussion, but I feel strongly that the senior should be part of the decision-making process every step of the way.”

A usual job sees Brenda helping the client decide what to take, what to scrap, what to pass along to family members, and what to sell, recycle or auction. She and her crew arrange for disposal units, hire movers and cleaners, and pack the boxes. If the house is to be sold, they will transform it to ensure it shows to the best advantage.

On moving day, Brenda usually suggests a client find something fun to do for the day. When they meet later at the new residence, everything is set up. Dishes are in cupboards, furniture has been placed according to the agreed plan, pictures have been hung, the TV is working, clocks and phones are operational.

Before the move, the Divas take photographs of the client’s dressing table and knick-knack cabinet, and everything is put back exactly the same way in the new home. The bed is made, toothbrush is where it should be, clothes are hung, and coffee is in the fridge. Some clients even find themselves with new sheets and towels.

Moving from the family home is one of life’s most difficult decisions. Brenda’s succinct advice is, “Before safety and well-being become issues, take the time to regroup, rethink your needs and preferences, and move forward.”

More Info

Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

With this inaugural column, Gail Grant begins her exploration of the “later years.”

“Those of us entering our 70s are in the vanguard trickle of what will soon be a tsunami of baby boomers rolling over the next hill,” says Gail, who recently turned 71. And she adds, they are carrying their attitudes with them – “We resolutely refuse to age as previous generations have.”

A shining example of that philosophy, Gail has embraced this new stage in life with vigour. In the past four years, she has successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro with her daughter, canoed the Yukon River from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City, hiked through the mountains of Peru into Machu Picchu, and backpacked in Southeast Asia.

For some of us, even those a lot younger, that list of impressive accomplishments just sounds exhausting. But Gail knows her approach is not one that appeals to everyone, nor one that is available to everyone.

Gail moved to these hills 25 years ago, when her Bay Street job became one she could do from a home office. Although she is now long retired and most often winters in Mexico, she maintains a keen interest in politics and environmental issues, and her involvement with the establishment of Abbeyfield House, a residence for active seniors in Caledon East, introduced her to many of the issues related to growing older in a rural setting.

“In this column, I plan to address the wave of new issues rolling toward us as we age,” she says. “Those include downsizing our homes, estate planning, health care, stretching our retirement savings, grandchildren, changes in our mental abilities, finding activities that don’t stress our aging muscles and joints, and, inevitably, the grief of losing dear friends and family.”

In spite of all these challenges, she adds, “We have been given one last tremendous gift – that of time. As we enter our senior years, may we use our time wisely to age purposefully and with grace.”

About the Author More by Gail Grant

Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

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