Starting your life as an empty nester and contemplating downsizing? Start with this guide to organize your decision and your search. 

Empty nester is the term used for those couples who have spent the last couple of decades raising their kids. Then suddenly — POOF, the kids out of the house and on their own. So what now? Do you need all that space in your house? How much is that costing you? Is where you are living still important or would more flexibility suit your new “no kids in the house” lifestyle better? Can renting be a better option? And what are you going to do with all your stuff?

Our empty nester's guide will help you understand everything that you should consider before making the downsizing decision to make sure your new “nest” is the perfect fit for you.


In this guide:

  1. Benefits of downsizing as an empty nester
    1. Expense
    2. Smaller spaces save money
    3. Less space = more free time
    4. Flexibility
    5. Fill the silence
    6. Lifestyle changes
    7. Luxury within reach
    8. Health
  2. Steps to take when preparing to downsize
    1. Should it stay or should it go?
    2. Furniture inventory
    3. Giveaways
    4. Garage sales
  3. How to rent an apartment

Benefits of downsizing as an empty nester

Expense

In general, experts say, homeowners with a mortgage spend more per month than renters. That’s according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013-2017 American Community Survey five-year estimates, which tracks median housing costs across the country.

Additional costs of owning a home include property taxes, maintenance, repairs and insurance in addition to a monthly mortgage payment. Most of these costs are eliminated with a rental. More money in your pocket is a clear incentive for making the downsizing move.

Smaller spaces save money

  • Utilities: Less space generally means less expense for utilities such as electricity, gas and water
  • Repairs: One of the beautiful things about renting is that you only need to submit a maintenance request to your property manager. The responsibility of paying for the parts or labor does not fall on you.
  • Maintenance: Gardening and pool cleaning are typically covered in the rent
  • Taxes: As a renter, you don’t have to pay taxes on your property. Yay!
  • Insurance: Rental insurance is less expensive than homeowners insurance. It covers your personal belongings in case they’re damaged or stolen.

In addition, when you downsize you’ll need fewer possessions. This means you can probably clean out the storage closet or attic and sell or donate those items (more on that to come). You also probably won’t need to buy new furniture.

Less space = more free time

Yard work, swimming pool maintenance and housekeeping for cleaning rooms you don’t use any more are examples of those weekend chores that can permanently be removed from your weekend to-do list. Some empty nesters may miss those Saturdays in the yard or mopping floors, but for many, this freed up time is a welcome opportunity for something more enjoyable.

Flexibility

Newfound freedom means you can make some decisions based on YOU. Although your work location may still be an important consideration, you no longer have to plan your days around school drop off and pickups, sports or a myriad of other ways kids keep you running around.

Have you always wondered what it would be like to live in the heart of the city? Maybe loft living is for you! Or has living next to the golf course or beach has always been a dream?

The beauty of renting is that you do not have to commit for long periods of time, and making a change is easy and not a financial drain.

Fill the silence

Without a doubt, the sounds of silence in the rooms that used to be filled with children’s laughter can be deafening for some. Moving to a different environment can help this transition since you will not associate your new living space with your children. If you are concerned about being a little bored with your children gone, find a community with people in a similar situation. You can fill the silence with the laughter of new friends and neighbors.

Lifestyle changes

Making a lifestyle change can take adjustment, so be careful about how much change you are going to need to adjust to all at once. Downsizing can be a big adjustment for those folks who have lived in a big house for many years. Sometimes an even bigger adjustment is living in an apartment community — meaning sharing walls, parking spaces and common outdoor space.

Added up, these things can feel very different than where you were living. But if socializing more and feeling less isolated is part of your goal, be sure to do your homework and pick a community that encourages getting to know your neighbors with social activities. Or maybe it’s living by the beach or the heart of the city that you have always dreamed about. Renting may make that dream attainable.

Luxury within reach

Prior to looking for an apartment home, think about the amenities that are important to you. Apartment community amenities run the gamut from bare-bones to luxury. Of course, the monthly rental price reflects the level of amenities, so make a list of your deal-breakers. These are the things that are absolute must-haves and things you can easily live without, for example, a garage or laundry facilities.

Here are examples of the variety of amenities you can find in apartment communities. Use these for a gut check and to make your checklist of requirements.

Facilities:

  • Pool
  • Fitness center
  • Tennis court
  • Golf
  • Community center
  • Laundry facilities
  • Garage/covered parking/guest parking

Services:

  • Transportation
  • Doorman
  • Dry cleaning or laundry service

Social:

  • Organized events
  • Movie nights
  • Theater or concerts
  • Sports
  • Game nights

Health

Another lifestyle change that you may want to consider is health or accessibility reasons. If you owned a home, you might have to make modifications for accessibility, and that’s almost always big bucks. However, there are apartments where accessibility is a priority. It’s easy to get in and out, bathrooms and kitchens are accommodating for wheelchairs and these communities are generally closer to medical care.

Steps to take when preparing to downsize

Now that you have all the information you need to make a good choice about your next smaller but right-sized abode, the time is now to start downsizing. This process takes some time, so by all means, get to it! You don’t want to wait until the last minute or your move will be stressful, long and way too much work.

1. Should it stay or should it go?

Assess how much stuff you need to purge based on how much space you will have in your new home, including the overall square footage, cabinet and closet space. Will there be space to store larger items like outdoor furniture or a grill? Some apartments have regulations on what can be stored or displayed on porches or patios.

You’ll likely not need a lawnmower or leaf blower while living in an apartment, so think about how to sell or store these kinds of items.

Think about how often family or friends might come and visit to determine the items that you might want to keep that you wouldn’t normally use. For instance, if you have grandchildren or are expecting grandchildren soon, you probably want to hold onto some old toys and stuffed animals.

2. Furniture inventory

Start with the big things that take up space in your house, namely furniture. Take a hard look and do a furniture inventory. What rooms do you have now that you will not have in the future? Most likely, you will be reducing the number of bedrooms at a minimum. Do your newly emancipated children need furniture? This could be a win-win for you and your kids. Charities are often grateful for used furniture in good condition and will often arrange to pick it up saving you tons of hassle and expense.

Having a floor plan with your new space can help you determine which treasures will comfortably fit into your new space and which should find a new home. Trying to sell some things is always an option as well and can help finance any new furnishings.

3. Giveaways

A good rule of thumb here — if you haven’t used it for a year or more, you don’t need it. But others surely do. Ask your kids, friends and family members first. Then turn to charity. Many charities rely on these types of household donations, and will sometimes even come to pick up your donation items. Purging your unused items can be cathartic for you and help someone else too.

4. Garage sales

Most anyone who has held a garage sale will tell you that they are a lot of work for little money. But having a garage sale does force you to start organizing, and you should have a few extra bucks in your pocket in the end. When the garage sale is done, donate the rest to charity.

How to rent an apartment

Ready to get started? Since you have now organized yourself and your stuff it’s time to start your search. Use all the tools available to help you search, filter results to only show the places that check your boxes.

Be sure to check out renter reviews to cut through the marketing language and get first-hand feedback from renters in the community.

Equip yourself with information and tools, and then off you go to a smaller space and new empty-nester lifestyle.

Connect

SUGGESTION BOX

Do you have an idea for a topic you’d like to learn more about?