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Moving to Tighter Quarters? Creative Thinking Helps Big Time

March 23, 2000|From Washington Post

Have you reached an age where you're thinking about thinking smaller?

Then take a flinty-eyed look at that big old dining-room table, with its eight chairs, matching sideboard and china cabinet. And the baby grand piano. And the 9-foot sofa, the oversize recliner, the power lawn mower, the hundreds of books, multiple sets of dishes and countless tchotchkes you've collected over the years.

Then bid adieu to excess baggage as you swap a house and yard too big for your needs for more manageable digs.

And don't despair. You'll not be alone in making a post-midlife move. Although Americans change addresses less frequently as they age, nearly 40% will move at least once after turning 60, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. Moreover, demographers say the number of down-sizers is likely to grow as baby boomers retire and life expectancy continues to rise.

But moving into more compact quarters, be it in the heart of the city or a suburban retirement village, shouldn't mean giving up a sense of home.

"Take your treasures; leave behind what does not matter. Create a space with the colors you love, the furniture, the books, the music. Just nest in with it," urges Phyllis Ross, 60, a lecturer on "mastering an active retirement" who moved to Leisure World in Silver Spring, Md., with her husband, Earl, 68, two years ago.

In fact, lightening the load can prove downright liberating, say those who have been through it. And although it can be difficult to jettison possessions gathered over a lifetime, the sense of loss can be minimized by deciding what things really matter to you and planning to make room for them.

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Active retirees--in their early 50s to late 70s or well beyond--can make their own decisions about what to keep, what to give away. Those who are older and frailer often depend on relatives to help ease them into their smaller, new world.

"The family, more than anyone, must pay attention and not argue with them over what they want to bring," says Carole Talbott, a designer and author in Stuart, Fla., who holds seminars in "use what you own" decorating techniques and frequently works with seniors. "You must always, always take family photographs into consideration. And you can't say to your mother or father: 'You don't want that old table.' Listen to them. We are supposed to have around us meaningful things. And the worst time to interfere with it is in their final years."

Talbott has learned to make room for a treasured china cabinet, often quite large and hard to accommodate, as it is one of the two or three pieces of furniture most seniors want to keep. Another must-have, she says, is a desk or table where people can write, do paperwork, organize bills and generally "feel productive."

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So where to begin?

Once you know where you're moving, count the rooms you have and the rooms you will have, and calculate the square footage of both. Armed with a floor plan of the prospective nest, decide what furnishings you can't live without and determine if they will actually fit. Compare closet space. In a retirement community or apartment complex, inquire about additional storage areas.

Then prioritize: Decide what you want to do in your new home, which old hobbies and activities are being swapped for new ones.

Retirement brings "not just a change of location, but a change of lifestyle," says Genevieve Auguste, president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Art of Moving, who for 13 years has overseen all aspects of relocation for clients. Because those lifestyle changes often mean trading lawn mowers and ski equipment for golf clubs and dancing shoes, Auguste champions creative thinking.

"Just because the floor plan says bedroom, dining room or kitchen, they don't have to use it that way. They may want to use an eat-in kitchen for crafts because it has great light, and take their meals in the dining area. Someone with a wonderful library may want to put their books in the dining room," Auguste says.

"One woman we moved came from a huge, 13-room house full of antiques to a one-bedroom. She writes a lot but didn't want her computer in the bedroom. We managed to fit many of her antiques in the apartment and put the computer on the enclosed balcony," says Auguste, who believes it's better to bring too much to the new place and get rid of it later than to regret having parted with something irretrievable.

Cherished pieces that don't make the cut can be offered to family and friends, an auction house, or consignment shop. If you have grown children, tell them to remove or throw out what they've been storing at your place. Whatever isn't spoken for can be sold at an estate sale (most agents require a minimum $8,000 worth of salable goods; their take is about 25%). To save the commission, you can conduct the sale if you think you know the value of what you're selling. Or donate the lot to charity and claim a tax deduction.

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