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My Downsizing Adventure

You can learn a lot about your housing needs from a trial run at downsizing or by helping a friend navigate the downsizing experience.

My husband and I live in a close-in suburb of Washington, D.C. A few years ago we raised eyebrows among our family and friends by renting an apartment downtown to try out city life. My husband had always wanted to be within a few subway stops (or even walking distance) of his office, and we were curious about whether we could see ourselves downsizing to a condo someday. So we went apartment hunting and found a sun-filled, one-bedroom, top-floor unit with a balcony and a nice view. How could we resist?

The idea was to stay downtown during the week and come home on weekends. We took a lot of ribbing about our pied-à-terre and our “country house” (all of seven miles away). But “John and Janet’s Excellent Adventure” proved to be, well, excellent. Our commute was four stops on the Metro; with the extra time we gained, we took long walks before work, and I got home early enough to start a yoga class taught by one of the building residents. We frequented local restaurants and walked to museums and the National Mall just because we could.

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When our lease was up after a year, we decided to move back home. Despite our positive experience, we weren’t quite ready to make the move permanently. In fact, we had a greater appreciation for our house—roomy, but not overwhelming. But if we do decide to downsize, we learned valuable lessons from our experience—including that we’ll need at least two bedrooms.

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One thing I continued after returning home was yoga classes. When my teacher, Sherry Weber, told the class that she intended to sell her split-level home and move to a smaller place, I hooked her up with associate editor Pat Esswein, who wrote our downsizing story. Divorced, with three grown daughters, Sherry wanted a place that required less maintenance but was convenient to her three jobs as yoga instructor, massage therapist and school crossing guard. Sherry’s search “illustrates some key points about downsizing,” says Pat.

Consider all your options. Sherry, 56, took her time scouring the area and, much to her surprise, finally settled on a condo in an active adult community for people 55 and older. “I’ve gotten some funny reactions when I tell people I’ve moved here,” she says. “Some people my age look horrified because they don’t consider themselves old.”

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Know your priorities. In addition to affordability, convenience to her jobs and proximity to two of her daughters, Sherry was looking for a safe environment. “When I come home late after work, I don’t think twice about schlepping my stuff into my place,” she says. Plus, her unit has vaulted ceilings and room for a full-size washer and dryer.

Decide what you can do without. Getting rid of her stuff was “as much work as delivering a baby,” says Sherry. She started little by little, but when she ended up in a tussle with her ex-husband over the dining-room furniture, she had an epiphany: “I said, ‘Take it,’ and it felt so great. The seven of us, my daughters and their boyfriends, celebrated Christmas all smushed in around my kitchen table, and it was fine.”

Expect the transition to be bumpy. “I thought, I won’t have this deck, this tree, these steppingstones,” says Sherry. “But it’s kind of interesting and different—like Mary Tyler Moore in the city. It’s challenging to do something creative with a smaller space.” She considered it a good omen when one of her favorite restaurants also moved to her community. And she’s even grown “strangely fond” of the artificial turf on her balcony.

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