Downsizing - but what is the right floor-plan for retirement?
So what is the right house floor-plan for retirement? Many of us baby boomers were raised in homes which were built before the Second World War (pre-1940) while others of us were privileged enough to enjoy the modern benefits of homes built in the late 1940s and 1950s. And while both examples tended to be solid "double brick" construction, they usually both suffered from very small rooms (bedrooms particularly) and lacked the modern conveniences of built-in wardrobes, en-suite bathrooms and all-purpose family rooms.
When it became our turn to set up house during the 1960s and 70s, most of us tended to embrace much more adventurous house design, incorporating many innovations (now considered essential basics by 21st century standards) and mostly on a larger scale, with some even more grand, flamboyant or dare I say outrageously lavish (and some certainly were) than the new era norm. But this was the "golden" age of new hope, new wealth creation and new career opportunity and expectation -
and us baby boomers really have embraced it - striving for better education, better jobs and careers, and "trappings" (better homes cars, appliances etc) for ourselves with the knock-on effect of a much better, even easier path for our children, than our parents could ever have possibly afforded for us! But now the kids have grown up and left home to start their own life journeys, leaving Mum and Dad alone with seemingly cavernous homes - certainly much larger than they will need in retirement. At least, that is how we viewed it - She and I would, almost begrudgingly yet religiously, dust, polish and vacuum clean large rooms that we never used and which we usually closed off to contain heat in the rooms we regularly used. It begged the question - "why are we keeping this big and clearly under-utilised home?" There are higher rates and utilities costs attaching to a larger home and I've certainly written previously on the rigours of maintaining a larger landholding as we did. And as you contemplate or enter retirement, you want neither the heavier physical load of maintaining the larger home and property, nor certainly the higher costs attaching to that inflated lifestyle. For some of us, it is difficult and for others nigh impossible, to shed the symbols of success and wealth that came with your working life, but for us, we conceded our priorities had shifted and we really no longer needed to maintain our large home to impress others - we simply wanted to ensure we maximised our hard-earned retirement years. In retirement, we've become more reflective..." life is not about the things we have, it's about the people we meet!"
But what do you replace your larger home with? You just don't want to replace big with small, you really need to get something that works for 2, not 4 or 6 people. Yes, there will be times where you'll still like to have a dinner party with family or close friends so you will still need some good - but functional - living space. And you no longer really need 4 or 5 bedrooms - remember there are now only 2 of you so more often than not the extra rooms will be empty. Remember too, that this move, coming while you are still relatively young and agile, is not only to serve you well now, but hopefully also into your twilight years. So it will be important to question whether you want stairs and moreover how often you would need to use them. It may not be a problem today, but what about in 5 or 10 years time? What if you suddenly need surgery and are no longer mobile yet all your accommodation is upstairs? - you can't get up or down and your partner caring for you is faced with the daunting prospect of many trips up and down stairs with food trays etc on a daily basis - now I suggest that will wear thin pretty quickly!!
Having chosen the region, town and specific area we wanted to relocate to, it quickly became apparent that every house on the market in that area, like anywhere really, offered different attributes - no 2 were the same, but equally apparent was that most had similar traditional family-oriented layouts which would not be so functional for us going forward. But what will be? was the vexing question. And we had our own list of inclusions besides, which added to the difficulty of finding the right new (smaller) home.
Then a little house came on to the market, which, from it's portrayal on the internet, was not at all appealing to us. But our savvy real estate agent insisted we should take a look, based purely on its really prime location and its renovation potential. So we acceded and duly inspected it with her. Immediately we saw the layout of the house - its "floor-plan" or "footprint" - we could easily envisage its suitability for us in retirement. There were no stairs - a pet hate of mine, particularly from a cleaning perspective - no traditional lounge and dining rooms at the front of the house - rooms that inevitably will get locked off and never used, just as had happened in our big farm house. Instead, its simplistic design with a central hall leading through the centre of the house from the front door with 3 bedrooms and a bathroom lining either side, to a door and at the end which opened into one spacious lounge/dining/family/kitchen area with a feature brick fireplace. An ample skylight in the middle of this space ensured adequate light and whilst its colour (green!) and décor did not appeal at all, we could readily visualise a makeover, including a new kitchen, cabinetry and modernised colour scheme all of which could work wonders to provide an intimate, functional and inviting single living space for She, Me, "H" and "M" to share for years to come. By having the kitchen in this space, She is able to join the conversation while preparing meals and similarly I can as I clean up after our meals. So very convivial and totally inclusive when we are entertaining and so functional when simply watching a favourite TV program as well.
I'll write a separate article about how we achieved our excellent renovation result but my purpose here is to demonstrate the need to get the right floor-plan or footprint to start with. By getting this basic aspect ready-made we were easily able to add the cosmetic touches to get the overall desired result we wanted whereas with other homes we had seen, the renovation would have been far more complex and expensive to get a similar single living space.
It is our hope that our little house, with its extremely functional layout over 1 level will serve our needs well into our old age - it is easily maintained and there is absolutely no wasted space - we are so pleased we made this significant downsize while we are still relatively young, creating a space we can happily grow old in. FOOD FOR THOUGHT!
...and remember...have a fabulous retirementLIFE....