Boomers start to downsize
Some baby boomers are pulling up stakes in their 50s, while they are still working, and moving into smaller quarters.
As longtime owners of a nearly 4,000-square-foot house in southern California, Ciji Ware and her husband, Tony Cook, enjoyed spacious living. But when he received an unexpected job offer in northern California, they made an abrupt change. They put their possessions in storage and moved into a 395-square-foot apartment in San Francisco.Skip to next paragraph
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"Our son was grown and our dog had just died," Ms. Ware recalls. "We decided now was the moment to do this."
Later, when they bought a two-bedroom, two-bath home in Sausalito, Calif., they pared down drastically. "We had learned how little we needed our abundance," Ware says. As baby boomers, they also realized that they were in the vanguard of change.
Unlike many in their parents' generation, who often waited until their later years to move to smaller quarters, some baby boomers are pulling up stakes in their 50s, while they are still working. They are moving to condos, "active adult" communities, or city apartments. Although parting with belongings can be hard, a surprising number are finding new freedom.
"Boomers may have an adventurous spirit, following careers, following dreams," says Carol Orsborn, co-chair of FH Boom, a marketing group that studies this generation.
About 6 percent of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 move each year, according to the Over-50 Council of the National Association of Home Builders. Some change addresses when the nest empties or an early retirement beckons. Others are eager to reduce upkeep or spend time traveling. They want a "lock and leave" approach to housing.
Whatever the motive for moving, some experts see a shift under way. For an older generation, downsizing can be "a tough one," says Lisa LaCount, author of "1,001 Active Lifestyle Communities." "They have family heirlooms and large pieces of furniture. They have a lifetime around them." By contrast, baby boomers are a more transient generation.
"Baby boomers will have an easier time parting with things," says Margit Novack, president of Moving Solutions in Haverstown, Pa. "They're less invested in things because of their monetary value. Boomers grew up in an age of everything being disposable. Many are still working. They look for the most expedient way to get rid of stuff."
She and her husband, baby boomers themselves, recently went from a six- bedroom house to a home one-third that size. "We'd look at things we had collected. He'd say, 'Do you care about this anymore?' " The answer was often no.
"For our wedding 26 years ago, we received a cut glass tissue holder," Ms. Novack says. "I asked my husband, 'Do you think our tissue boxes need a house?' This is a new way of thinking." Noting that they parted with three truckloads of belongings, she adds, "It feels great not to have them."
For Ms. Orsborn, the hardest part of paring down was letting go of children's mementos.
"Boomers have been so close to their children," she explains. "We had to decide how much of their things we were going to carry through our lives." They gave both grown children plastic bins in which to store their school papers, artwork, and diaries.
Downsizing has its limits, of course. Many empty nesters still want 1,800 to 2,400 square feet when they move, says Bruce Nemovitz, a real estate broker in Milwaukee. Those in an older generation prefer 900 to 1,200 square feet.