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What to expect when downscaling from your beloved family home

We all know the stats: the fact that next to death and divorce, moving homes is the most stressful and traumatic thing that could happen to you. Add to that a lifetime of happy memories which is about to be sold to another family, who’s probably going to change everything you and your family love, or – worse – someone who will completely demolish the home your children took their first steps in, where they told you they’ve met The One, and later announced that you were going to be a grandparent. The place your loved ones came to when they needed a place to “go home to”, and it is understandable why this transition could be hard to accept.

Antonia Roos, clinical psychologist working in Garsfontein, Pretoria, says that while it is definitely true that deciding to downscale from a happy family home will make you feel an emotion not dissimilar to the grief you would feel when having to say goodbye to an old and dear friend, it is also true that your mind and the way you react to this process is one of the few things you have complete control over during this transition.

Don’t add to your feelings of loss by holding on to unnecessary things and preconceptions

clutter in house

“You can embrace a new season and the wisdom grounded in beautiful experiences along the way; or you can become grumpy and irritated in a complex and make your fellow residents’ lives miserable,” explains Roos. “It is better to actively decide to take on this transition and embrace it, than to be forced to do it out of circumstances such as death, illness or financial constraints.”

Roos says that her advice when faced with this overwhelming feeling of grief is to calmly assess each reason for your stress and emotional response, and distinguish between the real issues and fluff issues, and to then decide that you will not allow the fluff issues to blur your happiness and contentment.

Examples of fluff issues vs. real issues

The real issues are


Fairly close to amenities and family and loved ones

The fluff issues are

I have to fit my 10-seater dining room table in my modest two-bedroom townhouse

What will my snobbish friends say?

Dawn Bloch, area specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Zwaanswyk, Lakeside and Kirstenhof says that in her experience, and judging from her clients that are currently going through this exact experience, the desire to hold on to furniture pieces that are likely too many or large for the new, smaller home is something many struggle with.

“It helps to obtain a floor plan of your new home – you can then measure existing pieces of furniture which would make it easier to make a decision,” she advises. “Many decide to take it with after all, or they give the loved piece of furniture to a family member. If it does not hold sentimental value it is also a good idea to consider selling the pieces of furniture you are not taking with you.” Bloch adds that you shouldn’t feel pressure to make a decision right away, either. “Many of my clients opt for a storage unit to store most of their furniture and only take a few pieces with them initially.”

Be realistic throughout – finances should be a major consideration

Elderly couple living comfortably

An aspect that is important though, which you should not disregard, is the need to carefully consider this decision from a financial perspective.

“Very often people who have lived in their current homes for many years have no idea what suitable and affordable property options are available, or which areas will offer them the best value for money,” explains Bloch.

Top tip: As soon as you start thinking of the transition begin by selling or donating things you haven’t used in years. This will lessen the load when you move and also make your decisions easier when you actually get to the point of making the move.

Tax in retirement – dividends or interest?

Four ways to make this a financially sound life change

  1. Do not forget to calculate the total monthly cost of your new home – things such as levies and special levies etc. should be weighed up against the decreased need for regular big upkeep and maintenance costs.
  2. Carefully research property and suburb options. It is advisable to appoint an experienced and responsible agent that you trust to guide you through the process and offer support and advice along the way.
  3. Calculate the possible cost of moving as well as the cost of any maintenance or renovations you want to do before selling your family home. This gives you the opportunity to cost-effectively attend to these issues before your actual move when you will have other costs to cover.
  4. Think long term. It is important to carefully consider the type of property to move to and to think long term and avoid an additional costly move several years later. Carefully calculate how the various options will affect your future monthly budget by comparing factors such as monthly municipal rates and sectional title levies, maintenance requirements and utility costs

The numbers: A two-bedroom apartment in Diep Rivier CPOA costs around R1,9m with an additional levy of about R4,000 per month. However, this covers everything except the telephone rental and the electricity, and includes facilities such as 24-hour manned security, a swimming pool, gym equipment and frail care at a reduced rate. A similar apartment in a normal complex can often be found for less, but when you take into account the costs of water, electricity, security, maintenance and escalating municipal rates, monthly expenses can easily amount to much more.

Approach the change with clarity on what to expect

old couple on holiday

Bloch says that while it cannot be denied that this is a stressful transition and may seem like a depressing prospect at first, she has seen her clients happily embrace the transition’s several compelling advantages. “The financial benefits include freeing up a considerable amount of money each month that can be put to good use, such as boosting your retirement fund, decreasing debt or saving for an overseas family holiday. It also frees up time to do more of the things you enjoy but seldom had the chance to do as compact homes generally require less maintenance, which means homeowners can get out and enjoy life rather than spending weekends mowing the lawn. And as most people usually opt for homes in complexes or estates, a greater level of security offers peace of mind.”

Roos warns, however, that there are some circumstances that can add significant stress and if you know to look out for these it will enable you to better deal with this stress. According to Roos there are some things that you should be looking out for if you are on the brink of having to make the decision to downscale.

Not retiring yet? Have you thought about renting? 

  • If your partner is not willing or ready to adapt to change there can be no smooth transition. Only severe, unexpected circumstances will move that person and force them to make the decision to downscale.
  • There are various risks related to old people staying in the same home for too long. A property that becomes neglected due to health issues, lack of finances, or simply the elderly owner being too tired that they cannot keep up with the work. Staying alone also presents various health and safety risks.
  • Leaving your home to become neglected will cost you financially. You will get much less for your property than when it is in good condition.
  • If you wait unreasonably long you stand the risk of your health deteriorating at a sudden pace. You will then be forced to, at a quick pace, prepare yourself mentally to move and/or to change your circumstances in such a way to be able to cope with life.

Roos reiterates that mastering your mind is the best way to deal with this undoubtedly difficult life change. Deciding to downscale may mean that you would need to accept new changes into your life: you may find it difficult to find a place with a garden where you can enjoy your passion for gardening, you might not be able to keep a pet or the process of downscaling might even coincide with your retirement. Regardless of the circumstance you can actively make the decision to be happy.

Roos’s top happiness tips for before, during and after the transition

old friends walking

  • Start by being realistic and realise the joy you could get from living in a happy, functional space as opposed to a cluttered museum.
  • Make it a priority to find a complex that ticks most of your boxes, including being pet friendly if this is important to you. If you are placed in the position of having to compromise and cannot take your beloved pet with you (this is, unfortunately a reality for many) arrange for one of your children or a close friend to adopt your pet. This way you can visit your pet often.
  • When you can no longer keep a dog or cat, get a budgie or a hamster that no neighbour can complain about.
  • If you no longer have a garden, compensate with a few flower boxes or a lovely hanging basket of flowers.
  • Make time for your favourite hobbies – listen to music, watch your favourite shows, paint or crochet. It is also a good idea to join clubs.
  • Make friends with another person who can relate to your circumstances and has a positive influence on you. Once you’ve settled in you should make friends with someone only going through the process now and encourage and bring hope.
  • Make sure you have your internet connection in place to Skype daily with loved ones.
  • Write your experiences each day in a diary and make sure you end the last sentence with something beautiful that you saw or experienced that day, or something you are grateful for.
  • Read biographies of other people who had to find a way to make things work and be encouraged.
  • Make sure you keep in touch with family, good friends and grandchildren, as there can be a loving mentoring relationship with grandparents.
  • When you retire – Remember work defines many a person as you have done work for most of your adult life. The transition to be a retiree has to start long before and you have to either adapt to getting another part-time work, or work on your hobby as a means of giving time to improve your skills.

The best way to deal with this transition is to talk about your experience to your spouse or friends. Communicate your needs and insecurities and how you are taking on this new challenge. Try to embrace this new phase of your life – it is exciting. You could make yourself available to consult should someone need your expertise. Make time for yourself and your health and happiness. Walk, dance or work out according to your fitness level as these activities are mood-enhancing. Laughter is good medicine! Spend time with your partner and be patient with yourself and with each other.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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