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Home Advice as You Age: Why Downsize

Tags: Downsizing

As we age, we outgrow the lives we set up for ourselves in our youth. One of the biggest assets we outgrow is our family home. It becomes consuming and expensive to take care of as well as poorly equipped for our changing physical needs. Read one woman’s concerns about her aging father neglecting the family home and our advice for how to help him move forward.

Dear Empire,

My dad lives alone in a house meant for six. He hasn’t been upstairs since my mom died three years ago. In fact, he hasn’t used most of the rooms since then. He makes himself toast in the kitchen, drinks a cup of coffee in the living room, and reads a book before bed in the main floor master bedroom. Other than that, he spends all his time around town. Golfing, curling, singing in his choir, or volunteering at church.

He is a social man and has always sacrificed a neat home for time spent in good company. In fact, the only reason his home gets cleaned is because I put my kids in the truck twice a year and take them out to his house to do maintenance. But there are some tasks beyond our skills: fixing the roof, caulking window trims and door frames, cleaning eaves troughs and downspouts, and not to mention cleaning his plumbing (blech). If these things aren’t taken care of, I fear the home will start to become a danger to him and a serious financial burden. Whenever I bring these things up, he says, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll get around to it.” But months pass, he travels to Arizona, plays another 100 rounds of golf, and gets scheduled for a hip replacement, and organizes absolutely nothing on the home front. He doesn’t want to spend the money on things that don’t seem problematic. He’d rather use his savings to travel or pay for his upcoming procedure.

What should I do with him and his home as he ages and continues to neglect it?


The Family Home Has Become a Shackle

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Dear Shackle,

Your letter paints the picture of a man who is trying to absorb all of the joy in life: spending time with his community, doing the activities he loves. I am happy to hear that your father has found this sense of purpose after your mother’s death, which I can imagine was a trying time for you and your family. Your father is not alone in his desire to spend his healthy retirement years with less responsibility and more freedom. The thing that I recommend to anyone in this situation is to seriously consider their current property and evaluate whether it is still right for their lifestyle and goals. As you said in your letter, your family house was meant for six. That is a lot of space that is now sitting unused with fewer people to take care of it. This home could even be in a location more suited to a family lifestyle than that of a single guy. Given his desire to travel and be out and his (understandable) aversion to cleaning, he seems like a perfect candidate for a downsize. He should tap into this gold mine he’s sitting on and use the money to buy a small, low maintenance place closer to the activities he loves and the people that can support him.

Your description of your father makes him seem healthy and capable, which means it is important for this decision to be made mutually. I would start with a conversation that is both frank and compassionate. Express your concerns that the home is falling apart and becoming a danger. Help him to examine his current lifestyle and goals, which seem externally oriented. Finally, talk through the merits of downsizing. Here’s the argument you can present to him in favor of making the change:


According to the National Bank House Price Index, the typical Ontario home is worth 2.5 times what it was in 2000. As MoneySense points out, those with a paid off mortgage hold about 1/3 of their net worth in their family home. This means that if you sell off the family home and in exchange purchase a smaller, less expensive place, you can free up cash to invest in more liquid assets or use for retirement enjoyment and necessities.

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No matter what Lysol and Swiffer commercials would have you believe, cleaning is not a fun, social activity. It is isolating and time-consuming. It is also hard on your body as you age. The less space you have, the less time you waste dusting, vacuuming, and organizing and the more time you can spend outdoors, enjoying a nice book, or hanging out with friends. Your life is made even easier if you buy a new build, which is less likely to need roof and plumbing work. For ultimate peace of mind, buy a condo unit with little to no outdoor exposure. This living arrangement completely removes the outdoor work that most people have: lawn maintenance and winter- and water-proofing. Sounds like an absolute treat to have somebody else take care of that.


If you choose to downsize to a condo, you buy into 24/7 security with cameras and concierge service. This is perfect for keeping your home secure if you travel for extended periods of time.


Some people choose not to make money when they downsize, but rather to trade space for better amenities or location. For some this means a semi or detached with upgrades and features that will make them more comfortable, like an irrigation system, a home theatre, or a lift in place of stairs. For others this means a condo with a pool, sauna, and terrace. And for both groups it can mean choosing a location that is closer to family, friends, or healthcare providers.

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When we have excess space, we use it for storage. So, when we decide to downsize, we find a lot of stuff hiding in drawers that we never use. Downsizing encourages us to consider what we want and need, and what we can give to someone who wants or needs it more. It is also a more relaxed time to declutter than after the injury or death of a loved one, when circumstances force us to organize and purge.


Smaller units are typically closer together and create a better community. Living nearby your neighbours can help you to forge stronger friendships. In the event of an emergency, it is also makes seeking help easier. This is especially true of living in a condo, where you don’t have to go more than a few feet for a friendly conversation or a hand.

Remember to be delicate about this conversation and help him to come to conclusions on his own. Before we became adults, our parents made decisions on their own. It can be unsettling for them to be positioned and jockeyed by us, their kids.

Wishing you and your family the best throughout this transition.

Reach out with further questions,