Downsizing and moving from a town to a village in West Sussex
Jane Berry had imagined moving to a small village for years and years. A busy Mum of three girls, the move seemed to be falling further and further down her list of goals, the thought of a scenic life in a small village being overshadowed by other priorities. But for Jane, the Essex city she lived in was ever growing and becoming too overwhelming. Nestled in the East of England, Colchester – which has just recently become a city – was, at one point, labelled one of the fastest growing in Britain.
Then, she met partner Justin. A fan of long walks along the Essex coast and treks across sprawling heathlands, the two have now been a couple for over 13 years. “We both love the outdoors, and we talked about moving somewhere quieter for a long time. But with the girls being teenagers, there never seemed a good time.” Says Jane.
The couple bought their first property together in 2011, staying in the city after much debate. “We were desperate to move away from the city,” says Justin. “It seemed everywhere we turned there were new homes being built, high-rises going up, and traffic was just getting worse and worse as it grew, unable to cope with the increased population, driving anywhere felt like a chore.” But friends and family being close by and Jane’s teenage daughters in school kept the couple in place for 10 more years.
When lockdown hit in 2020, as with many of us, the time indoors gave the pair time to reflect. They felt locked in – physically – but also, mentally. Being at home 24/7 meant they had time to analyse all they disliked about their current location – and all they wanted. What they really wanted? To move to a small, quaint village, slow down their lifestyle, and enjoy the great outdoors. One evening, after chatting about their lives as they approached their late fifties, they made the decision to sell up and move to Boxgrove, West Sussex.
“Getting our dog, Archie, just a few short months before the pandemic, was a real driving force for actually going through with it,” says Jane. “We were walking him in small areas of greenery nestled in the city, but we wanted to go on hikes with him, exploring woodland and beaches.”
With children Beccy (30), Chloe (28) and Izzy (25) moving away from home and starting their own lives, and both Jane and Justin being self-employed – Jane a blogger and Justin an expert in car collectibles – there didn’t seem to be much holding them to the city anymore. Thus, the house hunting began.
“We decided to downsize from a three-bedroom family home in the city to a two-bed in a small village in the country. We just didn’t need that extra bedroom, and wanted to save some cash,” says Jane. She advises to start the packing way in advance, well before your house is even on the market. “Downsizing doesn’t just mean a smaller house, but you need to downsize your belongings, too.”
“It took a while for us to decide what to keep and what to get rid of, but it gave us a good chance to declutter,” Justin adds. “We knew we wanted to move to the countryside to enjoy the great outdoors and have a lower-stress lifestyle, so with that goal in mind we were able to sell or donate a huge number of things we didn’t think would fit into our new space.”
The two also agree that it is important to check out the transport links, if any. They both drive, however the one downside of trying to drive back into the nearest city is having to fight through the traffic to get there. Jane states; “When driving to see my daughter, I have to time it correctly to ensure I miss the traffic heading into the city. One of the reasons we moved was to escape the beeping horns and exhaust fumes. It’s either plan ahead or get the train. We made sure to look for a property fairly near the train station to allow some flexibility.”
It's also important to think about the practicalities of moving from the hustle and bustle and into the sticks. “When you move away from the cinemas, theatres, shops and social hubs, you need to be prepared to travel more. Either that, or at least consider that you may do it less!”
Both Jane and Justin have settled into village life, exploring the walking trails, socialising at the family-run pubs and getting involved in community events, fetes and fundraisers. They agree that there is a greater sense of community where they now reside, where neighbours know each other's names and residents look out for one another. There is an over 60s lunch club, held a few times a week, film showings in the village hall and a small amateur dramatics society that put on regular plays.
They also managed to pay off their new mortgage in full by going for a smaller, lower-cost property. Their stress-free, country living could start with the comfort of knowing they are mortgage free, meaning their earnings can go towards doing what they love – travelling, enjoying cream teas with friends and visiting National Trust sites across the county.
They even managed to go on their first holiday abroad in over six years using some of the money made from selling their home and downsizing. A week-long trip to the heart of Greece, something they’d been putting off due to the cost. Adding to this, a smaller home means less utilities and bills, saving them cash month by month.
“Overall, I think it was one of the best decisions we could have made,” says Jane. Justin nods in agreement, before Jane continues. “My advice would be to look at the lifestyle you have now and think about the lifestyle you want. We wanted more fresh air and a slower paced, stress-free lifestyle, which we felt the countryside could give us.”
Of course, the pair spent many hours thinking about the pros and cons, and talked in depth about what was important to them. Their goals and the way of life they were striving for meant they had to think about whether they’d be willing to travel to see friends and family as well as considering being away from the entertainment and activities a city can provide. But ultimately, they couple know they made the right choice.
“Our lives have started to slow down. Life is too short to stay living somewhere you don’t enjoy,” says Jane. “Downsizing is the best thing we have done, and we can now think about our retirement surrounded by beautiful scenery, nature and a great new community of friends. Plus, the kids love to visit and escape from city life!”