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Why downsizing might not be the best solution - a blog

by Carole Tidball

Carole&John When the kids have finally left home, should the parents also abandon the nest? Maybe now’s the time to relocate to that dream destination of a villa or bungalow by the sea, a country cottage or even a city-centre apartment. Or for a life free from home maintenance and gardening, a shiny new retirement village might seem tempting? Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club book series has certainly done a great PR job in promote this lifestyle within a community full of like-minded people and interesting activities. Downsizing can reduce heating and maintenance costs and might be essential for those facing a drop in income following retirement.

But if you love where you live and you’ve invested time and money into creating your forever home, it can be better to stay and adapt. The quality of the life you lead and a sense of contentment is so important to health and well-being. A much-loved garden that gets you outside all year round is good for the body and soul. Spare rooms might be put to good use as a workspace or a place to indulge in hobbies that keep your mind and/or body fit and active. And you can’t put a price on good neighbours and hassle-free parking!

With research showing that moving house can be one of the most stressful life events, Carole explains why, in their 60s, she and her husband John decided to stay and adapt.

Carole’s story

Penistone “High on a hillside in the north of England surrounded by farmland and moors, and with a large, terraced garden tumbling in terraces to the fields below, our 300-year-old cottage eats money faster than a family of teenage boys! Over the years we have replaced the windows and doors, renovated bathrooms and kitchen. We have also replaced the gruesome septic tank system and relocated the ugly LPG gas storage tank underground (the joys of living nearly off-grid). But with its narrow front door, tiny porch leading directly into the living room, and a detached garage 20 yards downhill on a narrow country lane, our home is not particularly accessible. With John’s mobility worsening, it would make sense to move to a more wheelchair-friendly home.

However, we love where we live. The cottage is chocolate-box pretty and enjoys stunning views. There’s a choice of hiking trails straight from the front door that I use daily. I have created beautiful gardens front and back, with a wildlife pond, fruit trees and bushes. Numerous species of birds, butterflies, bees, bats, hedgehogs, and badgers are regular visitors. Our five bedrooms and network of downstairs rooms are all put to good use when family come to stay and also serve as his and hers studies, a music room, a library of several thousand books and a home gym. I have my eye on the loft room as an art studio/dressmaking room. How could we possibly squeeze all this into a smaller bungalow or retirement apartment?

House pre-extension

Furthermore, our neighbours in our small hamlet are lovely, helpful and peaceable. Most homes have cottage gardens or fields, meaning we escape the cacophony of lawn mowers and strimmers that echo throughout many villages all summer long. The only noise comes from cockerels, sheep, geese, horses, cattle and the occasional playing of a piano. Our narrow lane sees mostly horses and hikers – we’re more likely to be mown down by speedy lycra-clad cyclists or tractors than cars. The air is pure, as shown by the lichens that grow here. Civilisation, in the form of the market town of Penistone, lies just over a mile away and, although we have a 4x4 to get John out and about, I can easily walk, run or cycle to the shops or train station even in deep snow. There’s a twice-weekly undercover market, and the High Street sports several supermarkets, specialist shops, traditional cinema, post office, public library (a rare thing nowadays) good health centre and dentist, and, joy of joys, plentiful free parking.


Design solution

I consulted one of our neighbours who is an architect with a good knowledge of local planning laws and experience of extending old cottages. He designed a single-story side extension/porch to fill in the gap between the side of our house and the garage, using old stones to match our existing buildings. Stairs and a lift will lead from inside the new porch down into the garage. The porch will also sport a new front door and French windows leading onto a new terrace in the back garden, providing an ideal vantage point from which to birdwatch and enjoy the views. Work is currently underway and I can’t wait for it to be finished. Thanks to the spacious new porch, I will finally have somewhere to sit down and remove muddy boots plus storage for shoes, coats, bikes and bird seed. When the work is finished, John will be able to travel throughout the house and into the back and front gardens and garage without leaving his wheelchair. We will also fit a stairlift to access our first floor, install grab rails at strategic points and adapt the bathrooms to become more accessible.

Extension Build

Of course, building work is not without stress. Our team of builders and roofers have been great but it’s hard to avoid the noise, dirt and dust, especially as I work from home. I feel the need to be constantly available to make decisions, manage deliveries, make sure parking is available, check our workmen are ok in the extreme weathers we’ve had, supplying water, tea and biscuits (not that they expect this but it is much appreciated). However, for me, these are minor inconveniences compared with the stress and upheaval of moving home, and the fear of finding ourselves in a house or neighbourhood that did not work for us. Living in a peaceful environment close to nature is essential for my wellbeing, as is having separate ‘his and hers’ living spaces during the day. Having access to his library of books, LPs, cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs is essential to my husband’s mental health. He could not cope with decluttering and living a pared down existence streaming music and films or reading books online.


We are fortunate in being able to fund this building work from my savings and in having an income that allows us to absorb the ever-increasing energy bills and council tax. We already have a small interest-only retirement mortgage that we transferred the rest of our mortgage to when our previous deal expired. I had planned to increase this to pay for some of the work, but with mortgage rates currently going through the roof this idea was soon abandoned. We explored equity release but preferred to retain that option for any future emergency work.

Adapting and improving will work for us and give us many more years of enjoying our lovely home. But we understand why one our slightly younger neighbours has already said they’ll downsize when they retire. In their opinion, “These are not houses to grow old in and this is not a place for the elderly and infirm.” We very much hope it works for us. I remain optimistic.

If you are trying to decide whether to downsize take a look at the Hazel Stay or Move Quiz