Downsizing: how to broach the topic

Dr Alice Boyes offers some tips about how to approach the topic of downsizing your home.

Words Dr Alice Boyes. Illustration Janelle Barone

There are lots of reasons why couples downsize their homes. Sometimes it’s seeking more simplicity; sometimes it’s to free up money for other things (e.g. travel or changing to a lower-paying job). Downsizing can be related to life stage or illness – a large property can simply become too burdensome. You may realise you’re living beyond your means, receive an unexpected offer on your home, or get a job offer that would involve moving to a city where apartment living is the norm. 

Whatever the reason, couples are faced with broaching the topic and then working through their options. 

Here are some tips and considerations for helping those conversations go smoothly. 

Be confident you can work it out 

Relationships are a team approach to the sport of life. Don’t approach negotiation with the assumption that the two of you will be on opposing sides of a battle. When you’re in a committed relationship, your individual happiness is dependant on the other person’s happiness. You’re not looking to get ‘your way’ or ‘win the fight’. You’re looking for the solution that will provide the most calm, and sense of your lives being on track, for both of you. Have an attitude of curiosity about what solution will best achieve that. 

You’re looking for the solution that will provide the most calm, and sense of your lives being on track, for both of you. Have an attitude of curiosity
about what solution will best achieve that. 

Part of being confident that you can make major life decisions collaboratively with your partner is understanding their reaction style. Some partners are naturally enthusiastic about change. Others are naturally cautious with a tendency to point out the risks and reasons why an idea might not work out.  

Respect your partner’s priorities 

Even partners who generally share the same values can have different specific priorities. For example, you might both love experiences over material possessions, but your partner might have an interest that requires storing a large volume of gear. Accept what your partner tells you about what’s important to them, rather than trying to convince them that the way they feel isn’t important.

That said, we can’t always predict what will make us happy or how we’ll adjust to a new situation. Often we need to try things and see how they work out. For example, you might think that having a house with a bath is essential but, in reality, you don’t miss it much (or equally, the opposite is possible where you underestimate how important having a bath is to you.)  

Expect to swing between logic and emotion 

Conversations about major life decisions are going to elicit a mix of logic and emotion. For example, others’ reactions to your decisions might not bother you, but your partner might care deeply about what his or her parents think. Even if you believe your partner shouldn’t factor that in, the reality is, it matters to them. 

If you tend to get swept up in emotion, you might find your partner seems unfeeling. If you’re pragmatic, try not to get angry if your partner doesn’t seem to see things in a rational way.  

Consider middle ground or ‘stepping stones’ 

In terms of temperament, some people prefer to make big lifestyle changes in one swoop. Others feel more comfortable with gradual changes and need back-up plans to soothe their anxieties. There are lots of options that you can explore: You could rent out your current property and put your belongings in storage for a year while you ‘road test’ an alternative living situation. You could practice living in a smaller area of your current home, or living without certain possessions – box everything up except for the things you most want to keep. Together, you’re in charge of your lives and your decisions so experiment in any way you wish to. 

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