Downsizing Step #1:
By Anna Keegan
As my husband and I approached our 60s, conversations with our various social groups inevitably led to discussions about where we would all like to retire, usually so we could continue in our fellowship – these conversations were often held after a few cocktails – and depending upon the crowd, Steve and I would shift our responses to fit the scene — south for the weather, north for the skiing, summer haunts to be with old friends and family. But downsizing our home was all hypothetical until last spring.
As I drove home one April day and saw a small, somewhat neglected home in my neighborhood with a for-sale sign and then checked the price, my eyes rang dollar signs.
That our real downsizing experience happened as quickly as it did – my God, we are not THAT old – was the result of a confluence of factors: a wish to move closer to urban life from our home of 20 years where we brought up our two sons, a sky-rocketing real estate market and the desire to get rid of an antique home that had become a magnet for old house issues like ever present rot and increasingly emboldened rodents that had become savvy to the fault lines in our beautiful fieldstone foundation.
As I drove home one April day and saw a small, somewhat neglected home in my neighborhood with a for-sale sign and then checked the price, my eyes rang dollar signs. Upon calling a former student turned real estate agent, he proclaimed our 18th century beauty to be worth more than my wildest dreams. Adrenalin racing, within one month, with floors refinished, driveway patched, roof replaced, dumpster filled, yard raked and gardens over-mulched, the for-sale sign was plugged in on June 1st. Graduation Weekend, Fathers Day, Fourth of July…. Summer came and went.
After 16 weeks, we pulled the sign. No offers, no sale. How insulting.
Who picked the paint? Who bought the rug? What boring artwork! Who picked the drapes? Who picked the paint – again!? I muttered “me” — each time more meekly than the last.
In January, we began anew, determined not to let that happen again. We dusted off our bruised egos and engaged another, smarter, well equipped agent who came armed with her own stylist! I, now “retired”, was at the ready to do whatever it took to make this sale happen. No waiting until June, we were determined to be the first to hit the spring market.
Greeting the stylist on a bright January morning, I couldn’t have been prouder of my sun-filled kitchen, remodeled just 4 years prior. The newly refinished floors really did gleam and my post-Christmas amaryllis and bright red geraniums were in full bloom. My expression upon opening the door that day said “ta-dah”!
She was stylish — well anything would be compared to my Monday morning attire. Her white faux fur jacket, creased black pants with patent leather loafers were all business compared to my leggings and wool clogs. Regardless, our initial greeting was warm and then, in some sort of Seinfeldian moment, the spell was broken. She stopped, stared, and after too long a pause began: Who picked the paint? Who bought the rug? What boring artwork! Who picked the drapes? Who picked the paint – again!? I muttered “me” — each time more meekly than the last. The kitchen that our friends claimed was unique, stunning, and charming was causing potential buyers to run away! Our living room was confusing! Of course we had no buyers!
By the end of the tour as she bemoaned the mirrors in the master bath – relics from my husband’s childhood bedroom and repainted by me – she acknowledged that she could see some charm in the place. My heart skipped a beat. Proud Mama moment.
Moving on, she dug in – told me what to remove, move, paint, leave and replace. After she left, I hopped in the car and made the first of far too many trips to Homegoods and Lowes and cried for the first and not the last time.
As I recounted the story to everyone who would listen, my trademark sarcasm emerged. She became my nemesis and decidedly less stylish. I became determined to make my house proud. I would make this home that we loved beautiful and it would sell and then we would leave it. I would show her. Sniff.
Four days prior to our on-sale date, the photographer created a drone video for social media that was so amazing, our house was nearly unrecognizable except for our 17-year-old cat who refused to vacate our bed during filming
I repainted the kitchen using 2019s “best interior paint color” according to various market surveys, eliminated the offending artwork and my fashion-challenged stylist arrived with a huge – I’d say garish – watercolor to hang in the most prominent spot in the kitchen. Within a very short time, the place was reminiscent of an HGTV make-over. Our youngest son came home to see the living room furniture rearranged and rug removed and declared that it looked like we were about to have a dance party.
A few weeks later, the icicles clinging to the eaves highlighted some lingering rot. A particularly strident squirrel bore a hole through an attic window frame! Chipmunks, who dodged our somnambulant exterminator for the ENTIRE six months of his contract, worked through the night as we listened sleeplessly. I was ready to kick our HGTV masterpiece to the curb.
Four days prior to our on-sale date, the photographer created a drone video for social media that was so amazing, our house was nearly unrecognizable except for our 17-year-old cat who refused to vacate our bed during filming. It received hundreds of likes. Preening, I shared it with all my friends.
The house went on the market on February 28th and sold on March 1st. Within minutes, the stylist called to congratulate herself. I let it go to voicemail. I was sure our price was too low. My husband declared that every house has a buyer. Okay fine. Regardless, our dreams were coming true. Break out the cheap champagne.
Moving day arrived quickly and the movers worked fast. Our sons ran about taking pictures of the near empty rooms that didn’t resemble the rooms they grew up in. We all wept. In our rush to get ready to move, we were swept away.
Months later, I still weep if I think about my sons saying goodbye to their childhood bedrooms, buried pets and backyard games.
I had not expected this entire process to be the wild emotional ride that it was. Intellectually, I know it wasn’t about the ruthless stylist, and the staging was a minor price to pay. But I had underestimated the push-pull it would generate about our move. Over the year, I developed a love-hate relationship with our home – counting the moments to be rid of the responsibility and even now, we have no desire to have that financial obligation again. But ultimately the deep pride we felt for the place where we had grown our family, planted countless perennials, buried goldfish, hamsters, guinea pigs and cats, and thrown great parties eclipsed the excitement and anticipation of downsizing.
I confess to suffering from Downsizers PTSD. During the first night in our modern apartment complex forty miles away just outside Boston, I awoke dreaming of rodents scurrying behind the wallboards only to have my husband reassure me that the noise was only the rain. I miss my gardens and have overplanted our meager balcony. Months later, I still weep if I think about my sons saying goodbye to their childhood bedrooms, buried pets and backyard games. It’s hard to tell the story of our move without tears. I am guessing it is natural. I hope so. And like all grief, which I do have experience with, I know it will heal with time.
And, despite the occasional setback, the healing has begun. Those same geraniums are blooming on our balcony. The offending watercolor brought in $30 at our tag sale as did the bathroom mirrors. I have rehung our beloved paintings. The stylist was right about the drapes – they went in the dumpster. Our cat’s grave marker is in the trunk of our car. Our apartment is beginning to look and feel like home to us. We love our proximity to the city and go out to dinner with reckless abandon. And I am cured of any desire to watch HGTV.
About the Writer
Anna Keegan’s (bucket age 33) previous vocations included advertising/sales and 20 years teaching high school history and economics. She is currently reinventing herself as a freelance writer, historical researcher, caterer, balcony farmer and world traveler with her husband which, happily, will no longer coincide with school vacation periods.
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What a great piece, Anna! You really captured the emotional complexity and logistical challenges of downsizing – and the relief and excitement of a successful transition the new world. Good luck!