Downsizing Dos and Don’ts

As most of you know, we are (still) in the process of doewnsizing. It isn’t something done in a twinkling, because buying a smaller house is only part of the story which also includes lowering one’s horizons, downsizing one’s lifestyle.

Crown Cottage July 2017But that first, visible part of the process we have achieved and mostly happily, with the purchase of Crown Cottage, so we keep being asked for advice by friends who may well be looking for polite excuses not to contemplate the idea any further.

Anyway, here goes with some personal and far from expert thoughts that may or may not be relevant because very obviously everybody’s situation is different. So much will depend on personal priorities of health, family and financial situation and of course personal lifestyle but the general How, Where and When may apply to all.

MAKING COMPROMISES. Before we start, It is worth pointing out an awkward obvious. Many compromises are called for. If you are lucky enough to still have a partner their priorities may surprise you, and be rather different from your own. It is no good making decisions that one of you is never going to be happy with.

WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES? Town or country? Two cars or one? What possessions can you do without? Do you still want to have friends to stay or perhaps you may like an excuse not to? What will their needs be if one of you is left living on their own? What are your children’s thought?

WHEN TO DOWNSIZE? Being practical/pessimistic, I’d say, do it sooner rather than later, while you are still in full control of the situation. Downsizing is difficult, physically and emotionally, even when you’re basically fit and healthy. You really wouldn’t want to be doing it feeling old and frail, or because circumstances had forced it, through ill health or bereavement, and none of us knows what is round the corner.

My sister Ruth’s devastating stroke at 70, when she was still fit, healthy and full of life and far from ‘old’ was my wake up call, and the realisation that we had to face a very reluctant decision to move from Orchard Farm, a big(ish) house and garden and two very successful holiday cottages all of which we loved, while things were still going really well.

HOW TO START DOWNSIZING? Having thought long and hard about your future needs and priorities, the first big step is selling your current house. Don’t start looking for your new one unless you can afford to buy it before you’ve sold your existing one otherwise therein lies inevitable disappointment and despair.

Make enquiries about good and reliable estate agents. They aren’t all either good or reliable; if you don’t know any ask friends and contacts for recommendations. We were very lucky to be able to choose one whom we already knew slightly personally who proved to be totally honest and upright and who guided us wisely throughout the whole process.

In our case initial tentative enquiries to local estate agents about valuations and a possible sale in a year or two led unexpectedly to a very quick sale, wonderful in many ways but handing over a successful holiday cottage business and packing up 30+ years of accumulated clutter in a few months was a nightmare.

A mountain of cardboard boxesWe simply couldn’t have done it without significant help from our young, and the many friends who at the end were physically wrapping and packing things up for us almost as we moved out.

WHERE TO MOVE TO? Next, you need to think long and hard about where you hope to move to. If you have family, they need to be part of the discussion because the time may come when you may need to rely on more support from them, and they will inevitably be busy people with demanding lives of their own.

If you’re lucky you can stay in the area where you already live. Your network of long term friends is important. It isn’t always easy to make new friends in a new place and it can take a while to feel accepted. And embarrassing as it may be to acknowledge it, driving may become a worry or a real problem eventually, so really you want to be within easy reach of a doctors’ surgery, shops and public transport and, ideally, a support network of good long term friends.

Crown Cottage gardenWHAT SORT OF HOUSE? The really brave may consider a retirement home, or a small flat. We couldn’t face that, as we felt we had to have a garden, even a tiny one, and we wanted still to be able to entertain friends and family. We made a clear check list of essential needs, and of course the house we fell in love with meets very few of these! It does have a lovely little garden though.

HOW? Fitting the proverbial quart into a pint pot doesn’t work.
We know, we’ve tried and failed.

Decluttering...Selling, giving away, charity shops, auction houses, car boot sales, Mari Kondo, skips, skips and more skips… This needs – and will shortly get – a whole blog post on its own.

I hope that gives you a reasonable idea of what to expect (or reject!). Good luck!

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter

Happy Easter, everybody! Although, as predicted, at the moment the weather is cold and mostly grey.

Crown Cottage July 2017And Happy First Birthday to our ‘new’ house: exactly a year ago tomorrow, on April 15th 2016, we formally became the very happy owners of Crown Cottage, in Winster.

Since then we have had an eventful year. In particular we have had the ongoing happiness of Nick and Sam’s engagement, announced at New Year 2016, and their truly joyous wedding in December. And to those of our many friends who may have been mildly surprised not to have been invited, it was a throughly modern wedding, arranged entirely by the happy couple with no input from either set of parents! We didn’t even know who had been invited, and as Nick once I hope jokingly said to us we were lucky to have received an invitation ourselves.

Nick and Sam - happy bride and groomThat bit of the year was totally happy and very precious.

Not so the packing up and moving which is a seriously stressful and exhausting occupation, but we survived it – the first part anyway. We haven’t finished unpacking yet, mainly because – despite all our downsizing efforts – we still have more stuff than space. The front doorWe also seem to have gone away quite a lot…

That stressful bit was inevitable, and only to be expected. Far worse was the discovery, to our surprise and utter dismay, that the previous owners had understandably but illegally removed an internal wall in the sitting room, without planning permission. This, in a listed house and even in a curtilage-listed house as we are, however logical actually is a criminal offence, and one which as the new owners we had to bear responsibility for.

We were informed by the planning authorities that replacing the wall was the only option, and if we did not do this voluntarily in due course an Enforcement Order would be issued. If we did not comply, it would mean rendering the house virtually unsellable as no buyers would touch it, and certainly not their solicitors or their mortgage suppliers… We on the other hand would not have bought the house with two tiny ‘front rooms’ rather than the one very pleasant room opening onto the charming south facing walled garden, which to us had been the major selling point.

Crown Cottage garden July 2016

To cut a long story short, not wishing to burden you with a long and very worrying time, we had a great deal of support from the Listed Property Owners’ Club, and our local MP, and the matter was eventually sorted satisfactorily. The planning authority decided, very tactfully and realistically, that it would be impossible to replace an ‘appropriate’ 18/19 century wall in a room which had undergone so many significant modern improvements. The threat of an Enforcement Order has been withdrawn and we can relax and start looking forward again.

The next house adventure is to knock through from the kitchen into the end little barn to create a downstairs cloakroom. We aren’t allowed to do anything else, not even insulate the walls… Preserving the characteristics of old houses is all very well, but there must be a limit, when the environment becomes a priority, but that is a bleat for another time. We’re just grateful we can do what we can and at least have a downstairs loo and access to our washing machine and dryer without having to go outside. Don’t worry, we have planning permission, and Building Regs so now it is a question of pinning down a builder. Both Shaun from Parwich who we have used very happily for many years and the local man in Winster seem to be incredibly busy.

So, wish us luck as we embark on our second year! John F-S in the garden

Crowns, Weddings and Walls! What a year…

What a year indeed…

Sam and NickIn January Nick and Sam announced their engagement, in April we finally bought and moved into Crown Cottage.

In May the Problem of the Wall – about which more another day – reared its unwelcome head, so one way and another, we have spent many months unravelling, decluttering, downsizing… Continue reading Crowns, Weddings and Walls! What a year…