Your kids are out of the house, or almost so, but you sure aren’t ready to retire to a condo in Florida. Should you stay put? Or downsize? Or maybe move to the town you’ve always dreamed of living in? Uh…actually, where do you belong now? Nothing can hurl you into an existential crisis quite like deciding how to live the in-between years of midlife.
For many, there’s an urge to make some changes, to take our living expenses down a notch or ten, and to Marie-Kondo our way to a soul-cleansing state of organizational bliss. For others, there’s the craving to quite frankly live larger. Woo hoo! No more schlepping to the kids’ soccer practice, monitoring homework and cooking dinner—it could be time for a new place that suits a more carefree vibe.
Listen to how these three women started a new chapter—maybe you’ll find some guidance as you assess your next address.
Name: Laura Baer
Occupation: Creative director
Location: Bloomfield, NJ
Like so many people, we moved to the suburbs for the schools when our sons were young. That was 20 years ago, and we settled in Montclair, NJ. My husband Mike and I loved our town, but as our boys graduated high school, it became hard to justify paying the taxes, which had gone up and up. And we’d refinanced our mortgage to pay for some home improvement projects (adding bathrooms and such), and I didn’t love how much debt we were carrying. We also saw that the housing market in our town was hot and we knew we could turn a nice profit. All signs pointed to MOVE!
We began to fix up our place to sell it and started looking around. We wanted to stay in the same area, but find a town with lower home values and also just move to a smaller house. I didn’t need the formal dining room I used to have—it sat empty 99% of the time. Plus our old house cost a lot to heat and cool. The whole “let’s downsize: process took about two years. We wound up in a significantly smaller house but with a floor plan that is much more conducive to how we live. I got the great-room flow I always wanted, with an open kitchen. I have a wonderful dressing area (loooove that!), and my husband, who’s a musician, has his dream studio. The new house is just one mile from the old one. We go to the same bank and the same cleaners and we see our friends all the time.
I had zero nostalgia about leaving the house where we raised our boys. Sure, going through 20 years of accumulated stuff and deciding what to keep and what to toss was rough, but that had to happen. Our sons get it—they know that it’s easier on us financially, and the location gives them access to see their childhood friends. One thing we did invest in is a really good pull-out couch in case both of our guys ever want to stay over at the same time. While we lost a bedroom when we moved, it’s very rare that they both turn up and want to crash here.
To anyone who is contemplating a move like the one we went through, here’s what you should consider: Neurologists say change is good for the brain—embrace that!
Name: Lorraine Henry
Occupation: Interior designer
Location: Larchmont, NY
I was in a three-bedroom Tudor house, but I was feeling ready for a change. I’m a designer so I live to decorate new spaces—and I also had issues with my neighbors. So I began looking at apartments in our town, near the train station. I liked the idea of something easy to deal with, something that marked the start of a new stage as our youngest went off to college.
But I got outbid on the apartment of my dreams. So I started going to every and any open house in the area and then a wreck—a big wreck—came on the market. It was by the water in our town—location heaven!—right near where my husband Charlie plays tennis as often as he can. We looked at it and loved it. When the price got reduced again right after we saw it, we jumped.
A lot of friends said, “You’re crazy,” or, “What on earth are you doing?!” We had to keep justifying the move. I said, ”‘We’re 50, we’re not dead!” It’s not as if we were ready to move into a tiny unit at a nursing home and twiddle our thumbs. Why shouldn’t we have a great house, near the water, with lots of light, if we could swing the finances?
We now have a house that’s almost twice the size of the one we raised our kids in. It needed a ton of work (and we lived there while it happened), but my husband and I are adventurous and, we wanted a new project. We got rid of a lot of stuff before we moved. Even if you go bigger, you need to purge. But I’m not a sentimental person. I say, “Anything that isn’t nailed down can go, except the husband and the kids.”
The move wouldn’t have worked for us 10 years earlier or 10 years later, but right now, it’s perfect. We walk to the beach and sit on the sand most nights. That dose of nature is paradise. Yes, the taxes are higher, but we aren’t taking vacations. We feel as if we live on vacation, being so close to the water. Maybe down the road we’ll downsize. But right now I’m loving this chapter of our lives.
Name: Jill Sands
Occupation: Former casting director
Location: New York, NY
We moved to New Jersey when our kids were little and spent over a dozen years commuting. But it was worth it for the space, the schools, and the community. We loved our town and our friends—we had no plans to move.
But then my husband, who’s a doctor, was offered a new job at a hospital in Manhattan that offered faculty housing—a 2-bedroom apartment with a terrace. He was reluctant to leave our home, but I pushed hard to try it. Our kids were leaving the nest, and it seemed like a new adventure. To be honest, I worried that if we stayed, I’d wind up feeling sad every time I drove past the local high school. My experience there seemed so rooted in having my kids at home.
I will admit that I do miss my friends and things like food shopping in the suburbs. And I miss my old kitchen. It had an 8-foot long island and windows everywhere versus the galley kitchen I have now. But this change of location has opened up a world of new experiences.
We do so many more things because the commuting challenges have been removed. On what’s known as First Friday, we walk to museums that are open with no admission fee in the evenings. We took the subway to see Elvis Costello during a blizzard.
Our kids understand and are wonderful about the change. When they’re in town, I invite them and their friends to pile into our apartment and cook for them. Did I mention that I miss my old kitchen in the suburbs? I do! But this trade-off is worth it. It’s an exciting time for me and my husband, with so much to explore.