Downsizing?

Here’s how downsizing is working for us.

We now live in an 1800 square foot house, a storey-and-a-half with a big country kitchen, a spacious living room, a bedroom, a tiny downstairs study, and a narrow “front room”—a converted sunporch that has been put to various uses over the years—currently dining room often called into service as a sewing centre or income-tax-sorting centre or photo-framing centre. Upstairs, three tiny bedrooms—one a study for me, one a miniscule TV room, one a guest-room/clutter-room. A bathroom on each level.

The basement is a cellar, housing laundry, furnace, water pump, freezer, etc., an assortment of power tools, plus forty years worth of paint cans, lumber scraps, nails, and dried-up bags of cement (original purpose long forgotten).

We’ve been looking at houses that range from 1300 to 2200 square feet, but it’s impossible to compare apples to apples. Bathrooms don’t count. Neither do finished basements, though in many houses the basement living space is as big as the rest of the house, which makes a 1300 square foot house actually 2600. Big. Then, there are the “side splits”, where it’s impossible to know what’s basement and what’s not, and what’s actually being measured. But, of course, it’s not really the square feet that matter.

I need a study. A room of my own. So does Jack. He also needs a pottery studio—oh, I didn’t mention that, did I? He has an entire building for a studio now, but could manage with a large basement area or a converted garage. It would be awfully nice—though not essential—to have a dedicated guest room. We’d love to move to a king-sized bed if we can find a big enough bedroom—which we’d like to have on the main floor, in case we get frail and feeble. We’ve never had a TV in the living room—and would rather not. Which is okay, because almost every house we’ve seen has a huge finished basement TV room, often complete with wet bar and full kitchen. (Our real estate guy tells us second kitchens in the basement were all the rage for awhile, especially with the Italian immigrants.) We don’t really need a dining room—but we’d like a living room with enough space for a dining table for special occasions. For every day—well it would be really nice to have a kitchen big enough for a table, or at least an adjacent “breakfast nook.” Spacious kitchens are a rarity these days, but we’re used to a big country kitchen and I’d really miss that. It’s when I’m in my kitchen that I’m most reluctant to move. Bathrooms are no problem: there doesn’t seem to be a house on the market without a bathroom for each potential resident. Twin sinks and en suites are big selling points; apparently it’s become a mark of gentility to be able to use the bathroom without emerging from the bedroom.

As for the yard, we really do want to move away from the acres of mowing we do every week all summer, the pruning, the overgrown and under-loved flower gardens. But we want some yard. Trees. Quiet. Birds. Privacy. Space for a small vegetable garden. Low-maintenance landscaping (preferably provided by the previous owner). Of course, it would be nice to be able to walk from this quiet, private home to do our shopping and errands.

Okay. We forgive the real estate guy for rolling his eyes. “Needy, aren’t you?”

We’re looking seriously at a house right now that has a lot going for it: a quiet street, a treed yard backing onto a conservation area, a three-minute walk to walking and biking trails. The house is larger than we need—a side-split with a huge lower-level “family room” and office space, and a wonderful space for pottery; an adequate kitchen, with a small living room and a very small dining area on the main level; and three small bedrooms on the upper level. Bathroom, twin sinks but no en suite. The downside: no bathroom or bedroom on the main level, though I recently read that one of the factors correlated with longevity is living in a house with stairs. And in a pinch, you could turn the living room into a bedroom.

But the biggest knock against this house—built in the 1970s according to the taste of the times—is its total lack of character. Two of our three kids have seen the place and they were underwhelmed. “It’s so ordinary…I thought you’d do something more interesting.”

Indeed. We could make it much nicer by painting, re-flooring, knocking out some walls, replacing some windows, installing some French doors. And more interesting by—well—adding on.

“Extend the tiny dining area with a glassed-in extension,” I said. “Just a few feet would do it.”

“Yeah,” said Jack. “But picture a sunny living room looking out onto the trees at the back.”

“There’s already a living room. How many living rooms do we need?” I’m always the killjoy in this relationship. I didn’t even mention the family room for our long-empty nest.

“It could be a downstairs bedroom. Or something. A dining room.”

We haven’t made a decision; in the end, we may decide to build. Or we may decide to stay put. But we’re going to call an architect about the idea of an addition. And whatever we finally decide, I’m getting the feeling what we won’t be doing is downsizing.

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