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The benefits of downsizing

For a long time, it's seemed that in real estate, bigger was always better. Spacious walk-in closets and two-car garages became the norm for starter homes. If you were looking to move into a bigger house, well, you'd make more on the sale of your first house, but you'd also need more to get into your next home: a bigger mortgage, more utility payments and more time spent on upkeep.

"I think we're so bombarded with advertising, the 'gotta have, gotta get,' that we eventually run out of space. That's why people eventually upsize," says Karen Shinn, a professional organizer and owner of The Downsizing Diva. "It's not so much because families are any bigger than they used to be. It's because they've got more stuff."

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But today's uncertain economy and a renewed interest in going green may be changing the way people think, leaving some to conclude that perhaps bigger isn't always better. "People are starting to look and say, 'We've become frantic consumers of stuff. Do we need it?'" says Shinn.

Over the past few years, the idea of simpler living has been attracting more converts. More and more decorating shows and magazines are extolling the virtues of small-space living, and it seems that the benefits of downsizing -- less maintenance and more savings -- are catching on.

Even the idea of downsizing has started to change from one of stigma to just a smart idea.

"When we started doing this six or seven years ago, people were saying, 'Downsizing -- doesn't that mean you've been fired?'" says Linda Kitchin a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Calgary and co-owner of DownsizingCalgary.com. "They didn't connect 'downsizing' with going from larger to smaller."

Who's downsizing
The demographic of people downsizing is changing. While it was once considered something for seniors to do when it was time to leave the family home and move into some kind of assisted living arrangement, today's downsizer includes everyone from young families to empty nesters.

"The majority are people who are in bigger homes, and they want to cut costs," says Dee McGee, a Toronto-based Realtor with Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd. and owner of Downsizing.ca. "They want to be free, they want to be able to travel. It's just an easier lifestyle than having a big house."

Why downsize?
There are as many reasons to downsize as there are people doing it. Some are looking to lower their monthly mortgage and utility payments while others are interested in reducing the amount of time and energy spent on home maintenance and upgrades. Some people are forced into downsizing through a work layoff while others want to free up additional income.

Sometimes downsizing can even be what McGee calls a lateral move, which involves giving up the big house for convenience and lifestyle benefits.

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-- Posted: Oct. 31, 2008
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