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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 62    

                                 June 2007

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.



Downsizing: the emotional issues

Dear Maggi:

I am in a fix. I am retired; my wife and I live in a street where we have been since the children were small and where we have many good friends and an active social life.

The trouble is my pension isn’t really enough to live on, and when my wife retires in summer her pension will add very little to the coffers.

We have talked things over so many times and though we’ll both miss our friends and the familiarity of our surroundings, we both think the best thing would be to sell the house and downsize. The way things are these days, we could never afford to buy something smaller in this area. The only solution would be to move out of the south of England altogether and head north, where property isn’t at such silly prices.

We have three children, our married son lives close by, and the others are living and working a couple of hours drive away. Our daughter is about to get married and our other son has a flat but is in the Navy, so is away a lot.

They all object strongly to our selling the old family home.
There have been near rows over our plans and this has upset my wife, and, if truth be told, me as well. Should we be doing this? Do we stay put and struggle on?
I hope you can help,



Maggi replies:

Well, join the club. I live in a late Victorian semi and, much as we love our home
, my husband and I need to consider that the time to sell and downsize is now, while the housing market is still buoyant. The profits to supplement the erosion in pensions has hit many of us – the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, those born between 1945 and 1955.

Although we have no intention of stopping our current work – we are both self-employed – it is perfectly possible that we will find a total redecoration either inside or out in a few years’ time will not be affordable.

According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2003/04 most older households in Great Britain (aged 50 or over) lived in owner-occupied homes. Over half owned their homes outright and just under a quarter were buying their home with a mortgage.

Generally older households are the most likely to live in under-occupied homes (that is, having two or more rooms above the bedroom standard).

By 2004, men who were aged 65 could expect to live to the age of 82 and women to the age of 85 on average. The latest projections suggest that these expectations will increase by around a further three years by 2021. If blessed with good health and good luck, we have a long way to go yet.

So what are you and your wife to do about your house, Jerry?

You have taken time to consider your options and talked these questions through with your wife:

  • What do each of you look forward to in retirement?

  • What worries you most about it?

  • Will your present house be too big now there are just two of you?

  • Will your pension cover the running costs and upkeep?

  • What happens when one or both of you no longer have the energy or good health to clean, decorate or garden?

  • Can you afford to have help?

  • What services do you want and need to be near in your retirement?

  • How will this affect our family?

Talking these through together is the first step, then it is time to sound out the family. You have done this but have received very negative responses. Have you spoken to friends in similar situations and with property and financial advisors?
Don’t rush; do research the chosen area thoroughly.

Knowing the reasons and advantages of your plan inside out will help you feel confident in your choice, especially when you meet with resistance from the children.

Your children are all well on their own adult paths. Why aren’t they delighted that you have the energy and strength to consider an exciting plan for your future? Could it be that they sense in some way that you will be giving up too much of the life and sense of community you have at present?

Ask yourselves some supplementary questions:


  • How are we going to feel when we are miles away from…our best friends, our grandchildren (when they arrive), our brilliant GP/local medical care, our favourite pub or sports club?

  • Are we going to be able to support each other through initial loneliness while we settle in?

  • Can we reach good public transport to make frequent visits to everyone – even when we don’t want to drive?

  • Are there enough of our favourite activities and essential services in the new chosen area?

  • What will we be able to offer to our new neighbourhood that will help us fit in more easily?

  • Could I manage if I were alone here?

These questions are best dealt with before they become real and immediate, so that you can prepare with less anxiety and more optimism. That will be apparent to your children, and they will feel less worried that you are doing something rash that you might regret when it is too late to undo.

If that doesn’t quiet their fears then it is time to ask them if their objections are more about them, out of an inability to let go of their childhood. Do they still think of your house as home even though they are all settled elsewhere?

It is understandable and natural to feel nostalgia for a childhood home if it has been a happy one. But how fair is it to expect parents to hang on for that reason alone? Now is the time to lift away any worry you can. For many of us in active later life that worry is to do with coping with an older or larger than necessary house and garden which needs money spent on it, and always will.

Reassure your children that you won’t stop being Dad and Mum just because you are in a different house. Try and involve each of them in the planning stage, accept their advice graciously – advice is just that, no-one is obliged to take it. The new house is quite likely to have much of all the old familiar furniture in it – even if it didn’t, the appearance of two happy, active and more carefree and stimulated parents should be compensation enough.

Think, talk, plan, talk some more until you are sure enough, then share and reassure. Always stop occasionally to consider new questions and check all is well for you and your wife and enjoy the adventure.


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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