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A couple of months ago, 10 years after our two offspring flew the coop for more dramatic living arrangements, My Lovely Wife and I decided it would be handy to add a second bathroom to our humble Minneapolis bungalow. This may seem a counterintuitive move: Fewer people, more bathrooms? Most empty nesters our age would be crunching the numbers in preparation for relocating to a smaller, more manageable abode rather than refinancing a mortgage to upgrade their homestead. But we’ve chosen to stay put, for reasons both quantitative and qualitative, and it appears we’re not the only seniors bucking convention.

Writing on Next Avenue, Randi Mazzella notes that COVID has caused many empty nesters to shift their thinking about downsizing. She tells the story of Tracy Beckerman and her husband, who sold their home in the New Jersey suburbs after their two kids moved out and rented a small apartment in a New York City high-rise.

“Over the years,” Beckerman recalls, “we had dreams about moving back, renting an apartment and having the discretionary income to partake in all the great restaurants, music, and shows the city had to offer.”

When the pandemic hit, however, their dreams evaporated. “I felt like a prisoner in the apartment,” she says. “I didn’t anticipate the downside of living in a big city, and I certainly didn’t anticipate living there in a pandemic. Had we known what was going to happen, I never would have sold my home.”

Even before COVID struck, however, the downsizing trend was declining, notes Jessica Lautz of the National Association of Realtors. Adult children, after all, have been known to boomerang to the homestead during difficult economic times. And holidays often bring them back for long weekends. In both cases, those empty bedrooms can come in pretty handy.

The current housing market is probably making the decision to stay put a lot easier as well. Homeowners who have refinanced in recent years are reaping the benefits of record-low mortgage interest rates, and though they may cash in handsomely by selling their home, finding an affordable smaller place — and a similar interest rate — is no small task.

Case in point: A renovated 700-square-foot house sporting two bedrooms and two baths across the alley from us was recently listed at $480,000. It’s a nice neighborhood, but really?

Our century-old bungalow is about twice as spacious, but it’s tiny by current housing standards and easily maintained. We’ve repurposed our son’s former bedroom upstairs into a home office for me and turned the unfinished attic into an art studio for MLW. There’s just enough additional space for a half-bath and a little storage.

And though conventional wisdom suggests we should be evolving toward a single-level living space as we grow older, we figure that climbing those stairs several times a day is just the activity we need to ensure that we can continue to climb those stairs in our dotage. The same goes for shoveling snow, cutting the grass, and tending the gardens. Rather than escape the heavy lifting by moving to a condo, we figure regularly doing the work is just what we need to stay healthy enough to escape the condo conundrum down the road.

I’ll admit there’s a certain degree of bravado at work here. It’s comforting to think MLW and I can stay healthy enough to handle the rigors of homeownership by simply maintaining a regimen of physical activity, but reality will no doubt intervene as we grow older. We’re not completely deluded about that possibility. We may someday need to vacate the second floor and perhaps turn it — and the bathroom — over to a live-in home health aide.

Until then, it will offer MLW a convenient water source, so she won’t have to lug a pail upstairs for her water-color painting, while providing an agreeable option for either of us when the downstairs bathroom is occupied — which occurs more often than you might think. At our age, nature’s call sometimes demands an expeditious response.

Craig Cox
Craig Cox

Craig Cox is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of healthy aging.

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