For many Baby Boomers looking to sell their homes and make a move in retirement, finding Millennials willing and able to buy their houses might turn out to be a serious hurdle. But that’s not the only challenge they will face when they relocate in retirement.

Moving is never easy, but it is a unique experience for older adults, who have built a life in their homes, amassed an imposing quantity of stuff, and may be uncertain about where they’re going next.

Stuff, Lots And Lots Of Stuff

It’s not just about the memories; it’s also about the stuff. As social commentator and comedian George Carlin keenly observed – your house is a place where you keep your stuff.

In the process of downsizing or planning any move in retirement, we might discover that we have far, far more stuff — our own stuff, our spouse’s stuff, our kids’ stuff — than we realized. Over time, the home comes to double as an enormous storage locker.

Moving in older age puts us to the formidable task of figuring out where to put all that stuff. The sheer volume of decisions can be paralyzing.

“What do we keep? What do we give away? What gets chucked into the dumpster? Will my son treasure my license plate collection? Do I hold on to these sixteen photo albums? What do I do with my Zydeco music CD collection?  Will my 30-something daughter want this dining room set?” By the way — the answer is no and no one else wants your stuff either.

The task is so onerous that a new profession, called senior move managers, has arisen to help retirees sort their way through their mountains of possessions, one of many new industries in today’s longevity economy. Senior move managers exist for good reason: Without help, we may find that moving simply falls into the too-hard category, especially in later older age.

The Marriage, The Mortgage, The Memories

There’s a difference between a house and home. Home is not really a place in itself. Home is a relationship between a person and a place. “Universally, homes function for people in so many important ways, both physical and psychological, that they become symbols that involve all aspects of our lives,” writes aging anthropologist Jacquelyn Beth Frank.

All of us live in many homes throughout our lives, but for many of us, the home of greatest significance is the one in which we spend our midlives, cultivating marriages, paying off mortgages, accumulating memories, raising children, progressing in our careers, and amassing possessions. Many, if not most, older adults have lived in the same residence for decades.

After so much time spent in the same place, our memories are transferred onto the objects and environment around us. The architecture of our homes becomes part of the architecture of our minds. If we find ourselves restless at night, we can put ourselves to sleep just by performing a slow mental survey of every room in the house (try it, if you’re ever feeling insomniac).

For those in later older age, in their 80s and 90s, a sudden unexpected move out of a long-lived residence can have a devastating effect on mental and physical health. Those of us with stronger constitutions might not crumble to dust, but still the experience is serious, natural doubts at the prospect of moving on from our longtime home. “Am I really doing this? Am I really giving up my castle?”

A Place To Stay?

So you’ve said goodbye to your castle, convinced someone to take that dining room set, found someone who still owns a CD player and appreciates your taste in music and successfully moved on to new digs. But is the new place any better than the old one?

Many older adults are forced to move because their homes no longer meet their needs — stairs, bad lighting, clutter, an absence of grab bars, and poor layout all discriminate against people with reduced mobility. Most houses simply aren’t designed with aging in mind. Moreover, many are located where driving is not just important, but a critical link to all the big, and little, things that make life possible.

Age-readiness is probably the last consideration a person has when buying a house in her thirties, but it should be a major factor in deciding where to move in retirement — that is, if one intends to remain in that dwelling indefinitely. One might seek out a residence that is already outfitted for aging in place, or budget for home modifications  that will bring a dwelling up to standard.

Moving is a ritual that all of us know well, but its complexion changes across the lifespan. In retirement, it has all sorts of new wrinkles. Most of us probably won’t make a move in older age, but for those of us who do, it’s good to be aware of the particular challenges that we are likely to face.

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