Tuesday 15 October 2019

Downsizing for older generation is not the simple solution presented

John Mulligan - Opinion

The latest proposal to solve the housing crisis is to move older people out of their supposed empty nests and downsize them into smaller homes, thus allowing younger families move into three and four bedroom homes.

All fine in theory, but in practice it is a very different proposal.

Calling those homes empty nests in the first instance is offensive to older people who may have lost their spouse and have seen their family move out and live their own lives.

Yes they may be living on their own in a large home, with two or three empty bedrooms which are no longer in use, but that house is their home, that they have lived in for many, many years, it is full of family treasures and memories, a lifetime's worth of living at every turn, lumps out of skirting board where young tearaways crashed into years ago, old toys stuffed away in wardrobes, schoolbooks, birthday cards, homemade Christmas decorations, old bikes or cots hidden away in the attic.

Downsizing may well be a practical solution to the housing crisis, but is it worth the emotional damage it may do to an older person.

A small number of older people have taken that step to downsize from a large family home to more suitable accommodation, but they have taken that move only after a lot of thought and sometimes that decision has been influenced by mobility issues or the fact that all their family are living in another part of the country or indeed overseas.

Downsizing is not for everyone and clearly the proposal being discussed at present is a voluntary scheme and no one would be forced to downsize under any circumstances.

But as a society if we are willing to consider this proposal as one of the solutions to the housing crisis and to offer financial incentives for older people to downsize, we have to consider the practical matters which will occur.

Many older people would not be in a position to clear out their belongings, to decide what to keep, what to discard and what to leave behind.

Moving home at any age is supposed to be one of life's most stressful experiences and the practicalities of moving house is formidable, especially the physical tasks of stripping bare a house full of belongings.

What is one man's treasure is another's rubbish.

Psychologically moving home at an advanced age, while practical in many senses, may not be ideal and given heightened awareness of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, I would suggest that more thought needs to be given to this remedy as a solution to the housing crisis, considering that in whatever scale any scheme would be taken up it will only scratch the surface of that particular crisis.

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