At my age, friends think I’m crazy expanding my house. (Sorry, even a stint in Guantánamo won’t get me to reveal those dinosaur-like digits in print.) Let’s just say my contemporaries are downsizing to one-level condos or moving into retirement communities, preparing for when they need extra care. Meanwhile, I’m adding on to my three-story, 3,700-square-foot home. Instead of mulling over my next mahjong move, I’m busy selecting furniture for a new rooftop deck, sun-drenched conservatory, expanded office and exercise room.
Critics will say I’m in age denial. But make no mistake, I am by no means foolhardy. While I have been blessed with good health and youthful optimism, I am under no illusion about where things will inevitably go from here, health-wise. I just refuse to live whatever years I have left on this planet planning for my demise. I cringe at the thought of weekly piano bar sing-a-longs, happy hours at 4 p.m. or living anywhere where I’m referred to as a “resident.”
I love my home of 17 years and don’t want to downsize because of what might happen.
As for my three flights of stairs, I consider them a mini cardio workout that I cheerfully tuck into my day — several times a day. When — and if — I need help, I’ll import it. What about isolation, naysayers say. Fortunately, I don’t crave company 24/7. Should I feel chitchatty, I’ll invite friends and family to drop by for impromptu cocktails (or tea if martinis conflict with our meds).
“Why not downsize, travel and see the world?,” well- meaning friends suggest. Been there, done that. When my husband and I were younger, we traveled extensively and the lure of Mozambique has vanished. While exploring Cappadocia has some allure, the thought of the long flight and discomforts associated with travel makes the short jaunt up to my new rooftop deck — sans jet lag — a more desirable adventure.
Most people groan at the thought of living through construction, but for me the idea of creating something new was exhilarating. I interviewed several architects and builders and chose Reithlingschoefer Design Studio and Gate One Builders. Both teams practically became family. Despite the dust and commotion, the four-month process went without a hitch.
I also learned that my plans to upsize were hardly unique: I am surrounded by spirited role models.
No plans for downsizing on Tom and Sally’s to-do list. Both in their 80s, they enjoy their three-level home with a private pier and glam yacht moored to it, ever ready for frequent trips up the Severn River with cocktails and snacks in tow. Onboard, conversation centers on their latest trip to Carmel or a trendy decorating idea — Sally is a decorator.
Despite a few health issues, staying in their home remains a priority. “I love my house and want to stay here as long as possible. We have the advantage of grown children nearby to help out. Assisted living is not cheap and the more ‘assists,’ the more expensive it is,” Sally says.
There is also no rocking chair time for Helen, another 80-year-old. Her kayak and walking shoes are in perpetual motion. After a winter snowstorm, it isn’t unusual to see her cross-country skiing alongside neighborhood kids on sleds. (Living where I’m surrounded by age
diversity is something else I treasure.)
My friend Penny has another narrative. Soon after her husband died she sold her large home and moved to an assisted living facility offering various levels of care. Although she is healthy and fit, she made the move in preparation for the “what ifs” in life. When I talk to her about her new “happy place,” I get the feeling she is trying to convince herself — even more than me — that this was a good move.
I was surprised to learn from a recent Merrill Lynch retirement study that a growing number of older Americans are doing what I’m doing: Upsizing. The study revealed that half of the surveyed retirees had downsized, but 30 percent moved into larger homes to accommodate family visits or to allow room for a relative (or caregiver) to move in. Since we are living longer and working later in life, many of us want space for a home office or workout room as staying fit is a priority, too. Even traditional downsizers are downsizing less. Older adults downsized by 500 square feet in 2004, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. But the same group cut their footprint by only 100 square feet in 2016.
The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong way to approach housing as we age. The right way is what feels right for each one of us. I know I’m taking a chance that someday I might need an assisted living facility and there won’t be any “room at the inn.” For now, I’m willing to take that chance.