Rightsizing: A Late-Life Migration

“Rightsizing”—it used to be a sinister term, a euphemism rolled out by tycoons laying plans to throw hundreds of employees out of work. To us at Women’s Voices, though, “rightsizing” signifies making appropriate change—looking positively at the transitions we need to make as we head into the second half of life. This article is part of a series by writers who have made those transitions—both the easy ones, mentally or physically, and the hard ones. —Ed


Last September I said to my husband, “I want to be in my own house before my next birthday.” We had sold our house in Massachusetts in July, and were spending a few months in Kingston, New York, while planning our next, and hopefully final, move. Today, the day after the aforementioned birthday, I am sitting in our new house in Portland, Oregon.

We’d been fantasizing about just such a migration for several years. The time between dreaming and doing has been filled with a multitude of decisions, and emotions that have vacillated between nostalgia and anticipation, impatience and satisfaction, uncertainty and confidence.

First, however, there’s gratitude. Not everyone in his or her sixties has the health, energy, and wherewithal to move across the country.

I had lived in the Boston area for my entire life, and my husband had lived there for much of his adult life. We bought the house in Concord when our sons were in elementary school. It was our home for 23 years, the place where we developed our careers, supported each other through multiple challenges, and watched our boys grow into men.

In return, my husband combined his engineering know-how and carpentry skills with my design ideas, and together we turned a plain 1960s ranch into something special.

The author and her husband on the steps of their former home in Concord, Massachusetts. (Photo by Akos Szilvasi

The house had done its job, just as we had done ours. By the summer of 2011, neither of us was working full-time. My husband, Paul, had retired after 32 years at the same company, and after almost as many years of steady employment, I no longer had a full load of paid writing assignments. At the time of our move, we had a son living on each coast and nothing to tie us down. Leaving old friends would be our only regret.

We didn’t have to move, but we both wanted more stimulation and new vistas to explore. I wanted to live in a place where I could walk to parks, restaurants, cafés, and stores. As I wrote in 2012,

“I want the bustle and excitement of the city but not the noise. I want to be able to move around freely even when — especially when — I am too old to drive, but worry that the constant press of people will grate on my introvert soul.

While any place that Paul and I are together will feel like home, I also want to find my own niche. I want to write in my office and then meet friends for coffee at a neighborhood café, or spend the afternoon wandering around a nearby museum.”

There were practical reasons to sell as well. While the decades of full-time work set us up for a relatively secure retirement, the house had become a big expense. We still had a mortgage, and a home equity loan had entered its pay-off period, increasing what had been a negligible monthly payment by tenfold.

The house was valued at far more than we owed. Selling it meant that if we re-settled in a less expensive market, we could pay cash and skip a mortgage altogether.

At the end of 2015, we got serious about selling the house, met with a couple of realtors, and began strategizing about improvements we needed to complete before putting the place on the market.

All of that went out the window in early 2016, when an acquaintance and her husband expressed an interest in buying our house “as-is.” While they made up their minds, we thought deeply about the implications of leaving.

I, for one, had a private cry in the kitchen every morning, awash in memories as I brewed my tea, and looked out at the wild and beautiful back yard that had given us so much pleasure. As we began saying goodbye to the house, we also had to decide where we wanted to go.

Our older son seemed firmly ensconced in his Brooklyn, New York, community— more so than our younger son in Seattle, Washington, who was just finishing up graduate school there. Who knew where he would land? We didn’t want to be far away from both of them.

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  • Maggie q May 12, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Having lived in Brooklyn most of my live – and Brooklyn was not cool, I wanted a place that I could walk around and have different people around me. I am in Asbury park now. Besides the ocean and the boardwalk, I never know if there is a zombie walk or a tattoo festival going on. I’m so enjoying walking in peace or with so much going on. Having gone from larger homes I’m now in a smaller apartment (also my Brooklyn life). I always knew that didn’t make a difference. I’m also close to family so I’m hoping this is my forever place. I gave it a lot of thought and hope it’s “the” place.