In our “super-sized” world, we have been conditioned to want the biggest piece of pie, the biggest vehicle, and of course the biggest home. We’ve been taught that such grandiosity is a sign of prosperity and success. But is bigger always better when it comes to senior living residences? Could a smaller independent living unit actually be the preferable option?

Evolving from McMansion to tiny house

In the past century, our country has witnessed a migration from the close quarters of the big city to the more spacious suburbs. For those with the financial means (and in most cases, an automobile), those larger suburban land parcels were able to accommodate bigger homes, eventually bringing us to the era of the so-called “McMansion” neighborhood, featuring street after street of palatial homes.

Interestingly though, we now are beginning to see a bit of a backlash to those massive houses as the “tiny house” architectural and social movement grows in popularity. Touting a “less is more” philosophy, the tiny house movement advocates for downsizing (sometimes dramatically) and living a simpler life. Tiny houses rarely exceed 500 square feet and can be as small as 100 square feet.

A component of this tiny house mindset is that your home is primarily a place where you sleep and sometimes eat. Most of your “living” is done outside in the larger world. While not everyone is quite ready to downsize to just 100 square feet, many of the tiny house downsizing philosophies also can be applied to those who are downsizing for a move to senior living, including to continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or life plan communities).

>> Related: Overcoming the Mental & Emotional Barriers of Downsizing

All of the CCRC benefits at a lower cost

A big part of your senior living decision is not only what type of community you want to live in — 55+, rental, co-op, CCRC, etc. — but also which type of independent living residence you want — condo, townhouse, patio home, one- or two-bedroom, etc. This decision will of course impact your day-to-day living as well as your retirement living cost (potentially dramatically).

For CCRC residents, choosing a smaller independent living unit — such as a one-bedroom apartment versus a two-bedroom unit or a patio home —typically will save money on the entrance fee and the monthly service fee while still allowing the resident to enjoy all of the many benefits of living within a CCRC’s campus.

For example…

  • Regardless of their unit’s square-footage, CCRCs residents have a whole world of events and activities right outside their front door: exercise classes and sports, continuing education and art classes, cultural performances, social events, and more. So, while CCRC residents can enjoy their alone time in the comfort of their private home, if they prefer, there are always opportunities to socialize with friends and staff or enjoy the community’s many activities.
  • There are oftentimes community-maintained outdoor communal spaces at a CCRC, as well, like walking paths, community gardens, and even dog parks. A large private backyard like you may have had at your previous house — with all of the associated upkeep — is no longer a necessity.
  • Nearly every CCRC also will include at least one meal per day as part of independent living residents’ contracts, so shopping for, cooking, and cleaning up after dinner can be a thing of the past (if desired). While the vast majority of independent living residences will still have a kitchen, most residents no longer need the big kitchen they may have had in their previous home.
  • But what about when friends or loved ones come to visit? Where will they sleep if I have a smaller CCRC unit? Many CCRCs also offer a solution for this in the form of guest suites: on-campus accommodations that can be reserved for a nominal price for short-term stays.

And of course, regardless of which independent living unit style and size a CCRC resident chooses when they move in, they will enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they will have access to a full continuum of care services should they ever need them.

Becki Bees, vice president of sales and marketing at Roland Park Place, a CCRC in Baltimore, sums it up well: “The best part of living in a community with so many amenities is that you don’t have to recreate all of those spaces in your apartment. For example, you don’t need space for that exercise equipment if you can use the equipment in the fitness center. If a community offers guest apartments, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend the additional monthly fee on a guest room in your apartment that will only be used a couple of times a year. And you don’t need space to entertain a large dinner party when you can use one of the private dining spaces – and have someone else clean up!”

>> Related: “I’m Not Ready Yet” Part 3: Younger Can Be Better for a CCRC Move

Smaller CCRC unit styles can be a great choice

Downsizing is a topic we write about a lot as it pertains to cleaning out and selling a beloved long-time home to move to a senior living community, such as a CCRC. It can understandably be an emotional process for some people.

But don’t lose sight of the many benefits of living in a smaller home. In addition to eliminating clutter and unneeded “stuff,” it can be a huge cost-savings for seniors, not only on rent or mortgage payments but also on heating/cooling costs, taxes, insurance, and upkeep.

For CCRC residents, choosing a smaller unit gives you all the advantages of living in a CCRC but likely at a markedly lower cost both in terms of entrance fee and monthly service fee. And with all of the social, educational, and wellness opportunities right outside your front door, you may just find that you aren’t spending much of your time in your CCRC residence anyway!

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