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Empty nesters enjoy the freedom of downsizing

Shedding old belonging and downsizing can be stressful — and liberating

After their children moved out, Christine and Shawn Corr downsized from a Colonial in Concord to a condo in Charlestown.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When Christine and Shawn Corr decided to leave their four-bedroom Colonial in Concord they had lived in for 27 years for a smaller condo in Charlestown, the couple became quite deft at using the online marketplace Craigslist.

Christine Corr used Craigslist to unload ­antique book cases, bedroom sets, chairs, lamps, and rugs, and other things she and her husband had collected over the years while raising four children in the suburbs.

But Corr did not get overly sentimental about shedding her material goods. Her ­children, all in their 20s, are on their own now, and this empty nester is embracing a new streamlined vision for her next phase.


"I haven't looked back,'' said Corr who is in her mid 50s. "At our age, it's liberating."

As more baby boomers see their adult ­children move on and out, they are ­increasingly paring down — selling furniture, donating clothes, and handing down beloved items to their offspring.

Whether leaving the suburbs for the city, heading to warmer climes, or relocating to smaller homes in the neighborhood, empty nesters are finding the challenges, strain, and sometimes elation of dismantling homes they have lived in for decades.

"It can be time consuming and stressful to edit belongings, but going through possessions, files, and books prior to moving really helps people when they are setting up their new space,'' said Sophie Broderick, owner of the Brookline-based company, Simplify with Sophie. "Most people find it quite a relief to have less stuff crowding their space."

Indeed, more companies like Broderick's are popping up to help baby boomers and other downsizers sift through their materials.

Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director of the Illinois-based National Association of Senior Move Managers, said since its founding in 2002 the trade association has ballooned to more than 700 members in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Pickett said there is a growing need for this type of service because of the aging population and their working adult children who don't always have a lot of time to help.


In many cases, Pickett said, hiring an outside organizer can reduce family stress.

"This person is very objective," Pickett said. "They will help an older (adult) part with possessions without parting with the memories. The most important realization is that it has to be done."

Laurie Nordman, owner of the Westborough-based NextStage Associates, tells seniors not to wait until the last minute to make a decision to downsize and to realize the effort will be time consuming. The company charges $42 an hour to help clients sort through belongings and even transport things to their next home.

"We know what we can consign, we know what can sell to auction, we can pack it up and ship it off," she said. "These people may have not moved for 40 or 50 years. Sometimes the size of the task is so overwhelming. It is great to start with small steps."

Indeed, some families are choosing to downsize even before their children move out.

Judy and Doug Lankford decided last summer to sell their 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom Hopkinton house and build a new home half its size in the town center. The Lankfords were attracted to the budding downtown and wanted to reduce their housing costs before their two high school-age children head off to college.


They also liked the convenience of having shops and restaurants nearby and less home maintenance. They sold off most of their unneeded belongings, including furnishings for a formal dining and living room, in a brief spree, largely to friends and neighbors contacted through an online distribution list.

The Corrs shed many items, but kept photos to display in the condo.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

"It is an eye opener what you don't need,'' Judy Lankford said.

As for the Corrs, last year the couple decided to move to the city after Christine got a new job in the North End and quickly tired of her hourlong commute.

They first rented a 440-square-foot apartment in the North End to see if they were suited for the city, while attending open houses on the weekends. They enjoyed the little things, like being able to buy milk without a 10-minute drive.

After they found the condo in Charlestown and sold the suburban home, the Corrs set about paring down, selling couches, beds, deck furniture, and maintenance equipment online and to neighbors and real estate agents who had visited their home. One buyer who came to pick up a $50 lamp ended up purchasing the Corrs' entire living room set, including mirrors, rugs, vases, and tables.

Now the couple lives in a two-bedroom condo with just enough room to house one visiting child. They work long hours and they enjoy their commute-free evenings.

"At this age when you still have your health you want to be out doing things,'' she said. "You don't want to have to care for things. Sometimes it is nice to start fresh."


Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at ­jmckim@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jbmckim.