To Downsize or Not: A Decision or An Entrenched Position? Inclinations and Wellbeing Consequences

Gail Lincoln new headshot
Gail Lincoln
Former researcher and lecturer in Health Science, at the University of Westminster

I really enjoyed Judie Hodsden’s guest blog for the Housing LIN last year and listening to her recent HAPPI Hour presentation about the benefits of early planning and downsizing or moving to more suitable housing. It is something we all should be proactive about. This should be encouraged in our society but of course there are two sides to planning, moving and staying put.

Last week, Housing Minister Chris Pincher was reminded of the issues on both sides by some rather astute responses online to his Times article (opens new window). Instead of simply emphasizing the need for more retirement housing choice he suggested, possibly inadvertently by his choice of words that older people “rattling around” in larger properties were the cause of the housing crisis for young people.

Plan for the worst and hope for the best

This is my conclusion, having carried out research on wellbeing differences in older ‘Movers’ and ‘Non Movers’ on issues such as the emotional raised, and discussed previously in my 2015 Housing LIN Case Study (No102), Older under-occupying owners, will they ever move? Is the decision to relocate a moving target, more difficult than the move itself? How Can FreeSpace schemes help? Planning should include frequent de-cluttering, using living wills, independent financial advice and frank discussions with family.

I found my research participants who had chosen to move, whilst not exactly ‘happy’, were pleased with their achievement. Having found it onerous, most of them eventually expressed being “settled” and having “done the right thing”. They were mainly doing it to avoid future harm rather than to improve their current satisfaction. I found high levels of expressed and measurable chronic stress (cortisol measures from hair samples) for the period of preparing for moving and the actual time of moving. Eventually this reduced so that overall relocating led to beneficial health outcomes.

The decision of whether to move or not is not so much a decision as an entrenched position!

Those inclined to move or to stay put were seen to be two distinct groups but  both positions were shown to be strongly linked to very long-standing social, emotional and personal characteristics for individuals (or acquiescing to the views of a partner) and not to do with age or current physical needs per se.

Therefore, those who moved against their inclination to do so, in some cases were physically and mentally devastated by the move with high measures of stress and depression. The lack of decision-making autonomy was shown to be particularly detrimental to health and the chances of settling in after a move.

Both Movers and Non Movers groups agreed

In keeping with previous research, I found most people wanted to stay local “keeping everything else the same” and did not want to move near to their children unless there were young grandchildren. Fears were expressed in the research about role reversal within the family, describing it in terms of moving from being a purposeful provider to a dependent burden. Yet organising the de-cluttering and packing was clearly impossible without help, so these factors potentially interacted to create inertia across both groups.

In conclusion

Equally important to providing attractive housing designs and locations, is the need for us to understand the independent advice and practical support required by many would-be ‘Movers’ to make that move. It is clear that family or those helping with a move, deemed to be ‘unavoidable’ need to ensure the person moving, as realistically as possible, makes all the decisions about whether, where, when and how to move, what to keep or throw away.

Just as important we must not assume older people should accept moving as the best option and thereby as a society put family and social pressures on older people to move against their established inclination when this has been shown to jeopardize rather than improve wellbeing. In other words this is the reason we must continue to seek innovation to enable the option of staying put.

Dr Gail Lincoln is a chartered occupational psychologist with a doctorate in Health Sciences, is a former researcher and lecturer at University of Westminster in business and HR management. She has a long previous history in strategic and front line housing and social care services, piloted the redevelopment programme of sheltered housing in London Borough of Redbridge and developed FreeSpace downsizing alternative for home owners.

And, if you found this blog of interest, you can also read a range of other resources on downsizing and freeing up accommodation by older people, visit the Housing LIN’s dedicated pages.

Lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can provide you with bespoke support, please email us at:


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