Simple Living Trends for Seniors

Henry David Thoreau famously took to the woods alone to live a simpler life. More than a century later, many people are looking for ways to live our lives more simply, to focus on what’s meaningful for us and whittle away what’s not.

Many seniors find they’re at the point in their lives where simplifying their living arrangements makes sense. Unlike Thoreau, though, today’s seniors, and their grown children, are looking to trade a little independence for strengthened family bonds.

The thought of lower housing costs, fewer possessions to care for, and more time with family, has a lot of seniors looking into these housing options.

Don’t Call it a Granny Pod

You’ve decided that you want to live close to family. Your son or daughter, or niece or nephew, is ready to roll out the red carpet for you. Truth be told, they don’t have a big enough house for everyone to be comfortable—including you. You’re worried that you’ll be too much in each other’s space.

Meet the granny pod. (We know, it’s a terrible name.) Otherwise known as an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), it may be the perfect choice for you and your family.

The granny pod is essentially a detached in-law apartment. While in-law apartments are generally part of the main house, an ADU is a separate structure. In general, granny pods have these features in common. They:

  • provide between 400-800 square feet of living space
  • include a bedroom, living area, bathroom and kitchenette
  • costs range from $40,000 to $125,000 (Medically equipped structures will cost more.)
  • hook up to main home’s utilities and water supplies
  • include universal design features, such as wheelchair accessible bathrooms

There are a lot of advantages to ADUs. Being close to family can prevent loneliness, and pooling resources for expenses--groceries, household upkeep, real estate taxes--can benefit everyone.

The other main advantage is that living close to family can mitigate the need for assisted living or nursing home care.

If you’re seriously considering an ADU, there are several different options to explore.

  • Converting an already existing structure on the property, such as a shed.
  • Having a structure built by contractors.
  • Ordering a pre-fabricated kit for contractors or someone in the family to build.
  • Investing in a medical ADU that’s designed to meet seniors’ more serious medical needs.

You may encounter a few obstacles that will weigh into your decision. The biggie is zoning restrictions. Many housing lots aren’t zoned for ADUs. Often, local housing associations prohibit their use. Another obstacle is you will likely have to pay cash upfront for the structure, as mortgage lenders often deny loans for ADUs.

Tiny Homes 

It wasn’t so long ago that Americans we enamored of the idea that bigger is better when it came to housing. Over the last decade, Americans have done a lot of soul-searching on whether the price tag on those mega-homes was really worth it, and….voila! The trend of tiny homes was born.

The first thing to know about tiny homes is that they’re, in a word, tiny. The average tiny home is less than 200 square feet, compared to a rough average of 2500 square feet for a typical American home. They are not for everyone, but there are perks that many people find appealing.

Tiny homes:

  • cost a fraction of typical housing costs, resulting in less debt and more savings
  • are moveable, so owners can easily pull up stakes if they wish
  • appeal to people of nearly all ages (2 out of 5 tiny house owners are over 50)
  • have unique design features that help maximize space
  • create a smaller environmental footprint that a traditional home

The tiny home movement is also part of a broader social movement that embraces environmental consciousness, simpler living, and focuses on experiences over things. You’ll find virtual tiny home communities on numerous social media platforms.

As with granny pods, tiny homes face obstacles in terms of zoning and lack of traditional financing options. Mortgage lenders view tiny homes as poor investments and usually won’t issue loans.

In-law Apartments and Moving in with Family

In many cultures worldwide, grown children stay nearby their parents, especially when their raising families of their own. Intergenerational living is the default option.

In America, we value independence and freedom. We move far away from family for work, for adventure, even for love of the topography of another state.

Yet, we’ve begun to rethink these values and recognize what’s missing. All of our independence often leaves us without a support system. We miss out on the bonds that can enrich our lives, no matter what our age. That’s why so many people are creating in-law apartments or turning a dining room into another bedroom.

The number of people living in multigenerational homes has almost doubled since 1980. An increasing number of home buyers are looking for housing that flexible enough to accommodate their senior parents. Part of this is economic, no doubt, but we’re longing for more connection, too.

Intergenerational living has plenty of benefits, for grandparents, parents, and children. Time with family, health benefits for seniors, and more adults for children to interact with are just some of the pluses. Economic benefits include decreased housing costs and less money spent on senior care.

You want to consider a number of things before taking the plunge on living under the same roof as your adult children or other family. Consider the exact accommodations. Would you have a separate kitchen and living area? If not, will you be comfortable sharing those? Can you easily get away from the noise of children and teenagers when you wish? Do you have the privacy you need?

Finally, and most importantly, think about whether you’re ready to be interdependent with other people, offering and accepting help as needed.


Ready to simplify your life?  Contact us to find out how Smooth Transitions can help.