From the April/May 2009 Issue:


  • Writer: Gale Steves

During these economic times, the word downsizing seems to be a pejorative term. No one wants to admit they are really cutting back, but whether they are driven by immediate needs or future ones, this may be the time to shift gears. This Age of New Reality frees you from having to keep up with the Joneses. If you are thinking in that direction, you are not alone, suggests Judy Appleby, the president-elect of the New Jersey Association of Realtors. “Bigger is not necessarily better. Many Jerseyites are looking for better designed, smaller homes that really suit their way of life.” Even major real estate developers are listening. “Today, we’re hearing from our customers that they want efficient, but luxurious living spaces,” says Doug Fenichel, regional director of K. Hovnanian Homes, “and they want a lot of options and choices to make their home reflect their lifestyle.” The decision to move is an overwhelming and emotional one. Whether you are trading a larger family house for a more manageable one or trying to simplify your life in your existing home, the process starts with a good plan. There are many decisions to be made, and you cannot make them all at once without mistakes. “Moving to a smaller space means that there may be space restrictions,” says Patricia Gaylor, a Little Falls-based interior designer whose residential projects include aging-in-place and eco-friendly designs. She adds that it is important to keep only what works for the new space and that the experience of reducing the “extras” around your home will be very liberating. Determine what your new living requirements will be and keep them firmly in mind when you begin with the downsizing of your possessions. Start the sorting of possessions early and keep at it. It takes time to make decisions and find “homes” for the items you no longer need. One wise woman estimated it takes a week to clean out a year of clutter. So if you have lived in a house for 30 years, plan on 30 weeks of cleaning it out. To help focus on the rightsizing process, we spoke to three New Jersey residents who are either beginning the downshift, have recently gone through the move to a smaller house, or are getting ready to downsize again.

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enlarge | Loft spaces will put you on top of the world, and many are located close to urban amenities.
Letting Go and Moving On
“How does one sort through and let go of possessions collected over a lifetime?” asks Rose Gilbert, an empty-nester in Maplewood who has declared 2009 to be the year of her big clean-out. Her 3,500-square-foot house and yard have become overwhelming to manage since her children have left. Her goal is to simplify her life. The dream is an open loft space closer to New York City with many fewer belongings. Her plan is to identify what she intends to sell by auction, tag what she thinks her two grown boys will want and what she plans to take with her, and have a great garage sale with the rest. This reduction of possessions before she moves allows her to visualize the space she will need for her future home. More importantly, she can replace outdated furniture with new pieces that better suit her new space. The list includes a new dining table option, a more comfortable sofa, and better workspace design.

Because she has been thinking about this for several years, she feels she is over the “emotional” part of the change and will rely on family and friends for clear-eyed guidance.

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enlarge | A rightsizing move offers an opportunity to choose a different lifestyle.
Step One, Step Two
Roger and Patricia Broadley made an initial downsizing move when they transferred from a 3,500-square-foot home in Westchester County, New York, to a 2,500-square-foot one in High Bridge five years ago. At that point, they were able to weed through what they had acquired over time. “I thought I had done a good editing job then, but somehow more has crept back in,” Patricia Broadley says. In anticipation of another move later this year, both have resolved to take a good hard look at their possessions again. Cupboards, cabinets, and display spaces are filled to the brim and represent the first level of reviewing.

Their decorating tastes have changed from traditional to more rustic, and the next move offers them a chance to evaluate the old furniture and replace it with pieces that are more complimentary to their lifestyle. High on the list are casual dining furniture and chairs that give them flexible seating. Their new goal is to live better but also more comfortably in a smaller space.

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enlarge | Town-house living may be the answer if you’d like a little less space, less maintenance, and more free time to enjoy life.
Staying in Town
Robert and Barbara Trelstad have been residents of Princeton for most of their married life, but their 4,000-square-foot house and garden were beginning to be too much to handle. They were reluctant to leave friends and family in their rightsizing move; although they looked elsewhere, nothing could compare to their hometown. A believer in finding things when she needs them, Barbara Trelstad felt she could find the “perfect place” nearby. A 2,000-square-foot town house met most of their requirements: low or no maintenance, walkable distance from most activities, and less unused space.

While they began the divesting process a year before moving with the help of family, they still took more than they needed. The reevaluation of the new spaces and some of the furniture and accessories has led them to use old pieces in new ways. Painting after they moved made sense because the color selection was easier with the furniture in place. “My big mistake was imagining a queen-sized bed could fit in my new guest quarters,” she admits. “My solution is a sleep sofa that gives me new work space when guests are not in residence.”

Whether you are just thinking about clearing out your clutter or making a serious move in the coming year, finding a home that suits you better is what rightsizing is all about. - DNJ

Gale Steves is a design writer with roots in New Jersey.


Rightsizing Tips
Much of what you see around the house is not the sum of what you have. Tackle the things hidden from view first. If you have not looked at it in ages, do not take it with you.

Start with photographs and other personal papers. These may take the most time to review. Save what you want for your adult children or shred. Consult your tax adviser about which tax returns or records you must keep and get rid of the rest.

Don’t weed out by yourself. Ask good friends or family members for help. Those who live a distance away can help you during holidays or visits.

Observe the two-year rule. If you haven’t worn something for two or three years, give it to people who can use and appreciate it. Local charities will accept clean, gently worn items. Make sure you get an itemized receipt if you expect a tax write-off.

Take pictures of what you plan to keep and put them with their dimensions in a small notebook. Armed with a tape measure and your notebook, you can see how your existing furniture will fit your new house. This will help you delete certain larger pieces that are questionable. If you are still not sure, use graph paper and a pencil to plot out which pieces of furniture will go in each room.

Do not use the enticement of leasing a storage unit for the stuff that won’t fit in your new house. Just get rid of it. This will be an attic that you may be paying for well into the future.

from Patricia Gaylor