Downsizing in Style
No need to give up great design when you give up square footage: tales from the trenches on how to downsize your home
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Above photo, clockwise: Despite paring her belongings, there are a few treasured collections that made the move to the cottage; This desk was on the mezzanine floor in Freeman's Ossining home; now it fits neatly in a corner; Furnishings from all over Freeman's former residence have found a home on the screened porch; Pumpkin Pie seems to have adjusted nicely.
Moving into a house a third the size of her previous one meant unloading a lot of possessions. “That was the hardest part,” Freeman says. “But once you get past the fear, you get on a roll, and it’s the most cathartic, cleansing feeling in the world.” Freeman sold her best pieces through antiques dealers, had a garage sale, and donated to charity shops. “I still have too much stuff,” she admits, though she’s slowly culling from her storage unit, selling on the home-decor website, One King’s Lane.
Ah, yes, storage units! They are sprouting up all over the place, and downsizers are helping fill them up. But, Freeman suggests, “Give yourself a time limit. If you can’t remember what’s in there, just clear it out.”
Although Freeman’s decision to “go contemporary” in her new space was a brief fling (“I bought a set of four garden chairs for $200, and that was my whole attempt,” she says with a laugh), she was more successful in experimenting with color. “Wherever I’ve lived has been all white. Now I’m into chartreuse, hot pink, turquoise. A lot of people are afraid of color in small spaces. I wouldn’t paint walls a bright color, but splashes of color—I find that happy.” She gave a new look to some of her furniture by reupholstering it. “Putting things into a new environment, you see them anew,” she observes.
Any regrets? “I don’t miss a thing,” Freeman responds. “Well, I’d like a fireplace. And just a foot or two more in the bedroom to make it easier to move around the bed. But that’s it.”
Freeman enlisted her friend Laurie Hilliardfrom Bedford Hills to assist with the move, an experience that helped inspire Hilliard to launch her new company, The Skinny Home (914-441-9055), to help others deal with downsizing their stuff. “The reason I called it The Skinny Home is that there’s a fitness aspect,” Hilliard explains. “When you’re shedding possessions, you’re becoming psychologically fit. People have emotional connections to things. It’s not just a question of changing square footage; you’re getting rid of emotional baggage as well as physical. It’s a huge psychological phenomenon—we’re all suffering from too much stuff.”
To start culling: “First, get rid of the junk, and what you really don’t want, because that’s easiest,” Hilliard says. “Donate it or sell it.” Which leads to what she calls the first psychological hurdle: determining if your things are as valuable as you think they are. “Get an antiques dealer to come and assess. Your mother’s china, family heirlooms, an antique you paid a fortune for—they may not be worth much money because of fashion trends.” Another part of that psychological hurdle, says Hilliard, is determining the emotional investment. “If you haven’t touched something in a while, say months, you should get rid of it.