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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Moving from a five-bedroom house into a 2,000-square-foot apartment wasn’t traumatic for Mia Homan and her husband Bram Fierstein. They purged in earnest and now have a clean slate in their new apartment.

Homan purged in earnest. “I was ruthless, to the point that we shredded our diplomas, we threw out yearbooks. I gave away hundreds of books; I’m a huge reader, but the Westchester Library System is great. Antiques went to auction, and we were the first estate-sale gig for Estate of Mine. They did a nice job of merchandising.”  

The couple’s son, who’s a senior in college and still needing a room at home, wanted to keep only his bed. A few things went into storage, including 15 boxes of Yankee memorabilia, which Homan says is her unacquisitive husband’s one contribution to their accumulation of stuff. 

“People kept asking us, ‘Aren’t you sad to leave your house?’ and we both kept saying no. I’d be lying to say there wasn’t some emotional tugging at the heart, but, once we’d made the decision, it was pretty easy to follow through. We’re making plans to age well, to affirmatively live our lives and not let old age creep up on us. Now I’m one of those people preaching to get rid of stuff—it becomes an obsession,” she continues. “None of us have that many irreplaceable objects. I’d rather preserve relationships.”

First Steps to Downsizing

  • Get Help: If you’re not up to doing it yourself, get pros to help organize, execute, and advertise your tag or estate sale. Jean MacIntosh of J & J Resales in Bedford Hills believes in the old adage that one person’s junk is another one’s treasure. “You can’t begin to imagine the types of things people buy at a tag sale,” she says. Another business, Estate of Mine in Pelham (917-513-5440), bills itself as “a white-glove version” of the ubiquitous tag sale. Owners Randi MacColl and Linda Peters of Pelham worked in sales and marketing for luxury brands such as Vera Wang, Architectural Digest, and 1stdibs before starting the venture last spring.
  • Sell antiques through reputable dealers or auction houses. Consignment shops are also a good outlet for vintage pieces. Selling collectibles on eBay or Amazon makes parting with them less painful.
  • Donate unwanted books to your local library’s used book sale; household items and clothing to your favorite charities. You’ll clean house and get a tax deduction.
  • Make a digital record of the things you have in storage, listing dimensions and condition, so that you don’t have to unpack to get that info.
  • On moving day, line up plenty of help on the receiving end. Laurie Hilliard’s company, The Skinny Home, offers the services of a decorator to help set up new homes and keep the chaos to a minimum. 
  • Use small spaces wisely. “Multi-purpose your furniture,” says Kim Freeman, whose dining table now also serves as a library table and for presentations to clients
  • Consider cutting down large-scale furniture, like two-part cupboards, that might be just a little too big for the smaller space. “It’s good to have serious pieces in a small room so that it doesn’t look dinky, like a dollhouse,” observes Freeman.

Give yourself a reward for getting rid of stuff, Hilliard suggests. “Buying a few news things that compliments the things you kept can be exciting.”

Lynn Hazlewood is a freelance writer living with far too much stuff in High Falls, Ulster County.



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