The art of downsizing: Know what to keep, what to toss

A recent WalletPop post on the trend toward smaller homes prompted lively debate, and its associated poll, asking whether you were considering downsizing for financial reasons, currently shows "yes" nosing ahead of "no."

Fewer rooms, less square footage and, often, less storage mean paring back, a process owners of smaller homes describe as both painful and liberating. Some told WalletPop they turned to Craigslist, eBay and charity to dispose of their excess. Many still keep a few overlarge items in storage.

"My parents were Depression-era people who saved everything; I had to stop that and read everything I can to help me discard," said Maryann Purgason of Hogansville, Georgia, a downsizing pioneer when she moved to a 2,000-square-foot home more than a decade ago. "An abused woman and children were able to set up housekeeping with much that I had been saving."

Interior redesigner Jennifer Schweikert of Burke, VA, increasingly finds herself helping people through the process of scaling down. Her typical approach is to tour the old home with a floorplan of the new home in hand.

"It's sort of like shopping at the old house," she said. The exercise, she said, "wraps itself into the organizing part – as you help someone maximize their space, people realize they need to make the most of what they've got."

Organization is crucial to the residents of Olive 8 in downtown Seattle, a new, LEED-certified hotel and condominium building where flats tend toward the micro.

"It's like living on a boat," said Steve Bryant, who shares a 685-square-foot one-bedroom (photo at top) with his life partner, Michael Greer.

Storage under beds, cafe stools instead of a dining table and use of the complex's common areas for entertaining are among Bryant and Greer's solutions. They prefer larger furniture -- so it "doesn't feel like a dollhouse," Bryant said -- while neighbors Michele McCrackin and Dan Seaver shifted to smaller pieces when they recently moved from a 1,500-square-footer on Bainbridge Island.

The process of sorting through their belongings one-by-one "was very freeing," said Seaver. "We were ruthless."

"We have a rule that everything has to have dual roles -- it has to be something we love and something useful," McCrackin added.

Christine Harmel, who last year moved from a three-bedroom home in Charleston, S.C., to a 600-square-foot duplex in Austin, Tex., sold most of her belongings on Craigslist.

"I can't say that there aren't occasional times where I wish I had kept something," she said. "But I am not my stuff."

In her practice, Schweikert finds that sentimental pieces are the hardest to give up, so she tries to find ways to work them in, converting a special armoir intended for the large television -- now replaced by a flatscreen -- into some kind of storage, for instance.

For McCrackin, that hard-to-give-up item was an old patched up carousel horse, a gift from her late mother, which now doubles as a coat and hat rack. For Harmel it was an antique wood and tin bed that waits in storage.

Purgason was unwilling to part with comfort -- for her husband.

"Decorators told me to ditch the big man recliner," she said, "but I have this weird idea that a man should be comfortable in his own home."

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