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March 23, 2012

The upside of downsizing

It’s not downsizing, it’s right-sizing

Jessica Patterson

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Downsizing has such a negative impression, because it’s immediately associated with being old, of approaching the end of the cycle. But what it is really is just change to a new lifestyle phase.

That said, there is some apprehension when it comes downsizing, as there is in anything that involves change. The only thing to do then is to embrace it and when it comes to downsizing, just think of it as right-sizing — finding the right lifestyle for your new needs.

Downsizing can be a liberating experience, an opportunity for positive change and allow you to have some fun in the redesigning process, the downsizing experts we spoke to say.

The secret is being flexible, says Calgary interior designer Jerilyn Wright. Wright, who has been designing interiors for 27 years with her company, JWA Designs, has designed high-end residences, condos and everything in between. 

“What our approach is, is to look at spaces from a point of view of flexibility,” she says. “You want to be able to use your downsized space in various ways. Every room should be flexible, fluid and basically, moveable.”

For example, Wright’s own dining room table is on wheels, so when she feels like using her dining room for another purpose, like yoga, she has the space. “You have to think of your spaces as being multi-functional for you,” she says.

Smaller spaces are difficult to adapt to, but downsizing allows you to lighten up. “Think of it as an opportunity to redesign your living space entirely,” Wright says. “Look at your space and how you use it. You might not need the same capacity or the same big serving trays. Your needs might be very different.”

So, with that in mind, design for what tomorrow might bring. When you’re looking at downsizing, your needs today might be different than your needs tomorrow, Wright says. “Look 10 or 15 years out, what will that look like and what will you need?”

Consider your mobility of tomorrow. Will you need a wider doorframe for the grandkids’ stroller, a wheelchair or a walker?  Will you need an accessible bathroom?  “Right now, you might be perfectly able, but if you don’t plan for the future, you may find you get to that age and you’re stuck,” Wright says. 

Another thing Wright tells all of her clients is that furniture isn’t forever. “You don’t keep the sofa you bought 25 years ago. You can, but likely, it’s not going to work when you downsize. Look at the scale and buy pieces a little lighter,” she advises.

Most people think they can keep everything they’ve accumulated over a lifetime and squeeze it all into their new, smaller space. Oftentimes, people struggle with letting go of furniture they’ve had for years. Getting rid of furniture you’ve had for decades comes down to a question of function. Will you use the item frequently and will it fit in the new space? 

It’s a question Deb Darbyshire and Caryl Walker, owners of Greenway Packers, often answer.  “You cannot take everything with you if you are downsizing from 3,000 square-feet to a 1,000-square-foot property,” Darbyshire says. “It won’t all fit. So, you have to decide, is that spare dresser, those four side tables, or the seven mismatching table lamps, really needed?”

Darbyshire recommends drawing out where your furniture will go on a floor plan of the new space. 

“Remember that a time for change should always be embraced and not to be fearful of it however old you are,” she says. “Be positive. It is the perfect opportunity to dispose of, distribute to family members or donate perfectly good items that someone else may benefit from.”

If it’s in good repair or mint condition, donate that old couch to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, and be content knowing it will find a new home. 

Keep anything of sentimental value, says Caryl Walker. “This will include photos, family heirlooms, et cetera, as these can be passed down to family members at a later date.” 

Other items that could be tossed, donated or given away, including anything that doesn’t have sentimental or monetary value, Walker explains. “If you have a closet of clothes that you have not worn 70 per cent of in the last two years, the chances are you will never wear them again — so donate so someone in need can wear them.”

Green Way Packers offers residential and commercial packing, unpacking, de-cluttering and downsizing assistance, preparation for renovations and manage big moves. 

They work with people in short time slots, “as sometimes it can be a distressing process,” Darbyshire explains. “We systematically go through the house, every room, closet and drawer and work out what is really needed and what has no value either in money, use or need. We can advise and arrange where to take items.”

Darbyshire and Walker help break down the barriers related to downsizing and make it a fun and enjoyable process. “Normally, we find, at the end of it, the client feels liberated and ready to move on.”

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