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The Art Of Downsizing

By Rebecca Richmond

The objective is clear enough. Life has changed – happily or regretfully, surprisingly or inevitably. Now the house is too big, too crammed with stuff from previous lives; gobbling way too much of your time and budget, anchoring you miles away from where you yearn to be. Time for a simpler life. Time to divest, or in the real estate vernacular, to ‘downsize’.

Easier said than done?
Stylist Heidi Groen and Lisa Hipkins make up ‘Hiphouse’ and work as professional home stylists. Over some 20 years in the property game, they’ve often found themselves involved in people’s downsizing plans, (an often intimate and fraught moment of life transition), not so much decorators as hand-holders, easing their clients through the stages.

Critical questions around bottom-lines, such as selling versus buying, often dominate discussion, but there’s more complex questions to deal with. such as ‘What will come with me into my new life?’ ‘What do I want to take, what must I take?’ ‘What defines and ‘fits’ my new life?’

Be realistic
It’s not always an easy decision, especially with emotions often running high and space becoming tight says Heidi. “One client insisted on having some large pieces of her old furniture moved to the smaller abode,” recalls Heidi. “Try as they might the removalists couldn’t squeeze them up the stairs and through the door.”

“The client ended up on the footpath with three pieces of furniture that had to be hurriedly disposed of – dropped off at the nearest second-hand store or given away for free to a willing new owner. The unrealistic goal meant the client had to wait eight weeks on a new sofa,” says Heidi.

Another client felt honor-bound to keep the antique chair she had inherited from her grandmother. “Down the track it emerged that her grandmother had given her the chair because she hated it,” says Lisa.

The quest for simplicity is, as Heidi and Lisa have learned, sheer hard work, emotionally and physically, factors many clients fail to grasp until they are overwhelmed. Every nook and cranny of the old habitat is plundered, the contents dusted off and assessed. “It is quite a difficult process,” says Heidi, “but there are some rules to follow to make it easier.”

Top downsizing tips

Start with a focusing process
Choose the items you cannot part with, nominate the ones you can happily live without, and in between is everything else. The everything else pile may be the largest, so then work through that pile, stronger decision making  may be needed to decipher what stays and what goes.

Be realistic
There are the practicalities – issues like access at the new abode (can you really get a baby-grand up that stairwell?) Think about the room size in your new home, and cull accordingly.

Then there’s the design
Many down-sizers might relish the opportunity to chuck out the eclectic paraphernalia acquired through need and necessity along the way and pare back to a clean, defined aesthetic reflecting who they are now. Others might want to take precious cargo into the next phase. “There’s a real art to pulling together old and new so that they work, especially in a smaller space”, says Lisa. Looming above these are emotional considerations, which have the power to turn the most mundane detritus into cherished memorabilia.

Next thing you know you’re clawing back unloved chattels at your own garage sale. “Be kind to yourself at this point,” says Heidi. “It is a very stressful process.” Many downsizers relish the chance to pare down to a clean aesthetic reflecting who they are now

There’s the unforgiving truth that there’s only so much a body can take. “This is a very physical and exhausting job to do,” says Lisa. “Yet the urge or need to downsize often strikes when people are at their most vulnerable – perhaps they are unwell or older and frailer than they thought, or still coming to terms with some sudden shift in their personal or household circumstances.”

The physical toll of decluttering, of clearing and scrubbing out the old life and setting up the new, should not be underestimated, says Lisa. “Ask for help – from your family, friends, neighbors. Delegate tasks where you can – organising garage sales, transport arrangements. Clearing and scrubbing out the old life and setting up the new, should not be underestimated

I can’t decide
In recent years, Heidi and Lisa have expanded their Hiphouse business brief to provide more support and services to downsizers, and learned a few key lessons along the way. For instance, in managing the most common downsizers dilemma  – ‘I can’t decide’.

“What do you do with things that don’t fit the new life, but you can’t quite part with them just yet?” says Heidi. ”We often recommend, if budget allows, storing some items for a year, and then making decisions based on how much they have been missed or needed. This often sorts out people with hoarding tendencies.” “Fear is a big factor. You’re not just changing your physical space, but your lifestyle, your neighbourhood, the comfort of familiar geography,” says Heidi. “Expectation can be overwhelming – maybe it won’t feel or look quite as you imagined immediately.”

“Give yourself time and space to adjust – and treat yourself along the way, celebrate your new compact living with new cushions, linen, towels, maybe a new dinner set and glassware. Get a professional art hanger in to make a beautiful display of your treasured art and memories in the new space. “Enjoy creating the scene for a new adventure.”Give yourself time and space to adjust – and treat yourself along the way, celebrate your new compact living with new cushions, linen, towels, maybe a new dinner set and glassware.


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