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Rightsizing Your Home

How to reshape your house for the way you live now — and take control of your future.

 
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— Photos courtesy of Gale Steves

As if experiences gained through reaching midlife weren’t enough, the pop of the housing bubble and the uncertain drumbeat of economic news reinforce a resounding truth: things change.

Maybe you’re working from home more often these days, or maybe you’re not sure where you’ll be working after the next quarter. Perhaps you’ve recently divorced, or your postcollege kids have moved out of the house, although a lot of their stuff hasn’t.

Many people in such circumstances consider downsizing — moving to a smaller, easier-to-manage home. But if Sonny doesn’t get a job within the next few months, he may be back. And it might not be too long until Mom will be unable to continue living on her own. Downsizing might not be the right thing right now.

But rightsizing may be. As things change, homes can change, too.

Rightsizing is the concept of working with what you have by making better use of existing space. It is a process in which you analyze the spaces in your home, how you currently use them and the practical possibilities to adapt them to better serve your needs and lifestyle. The promise is that you can live more fully in your longtime family home if you rightsize — and avoid the wrenching process of moving. Whether you’re driven by immediate or future needs, now may be the time to look at your home in a new way.

Rightsizing questions

The rightsizing process starts with an analysis of the existing spaces within your house and how they’re being used. Since home designs and individual lifestyles are diverse, it’s not possible to formulate a definitive list of questions, but typical issues include:

  • Do you really use all the rooms of your house?
  • Are there rooms that are used more for storing furniture, books and papers than any other activity?
  • Is your dining room a walk-through space on the way to elsewhere?
  • How many times a year does someone visit your guest room?
  • What routine activities seem uncomfortable or inefficient in your home’s current setup — in the kitchen, bath, or wherever you relax or do professional or hobby work?

 

The point is to assess how you actually use the defined spaces in your home. For example, a foyer may be superfluous if your main entry is through the mudroom or garage. Similarly, the oversized great room of the 1990s doesn’t necessarily work for every family. This space might incorporate too many functions to be shared comfortably: TV viewing, eating, homework, reading or game playing. The dining room that gets used three times a year can be repurposed. And for many of us, one home office may simply not be enough; in this economy, more than one family member may be working from home.

How do you want (need) to live in your house?

Next, ask yourself what kind of spaces you really need in your home now. These questions often arise from lifestyle changes that typically occur in midlife, which may make new demands on the spaces available in your home:

  • Now that it’s just the two of you, how can you make the house truly your own?
  • When Bill cuts his hours next year and starts writing his memoir, where will he work? (You don’t want that messy guy in your home office.)
  • If Beth doesn’t find a job after four years away at college, she’ll move back in. How can you make her comfortable?
  • You’ve always wanted to paint. Where can you set up a studio?
  • When Dad can’t live on his own anymore, how will you accommodate him in your house?
  • What do you have to do so that you can grow old in this house?

 

Of course, there are many more questions depending on the size and floor plan of your home. But the answers to this set of questions typically can be found in your answers to the first set, which pinpointed the underused and misused areas of your home.

Rightsizing solutions

Start by forgetting about the traditional room names. Give yourself permission to reimagine how these spaces can be used based on your

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