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Rightsizing Your Home

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

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

family’s needs and varied activities. Often, the key to discovering good, usable space is decluttering  — clearing out furniture and other items that have accumulated over the years. Visualize how the room would look, and then create a floor plan to work out the furniture changes before you begin to move things around.

Take that seldom-used living room, for example. It could be a new office for a home-based business with easy access to the front door.  Or it may make a perfect “chat room” for quiet conversations when the great room is otherwise occupied with sound and music. If Grandma is coming for an extended stay, could it be reconfigured as an easy-access, main-floor bedroom so she doesn’t have to climb the stairs? Can the first-floor powder room be expanded to a full bath just for her? She might enjoy helping in the kitchen if she didn’t have to reach so high for things stored in the wall cabinets, if she could work while sitting at a counter. Maybe some cabinet reconfiguration and pullout storage accessories are in order. Wouldn’t these rightsizing changes make sense for your own aging-in-place strategy?

Many more possible scenarios can be addressed with rightsizing so you can stay in your home for life (see “Rightsizing Strategies” below). All it takes is honest analysis, a little imagination and the will to change things for the better.

Rightsizing Strategies


<h3><span>Need More Office Space</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Consider the underused living room, dining room, absent children’s room, basement or attic space.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Be sure to plan for more than a desk — you’ll need storage space and possibly meeting space. Are there enough outlets in the right places? Internet access? How will you manage the wires?
<h3><span>Need Studio or Hobby Space</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Think about basement space, absent children’s rooms and laundry rooms.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Consider proximity to a sink or water lines that enable you to easily install a sink. Remember that you’ll need enough space for not only spreading out and working but also storage of supplies and finished work. How will you contain dust, waste and chemical odors?
<h3><span>Add Accessible Quarters for Elderly Relative</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Think about the living room, dining room or other available space on the first floor.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Can you create an accessible bath on the first floor by expanding a powder room? Be sure to check universal design standards. Is there a door to the sleeping room to assure some privacy? Consider the issue of  clothes storage, as well.
<h3><span>Add Quarters for a Boomerang Child</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Provide space in a walk-out basement that will provide privacy and a separate entrance. The space above a garage may be an alternative.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • The childhood souvenirs need to be moved to make room for adult possessions. Change the bedroom into a bed/sitting space with a sleep sofa.
<h3><span>Need Easier-to-Manage Kitchen</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Elevate appliances, such as a dishwasher, so they can be easily reached. Lower a countertop surface if more comfortable. Move china and glassware storage to lower cabinets. Install cabinet inserts so that food and supply storage spaces come to you, not you to them.
<h3><span>Need Quiet Space to Read and Relax</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Think about a living room, dining room or roomy bedroom.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Add a small sofa or chair and ottoman to a well-lit space where you can control the adjacent noise.
<h3><span>Need More Storage Space</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Under the stairs, wide hallways and garage cabinets can free up crowded closets.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Cull through your possessions. If you do not use something frequently, move it elsewhere. But be sure to label it so you can relocate it easily.
<h3><span>Need to Move Laundry Out of the Basement</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Move laundry to where it is produced near the bedrooms.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Convert a linen closet with a stackable unit or take over part of a bathroom. Disguise it behind closed doors.
<h3><span>Convert Powder Room Into Family Bath</span></h3>

Typical Rightsizing Options

  • Think about stealing some space to allow for a shower on the main floor.

Do It Right, Do It With Flair

  • Reduce the traffic to other bathrooms by expanding the powder room to include a shower.


Gale Steves is author of Rightsizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle (Northwest Arm Press). She writes about home design issues.

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