By Sharon Naylor

April 1, 2011 5 min read

Downsizing isn't just for the jobs market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, demand grows for smaller homes when the economy is struggling. Nationwide, the average size of a new single-family home shrank 51 feet, to 2,422 square feet, and in the Northeast, home downsizing was far more significant; there was a 200-foot drop, to 2,529 square feet.

In more bountiful times, McMansions sprang up from coast to coast, with homebuyers showing off their status through their eye-popping home sizes, but the backlash against overconsumption and energy waste has inspired an evolution into demand for smaller, more efficient and easier-to-maintain homes.

Homebuyers think about each potential new property not with their eyes, but with thought about how the house itself would foster more comfortable living. Economist Kevin Gillen, vice president of Econsult Corp., says, "(Homebuyers) want homes that are more energy-efficient, with a more urban location and with fewer bedrooms, and that all naturally translates into a smaller home."

If the "fewer bedrooms" response surprises you, bear in mind that many buyers either are having fewer children or no longer feel the impulse to indulge each child with his or her own bedroom. Kids can share a space. Another demographic of homebuyers is the wave of empty nesters and retirees who would like to escape the expenses and burdens of maintaining their large family homes. So a couple in this group might downsize from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom home, and the equity in their older, larger home could net them a good deal in buying the smaller house.

Many first-time homebuyers are looking at new homes that are built to smaller dimensions, with forethought about the challenges of selling an older, larger home in the future, because no one knows how tough the market will be 10 years from now. Many rather would spend less on a smaller home that's priced realistically. A smaller home is a good "starter home."

In addition, a smaller home calls for less maintenance and upkeep, fewer chores to take up free time, less energy and water use and cost, and potentially lower insurance rates. Downsizing a home translates to impressive money savings on a monthly basis.

Part of downsizing, however, involves shedding a great deal of your accumulated "stuff," as well as creating a plan for more organized living. The process of eliminating possessions can be an emotionally wrenching one because you may have grown accustomed to the status and pride of having many possessions. "It was tough when we started giving away or selling extra furniture and going through boxes in the basement," says recent downsizer Betsy Curran. "But it actually turned out to be freeing to have so much less. It lightened our load, so to speak." Handing off possessions allows them to be used by those who can enjoy and showcase them, and when additional items are donated to charities, you may enjoy a tax credit.

One resource used by downsizing families is The Freecycle Network. At, you can list what you wish to give away, and other members claim your things. Your items don't wind up in landfills this way.

Others have garage sales to make the money needed to buy closet organizing systems, storage racks and storage bins that create comfortable living in their new, smaller homes. "We went to Home Depot to get the Martha Stewart closet organizing system, which has customizable shelving, drawers, shoe racks and clothing bars," Curran says. By installing such permanent organizing systems, you increase the value of your new home, as well.

A growing number of downsizing homeowners choose to hire professional organizers to help them through the transitional steps. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, "an organizer's services can range from designing an efficient closet to organizing a cross-country move. For homeowners, he or she might offer room-by-room space planning and reorganization, estate organization, improved management of paperwork and computer files, systems for managing personal finances and other records, and/or coaching" in time management and setting goals. Investing in an expert's help can remove the feeling of being overwhelmed that often surprises downsizers, breaking the process down into easy-to-tackle steps and providing assessments of each family member's particular needs and challenges. An expert can help you select organizing systems and serve as an objective third-party support system to calm your anxieties about the downsizing process.

Downsizing takes time, and it shouldn't be rushed. A move of any kind is a stressful situation. But once you're through the turbulence of downsizing, your new, streamlined lifestyle can enhance your quality of life.

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