How do you fit 45 years' worth of accumulations from a 2,507-square-foot family home into a 1,231-square-foot cottage?
You don't — at least not comfortably, and certainly not stylishly.
So when it came time for Jill Eischeid to leave her sprawling, five-bedroom, four-bathroom, two-story home in Chattanooga's Spring Valley neighborhood for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-story bungalow in North Chattanooga, momentous decisions had to be made.
The upside of downsizing
Benefits to consider when downsizing to a smaller home:
› Reduced mortgage
› Lower utility costs
› Lower insurance costs
› Reduced property taxes
› Fewer maintenance costs
› Less housekeeping
Source: U.S. News & World Report
"It was awful, just dreadful," Eischeid, 85, says with a bit of a chuckle as she remembers the purge that accompanied the move.
"She chose a few favorite pieces," offers daughter Fiona Eischeid.
"And then there was an estate sale and things I took to auction and a truckload of donations," her mother continues. "The worst part was not knowing where anything was."
A look around the space shows the attention to detail and nod to finery the British-born octogenarian has honed over a lifetime of collecting.
She had filled the Spring Valley home with antiques and artwork, souvenirs from her travels, and photos and mementos of family from both sides of the Atlantic. Not to mention the furniture and trappings that filled the home's spacious footprint. Plenty of wall and floor space had afforded her the freedom to continually add to her finds.
A pared-down version of the eclectic array has now followed her to the cottage, a property the elder Eischeid has owned since 1997. She had bought the house for Fiona to live in. Then a few years ago, Fiona bought the property next door and built her dream home. Twice, the family had rented out the cottage before Fiona and her brother, Graham Eischeid, decided that maybe it was the perfect place for their mother.
"We'd had two tenants come and go, and we were going to rent it again," says Graham. "Then we thought, 'Wait a minute.'"
"Mom doesn't need that big house," Fiona finishes.
The single-story structure is better for their mother's age and health, the siblings say. So along with paring down her belongings, they wanted to simplify her surroundings.
"Getting my mom in a one-level house was important, so she didn't have to go upstairs to her bedroom," says Graham. "Hopefully, it won't become a wheelchair situation, but it's all handicap-accessible if it does."
Age-in-place considerations led to a remodel of the cottage before the elder Eischeid moved in. Rather than leaving the smallish rooms and narrow hallways, they've opened up the floor plan. Two front rooms became one, with the unexpected bonus of a double-sided fireplace discovered when the dividing wall was removed. Eischeid can run the gas logs by remote control.
The kitchen was adapted into a galley design. A master suite was added for Eischeid, complete with a barrier-free, walk-in shower in the newly built third bathroom.
The home expanded to about 1,800 square feet with the additions, but it hasn't lost its cottage feel. The house looks open, light and airy. Credit much of that to Eischeid's choice of paint: a serene light pink that takes on a radiant glow when the setting sun streams through the west-facing windows. The exterior paint is a bit darker, but still pink.
"It's super-cute," says Graham. "She wouldn't tell us the color she picked out until [workers] were outside spray-painting. It felt like a gender-reveal party — it's pink!"
Clearly, Eischeid hasn't given up her fondness for quirky touches and color, though she didn't try to replicate the kitchen's metallic wallpaper from the former house.
"It was mirrored, with a bamboo design," says Fiona, with a prediction that its removal was one of the first upgrades on the new owners' to-do list.
Eischeid still has projects on her own to-do list — not so much house-related as stuff-related. There are still boxes from the former home's attic to sort through.
"We're still going through them," says Graham, who is staying with his mother and helping with the sorting.
"She still had my baby clothes," Fiona laughs.
And 12 years' worth of the school pictures of Graham and Fiona, who are 51 and 46, respectively. Plus piles of paperwork and other ephemera from Eischeid's early days with the Royal Air Force and Royal Army. Eischeid had a government appointment to teach in Bermuda, a British territory, and also taught in England, Germany and Yemen.
"Mom had a life before she met my dad," Graham says. "We're going through photos from the '40s."
She arrived in Chattanooga in 1967 with her husband, Walter "Wally" Eischeid, a U.S. Navy veteran, just before Graham was born. The family lived on Forest Avenue in North Chattanooga before moving to the suburbs, Graham remembers.
Eischeid says she's nostalgic for the old house but is enjoying the reminiscing the move has stirred up.
"I still miss it; I still cry for it," she says of the Spring Valley home, but surrounding herself with her favorite pieces has helped with the transition. Even the looming stack of boxes is comforting, she says. Partly because they hold so many memories and partly because they may help her maintain a decades-old tradition she began at the other house.
"When we get tired of looking through them," she laughs, "we'll throw them in the attic."
Tips for downsizing
The crux of downsizing is ridding yourself of things you don’t need and keeping the things you do need. It’s a simple concept that’s not always easy to execute.
“Downsizing effectively comes down to time and thoughtful consideration,” says contributor Laura Williams at moneycrashers.com. “If you’re short on time, or if you’re not thinking about the end result, you’ll end up making mistakes.”
› Downsize the big stuff if you’re moving. “Look carefully at the floor plan of your new space, or do a walk-through with a tape measure to really get a feel for where you can place your tables, chairs and sofas,” she says.
› Take the small stuff with you. “If you’re moving, or if you’re just fed up with the clutter in your home, you may be tempted to give away or sell a lot of small items, such as clothing, knickknacks, dishes and decor. However, you may want to take this step slowly. It’s a good idea to go through your stuff to get rid of the general junk that tends to accumulate in a home, but don’t start getting rid of items you regularly use or enjoy just yet.” Keep any item you currently use or use seasonally, she advises, along with items with sentimental value or a practical purpose, even if you don’t use them regularly.
› Go through every box. “When space is at a premium, every box matters,” she says. “So take some time to go through each area in your home, from your attic to your closets to your garage to your cabinets. … If you haven’t used [an item] in over a year, or if you see no immediate use for it in the coming six months, purge it from your life and give it away, sell it or toss it in the trash. You may even want to have a garage sale, or sell items to a thrift store,” she says.
› Plan your storage before downsizing further. Williams suggests implementing more effective storage solutions. “For instance, you can hang additional shelves and hooks, and you can seek out organization tools that expand your storage in closets and cabinets, such as wire racks, behind-door shoe storage, vertical clothing hangers or under-bed storage boxes.”
› ›Follow the one-year rule. “I know how tempting it is to hang onto items you once loved but no longer use or items you think you might use someday. But the truth is, if you haven’t used a particular item in the last year, you’re unlikely to use it in the next year. And if you’re unlikely to use something in the next year, then you’re unlikely to use it at all.”
› Remember it’s all just “stuff” … except when it’s not. Williams advises approaching this step the way you’d think about what you’d want to save from a fire. “Maybe it’s photographs, a few of your favorite books or an item that reminds you of a special day in the past. Don’t let yourself start thinking of everything as ‘just stuff’ — not all items are expendable. When paring down your life, get rid of as much as you can, but don’t get rid of those things that are especially important — the things that you’d like to share with your children or grandchildren someday.”
› Rehome special items. “How you rehome your items is a personal decision, but if the item holds meaning to you, try to keep it in the family or with friends who understand the meaning behind the item,” she says.
› Digitize whatever you can. “CDs, DVDs, cassettes, videos, pictures and important documents can all be digitized and saved to the cloud or a computer hard drive to free up important space.” Williams advises keeping hard copies of important personal documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards. However, other records (financial and personal) can be scanned and saved.
› Set accumulation limits. “Once you’re settled into your smaller space, it’s important to keep your clutter under wraps,” she says. “It’s amazing how quickly things can accumulate, which can make a small home feel even smaller.”