life, edited

September 3rd 2015 Comments: 17 Topics:
Three definite signs that you’re getting old:

1. You can no longer wear any item of clothing from the GAP with any degree of dignity.
2. You notice old movies being remade and you remember seeing the originals in movie theaters when they first came out.
3. The word “downsize” crops into your conversations.

Downsizing – people my age (53 if you must know) talk about it but seldom actually do it. It only seems to really happen when the kids drag us kicking and screaming into the retirement home. I’ve just completed the final round of two episodes of downsizing so I feel I’m now a self-proclaimed expert in such matters. I’ve just moved to New York City to open a branch of our office. A few years ago, with this goal in mind, I began the process of shedding worldly ballast. First, my family and I moved from a 5,500 square foot house into a 1,500 square foot loft in Montgomery, Alabama. We just moved from that loft into our 1,051 square foot apartment in Manhattan. I’ve always heard that goldfish grow proportionately to the size of the bowl, and I can assure you, the larger the house you have, the more stuff you accumulate. Like dieting, editing one’s belongings is painful and difficult but so worth the effort. Now that I’m on the other side of weight loss, I can offer some pointers on how to pull it off gracefully:

1. Create a scaled furniture plan of your new place. I know that’s easy for me to say since that’s part of what I do for a living but this is a crucial step. By having said plan, you’ll know what to take and what not to take into your new digs. There’s no reason to haul a bunch of things into your new nest and just “see what fits.” If you can’t draw a plan, hire someone to help you. Poor planning will end up wasting time, effort and money.

2. After you’ve drawn a plan, identify your most treasured items. These are the if-the-house-was-on-fire-I’d-grab-this-first items. Work to fit those into your plan. If something just doesn’t work, let it go. No time to start banging square pegs into round holes here. If that lamp that belonged to Aunt Sadie cannot find a home in your new home, give it to a relative that will board it for you. After you’ve gone through your first-tier goods, move into the next.

3. Go through this process with everything – accessories, clothing, kitchen things, etc. If you have a Kitchenmaid mixer you only use once a blue moon, don’t take it. Anything that doesn’t have a distinct place in your plan should not follow you into your new home. Trust me, life will go on.

4. When it actually comes time to move, do another round of editing. I know you’ve done this already but the tendency is to be greedy and ambitious during the first attempt. Strip some more fat off. It gets easier the more you do it.

That’s it – an easy (well not really – there’s lots of mental distress found amidst all these steps) way to downsize your home life. Do try to step back and be logical in the process. After all, you don’t want to look like one of those emotional wrecks on “Hoarders” tearily digging through the dumpster. Nobody wants that scene.

The following are a few snapshots of our old big house, our loft and, finally, the plan of our new NYC apartment. I can’t wait to show the results of the Manhattan pad (which is all done), but that will have to wait…





Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. Greg, I made PRECISELY this speech just yesterday when I met with a couple (he 90, she 85) who are beginning to feel oppressed by their big home and many possessions. Your advice is timeless. And, for all of us, there is no place like the present to start!

  2. Tom Green says:

    Great article Greg, thanks for the great advice.

  3. Jennifer Smith says:

    Greg, if you are opening a new office for your company, then you are definitely not ready for the old folks home. Fifty three is young by today’s standards. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your talent.

  4. This was such a timely post. I am 60, we currently live in a 5,000sq ft + house that we have lived in for almost 30 years!! We too want to downsize. There are so many good pointers here. I can’t wait to see the marvelous loft.

  5. Rhonda Summerlin says:

    Well this is the second article I’ve read this wk regarding downsizing & I am seeing that I need to do just that but I am going to need to push my husband over the cliff as I don’t think he will ever come to see the need until it is too late. With 4 acres of yard & a 2 story house, I know that it is just a matter of time being that we are in our 70’s. I am not one to give up though & this is motivating me to stick with the idea. Life would be so simple if we were not having to keep up with all this & a lake house & a mt. house in Tn. We are just a glorified maintenance crew. I am for getting rid of all of it & finding something in town all on one level with a postage stamp yard that we could maintain with a pair of scissors! Thanks for the advise Greg. I am one step closer…..

  6. Derilyn Lavender Lee says:

    Excellent advice… to do it!!!!

  7. Peter Cranton says:

    Great advice and spot on!! But the new term is “Smart Sizing” “Downsizing” is too negative and sounds, well, like you’re going down hill. .. Also, the book on “what brings you joy” — looking at each piece of clothing, furniture and collectable is a great resource to help you de-clutter… Much success in NYC! And 53? You’re just getting started! Enjoy your new life!

  8. Linda says:

    I’ve been in this process for the last 3-4 years. Quite a journey. Interrupted by having to stop to get our house listed for sale, a year of showing it, a year in temporary lodgings while I tried to make a plan. During that time, the boxes just kept us company as we were sort of camping. We finally moved to a house in a lovely retirement community. I knew I would have a lot more to shed but hoped that once we got in the house, I could attack it without so many deadlines. Interrupted once again by my husband’s sudden illness and death two weeks later. No spirit for the job then. This summer I began again and plan to stay with it. I’m sure I’ll make several more tours to search for items that can go. Making my nest is very important to me and I don’t want it cluttered. Some days, it’s easy to make good decisions, and on others definitely not. For me, it’s a spiritual journey also. Some things have meaning but so many others bring regret for having collected them in the first place. I enjoyed your post and will reread it for inspiration.

  9. I was about to write this same post Greg. So glad you did it first. Now I will just send people here to read it! LOL We just did the exact same thing. Sold the house completely furnished (sort of a forced downsize) and have moved into the design studio. We actually have less space than you do since it is a true live work loft but we are loving the freedom that it affords. Amazing what you can live without when you are focused on truly living instead of just maintaining.

  10. Anne says:

    I blame basements. My sister is raising her family in a house without a basement, and while she sometimes laments the lack of storage, she’s had to make much better decisions about what “stuff” comes into her home. Me? I have a basement full of stuff I don’t need. I’ll be downsizing eventually, too.

  11. Peggy mussafer says:

    Wish u and MRj great happiness in your new digs. ………. Know what u selected to put into your plan for NY is the best of your collecting…………. Cannot wait for show and tell.

  12. Flo says:

    When you wish you could read blueprints; Or, how does one gain entry to the coat closet, manoman I sure wish a powder room could be squeezed in that coat closet somehow, but then I’m/we’re 15 years older than you, and my husband and I absolutely require 2 potties for gracious living in close quarters. Cheers to your youth; and here’s to your move, your new digs, your “wise sizing.” With gratitude to you for this wonderful journal you permit us to enjoy.

  13. Sometimes you have to prune to grow.

    Welcome to Manhattan!

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