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Home & Design | Sizing Up the Downsize

Home & Design | Sizing Up the Downsize

A firelit snowy-evening conversation in February 2021 led to a major lifestyle change for my husband, David, and me. Looking out at our steep, unplowed driveway, David uttered, “So, when are we going to get out of this big house and downsize?”

Over the years, one of us always seemed to be ready to make the jump, but this time, we were both on board. Our family home of 27 years had seen many renovations and hosted scores of dinner parties, showers, and extended family holidays. Thanks to two large dining areas and a service kitchen, entertaining was a breeze.

Two days after the conversation, we toured condos in St. Paul, where I had grown up. One thing I knew for certain was that I wanted it to be a lifestyle change, not just a downsize. We wanted just enough space to host our immediate—and growing—family  and to be in walkable distance of our favorite local restaurants and shops. We landed on a condo in Crocus Hill.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t mention I sometimes store my 1-year-old grandson’s gear in the guest bathtub.”

It didn’t take long for the panic to kick in: What to do with all the serving pieces, holiday décor, furniture, and art we’d collected for nearly three decades—the multiple sets of new and vintage dishware, 36 place settings of china and crystal, and various holiday pieces I looked forward to taking out at the turn of every season?

When it came to deciding what to keep, I considered the things I knew I couldn’t live without—pieces that spark meaningful memories of travels, like a Buddha carving from Cambodia, a painting from Montmartre, and my shell mirror from a gallery in Naples. Other items went to our lake home, and some were set aside for our three children to choose what they wanted.

After countless trips to various donation sites, downsizing seemed like a never-ending job. On the recommendation of my sister, who was also moving from her family home, we called Kindred Estate Sales, an online estate sale business that arranged and tagged pieces and then hosted an online sale that allowed purchasers to pick up their items directly from our driveway. It was so easy, and after it was said and done, we only had one load of leftover items to haul away.

At this point we were hoping to start living that “lock-and-leave” lifestyle we were aiming for, but the stacks of art and boxes of clothing, accessories, china, and crystal had other plans. We needed to make our new (just-under-1,800-square-foot) space work. It was time to figure out some smart storage solutions and get creative.

The art we collected during our married travels that once hung in our formal living room is collected in our guest room as a gallery wall. Two sets of crystal and my inherited cut glass collection reside in our bath built-ins, toilet tissue sits in a giant urn in the lav area, and I’d be lying if I didn’t mention I sometimes store my 1-year-old grandson’s gear in the guest bathtub, curtain drawn discreetly.

While I have always been a devotee of “fewer, better things,” the lifestyle downsize has taught me the importance of even more thoughtful buying. Do I miss the almost 6,000 square feet of entertaining space? Sure. Do we regret the downsize and lifestyle change? Not one bit. We walk to Kowalski’s and to our neighborhood watering hole (The Lexington), and we frequent GoodThings, Grand Hand Gallery, and Red Balloon.

Best of all, letting go of all those layers has somehow freed up our mindset to take off on a new far-flung adventure or for a quick escape just down the block. All we have to do is pull the door shut tight.

Mary Herriges Johnson is a retired interior designer, a forever home-interiors devotee, and mother to three, including Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Trend & Style editor Madeline Nachbar.

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