Battling Over Space: 6 Ways to Help Your Downsizing Clients Negotiate a Win-Win

Battling Over Space

Many people know that one of the biggest challenges to downsizing is prioritizing what you need, then finding the space to accommodate those items in your new home.

But, have you ever had to negotiate with your spouse, or significant other, who is battling over how space in your home will be used? It’s a common sticking point for those who are moving to a smaller home.

Sometimes items that one spouse insists on keeping are an automatic add to the disposal list of their partner.

I’ve seen couples who have been happily married for decades that almost come to blows when they find their partner suddenly laying claim to an area in their new home like a world explorer staking their flag on the shores of a new continent.  

They naturally “assume” that their hobby, set of collectibles, or workspace is going to take precedence over their spouse’s preference.

Negotiating over space can put stress on any marriage

What’s Our Role?

If you’re a Downsizing Specialist, or a family member trying to support a parent during a move, this can get awkward quickly. After all, you’re there to serve both clients (or parents). But, we aren’t trained in marriage counseling and we certainly don’t want to take sides or appear to be unsympathetic.

So, what’s the answer? Do you try to step in and mediate?  Or do you just let them duke it out and hope you packed enough bandages and salve in your emergency first aid kit to render aid when the dust settles?

As Downsizing Specialists, two of our top “Super Powers” are our abilities to solve problems and prioritize. We also bring a boatload of compassion and patience to our profession. But is that enough to calm the waters?

It’s a start. But, there are some additional things you can offer to help guide your clients through these choppy waters.

Downsizing Specialists can take a leadership role and help guide their clients

6 Steps to Collaborative Negotiation

It can help to diffuse the tension by taking a leadership role and suggesting that there are ways to find an acceptable solution. In most circumstances, the effort is gratefully welcomed, especially when they know you have both of their best interests at heart.

1. Start with a collaborative perspective.

A great opener is to let them know you’re committed to helping them find a better way to incorporate both their needs and wants. But to find a solution, they need to work collaboratively. Be assumptive and suggest they’ve probably resolved similar past issues by working together to support one another. You’d be surprised how many people need to hear this. It helps to shift their “me” frame of mind to an “us” perspective.

2. Open the lines of communication.

Once you have buy-in from both partners to find a solution, give each person an opportunity to talk about what they need that space for and more importantly, why. Why is their preference important to their well-being? It gives the other partner a window into the emotions and thoughts that drive the process.

4. Remind them of the end goal.

At some point in the conversation, remind your clients of the end goal they are working so hard to create by making this move. Does the need to use the space in a certain way support those goals? Will it make them happy to “win” at their partner’s expense? What’s most important to them in enjoying their new home?

Work towards a win-win resolution

5. Work towards a win-win resolution.

Once each person has had their opportunity to state their case, it’s time for you as a Downsizing Specialist to create some alternative options that will create a “win-win” for both partners. Is there a way to use the space collaboratively to accommodate both interests and priorities? As experts in space planning and organization, we can give them solutions that they may never have considered.

6.  Negotiate a compromise.

You’ve opened the door to possibilities. Now, it’s time to negotiate a final solution. Encourage both of your clients to find the middle ground. Having each give a little for the betterment of the other puts skin in the game. It says “your needs matter to me”. Maybe neither party gets all of what they want. What’s important is that the quality and experience of living in their new home are healthy, comforting, and enjoyable.

Resistance is a natural reaction to change. Help your client find the middle ground.

How We Experience Change

It’s a classic psychological reaction when we’re experiencing change, to want to hold on tightly to what’s “ours”. Emotional resistance kicks in when we feel something we value is being threatened.

By helping our clients (or parents) find a healthier, collaborative solution, we’re supporting their long-term happiness while reducing their stress during a transition. What can be better than that?

So, until next time, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!


P.S. Would you love to learn more about the psychology behind downsizing and ways to support your client or a family member? Check out my Psychology Behind Downsizing: Helping Your Parent Move From Resistance to Relief course by clicking here. More helpful course guides on downsizing topics are also available here.