Conquering the Space Debate: Downsizing Tips for Couples with Different Priorities

Conquering the Space Debate: Downsizing Tips for Couples Who Squabble Over Priorities

What do you do if you’re downsizing to a much smaller space and your partner has different priorities for that “extra room”? 

It’s a common challenge for couples who are used to having their own private space in a larger home for things like hobbies, an office, or other recreational pursuits.

It can be an especially difficult adjustment when both parties have completely different priorities for their new home’s use. Things can get uncomfortable quickly when each partner believes wholeheartedly that their interests take precedence.

It only gets more difficult because it comes at a time when a person is experiencing increased amounts of stress. Moving isn’t easy at any time in our lives, but moving can be especially difficult as we grow older.

A person may not be moving willingly, or even if they welcome the move, they are still grieving the loss of their beloved home, a treasured lifestyle, or the potential of having to move away from beloved friends and neighbors.

It’s only compounded when they then have to make those hard decisions on what they can keep or have to let go.

So, what can you do to avoid a potential marital or partnership crisis when you find yourself in the battle for space? Here are 7 downsizing tips and strategies to help you, or a loved one, find common ground and make that space a happy place you both can enjoy.

Open Communication is one of the best downsizing tips to lower stress

Open Communication is Key

You can’t start to find common ground until you agree to commit to open communication with your partner. As you start to plan your downsizing move, it’s important early on to sit down with each other and share your needs and priorities for your new home.

This is where you’ll get an idea if there’s a conflict in how your new space will be used and what each of you expects to bring.

Be Patient and Flexible

As in all things in today’s world, being patient with each other is important to keep that stress at bay. That means being flexible and open to compromise if there’s any disagreement.

Avoid Defaulting to Outdated Priorities Like a Guest Room If You Have Limited Space

Avoid Outdated Priorities

Often the space that creates the most angst is the “spare bedroom” in a new home or apartment. Many seniors downsize into two-bedroom apartments or condominiums in retirement communities. Such a severe reduction in space can be challenging to determine how to accommodate both partner’s interests.

So, the first question to ask is how often each spouse plans to use this space for their priorities. If it’s something that will only be used a few times a year, it should go to the bottom of the priority list.

One of the most common examples of this is using it as a guest bedroom. Many of my clients automatically assume they’ll need a full guest room for their family to stay in, as they’ve done for years.

But, when you’ve got limited space, it’s important to understand this type of move is a lifestyle change. It makes no sense to take up premium space for a use that only happens a few times a year.

Instead, I remind them that they have done their job in raising a wonderful family, but now this space should be used for their own enjoyment.  Trust me, their family will be happy to stay in an alternative location.

Craft-Related Hobbies Tend to Need a Lot of Space

Be Realistic About Storage Capacity

Some hobbies require more storage space than others. Many craft hobbies, for instance, have materials, accessories, tools, or machinery that you’ll need to plan to accommodate.

Is it reasonable to assume that your secondary bedroom can support storage for these supplies? Will it prevent use by your spouse to enjoy their interests in that space as well?  Find the middle ground where you both can share space and enjoy multiple interests or uses.

Time to Negotiate

Once you have whittled down your priorities to a final list that you both feel is realistic and fair, it’s time to negotiate. The focus should be on a win-win for both parties.

Maybe one spouse gets to bring their favorite recliner for the living room that their partner dislikes as a compromise for the other having primary use of the second bedroom for their favorite hobby.

The best compromise is to find a way to allow both partners use of the space or feel like they are getting something in the bargain. If you’re struggling with how to make it work, it may require hiring a professional to find the right creative solutions.

Hiring an organizing professional to create space solutions for your new home can make a huge difference

Hire a Professional

There have been times in my career as a Home Organizer and Downsizing Specialist that I felt more like a marriage counselor than focusing on my regular services. It’s the primary reason why I took the step years ago to earn my coaching degree in Life Transitions.

Hiring a professional who understands your needs, wants and priorities can make a huge difference because they know how to optimize space in ways most people couldn’t imagine. They can also help offer ideas for compromise if you’re feeling stuck negotiating with your spouse.

It’s worth the investment and you’ll save yourself time, avoid stress, and lost energy by getting the support you need.

If You Haven’t By Now, You Probably Never Will

One last note. If you’ve been holding on to a large collection of items for a craft or interest that you haven’t touched in years (but always told yourself you’d get around to but never did) now is the time to purge and move on.

As we get older, we tend to have less and less energy. The reality is, if you haven’t had the energy or time to do it up until now, odds are you won’t in the near future either.

Focus on only dedicating space in your new home toward things you need and enjoy in this season of life

One of the biggest downsizing tips is to focus on what makes both of you happy and optimize the space with that comfort and enjoyment in mind. You’ll be glad you took the time to work it out in a healthy, respectful, and mindful way.

If you’d like to learn more about tips and strategies on the purge and disposal process of a downsizing move, check out my Letting Go of Life’s Treasures: A Downsizing Guide for Purging and Disposal by clicking here.

To find a Professional Organizer in your area to help, go to and use their Find a Pro search feature by state and zip code.


Interested in learning more about other courses on downsizing? Click here!