Book Review
Title: "Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle"
Author: Gale C. Steves
Publisher: Northwest Arm Press, 2010; 208 pages; $21.95

One trend that I have loved over the last few years is the increasing acceptability of making up your own words. If no word in the English language exists to quite capture your meaning, it gets more OK every year to coin one yourself! And so it is with the recent addition to the real estate lingo list: "right-sizing."

Moving into a larger home, or "moving up," seems generally to have a connotation of expansiveness, promotion or increased prosperity. On the flip side, though, the phrase "downsizing," when applied to moving into a smaller house, often carries with it an inaccurate connotation from the use of the term in the corporate world, meaning cutting the budget, packing it in and often even a fall in fortunes.

Over the past few years, there has been a trend in which a growing number of Americans actually prefer a smaller home. It’s sort of the anti-McMansion movement. And it’s not only about the recession or budget-cutting — many have realized that an oversized home out of proportion with your lifestyle or family’s needs is a liability in terms of maintenance, eco-efficiency and even family separation, not just cost (although it is also often more expensive to own a too-big home).

Accordingly, for the past few years, lifestyle, construction and design experts have increasingly referred to the trend of "right-sizing" your home, often using it to indicate moving downward in square footage but upward in lifestyle.

Designer Gale Steves, in her book "Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle," takes on all sorts of home size/lifestyle mismatches. Steves actually cites Americans’ cluelessness (my term, not hers) as to how to optimize their use of the space they have in their homes as a key driver of the McMansion trend, which often featured homes "with rooms that made no sense — either too big, too tall, or too small to be useful."

Then because we "never notice (or noticed) the root of the problem," even after so many of us expanded the square footage at our disposal, "parts of the house were ignored while others were overused," Steves explains.

At its essence, "Right-Sizing" is a book about rethinking the space you have, and putting it to better use to serve your life’s needs and priorities — a message with potential to soothe the pain point of many equity-strapped homeowners who think they need more space but can’t currently sell.

And Steves not only provides dozens of powerful color photos illustrating alternative uses of the same space, she also offers an orderly process and tools readers can use to systematically expand the usefulness and enjoyment they get out of whatever home they live in — now.

Starting with her first chapter, "What is Right-Sizing," Steves helps readers shift into the mindset of willingness to think flexibly and creatively about their living spaces, and briefs them on the basic tools they will need — half of which are mental! — to start their right-sizing adventure.

Next, in "How to Right-Size," Steves walks readers through the process of evaluating their space needs, determining and visualizing what they actually need, getting rid of things they don’t want, creating the "just right space," and maintaining the right-sizing they’ve done.

The next seven chapters offer a level of drilled-down detail about right-sizing solutions that Steves suggests readers consider in various particular spaces, based on the activities readers want to conduct in those rooms, rather than the traditional way we name them.

Steves offers tools for right-sizing the spaces where readers cook, eat, relax, bathe, sleep, work, clean and store. For each space, she offers inspirational photos of right-sized spaces, a redesign plan, dimension guides and some space trade-offs readers should consider before making their design decisions.

Steves concludes "Right-Sizing" with a simple, smart action plan for taking on the right-sizing project without alienating any family members (pets included!), and a very unique guide to "universal" design, making your home’s spaces accessible to family members based on their heights and ages.

This book is not about attractive design, though that element is certainly there. It is about living a better, fuller life in the home and space you have. That is the ultimate aim of owning a home, of which we so often lose sight in our concerns about mortgages and resale values.

Gale Steves’ "Right-Sizing Your Home" is worth many times its cover price to homeowners; I strongly recommend it to anyone looking to enhance their current life in their current home.

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