These Delawareans Make a Strong Case for Downsizing

These Delawareans downsized their home—and gained a richer lifestyle.

Joanna Arat grew up in a four-bedroom home in North Wilmington before moving to an even larger house in Hockessin, where her parents still live.

She followed suit, with a big house and an expansive yard in Pike Creek, where she; her husband, Uygar; and their twin boys, Noah and Alex, devoted almost every weekend to maintaining the property.

But after summer visits to Uygar’s family in Turkey, she yearned for a different lifestyle. She grew intent on downsizing her footprint and ramping up family time.

- Advertisement -

“I love how small and humbly they live. Everything is cozy and multifunctional,” Arat says. “I thought, we have two kids—why do we need four bedrooms?”

The Arats sold their large house and bought a two-bedroom townhouse nearby. At 1,400 square feet, it’s roughly half the size of their previous home, yet it ticks every box on Joanna’s brief wish list: a deck and a walk-in closet. And if the family finds space getting too tight in the future, an unfinished basement offers an escape valve.

There is growing enthusiasm for living large with fewer possessions, says interior designer Rita Wilkins, who moved from a 5,000-square-foot house in Chester County to a 687-square-foot apartment in Philadelphia. She was inspired by a visit to Senegal, where her son lived in a hut while doing volunteer work.

“There is a movement between people of all ages who are choosing to live with less,” she says. “You discover a whole new life, because you have more time, more money, more energy.”

Known as the Downsizing Designer, Wilkins writes blogs and records podcasts and videos from the petite sunroom of her cozy townhome in Wilmington’s Wawaset Park neighborhood, where she “right-sized” after discovering the apartment was a wee bit too small.

- Partner Content -

“I love hosting small dinner parties, which wasn’t the same with TV trays on our laps,” she recalls. “The guest room was the couch.”

These days, the sunroom does double duty as a dining room and home office. There’s a second bedroom for guests. There’s also a jot of a garden with a cobblestone patio that’s her “own little Longwood.”

When she committed to living with less, Wilkins found joy in passing along belongings she no longer needed to people who would put them to productive use. She gave a dining table that seats 16 to her longtime housekeeper.

“I think of her sitting around that big table with her family, and I feel happy,” she says.

Without the weight of acquiring and maintaining layers of possessions, Wilkins gained the freedom to focus on relationships.

- Advertisement -

“You have to be vulnerable enough to say, ‘I don’t need all this stuff,’” she says. “Every time I carried a bag out of my house, I felt lighter.”

Before their move, the Arat family planned a yard sale, thinning out closets and emptying a two-car garage “filled with worthless junk,” Arat says. They wound up setting rarely used exercise equipment, seldom-worn clothes and other little-used possessions in the driveway, inviting friends, relatives, neighbors and passersby to help themselves.

A built-in or freestanding cabinet with open shelving, cubbies and drawers conceals an array of household items. Interior designer Josephine Kurtz of Kurtz Collection in Wilmington employs vibrant color and whimsy to infuse style into a utilitarian mudroom piece.
A built-in or freestanding cabinet with open shelving, cubbies and drawers conceals an array of household items. Interior designer Josephine Kurtz of Kurtz Collection in Wilmington employs vibrant color and whimsy to infuse style into a utilitarian mudroom piece. Photo by Genevieve Garruppo.

“We said, ‘Please, take it. None of this stuff is going with us,’” Arat recalls.

Five years later, the family is living happily with less. Instead of devoting weekends to yardwork, the Arats take walks with their boys on the hiking trail that adjoins their community. With a small space to keep clean, they spend much less time on chores.

“I can plug the vacuum cleaner into one outlet and vacuum the whole first floor without ever moving the plug,” she says.

They picked up a few things to suit their new lifestyle, such as a coffee table outfitted with storage drawers. Mostly, they pared back. Instead of buying in bulk, they shop for only the groceries they need that week. Out went the food processor. “All I need is a blender,” she says.

When the boys, now 12, have friends over, they frequently hang out in their room, the townhome’s second primary suite, with a walk-in closet, an en suite bath and a mini fridge. Most of the time, the family sticks together. A smaller space and a simpler lifestyle have brought them closer, physically and emotionally.

“All four of us were home during COVID, and I never once felt the walls closing in,” Arat says. “Our boys actually like hanging out with their parents.”

An important part of the downsizing equation for the Arats was a fearless evaluation of their values and priorities. They were excited by the notion of traveling to Turkey for three weeks without having to hire someone to mow their lawn.

“If you are always on the go, go, go, this will work for you. If you are always entertaining, it might not,” Arat says.

Wilkins says decluttering helps people to whisk away their emotional cobwebs as well as free up space. Pragmatically, smart storage and thoughtful design make a small home work for her.

“The palette is neutral, so it makes the rooms feel larger,” she says. “And, for me, natural light is essential.”

Continuous editing is a vital part of her process. She periodically reevaluates possessions and donates or tosses anything that no longer meets her needs.

“Clothes have always been my nemesis. If something new comes in, something old goes out,” she says.

Making small spaces pleasant and purposeful is picking up speed in the interior design community. To coax more function out of a vintage home in Wilmington’s Highlands neighborhood, designer Josephine Kurtz of Kurtz Collection created a mudroom by enclosing a small, underutilized breezeway between the garage and kitchen. The jewel box of a room serves as a hub for the home, with built-in storage and bench seating.

“The geometric tile draws your eye to the floor, and the small-scale tile helps create the illusion of a larger space,” Kurtz says.

Uygar Arat’s relatives in Turkey make the most of their small space with multiuse pieces. That might translate to an ottoman that lifts open to store a blanket and a cozy pair of slippers. A sleeper sofa in a home office or den can accommodate overnight guests.

“Think of pieces that can serve a dual purpose in your home,” says Katie Winnington, principal designer at C&E Furniture + Design in Fenwick Island. “I love the idea of a console sofa table with benches underneath that can double as a decorative surface and also act as a small serving [area] or workspace. These are great places to sit kids for a quick snack with a coloring book.”

At Timeless Design in Landenberg, designer Kate FitzGerald-Wilks often specifies bespoke built-ins for home offices, family rooms and other areas that require clever storage. Because it’s made to measure, custom cabinetry eliminates wasted space and utilizes every square inch. Her goal is a room that functions as beautifully as it looks.

While smaller homes provide benefits like family closeness and a minimalist approach, less square footage also requires creative storage solutions. Interior design by C&E Furniture + Design saves space by tucking extra seating beneath a console table.
While smaller homes provide benefits like family closeness and a minimalist approach, less square footage also requires creative storage solutions. Interior design by C&E Furniture + Design saves space by tucking extra seating beneath a console table. Photo by Brian Wetze.

“When designing a small space, organization is everything. Customizing zones for different tasks will keep your small space streamlined and efficient,” she says.

As for the Arats, living with less now feels natural. When the extended family gathers, they get together at the big house in Hockessin that still suits Joanna’s parents. They haven’t felt the need to expand into the townhouse basement.

“There is not one thing I have regretted getting rid of,” she says. “We love our lifestyle.”

Related: This Delaware Designer’s Cape Cod Home Delights From All Angles

Our Best of Delaware Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.