Cut your square footage in half (© Sarma Ozols/Getty Images)

Scaling back is the new black.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, houses started in the third quarter of 2008 averaged 2,438 square feet, down from 2,629 feet in the previous quarter. That's a whole extra room — poof!

Could you slice 200 square feet out of your living space without too much pain? Probably. But what about downsizing more,  perhaps cutting your square feet in half,  by moving from a 3,000-square-foot home to one with  1,500 square feet? What would you keep and what would you toss? Where would you even begin?

Slide show:  Cool stuff for small-space living

Maybe the sour economy is pushing you into much smaller digs. Or maybe it's just personal choice. Regardless of the reason, the move can seem daunting. So here are tips from experts — as well as the advice of people who've already downsized — to guide you.

Prepare for your move

  • Get on board. First and foremost, make sure this is something you and your family are prepared to do, says Matt Niemi, senior writer with Unclutterer, a Web site about living more simply. Niemi and his wife recently downscaled from a 3,000-square-foot Victorian to a 1,900-square-foot home. "You don't want to move into a smaller space and find two months later that you're regretting it," Niemi says. "Maybe you have three kids and two of them have to share a room, and soon it's a disaster." In short: This has to be something everyone's mentally prepared to do.
  • Give yourself time. After Brian and Colleen Ducey's last child left for college, the Seattle couple made a more dramatic downsize than most: They sold their 2,500-square-foot house in favor of a new, 986-square-foot cottage in architect Ross Chapin's new Greenwood Avenue Cottages development just north of the city line.
What's your home worth?

Though they had talked about moving for years, the actual purchase was an impulse —and the Duceys say they wished they'd given themselves more time to move. "When you first start thinking about the process of downsizing, that's when you need to start going through your things. We had to go through (belongings) so fast," Colleen Ducey says. "It really was stressful."

How much time should you allow? "Usually plan at least six months ahead," suggests Michael Ivankovich, author of “Home Downsizing in Four Easy Steps.”

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  • Know your new home's measurements. One of the most common mistakes when downscaling is that "people don't think about measuring properly" before they move, says Lauri Ward, owner of the New York- and Florida-based decorating and interior design firm Use What You Have, and author of “Downsizing Your Home with Style: Living Well In a Smaller Space.” "Don't just take the floor plan of the new house," Ward says; also get exact measurements of walls, doorways, spaces between windows, "because that's where the furniture goes." Write all these numbers down, she insists, because you won't remember them.
  • Photograph your furniture.Any furniture that ends up being put in storage should be photographed, with its exact dimensions recorded and then all the pictures placed in a binder or in a computer file. Why? So you know what you have, at your fingertips, says Ward Often, furniture doesn't go straight from one house to another, and it's easy to forget exactly how big things are.

Winnow down your belongings

  • What to take — and what to leave: Need some not-so-gentle advice about whether to take that La-Z-Boy to the new house? Author Ward has broken down furniture and furnishings into three categories: Always take it, sometimes take it, never take it:

Always take it with you:

  • Anything that has storage in it.
  • Pairs of lamps; they add balance.
  • Ottomans; create cozy spaces.
  • Armless sofas, or ones with lower arms, to make the room feel more spacious. ("Here's a handy rhyme to help you remember: 'Keep a sofa with chairs, or love seats in pairs,' " says Ward.)  
  • Bookcases; they're visually interesting; they hold lots of stuff, and they can make great room dividers.
  • Mirrors; they make a places appear brighter and bigger; lean it on a wall opposite good light and a view, and a mirror will reflect both and make a place feel larger.
  • Furniture on wheels or casters; it adds flexibility.
  • Nesting tables or furniture that stacks.

Sometimes take it with you:

  • Love seats.
  • Small desks or writing tables; they can often be used in a kitchen or a guest room.
  • Modular seating; it can be reconfigured, or even broken up and used in different rooms.
  • Throw pillows; if they're in good condition and work well with the color scheme, they can add comfort and a visual interest.
  • Ceiling fans, so long as they hug the ceiling close.

Never take these with you:

  • Unloved books.
  • Extraneous bric-a-brac.
  • Artwork that's not beloved.
  • Small, never-used appliances.
  • Doubles of anything.
  • Square or rectangular glass coffee tables; they're too bulky, says Ward.
  • Sofas more than 96 inches in length.
  • Big plants and potted trees.
  • Unused pianos or other instruments.
  • Worn rugs, except expensive Orientals.
  • Tired stuff: old audio gear, incomplete dishes, old magazines, worn-out bedding, tax records and receipts more than seven years old.