You’ve just dropped your youngest off at college. You pull into your driveway; a place that once housed many cars, now has just two. You walk through the front door and in the entryway there is no hockey equipment to trip over. There’s no homework scattered across the coffee table. There’s no rustling teenagers upstairs. The house suddenly feels really big… and really empty.
This new season of empty-nester life might start with a good old-fashioned wallowing cry on the couch with a pint (gallon?) of ice cream while you look through baby albums. It’s different now — but it’s still home.
It will still be where those kids come for vacations and holidays, or if you’re lucky, every time they need to do laundry. Here are a few downsizing tips to adapt to being empty-nesters and begin the emotional and physical process of downsizing.
1. Declutter Your Home
You can finally tackle some major organizing projects. If you’re looking at the possibility of moving to a smaller home, your first step is to pare down your belongings. According to CityStash, 75 percent of those surveyed said the amount of things they own makes them reluctant to move. Don’t let that scare you off. Take one room, one closet, one square foot at a time.
Clear out your closet that hasn’t been purged since 1995. Are bell bottoms back in? Host a fashion show for your significant other or invite some friends over and pop open a bottle of wine. You’ll laugh your way through your 1980s blazers with shoulder pads and 1990s GUESS denim.
Anything you haven’t worn in a year (including shoes) must go. Sell name-brand pieces on Poshmark or to your local consignment store. Start a box of items your daughter might enjoy. Anything else, donate to the thrift shop.
Your pantry has accumulated several boxes of mac & cheese, at least 17 cans of various bean varieties and a fair number of Taco Bell hot sauce packets. Two thirds of this food is expired or stale.
If it’s still good but you won’t eat it, take it over to the food bank. If it’s expired, toss or compost.
Kitchens tend to acquire endless (sometimes useless) gadgets and appliances over the years. Start a Goodwill box for anything you don’t need — the blender you never use, that weird banana hanger you received as a gift (you don’t eat bananas), the avocado slicer (even though a knife works just fine).
If you have multiple sets of kitchen items, build a “starter kit” for your kids. Include dishes, silverware, small appliances and pots and pans. Though they may be living in the dorm now, they may need a first apartment setup soon.
When the kids were around, you needed the utility of the chests of drawers and desk space but now that they’re gone, you have a lot of extra furniture. Host a garage sale one weekend, or put a few pieces up for sale on OfferUp or Craigslist. Keep anchors, like beds and nightstands, but get rid of pieces that were more about function than form. You no longer need three desks for homework anymore.
Files & Paperwork
You’ve kept everything from birth certificates to gas station receipts. With some stuff (like birth certificates) you have to save the originals. With other stuff (like gas station receipts) you can probably just record and toss. For all the stuff in the middle — bills you receive in the mail, checks and tax returns, medical records — you can scan and shred. Pick up a portable scanner and upload your important files onto an external hard drive. Eliminate boxes of files and free up office and garage space.
If you have boxes of printed pictures, now’s the time to create albums. Scan photos into the computer and use Shutterfly or Blurb to create books. If you have physical 4x6s, organize and place them into sleeved albums. When your son brings home his college girlfriend, you’ll be ready to whip it out to show her all the embarrassing talent show moments.
2. Give the Place a Facelift
Your couch is a little worse for wear after having teenagers fall asleep on it, spill coffee on it, get ballpoint ink on it. Also, you weren’t about to paint the walls until your kids were no longer touching them every day. But now’s the time.
Visit your favorite paint supply store and pick up some paint chips and samples. Go bold (a deep blue or green) or neutral (off-white, beige or light gray). Pantone’s Color of the Year is Greenery. No matter what you do, you’ll appreciate the new hue sans grimy fingerprints.
Pick out a new sofa, snag an armchair at the Sunday flea market, buy a new piece of art for the dining room wall. Enjoy your new grown-up house without the worry clumsy and careless teenagers will be barreling through.
The family room that was always full of wrestling matches and card games is suddenly really clean and quiet. Cozy up the space with a large area rug; it will close in the conversation space, dampen the echo and warm the room. NW Rugs offers valuable tips for colors and sizing.
Plants cozy up a space while bring the outside in. Bring a fiddle fig into the corner of your living room. Place a collection of herbs on your dining room table, an air plant on your bathroom counter or a ZZ Plant (great in darker rooms) to your laundry area.
Go from Bedroom to Hobby Room
Many empty nesters are hesitant to change out kids’ bedrooms, keeping the rooms the same as the day they moved out. But why waste the space? You want your college-goer to return home sometimes, but consider they can still come home and stay in the guest bedroom. Home is where family is, and when the kids visit, they’ll be delightfully distracted by old friends, family activities and all the coursework their professors have assigned over break.
If you have multiple extra bedrooms, convert one or two into hobby rooms. If you’ve dreamed of having a craft room since you were 16, you can finally leave that glue gun out 24/7. If you own a collection of model trains that has been sequestered to the closet for the last 18 years, you have the room to set it up!
3. Keep Yourself Busy!
Plan a Party
You don’t have to be quiet by 9 p.m. You don’t need to worry about your teenage boys smuggling beer upstairs in their hoodie pockets. You don’t have to run the kids off to school the next day. You can have real, live adults over for games and conversation without any concern for bedtimes, homework or curious teens. Enjoy getting to know your neighbors, if you don’t know them already. Invite other recent empty-nesters over for a dinner party.
Shed a Few Responsibilities
One of the bonuses of not having kids around is you’re not dependent on their schedules for vacations. Create a pre-vacation plan for when you do want to jetset. Who will deal with lawn care? The pool? Your pets? Ask neighbors, friends, arrange with a go-to dogsitter. Once you have a system established, you can easily execute it at a moment’s notice for a weekend getaway or a month-long European vacation!
Curate Your Library
You finally (!) have time to read. You’ve been curating a book list for years and you’re ready to hit them hard. Unfortunately, your home library has accumulated every textbook, every “free with cereal” picture book, and every magazine for the last decade. It’s in need of some pruning.
Take inventory. Consolidate your list of what you want to read. Determine what you’ll buy and what your library has available for check out. Then get rid of every book taking up shelf space of which you’ll never crack the spine. Sell on Ebay.com, take them to a local used bookstore or box them up for Goodwill.
Sometimes a big house is too much. You’ve got too many bedrooms, the hallways echo when you talk to each other and you hear noises at night that you once blamed on kids, but now can’t.
If it’s time to start looking for new (smaller) digs, use HomeLight to find a top-selling real estate agent in your area. They’ll help you identify something with 2 bedrooms/1 bath instead of 4 bedrooms/3 baths… and a little less echo space.