Re-Feathering My Empty Nest

Re-Feathering My Empty Nest

What felt like a sudden void turned out to be an opportunity to take a fresh look at the way we live.


Our house was a cozy, two-story, three-bedroom Colonial. But when the kids graduated college and took jobs in another state, it felt as cavernous as the Grand Central Station.

At first, I kept their old bedrooms exactly as they had left them. A platoon of dolls continued to stand guard in my daughter Angie's bubble-gum pink bedroom. She often joked about how "valuable" they were, but I doubt they crossed her mind in her new position as assistant designer at a jewelry company in Atlanta. I didn't move a single geological specimen in my son's room, even though Conner was now an associate professor at a prestigious university.

To me, these were sacred spaces, shrines to the joys (and pains) of raising two bright, high-energy kids. I wouldn't dream of taking down their rock star posters and packing away their high school trophies anymore than I'd consider padlocking their bedroom doors. So you can imagine my surprise when my husband, Jim, suggested turning Conner's bedroom into an art studio.

"Why not?" Jim said. "The light is much better in there than where I've been painting on the porch."

"But suppose Conner comes home to visit?" I yelped.

"So we'll replace his bed with a fold-out sleep-sofa. It will take up less space."

"But what about all his things?" I said. My mind reeled. I had been fastidiously dusting Conner's rock collection as if they were on display in the Smithsonian.

"If there's anything Conner wants, we can send it to him. Everything else we can pack up and store in the attic," said Jim.

Jim had been taking watercolor painting classes at the local art center, and since he retired last year, it had become his passion. Every morning after breakfast, he went to his makeshift art studio on the porch as if reporting to work. With the radio tuned to the classical station, Jim happily painted until late afternoon, stopping only for a quick lunch. The porch was enclosed, but it was drafty and surrounded by tall trees that kept out light.

I knew that converting our son's room into Jim's art studio made sense, but as I wrapped each of Conner's beloved crystals and geodes in newspaper, my heart ached. It was as if I were packing away the best years of my life. Sensing my ambivalence, Jim came up with an idea.

"Claire, you've been doing your scrapbooking in the kitchen all these years, and you never have enough space for your supplies," he said. "How about I put some shelves up in Angie's room and you use it for scrapbooking and all your other projects?"

I was floored. Ever since we moved into the house and started the family, the kitchen had been my command post. It was where I kept my laptop and made the scrapbooks that celebrated every family event – from our children's first birthdays to their college graduations. My supplies now spilled out of the broom closet. If I had an entire room dedicated to my crafts, I could not only organize my scrapbook supplies, but I'd have more space for my newest project – turning flower pots into holders for cosmetics, utensils and you-name-it. I also use flower pots to make eye-catching house numbers to put the front door so visitors don't have to drive up and down the street, trying to find our address.

Conner had responded to the news with the team spirit that had won him all those wrestling trophies. "Go for it," he told us. Angie was a bit more cautious. She made me promise to save her dolls, diaries and high school yearbook. I tried not cry as I wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in empty shoe boxes destined for the attic. It took us a few weeks to clear out the rooms enough to consider a fresh coat of paint. Jim chose a pale green for his art studio. I selected a sunny yellow for my craft room.

Whatever trepidation I had quickly vanished as I wheeled a cart around the local arts and crafts shop and filled it to the top. Finally, I had space for large organizer bins, scrapbook supplies, flower pots, wicker baskets, feathers, decorative paper and all sorts of goodies.

"Oh my!" said the gal at the register as she rang up my purchases. "Whatever are you making?"

"A new life," I said and tossed a lavender plumed pen onto the counter.

If you are wondering how you will adjust to living without those hungry mouths to feed, non-stop laundry and 24/7 hair dryers, take heart. When the kids leave the nest, it's time to re-feather it with things that brings you joy. Take some time to explore the possibilities. Include your adult children in the process. And don't be afraid to open a window on your own potential for happiness.

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