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Dear Kristin,

As you know, I love order and routine, but lately I’ve felt a need to disrupt my life a little, and to that end I’ve just blown up half of my house.

Last week, I pulled everything out of what I often refer to as the Living Room/Dining Room L (from hereon referred to as the L). The L is where I write and sew, and it’s chock full of papers and fabric and files and furniture. I tuck things away in boxes and bags, and then hide the boxes and bags from view. But I know they’re there, and lately they’ve carried a kind of psychic weight.

The Sewing side of the L, currently a big mess!

Normally, I try to practice a certain amount of discipline in these big decluttering projects–once I pull everything out into the middle of the floor, I have to deal with it. I can’t just throw it in boxes and throw it into the attic. But I knew last week when I dragged everything out to the middle of the floor that I wouldn’t be able to get any work done with everything everywhere, so I’m using Jack’s room as a clearing house. I’m committed to bringing down one pile of stuff every night and going through it while we watch baseball. I know I have to do this work if I’m going to actually create new space in my house and in my head.

I’m also getting rid of some furniture (the drop leaf table and the treadmill desk are about to find new homes). Now the question is, what do I want the L to look like and to feel like? What kind of desk do I want to replace the walking desk with? How do I make the space feel open but not untethered? It’s a difficult space to work with because there’s nothing that indicates a boundary between the L’s short leg and long leg, no dividing partition or built-in bookcase.

The writing/ironing/dollhousing side of the L. I really want to get rid of that chandelier! And I picked up some sheers at Target to replace the heavier drapes.

I want the L to somehow reflect this new phase of life, this empty nester post-menopausal, third-third phase. This has always been my space (but for Thanksgiving and Christmas), so it’s not like changing a playroom into a study. It’s gone through several reiterations over the years, each one an attempt to create a place that feels like me, whatever version of “me” I am at the time.

The interesting things about this stage of life, for me anyway, is that I feel a bit like I’m losing my moorings–not necessarily in a bad way, though there are days I definitely feel a little lost. The activities and routines that shaped my life for over twenty years have mostly fallen by the wayside (although Will just got his wisdom teeth out on Wednesday, so I’m back into full “Mom Mode,” something I can tell he both appreciates and resents). It’s a bit daunting, but also exciting. What’s next? What’s possible?

I love the energy that I get from this sort of project–the trick is to keep going! Deconstructing is easy. Reassembling is a lot harder. One of my mottos (given to me by my friend Jaye) is “make visual decisions visually.” But making visually decisions visually is so much easier with quilt blocks on a design wall than it is with heavy furniture! I envy people who can rearrange furniture using their imaginations–or even computer programs.

(It just occurred to me that I’m not an empty nester from now until mid-August, but I am a woman with a strong husband and a strong son to push furniture around. Big plus!)

One of the things about this project is that I don’t want to bring a lot of new stuff into the house–I’m much more interested in sending stuff out. I have a lot of furniture and art that I love and don’t want to get rid of. At the same time, I want to the L to feel fresh and new. I want it to shimmer with possibility.

Here’s hoping I don’t lose my oomph mid-project and start hiding stuff in bags behind the couch again!


P.S. I’m curious if any of our readers have done major overhauls of their spaces after the kids left home? Not so much renovations as rearrangements and revisions that reflect this next phase of life.

Dear Frances,

I wonder if a lot of this early-phase empty nesting is deconstructing and reassembling. Of thoughts, expectations, and also living spaces. I love that you are making changes to “your” space to reflect your new season. You’re not the WFH mom of two young boys anymore. Your space should work for you and more importantly, inspire you. I know you have lots of good furniture and art in your home, and I’m looking forward to seeing it come together.

I am also deconstructing and reassembling, though I hadn’t thought of it that way. Over here, it’s the kids’ rooms. Specifically, the boys’ room. Gone are the bunk beds and the Beatles and Adventure Time posters. I FaceTimed every kid one Saturday afternoon as I sifted through closets and shelves–deciding what was important to save and what should go. These were not decisions I could make on my own. I kind of envy those people who can keep their kids’ rooms basically the same after they leave home. A little time capsule. That’s not an option here–no one wants to sleep on bunk beds anymore!

A very unhappy baby Chloe in the only picture I have of our first incarnation of what is now the boy’s room.

I’m relieved to get this project off the ground at last, but it was emotional! I’m deconstructing childhood bedrooms–so many memories! This room was the “baby’s room”. It has a pretty window and high ceilings, so it was the one I chose to paint yellow and hang the Winnie the Pooh border before Chloe was born. (Honestly, that yellow was never the right shade, and I may have shed some very pregnant tears over it.) Then it was the “little boys'” room with the stenciled cars and trucks winding their way across the space. And later the warm neutral that better reflected the middle school and teen years. I hadn’t realized how many times that room has been deconstructed and reassembled! Somehow, I’m finding that a little comforting.

But right now, the boys’ room is empty, save for a dresser Ben will most likely move to his new apartment. It’s time to reassemble. The painters will soon be booked, and we found a lovely bedroom set in downtown Ventura last week. It’s Amish-made, solid wood, and right in our price range. It was a welcome surprise after weeks of not finding what we were looking for. So many decisions to still be made: bedding, lamps, art for the walls. I know the reassembling will take time and that’s fine. I don’t mind the slow step into this new season. We have time. And this is just the first of what I assume will be many deconstructions and as many reassemblies.


  • Vicki Holloway

    Yes, I just took down the last of the video game posters in my youngest’s room. I am taking a bag of 10 year old clothes to the spring clean up. It has been very hard to let those items go. I see my kids going thru their changes as young adults to parents of tweens, how did that happen so fast? Overall, I did make the main spaces of the house more “me” I tried a boho/cottage core vibe. It needs to be updated and I have been slowly reassembling. I made a new sewing room. I am trying to make our home more functional and not a shrine to the past. Easy to say , hard to do. It’s a process and takes work but it’s getting there. I am a bag and box it up and shove it out of sight so I have things to go thru yet.

    I felt lost and unanchored for a time. It got better. I found projects, work and events to fill me with purpose. I am now on the next phase of empty nest …. finding what I want to do, what I want to invest my time and limited energy in and prepare for the next phase retirement. That sent a shudder down my spine because it is getting closer every year.

  • Robin Leftwich

    As soon as the last of the girls moved out, I found all my fabric and yarn from all around the house where it had been stashed and organized it into that rooms closet and dressers. We got rid of their twin beds and desks, and brought up the Ethan Allen Queen bed and dressers that had been “mine” before I got married, which made that room a guest room with organized sewing and knitting supplies and freed up the den, where my bedroom set had been, to be a den. Quite an exciting time!

  • Marilyn Brunner

    We moved twice during my daughter’s school years. Then when my youngest graduated from high school we sold our house and started renting in anticipation of moving from Wisconsin to Florida for retirement. We already had a house there. This process took three years. Fortunately the moving helped us downsize quite a bit. However, at our home if Florida, 55 plus community, we created a bedroom for each daughter with the closets stuffed with all the memories they couldn’t yet take with them.

    My youngest was married in 2021 and we have taken all her memories to her. That bedroom has become my sewing room and office. Next month I will have a Murphy bed installed which will turn into a design wall when not in use. I am hoping for a larger cutting table, ironing station, and more room to move around. I also built in one half of the closet for my fabric and quilting supplies a year or so ago keeping the other half for hanging clothes when the girls come or others visit. I will now build the other side into cubbies too because the truth is not many visitors are coming. It is truly becoming my room.

  • Tracie

    We raised our kids in a cozy Cape Cod that had only two bedrooms when we bought it. We remodeled the walkout basement and added two more bedrooms ASAP. Since both my husband and I also needed a home office, we seemed to be constantly shuffling furniture. That was the beauty of the house: everything seemed to fit anywhere we put it. But the basement rooms were cold, so once our kids were in college, my husband claimed our son’s bedroom for his office. Eventually we even moved into our daughter’s former bedroom. Shortly after all that moving of furniture, we sold our house and moved. That house turned out to be the launchpad where both kids lived off and on when roommates got married or Covid took over. And now we’re in our empty nest on a farm. This house has very little storage, so both our kids had to take ALL their things. Even so, we still seem to shuffle stuff around to accommodate lengthy visits from our daughter. But this house is totally our own. Raising kids, launching them, and welcoming the boomerang years keeps us flexible in many ways.

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