Family Cents – Preparing to be an Empty Nester 

Eighteen years of raising a child can seem like a lifetime, and it can also seem like it has raced by in a snap of the fingers. 

Whatever the perspective, sooner or later parents become empty nesters as their children leave home for the first time to go to college or live on their own. Preparing for an empty house again can require dealing with more than grief or loneliness. 

For some people, having a big, empty home can be overwhelming, and they may want to downsize to a smaller house or condo. 

For my own empty nest, which will happen in four years when my daughter graduates from high school, I doubt if my wife and I will be moving. Our home is already pretty small, so I don’t expect to be overwhelmed by a large, empty house to take care of. 

Even so, there are some things I expect we’ll be doing then if we don’t move. Here are some ways to prepare for being an empty nester, though they can wait until after your child has moved out if you don’t want to seem too eager about the change:

Downsize your stuff

Are your closets full of stuff you rarely use? Do children’s games collect dust in bins scattered around the house or fill up the garage? Now is the time to downsize.

Even if you aren’t moving to a smaller home, getting rid of stuff you no longer need or use can be a way of decluttering your life and focusing on what you want to do. Maybe you want to turn an extra bedroom from what’s basically a storage unit into an area to do a hobby. Or you’d like for the family heirlooms that your children want to be used by them now instead of waiting until you die.

Some things your children may never want, and are better off being sold or given away now. The china set from your wedding, for example, or the crystal sets that are never used. All of your child’s artwork you’ve saved since kindergarten? Keep a few items and give the rest to your child.

We added a large dining room to our kitchen this summer, and one thing it got us doing was going through the kitchen items we have and getting rid of the stuff we don’t use. We added plenty of storage, but putting everything in boxes during the construction project got us to rethink how much stuff we have and what’s worth keeping.

If you’re moving, you may no longer need the many things necessary for home ownership: lawnmower, rake, trimmer, snow shovel, etc. Your furniture may be too big for your new home or you may have too much of it.

Don’t get a storage unit

Whatever you do during downsizing, don’t rent a storage unit to hold some of the things you’re unsure about keeping. If you have so many Christmas decorations that you don’t have room in your new home to store them, then it’s time to get rid of some of them.

A storage unit can easily become a holding place for junk you never use. It’s also an extra monthly expense that is lost money for things you probably don’t use much.

Keep a guest room

For return visits during college breaks or if you expect other visitors, set up your child’s former room as a guest room.

Your child can have it for summer and holidays while they’re in college, but otherwise it’s your room in your house and you’re entitled to remodel or decorate it in any way you want. Pull down the posters, redo the carpet and make it presentable for other guests to use and as a way to entice family and friends to visit.

An extra bedroom can also be used for a hobby or office. But don’t feel as if you have to convert it to some other use. It can remain a guest room, where hopefully your grandchildren will stay someday and can be used during holidays or long weekends.

Rent it

If you’re worried about adjusting to being empty nesters and are unsure about moving to a smaller home, a small step to that decision is renting out a room in your current home.

If you don’t want your big house to remain empty, renting a room through Airbnb, for example, can allow you to try being a landlord for anywhere from a few days at a time to a monthly rental. It can help make your home more affordable or can give you extra cash for other endeavors such as travel.

It doesn’t have to be something you’re locked into for a long time, such as 18 years.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in writing about personal finance. He writes for a number of websites, including his own at