Empty nest? Reimagine, rightsize and simplify your life

Retirement often comes with two of the most liberating words some people ever experience: “empty nest.”

Those same two words turn other people’s formerly busy, fulfilling life into a personal dungeon of loneliness.

Let’s look at both sides of the coin. While everyone loves their kids, it is a serious full-time job taking care of family. And that’s on top of the jobs that most couples are already working before they retire.

The day the kids are out of the house, the “job” of raising the family slows. Now that they’re on their own you can:

  • Clean up the house and kitchen (and they’ll stay clean).
  • Own nice things again (and they stay nice.)
  • Buy the food you want (and it won’t get gobbled up).
  • Turn the lights off (and they’ll stay off).
  • Fill up the car (and it will have gas every time you get in it).
  • Put the dishes away (and not find cups everywhere).
  • Lock the doors (and they’ll stay locked).
  • Have razor, hair product, make up, shoes, clothes, jewelry, cologne, and tools that won’t get permanently “borrowed.”

That’s the plus side and I think most couples experience and enjoy these benefits to some degree when they become empty nesters.

But on the other side, some of my clients have no idea what to do with themselves as soon as their children leave the house.

These couples have given so much to their kids they have little left for themselves. Their relationships have revolved around their kids for so long that an empty nest just leaves them feeling, well, empty!

Maybe they find ways to volunteer or get involved.

Or maybe they get really good at watching TV. And drinking beer by the pool.

That’s definitely the easier route and one too many empty nesters take.

Reimagining your empty nest experience

It can be scary and seem like a foreign experience to do this, but it can also be exciting if you do it well.

For many, it will involve “right-sizing” your life. For instance, when our kids moved out of the house, we sold or gave away bags full of clothes, bikes, skateboards, gaming consoles, furniture and even a pool table. I can tell you, it felt awesome to declutter the house. It brought a new sense of order to my life.

It also helped me reinvent how I use the space I have in my home. The game room was once littered with Xbox games and echoed with the sounds of artificial gunfire.

Now it’s my quiet podcast studio.

While reimagining our house has worked well for us, others find that the house they raised their family in is pointlessly huge for a couple. They start to feel the drain of time and resources from owning the large home.

Simplifying your empty nest experience

One couple I know sold their 3,000 square foot suburban home and virtually everything in it. With what they earned, they bought a condo in downtown Austin and furnished it from the ground up for a fresh start.

Their new place is about a third the size of what they lived in before, and much closer to the things they care about now that their kids are out of the house. They’re steps away from work, trails, coffee shops, restaurants and shopping.

Instead of focusing on upkeep and commuting, they can focus on friends and experiences.

Another couple I know wants to move into one of those “tiny houses” that are under 500 square feet. Sounds crazy to me, but it’s your life to simplify or reinvent!

The power of rightsizing your retirement

Now, a tiny house may seem extreme to you, but just imagine what it could change for your retirement. If you’re moving from a multimillion-dollar home to a tiny house, you’ve probably eliminated your mortgage with equity.

Utilities and maintenance will be much less expensive. Your property taxes will be much more palatable.

One retirement planning company hypothesized that a couple moving from a 5,000 square-foot home to a 2,000 square-foot home could have an extra $50,000 per year to invest. With a return of 6 percent, that small home makes way for a $660,000 retirement account in only 10 years.

Everyone’s numbers will vary, but this illustration may help you see that the house itself may not be your best investment. Mortgage, property tax and utilities can add up in a big way that’s almost invisible since you’ve become accustomed to it through the years.

Experience the right kind of empty nest

Remember, there are two kinds of empty nesters. The free and the lonely.

You can decide which kind you want to be. My wife and I currently dream of keeping our home but living extended periods in different areas. We’d like to immerse ourselves in communities, but still have a home base. Six months in Franklin, Tennessee, then home, then three months in northern Michigan.

“Rightsizing” your home, possessions, spending and finances allows you to focus on what you want. Hobbies you’ve put aside to attend kid sporting events and recitals catch life again.

You start to think about working on your own terms. You begin to value freedom over the next promotion.

During this phase you can also consider what work you have enjoyed and would like to continue. You can find a purpose in the second half of life.

This phase generally lasts one to five years.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Question of the week:

What do you plan to do with your empty nest? Hold the course, reimagine, rightsize or simplify? Answer in the comments below.

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