Confessions of an Empty-Nester
“The House” (Photo courtesy Plantation Homes)
Once upon a time we lived in the woods -– and in anonymous suburbs. We lived in cold climates and hot, in major metropolises, and tiny places no one’s ever heard of. The one constant was The House. Wherever we found ourselves, we always started with the search for The House. It always had to have lots of bedrooms and bathrooms, a big kitchen and a yard to match. The House asked a lot of us by way of cleaning, maintenance, and dependence on cars, but we always thought our family needed it.
Now our family is grown, and my husband and I decided the next chapter in our lives would be more exciting and invigorating if we said goodbye to The House. And so we did.
We now live in the middle of downtown Seattle in a condo (photo below) that’s less than half the size of our last House. Our 3,200 square feet of Texas sprawl has been squeezed down to a cosmopolitan 1,200. We’ve gotten rid of most of our furniture, clothes, and surplus artwork, and all of our meaningless “stuff.” We’ve chucked the lawnmower and garden tools, and pared our dishes down to enough for only four. And best of all -– most gloriously of all -– we’ve sold our three cars!
Our everyday lives have changed in every way imaginable. We don’t own a car, so we walk everywhere, including to and from work. We use the bus or ferry if we want to go farther afield. This has had a profound effect on how we interact with people. We realize now that the cocoons of our cars kept us well insulated from the people around us. Our genuine interactions were with family and coworkers, the only people who saw us stripped of the metal that clothed and protected us. Our neighbors, we discovered, were virtually strangers.
Now, we stand face-to-face with people in our building’s elevators, at our corner hangouts, and on the sidewalks. We chitchat and pet our neighbors’ dogs. We exchange “good mornings” with the people we pass everyday on our way to work. We’ve developed friendships with several proprietors and servers at our favorite restaurants.
A restaurateur recently called out to us and said, “We’ve missed you.” Our neighborhood grocer loves to talk to us, because he finds our change in lifestyle quite intriguing. “What do you think? Are you still happy with your decision?” Our local video store proprietor has very decided ideas about what we should and shouldn’t rent -– he’ll actually pull DVD’s from under the counter and say, “Here -– I was saving these for you.” Instead of feeling anonymous in the big city, we’ve grown to feel welcomed and wanted, and we’ve become friendlier, too. We’ve discovered that most people, whatever their walk of life, are pretty darn nice.
We eat out about 85% of the time and basically keep only snacks at home. We have not missed the daily grind of cooking and cleaning up at all. People often ask us how we can afford to eat out so much, but after shifting our grocery and auto budgets over to the dining budget, we are still ahead financially. And what fun it has been to take in a football game and a great hamburger at this place, and enjoy a jazz trio and a fine wine at that place.
Spontaneity has become a big part of our lives now. We see movies, baseball games, and go to the theatre, concerts and museums without planning ahead since they are all within easy reach. We often stroll to our local park, where there’s almost always some sort of event or concert going on. An added bonus to all of this activity is that we are healthier and stronger than we’ve been in years.
We’ve definitely made adjustments. I carry a purse with me that I call my Mary Poppins bag because, like that resourceful nanny, I can pull just about anything out of it: an umbrella, gloves, a pair of dress shoes, sunglasses, stamps, and other unexpected items.
I never pay attention to the traffic reports, but I’m very interested in the weather reports, since I’m out in all kinds of it now. I’ve walked in everything from snow, drenching rain, and my personal favorite – wind. Despite the fact that my Mary Poppins bag contains a brush and hairspray, I have resigned myself to perpetually looking like an unmade bed.
What little grocery shopping we do is just that — little. We can only buy what we can carry, so our outings are short and frequent.
The lack of a car has not been a problem, and we sincerely hope we’ll never have to buy another one. We’ve only needed a car twice, and we simply rented one. And trips to the airport are far less stressful when all you have to do is hail a taxi.
One warm, sunny day last autumn, we wandered over to the park where a big band was playing great 40’s music. Several older couples were jitterbugging and waltzing, having the time of their lives. We grabbed some lemonade, sat in the shade, and watched and listened. As the lines of time on the dancers’ faces disappeared and their spines straightened just a little; as their eyes brightened and their laughter mingled with the birdsong above us, we looked at each other and smiled. We knew we were thinking the same thing. We might not have The House anymore, but we were most assuredly home.