At the ripe old age of 44 I am, for the first time in my life, living alone. (No the cat doesn’t count). First it was 17 years of family homes, then a shared college dorm, a string of shared houses on campus, then immediately into a house with my future husband, then 20 years later just me and the kids. And now? It’s just me and the cat and about 60 houseplants. Hold the crazy cat lady jokes please.
When you start a family at a young age – I was 23 – a tidy, quiet house and any amount of headspace is something you rarely experience and therefore something you often crave. With both children no longer living permanently at home, overnight I have the tidy, quiet house and all the headspace I could want. I relished it for about 2.5 days. I rearranged cupboards, installed my home office in my son’s room and my prop cupboard in my daughter’s. I de-cluttered, deep cleaned, and reorganized.
And then it hit me. THIS IS IT. That period in my life that had always existed only in the distant future? Well it had arrived. I was in the nest and it was empty. OK, the house has never been more clean and tidy. And the coffee table is no longer strewn with half empty water glasses, nail files, and empty crisp packets. But there’s a reason people say you’ll miss those things when they’re gone. Because you bloody well will!
When your entire adult life has been built around your children, whose needs always come first, it’s easy to fantasize that an empty nest is going to be a dream. No-one else to think about! No-one else to shop for! No-one else’s mess to moan about! But when it finally happens it’s just weird and sad and lonely and you have to work insanely hard to adapt before you get swept up in a sea of emotions that threaten to pull you under. The only friends who’ve commented that it must be great to have the place to myself are the ones with no children. Once your children lodge themselves in your heart, their absence is felt in a way that is difficult to describe.
I’m not here to offer advice on how to handle being an empty nester. I have none. Talk to me in a year. But I will say that creating a home that calms and comforts you and one that serves your new needs, should be your priority. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself making minor tweaks to my surroundings, in part to keep busy, but also to adapt to life alone. (Don’t feel sorry for me, my boyfriend lives round the corner and I do have friends!) The hallway no longer has three people’s shoes and coats and bags, so the coat rack that took up space and always got knocked over has now been put away. The spot on the kitchen counter where my son’s cereal boxes used to live (I’m not a cereal fan) is now a tidy coffee and tea making station (I am a big coffee fan). You find ways to look on the bright side, even seemingly small things like this.
I’ve also found myself once again gravitating towards a calmer, more muted palette and – shock horror – a more minimalist approach at home. Note I said more minimalist, not actually minimalist. This is still me we’re talking about! I no longer want to have quite as many cushions on the sofa or knick-knacks on the shelves. The same thing happened when I separated from my husband, so it must be my instinctive way of dealing with loss. It’s impossible to say if this would’ve happened anyway – maybe it’s a middle-age thing, maybe it’s a Covid thing, maybe it’s an empty nest thing – honestly who knows? More likely it’s a perfect storm of all these factors.
Anyway, the homes I’m currently loving still have the essential elements to which I’m always drawn – texture, rough & imperfect finishes, and a sense of authenticity in the styling – but they are softer, quieter, more gentle than my usual bold style. In my own home I imagine I’ll continue to strip things back, inspired by homes like these, and then ever so slowly the colour and pattern will creep back in. After all, our homes are often a reflection of our emotions and the inner workings of our minds. Both my mind and my home are currently getting a reboot, stripped back to what’s essential in preparation for the next chapter. Who knows what’s next, but I’m doing my best to ease myself into it gently.