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Empty Nesters Checklist: Here’s What to Do When the Kids Leave

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Be Friends
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Well-Earned Freedom

So, the kids are gone. Finally! Once your last child heads off on his or her own, the house is yours — and yours alone. Join us as we take a look at what empty nesters can (and should) do once the children finally move out. 


Related: 25 Mistakes Empty Nesters Should Avoid

Senior Couple Enjoying A Glass At Home
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Face the Facts

Having an empty nest might be something you looked forward to for years, but the reality may be very jarring, if only at first. Suddenly your role has changed, as have your day-to-day responsibilities. It’s not unusual to find yourself out of sorts in the early days of your new situation. In a blog devoted to the “Empty Nest Syndrome,” the Bergen County Grief Counseling in Hillsdale, New Jersey, notes that it may be a time of rejoicing for some parents and a scary time for others, “Of course with time, the strong, overwhelming emotional feelings many are experiencing now during this new season of life will eventually fade as the parent grows accustomed to a quieter house and a life more focused on their own desires.” The Mayo Clinic echoes the thought, noting it’s indeed a time of “mixed emotions.”   


Related: Coping Strategies for Overcoming Life's Challenges 

Cutting down on expenses helps a lot in the future
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Revise the Budget

“Without kids in the house, you’ll likely be spending less on food, transportation, entertainment and even energy bills,” Lauren Silbert, vice president of the personal finance site The Balance, tells Cheapism. She notes that makes it the ideal time to review and adjust your budget and plan for any “new discretionary income.” As she tells us, “You can use this freed-up cash to fund dining and leisure, travel, or even home renovations now that you’ve got some extra room. It’s also a great time to bump up your savings and investments. Even small increases to your retirement savings can make a noticeable difference if left to compound.”


Related: 24 Passive Income Ideas to Increase Your Retirement Savings

Standard Deduction
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Remember Uncle Sam

Silbert also urges empty nesters to prepare for tax changes. “If your kids can now financially support themselves — congratulations! But you can no longer claim them as dependents on your tax return. Remember you’ll likely owe slightly more at tax time, so set aside some extra cash, and consider contributing to a tax-advantaged retirement plan to help offset the increase.”        


Related: 10 Types of Retirement Accounts to Help Build Your Nest Egg

There's always something to look forward to
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​​Avoid Rash Decisions (and Comparisons)

You wave goodbye to your youngest, and speed dial the real estate agent. Sure, there’s a new sense of freedom in being an empty nester, but make sure you give major life decisions ample thought. And avoid the temptation to compare yourself, your plans, your financial situation — and your pace of adjustment — to others experiencing the same situation. 


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Playful senior couple having fun in the park.
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Focus on Each Other

For those in a relationship, an empty nest suddenly puts the spotlight back on that relationship, for better or for worse. Use this time to reconnect, have fun — and yes, work on any issues that have been simmering for years. One way to reconnect? “You may find that you need to not only remind yourselves why you fell in love in the first place but also to reconnect with the people you have become,” writes Suzy Mighell of the blog Empty Nest Blessed. For single parents, this can be an ideal time to start dating again.

 

Related: 15 Affordable Fall Getaways for Empty Nesters 

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Identify Your Passion

Have you always wanted to paint, knit, do woodworking or learn to play an instrument but were busy taking the kids to their lessons for those very same things? Well, now is your time. Savor the opportunity to consider what you’ve always wanted to do.


Related: 21 Reasons to Look Forward to an Empty Nest​​

Senior Man and Adult Woman Acting on Stage
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Make Plans for That Passion

Don’t just daydream about participating in the community theater troupe, sign up for an audition. Clear away a space so you can set up a craft table. Carve a corner to set up a woodworking bench in the basement or garage. It’s time to make your dreams come to life.     

Senior woman moving into a new apartment
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Refresh Your Surroundings

Sure, you might not want to dismantle your daughter’s bedroom the moment she pulls away from the curb, but do consider your home and how it will now be used by you. If you’ve never liked the way the family room was dominated by bean bags, go ahead and buy a nice couch. Your home now can reflect your tastes, and, more importantly, the way you will use it moving forward.


Related: Home Improvement and Decor Trends for 2021

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Back to School

If that back-to-school urge hits, don’t fight it. Make the time to take formal classes, virtually or in person. You can earn that elusive degree, specialize in something new — or simply learn for the sake of learning. Learn a new language, study art history or fashion illustration, or even finally tackle — and understand — mathematics.  


Related: Best Colleges for Seniors in Every State

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Volunteer

You may finally have time to volunteer your efforts for a cause you truly support. Align your volunteer efforts with your interests. Among the endless options? Be a museum docent, help at an animal shelter, work in a hospital gift shop, gather signatures for an environmental cause or coach a youth softball team.


Related: 49 Fulfilling, Productive Things to Do in Retirement

Beautiful senior couple
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Cook More (or Less)

The kitchen can be a place you want to spend more time in — or less, depending on your outlook. As Taste of Home notes, in sharing recipes ideal for empty nesters, “There's a lot to get used to when your last child leaves home. For starters, you don’t need to make as much food anymore.” Decide if you want to expand your cooking skills, creating gourmet-style fare at home or if you prefer to eat out/order in on a more regular basis. After all, the bill for dinner for two is never going to match dinner for six.


Related: 40 Cheap and Easy One-Pot Meals

Woman hands neatly folding underwears and sorting in drawer organizers on white marble background
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Declutter and Organize

It can be bittersweet, never having to pick up piles of wet towels from your sons on the bathroom floor or pushing away 10 sweaters tossed to the floor before one was decided on. Wait ... that actually sounds good. Bottom line: Any mess or clutter is now on you. And you can make your home as minimal or kitsch-heavy as you like. No matter the choice, organization of everything is now possible. (Just be sure to check in with the kids before tossing their “left-behind” stuff to avoid a blow-up.)   


Related: Decluttering Projects You Can Easily Tackle in Less Than 30 Minutes

Downsizing Isn't Exhausting
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Consider Downsizing

Once you live awhile in your “new” surroundings, you may find that you really do have too much space. Do you want to spend time keeping your sprawling ranch house clean — or instead, be able to simply tidy up a townhouse? An HGTV blog notes that, “When children grow up and move out of the family home, for example, Mom and Dad are left with an empty nest that's too big for them. Or if adult children have moved out of the area, parents may want to live closer to them and the grandchildren.” Only you know what will work best for you.


Related: 17 Mistakes to Avoid When Downsizing Your Home

You're Retiring
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Savor the Slower Pace

Now is the time to … well, take time. As the blog Our Empty Nest notes, when you slow down, you really savor life. “You begin to notice things you took for granted before. You pay closer attention and have a heightened awareness. You better appreciate the outdoors, enjoy leisurely meals, and actually pay attention to what people are saying, connecting with them on more personal levels. It helps develop the sense of gratitude within us that makes each day and everything we do more meaningful and satisfying.”  

Two senior men discussing on park bench
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Reconnect With Old Friends

Make time for friendship. You may have never had time to meet up with “the girls” for a leisurely walk in the park — or catch a round of twilight golf with your buddies over the last few years. Now, you can reconnect. As the blog Jane at Home notes, “It’s so easy to neglect our friendships while we’re busy raising our kids. This is the perfect time to reconnect with friends, whether at a local coffee shop or via phone. As an empty nester, you can now enjoy long, uninterrupted conversations!”   

Senior people playing cards in nursing home
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Forge New Friendships

Making friends as an adult can be intimidating but ultimately, rewarding. This is a time to cultivate new interests, and in doing so, your social circle may very well expand. Don’t be intimidated, even though you might feel “rusty” at making conversation with new people in your life. As the creator of the blog Thoughts, Tips and Tales notes, “I swear, though, it makes me feel like a grade schooler again to approach potential friends for the first time about getting together. You can’t just smile hopefully and say, ‘Do you want to be my friend?’”  

Happy senior couple watching TV
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Binge!

What? You still haven’t seen “The Crown,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” or even “The Sopranos” in their entirety? Yes, car pools and helping with homework can get in the way of television viewing. Dedicate some time to binge-watching all you missed, at your own pace. And no, you do not have to share the popcorn with a whole brood.


Related: 20 Shows That Make It Worth Trying Out Another Streaming Service

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Make Travel Plans That Please You

Nancy and James O’Leary, the husband-and-wife travel advisers and bloggers behind Life of the Empty Nesters, say to expect a new kind of travel. As Nancy shares with Cheapism, “For us, traveling as empty nesters is very different. We look for different experiences now that are more adult-centered. When the children were younger we would visit amusement parks and children’s museums. Now we can focus on what things we want to see, do, explore and learn.”       


Related: 21 Adventures for Thrill-Seeking Senior Travelers

Group Of Senior Friends Posing For Selfie As They Hike Along Trail In Countryside Together
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Expect Different Things from Travel

Nancy O’Leary also tells Cheapism that the goals and rewards of travel also change for the empty nester: “There is a more relaxed pace to our experiences also. We have more time to meet new people, share experiences and form new friendships. Our trips always include wine tastings, whenever possible. I make wine as a hobby and this is so much fun. Our children were not beach lovers, amazing, I know. But we love the beach and the mountains so those are things that we like to include in our travels.”       

Parents Support Their Adult Children
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Embrace the New Dynamic

Suzy Mighell of Empty Nest Blessed has written about the changing relationship you’ll have with your children once they leave home. “As your kids grow, your relationship with them will evolve as well. Parenting adult children can be challenging! The hardest thing may be to learn to hold your tongue and retrain yourself to say things like, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting…’ and ‘Tell me more about that…’ when it’s not your default mode.” And, she adds, “Your kids may be extra sensitive as they begin to differentiate and figure out who they are apart from you.”    

Mexican Woman Jogging on a Trail
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Put Your Health in Focus

When the nest empties, it opens up time and space for a return to exercise, which for many was simply neglected due to time constraints. Go back to swimming laps, jogging or even weight training. An unused bedroom can become a workout room now.   


Related: Which At-Home Exercise System Burns Calories Fastest?

Nap
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Zzzzzz….

Harvard Health Publishing reminds us that a good night’s sleep is always important: “Sleep promotes the consolidation of experiences and ideas; it plays a pivotal role in memory, and has been shown to enhance attention, problem solving, and creativity.” Now, though, you can follow your body’s own rhythm. You don’t have to prepare breakfast for a full house, take your morning jog before the kids wake up — or keep the noise level down at night since the kids are in bed.     

A black senior woman takes an online yoga class
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Structure Your Days

In a piece devoted to avoiding Empty Nest Syndrome, Good Housekeeping notes that structuring your days can be a key way to avoid “feeling purposeless.” Try to have a bit of a to-do list with goals in mind, while always leaving the chance for a bit of serendipity. After all, now you can accept a last-minute invite for evening drinks, as you don’t have car-pool duty tonight.

Mature couple relax on mountain ledge, look out to view
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Relax

Reading the paper with a cappuccino at your side. Beginning each day with a meditation ritual. Opening a bottle of Champagne and sitting in front of the fireplace on a winter afternoon … you can do any of these things now, without having to answer, “What’s going on here?”    

African-American father helping daughter move
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Plan for a ‘Boomerang’

Just when you think you’re all set, we offer one little spoiler. As Lauren Silbert of The Balance reminds us, “Once an empty nester doesn’t mean always an empty nester.” The pandemic sent many young adults back home, once again living under mom and dad’s roof. It served, Silbert tells us, as “a good reminder that major life events can affect adult children’s ability to support themselves. Even after they’ve left your home, there’s still a chance they could come back. Factor this into your retirement plan and budget to find out how much support you could potentially provide, and for how long.”


Related: 20 Ways to Bond With Your Adult Children