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LifeBalance Blog

As an empty nester, I break my own clutter clearing “rules”...

In the 18 years I have written about simple living and clutter clearing, my two children have grown up. Ready or not, empty nesting is here, and this month’s column explores how we are dealing with it. This past month I flagrantly broke my own rules.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, many people have cabins “up north” that they head to on weekends to “get away,” often with their family and friends, but not always. My husband and I have been fortunate to be invited for weekends at the cabins of our friends, yet we always vowed we wouldn’t complicate our own lives by owning and maintaining an additional residence ourselves. You guessed it. We broke our own rules and purchased a “lake place.” The cabin has some great maintenance-free features, offers a fresh perspective from the daily grind, and most importantly, it is close to people that we care about.

IF you were to consider trading your current home for one or two (as in our case) smaller residences, it is helpful to try to reduce maintenance concerns at one or both places. The yard of the cabin is mostly sand and we plan to leave it that way. There is maintenance-free decking and siding and the windows are newer and in good shape. When we move to a smaller place at home, we will be considering townhomes and condos to simplify yard work and have less square footage to maintain and pay for there too.

As for the fresh perspective, I am looking forward to the quiet, the wildlife, and the new views. At the same time, I recognize that life is always changing and we are trying on this cabin hat or weekend lifestyle to see how we like it and to see if it is a fit for us. When I make life changes, I try to consider the worse case scenario. The worst-case scenario, if we don’t like the cabin, we sell the cabin. We decided that we can live with that worst case thought and we are moving ourselves forward to some new adventures!

Finally, the cabin is important because it helps to keep us in the lives of two of our very good friends—friends we have known for a decade, who we have vacationed with many times, and who will be selling their current home near us in town. In addition, frankly, it has given my husband and I a shared project to work on together, and our grown children are excited too. Finally, we will have the opportunity to make new friends. People first. Always, people come first before stuff and new experiences.

I can’t pretend that owning a second residence isn’t an expense and a life complication. Now when I sort stuff to downsize my house, I have three categories—keep, donate, or take to the cabin. I also find myself a little shamefaced as I am out shopping for home staples like coffee pot, toaster, towels, and silverware. Oh well. I know how to be frugal about those purchases. We have also jokingly called our cabin our “Craig’s List Cabin” because that is where all the major furniture has been found (If you decide to use Craig’s List to buy or to sell, do it safely with a spouse/partner/friend and in public places where possible. Safety first.)

Making changes, even positive ones, creates stress. I won’t pretend that all of this is easy for me. It isn’t. I like my current home, and there are great memories here. Somehow, though, in my gut, this feels like the right thing to try right now, despite all of the head-related and cost-related arguments I could raise against this new decision. Maybe especially as a two-time cancer survivor, I want to live today and to move forward. I don’t want to merely cower and wait.

Truly, we didn’t simplify our lives by purchasing a lake place, but hopefully, we are taking advantage of an opportunity to move forward with our lives and to face our emptying nest honestly and hopefully. I don’t want to stay in a big empty box, clean it, maintain it, and wait for the other shoe to drop. I don’t want to try to hang onto the past. I want to try to move forward, even if it means breaking a few “rules.” How about you?


Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips readers may pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. She is also a breast cancer and melanoma survivor who wrote Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We’ll get you through this. Free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at

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