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Emptying the Empty Nest

Elizabeth Kellner Suneby

“This is the day you’ve been dreading since I met you thirteen years ago when our girls were in Kindergarten.” That’s how my dear friend Jennifer greeted me after my husband and I dropped our youngest child at college.

Jennifer was absolutely right. I was the mother who never wanted her nest to be empty. How can you blame me, or anyone else for that matter, for fearing a stage in life labeled a “syndrome” that starts with the word “empty?” According to Psychology Today, “Empty Nest Syndrome is a feeling of loneliness or depression that occurs among parents after children grow up and leave the home.”

READ MORE: Downsizing Your House Without Downsizing Your Life

It’s not that my life wasn’t full or interesting. In fact, in anticipation of my kids leaving the nest, I had geared up my consulting business and added a new dimension to my mid-life career: writing books and articles in addition to marketing content. I loved my work: helping companies develop their brands, creating websites and social media posts, interviewing interesting people, writing books and leading workshops with kids around the country. I loved my non-work activities just as much: volunteering at my temple, serving on the Parent Committee of my kids’ college and on the advisory board of a non-profit, doing yoga, taking my dog on walks, spending more time with my husband and friends, eating out…


Rather than try to refill the void, I wanted to purge, to get rid of stuff, pare down and clean out.


My empty nest wasn’t lonely at all, as I had feared and anticipated. But, here’s what I hadn’t anticipated—I instantly got an urge to empty my empty nest. Rather than try to refill the void, I wanted to purge, to get rid of stuff, pare down and clean out.


I wasn’t unique. Many of my empty-nester friends were also compelled to empty their nests of physical stuff. Most of us hadn’t even read the New York Times best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of De-Cluttering and Organizing. Nonetheless, if something didn’t “bring us joy,” we were disposing, consigning, donating or selling it. Think clothing that no longer fit and we didn’t feel good in, already read books that we knew we’d never re-read, wedding gifts that we had never opened, ten-year-old bottles of dried spices at the back of the rack, our children’s outgrown clothing, old skates, bicycles, sports equipment and toys…

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Most of us empty nesters happily refilled our empty nests, but not with more stuff. Instead, we feathered our nest with cultural, intellectual and creative pursuits; exercise; leisurely meals; books from the library; poetry; and conversations with friends and neighbors. Possessions no longer held the revered status they once had. We were accumulating experiences, not tchotchkes.


Some of my empty nester friends left their abodes during the school year, rather than during school vacations, since flights and hotels were less expensive and tourist destinations less crowded—from missions to Israel, to weekends in Brooklyn, even volunteer vacations. Many found nonprofits closer to home to volunteer for, enjoying creating bonds with a new group of like-minded people.


Most of us empty nesters happily refilled our empty nests, but not with more stuff.


A few of my friends reduced their square footage, moving from homes in the suburbs to condos in the city.


A handful divorced. One not only pared down a husband, but also sold her engagement ring and used the money for a yoga retreat. Many decided to relaunch their careers. Several dusted off the piano or guitar or flute they hadn’t played for years. Others signed up for adult education classes to learn a new hobby—photography, Asian cooking, tennis or bridge. Many started meditating, gardening or practicing tai chi.


While our children were off at college and beyond accumulating new experiences, so were we.


And perhaps, without realizing it, we emptied our empty nests of physical stuff so when our kids returned, there would be even more room for them in our homes and in our hearts.

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About the author:

Elizabeth Kellner Suneby is an award-winning writer who writes articles for magazines & blogs, books for teens & children and content for companies big & small. Several of her books are Jewish-themed: including That’s a Mitzvah, It’s a… It’s a … It’s a Mitzvah, The Mitzvah Project Book: Making Mitzvah Part of Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Your Life, and The JGuy’s Guide: The GPS for Jewish Teen Guys – the first two are also PJ Library selections.


For years, Elizabeth had been dreading the day she'd become an empty nester. But she hadn't anticipated that she'd want her nest to stay like that: empty.
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