Empty-Nesting and the Holidays: Confessions and tips from an OCD designer

photo: getty images

photo: getty images

So, I'm normally pretty laid back, but I’ll admit, when it comes to cleaning I can be a little neurotic. The girls at the office jokingly describe my behavior as ‘OCD’. I suppose my desire for tidiness could be described that way. But as I approach life as an empty-nester, I think I am officially cured.  

Do people really love to cook?

Feeling settled in my environment has always been important to me (as a child I re-arranged my room constantly attempting to achieve the perfect “zen”), and for years I worked full time and came home to clean up after three kids and a very hairy dog (okay yes, I do have a helpful husband – I’m throwing that in because it’s true and he will probably read this). I'm a horrible cook, but I guess I had to do some of that too so that my family could eat. We have stories about how my obsessive desire for a clean house has made me not so fun to be around before hosting events, and I've had many conversations with friends trying to understand if they truly like to cook and entertain? Or is this just something we're all supposed to pretend? I don’t get it... 

A preview of Empty-Nesting

In the meantime, my oldest son graduated from Stanford and started a career in North Carolina. My middle son is currently at Baylor, and my daughter got her driver’s license last month. Typically in our family when they are able to drive they’re gone a lot (mostly in search of food, because, did I mention I don’t like to cook?). My husband is a builder and we share an office, so lately we work late, because there's not as much reason to come home. The last few months have been different at our house. I'm getting a taste of what empty nesting is about, and after years of being surrounded by chaos and activity, it's quiet. And clean. And I'm not liking it as much as I thought I would.

Home for the Holidays

Then everyone came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Jordan, my oldest, made his typical pile on the dining table, which he likes to use as a closet when he's home. Josh took his shoes off and left them in every corner of the house (and why are there 4 pairs of shoes when he’s only been home for 2 days?). My daughter Claire, who typically helps clean because she doesn't like to see me stressed, drove around with her brothers and just enjoyed having them home. I think I get it now. It’s what this family time is supposed to be about. Did I have a few pangs of 'argh' when I walked in and saw the piles? Yes. Did I hang up all the coats in the closet and sweep up dog hair each morning when I woke before everyone? Of course. But somehow, after months of a quiet house, I did it with a little more joy in my heart and less frustration. 

BUT – along the way I did think of a few tricks to keep it manageable. These are strategies that I discuss with my clients while planning a remodel, because it starts with identifying your home’s traffic patterns, which can provide clues for better organization.

A place for everything and everything in it’s place.

This phrase is powerful, and it can apply to so many areas of your home. A “place” can literally be anything from a tray to a cabinet or piece of furniture. Here are a few ideas for “places” you can add when you have visitors or kids home for the holidays: 

TRAYS - I have found with adult kids that if you give them each a designated tray or bowl on the counter for keys, watches, receipts, etc., you will find fewer trinkets floating around randomly. Look for spots where the piles accumulate and give them something in that location.

BASKETS – you can provide a small one in their room for toiletries (maybe to cart to and from a shared bathroom?), or a large one for each child in the community area as a place where they can put their personal items such gifts, shoes, hats, etc.

BENCH AND HOOK – older kids have often been displaced from their room and are now in the guest room or even on the sofa. Make sure to provide a bench or surface for their bag and some room in a closet (or even just a hook) for hanging items. If there is a place to hang things they are less likely to end up on the floor.

These strategies might sound basic, but I’ve found them to work. And in the meantime, if you’re at all like me, you might still have a few moments of feeling overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, and remember how truly happy you are to have family around. Turns out the time flies by as fast as they say it does!