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LIVING AT HOME: More Space Soothes Pain of Departure

I was stopped at a red light, trying to fight back tears in the wake of the youngest daughter's announcement that she was moving out.

While I knew it was time for the 25-year-old "baby" of the family to strike out on her own, I couldn't help but cry as I prepared for her departure, playing out in my mind how I would be calm and collected when it came time to help her empty her drawers and closet as ...

Wait a minute. Empty her drawers and closet? Take her stuff out of those bureaus, and that leaves me with 14 - count them, 14 - empty drawers.

And then there's the piece de resistance -- 168 cubic feet of prime closet real estate, a commodity that had been an elusive fantasy for the 35 years we lived with three children in our three-bedroom, 1920s-era home.

Suddenly, I didn't feel nearly as grief-stricken about her pending departure. I happily imagined what it would be like to have his and hers closets, with the bonus of a third smaller closet in our son's former bedroom.

I could not wait to get my hands on closet ads in the newspapers and decorating magazines and imagine my own stuff in compartmentalized cuboids that would magically change my life from "chaotic" to "creatively organized."

Closet Lady; Closets, Etc.; California Closet; Closet & Storage Concepts; Contemporary Closet ... I called them all to hear their pitches about turning my now vacant closets into storage space extraordinaire. I whiled away hours reviewing their graphs, sketches and simulated pictures of what my closets could look like.

With some closet remodeling estimates topping $3,000, reality finally set in. Dreams of "furniture-like finished carpentry" and even "melamine laminate construction" had to be abandoned to meet the budget.

A niece who recently built a house recommended her "wire system," a less expensive but still serviceable array of shelves, bins, drawers and caddies made of heavy duty vinyl-coated metal (which also takes up less space than furniture-style systems). When the representative showed me a plan that included a stack of shoe cubbies that would turn my mismatched mountain of leather into a sequenced stack of matched pairs, he had me and my business, for about $800.

I could not wait for the work to begin. But then my daughter's planned move was delayed a few days. I briefly panicked, worried that my closet dreams would never become reality. Sensing my anxiety, she finally left and the closet guy arrived. Within three hours, I was ecstatic.

The result: two empty-nesters and three perfectly appointed closets. The closet in the master bedroom and our son's old bedroom are full of racks and shelves and bins and drawers for me and my belongings, including two dozen pink sweaters and 80 pairs of shoes. The closet in our departed daughter's room, complete with shelves and racks dedicated to clothes and shoes, has become his.

I no longer have to get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning to find two black shoes that match or to track down the navy blue tights I was sure were "in here somewhere."

And while nothing can ever take the place of a household full of children, their laughter and their unconditional love, there is definitely something to be said for what they leave behind.