There's a cultural script for how to feel about one's childhood bedroom, and most of us have some version of it, drawn from sitcoms, movies, and the kind of personal but widely shared experiences that make, with the addition of a few gifs, for optimal BuzzFeed lists. My parents turned mine into a gym, When am I going to get rid of this Michelle Branch poster?, that kind of thing. It's almost a given, that mixture of nostalgia and mild revulsion you get from what was probably your first opportunity to play interior decorator, and it's unclear what's worse: coming home to find your old room unrecognizable or immaculately preserved. In a recent, and rather beautiful, portrait series published on Slate, Minneapolis-based photographer Dona Schwartz turned her camera on the flip-side of this phenomenon. From 2006 to 2011, she tracked down and photographed empty nesters in Illinois and Minnesota, some new to the experience, some with kids already out of college, and the results are oddly compelling. Which isn't what you might expect from a bunch of middle-aged couples posing among stuffed animal piles, old sports trophies, themed everything (bedding, wallpapers, lamps), the vestiges of once-ambitious wall-art undertakings, and yes, a few newly placed exercise balls—but, well, there you have it.
This body of work, the second half of Schultz's "On the Nest" series—the first is a series of portraits of expecting parents in their not-yet-occupied nurseries—spoke to a kind of preservationist impulse. "In some of the houses I went into, people didn't need space, so those rooms could stay intact," she tells Slate. "They'd close the door and pretty much not go into them. In other houses, there's more of a calculation: They need the space, but they want to preserve it to maintain the memories." You can see that tension playing out in the portraits as well; after all, another, more brazen artist might have entitled the very same series "Uncomfortable-Looking Gen Xers in Liminal Space."
Schultz's work opens up the floor for discussion about the many ways parents redecorate once their kids fly the co-op, and what it must feel like from both sides. Care to weigh in? Do drop a note in the comments, and be sure to check out Schultz's series over on Slate.