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When is a room more than a room?: New Times offers up some solutions for those suffering from Empty Room Syndrome 

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When I went off to college, I moved into the dorms, met a lot of new people, and pigged out on all-you-can-eat cafeteria food. I was living the dream.

A few weeks later, I got a call from my parents. They wanted to know about my classes and my new friends—it was pretty standard stuff—until my dad dropped a bomb.

“Oh, by the way,” he said, nonchalantly, “I’m going to make your bedroom into my new office.”

I was stunned, but, in retrospect, it wasn’t really all that shocking. My parents were the true “owners” of the room, my dad had just started to work from home, and I would only be visiting on holidays and during the summer, after all.

When I came back for Thanksgiving, though, it was pretty weird.

My bed was still in the room, but waking up at 6 a.m. to my dad answering his email two feet away was strange. The comfy carpet had been swapped out for cold, unforgiving hardwood floors, and it was a little too easy to stub my toes on the unfamiliar file cabinets.

In the end, though, it was probably the best way to fully utilize the space. Whether you’re renting, on a mortgage, or just paying taxes on your domicile, having an unused spare room will cost you money one way or another.

Since saving money is always an admirable goal, and more kids than ever are leaving for college these days, New Times set our to answer the pressing question: What should you do with empty rooms in your house or apartment?

According to a post on The Decluttered Home, an organizing blog, there are a wide variety of options. After clearing your plan with the former occupant first, the article suggests emptying out the room to create a clean slate.

Suggestions for repurposing the empty space include creating a home gym, a hobby room, a game room, a “man cave,” a home office, or even a small rental unit (picking up some income in the process).

On the Central Coast, homeowners have come up with several different beneficial ways to make the most of their domiciles.

When his daughter moved out of their Nipomo home in 2006 in order to attend Cal Poly, Gary Markley was sad to see her go, but also realized he had just been granted a golden opportunity.

“Obviously, I had to clear it with my wife and daughter first, but I had just graduated from massage school and was looking for a place to practice,” Markley told New Times. “Her bedroom was actually kind of perfect for a massage studio—it was set up very well.”

Out went the bedroom furniture, and in went Markley’s massage table, a Grecian urn water fountain (for relaxation), and a new sound system for massage-friendly music.

“I did get a lot of crap from my daughter, lovingly, for transforming her room, but that was expected,” Markley said. “The room was still flexible enough that we could put an inflatable bed in there and it would still be her bedroom when she came back, so that was important to us.”

Markley, who has a day job as an engineer at Vandenberg Air Force Base, said he moved to a smaller house in Orcutt a few months ago and, sadly, had to give up the room.

He added that the impromptu massage studio in his Nipomo home was the perfect spot to grow his side business—Massage and Aromatherapy by Gary—which he plans to operate full-time after his imminent retirement.

“My day job is my yin, and massage is the yang,” Markley said. “Working in that space felt extremely natural, and it was never strange to me.”

For those with extra space and a desire to expand their horizons, several successful programs across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties offer local residents the opportunity to host international students.

One such program is Education First’s Educational Homestay Program, which incorporates hundreds of host families all over the Central Coast.

“Host families are the heart and soul of the program,” said Lynn Rodgers, a local site director, Arroyo Grande resident, and a host herself. “It can be scary the first time, but it’s incredibly rewarding to reach out to these students and open your home.”

Rodgers started hosting international students around 20 years ago, when her daughters were in middle school. Even as her children have come and gone, Rodgers and her husband continue to host students and course leaders for the program at their home.

“We’ve probably hosted 30 or 40 kids over the years, and they’ve come from China, Indonesia, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Estonia—you name it,” Rodgers said.

Jerissa Parkhurst, another local resident who works with Education First, said that host families can “use their homes to make this world a little smaller.”

Parkhurst and her husband have three children, and have hosted students from Spain, Germany, Austria, and China, who she said have become de facto family members.

According to Parkhust, host families in the program range from single men and women to married couples with kids to empty nesters. Students usually stay with their families for two to four weeks while taking classes and traveling around California.

“In this program, you get to make connections that you would never make otherwise,” Rodgers said.

Whether you’re looking to make some money, pick up a new hobby, meet new people, or just change gears, the solution is clear: Sometimes the best answer is right under your roof.


Staff Writer Rhys Heyden can be reached at


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