6 ways to use your kid's old bedroom

What to do after your child moves out

Watching your child walk out the front door to go to college or to venture into the "real world" can leave parents with an empty heart — and an empty bedroom.

Finding something to fill the hole is tough. Finding something great to do with that empty bedroom — well, that’s easy.

We came up with six alternative uses for junior's room, ranging from the practical to the enterprising. Some of these ideas will cost you money, a financial investment you might find valuable because you'll be turning the unused into the functional. Other ideas on our list might actually earn you some cash.

It's time to set emotions aside and enjoy planning what to do with your new free space.

Create a convenient laundry

You’ve hauled your kid’s laundry down to the basement for years, so how about making your life easier by overhauling his room into a first-floor laundry?

Because bedroom count influences home value (the more the better), create a laundry room that’s easy to turn back into a bedroom when you’re ready to resell your home.

First, make sure the floor can support the weight of laundry machines. Bring plumbing up from the basement through the walls. Install the washing machine drainpipe above the existing floor.

Cover the plumbing with a platform that also boosts the height of your new energy-efficient, water-saving front loader and dryer. Add a tray under the washing machine to catch any leaking water or overflows.

Put dressers in your new laundry, and you can fold and put away clothes without leaving the room.

Estimated cost: $5,000, including new washer and dryer, flooring and stock cabinets.

Get a new kid

You don’t have to live without a child in the house. Just borrow one from another family by taking in a high-school-age foreign exchange student.

Organizations like AFS-USA (formerly the American Field Service) and Academic Year in the U.S.A. let you pick your student after reading about their families, hobbies and why they want to live in the United States.

You get a great excuse to continue any school volunteer work you enjoyed.

If your real child is away at college, he'll likely have to share the room when he comes home. Foreign exchange students typically don’t return home during school holidays. But your "new" child will head home when the high school year ends, opening up the bedroom for your old child during the summer.

Estimated cost: Exchange students have their own spending money for things like school activity fees, but you’ll likely find yourself paying for them when you go places as a family, like out to dinner or the movies.

Build an entertainment cave

If your home is on a slab, your extra bedroom could be the entertainment cave you’ve always craved but never had room for until now. One caveat: This plan can backfire. Make the room too fabulous, and your child might prefer living there to living in the dorm or in a crummy first apartment.

Start with a flat-screen television (careful not to go too big or watching it will be like sitting in the front row of the movie theater). Add surround sound and room-darkening drapes.

Buy the comfiest sofa bed you can find to accommodate your kid if he does decide to come home sometime.

Estimated cost: $3,000 for surround sound, 50-inch flat screen and a queen sleeper sofa.

Add a home gym

You packed the baby off, now it’s time to turn his room into a home gym so you can unpack some extra weight.

Swap your child’s bed for a Murphy bed, futon or sofa bed to gain room for a stationary bike and a treadmill or elliptical. Pick up used equipment on Craigslist.com or Freecycle.org.

Put a flat-panel television on the wall to entertain you when you exercise.

When you child complains that you’re a terrible person for making his room into a gym, remind him that it’s his fault you gained the weight. Offer to turn his room back into a bedroom if he pays for you to get liposuction once he has a real job.

Estimated cost: $4,000 if you buy new gym equipment, 50-inch TV and a queen sleeper sofa; $2,000 if you opt for used exercise equipment.

Rent the room

Live near a university? You can pick up enough cash to pay at least part of your kid’s on-campus housing bill by renting his room to a local student.

If you don't live near a college, consider offering a room to rent on Craigslist.com or other sites that advertise for roommates.

Set your price by looking to see what others are charging for rooms in your area. Chances are you won’t need a rental license to rent a room, but double-check with the local zoning office.

Treat the transaction like the business deal it is. Background potential renters by doing a public court records check. Collect a damage deposit, use a written lease (in the case of a student, have the parents cosign) and spell out rules about noise, shared use of the kitchen and parking. Talk to your insurance agent to see if you need additional coverage.

The rent you collect is income, so discuss the financial ramifications with a tax adviser and the financial aid office at your child’s college before you try renting a room.

Estimated earnings: $4,500 at $500 a month during the school year.

Host a couch surfer

Not ready for a roommate but looking for a little adventure?

Sign up to host global travelers looking for a place to stay in your town. Some online matchmaking sites, like Servas.org or Couchsurfing.org, don’t allow you to charge. Instead, you reap cultural rewards from meeting foreign travelers.

Airbnb.com, meanwhile, lets you put your guest room out there as a rental, which can be lucrative if your zoning allows it and you live in a major city.

Estimated earnings: It depends. In Chicago and its suburbs, for example, we found rooms for rent on Airbnb starting at $45 a night. Dozens of spaces were offered for more than $100 a night.

The site offers help on estimating what your room might be worth.

Airbnb will charge you 3% of your rental fee for each booking.

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