From Full House to Our House: Facing Fear in a Life Without Limits

John and Elli Milan smile inside of a beautiful Florida home.

John and I have never lived alone. We lived with roommates and then our children.

When we lived with roommates, we didn't have much money. Our furniture and home decor consisted of thrift store couches we reupholstered with fabric remnants and a glue gun, and we made shelves out of cinder blocks and wood scraps from Home Depot. Our mattress was on the floor, and we were thankful if our apartment had a laundry machine so we wouldn't have to go to the laundromat.

Then, the roommates left, and a couple of weeks later, Dimitra was born. We slowly began accumulating all the baby gear. Our new furniture became bassinets, baby swings, bouncy chairs, and then high chairs. Then Dafni came, followed by Dalia and Dino, and soon we had a house filled with toys, tricycles, and games. We chose all of the furniture with children in mind. We bought what was stain-proof and had hidden storage for toys. We bought houses with enough rooms and bathrooms, a pool, and places to have animals.

As the kids became teenagers, we had other considerations. We made choices based on who they were becoming and what they needed in their lives. It was our joy to do so, but everything we chose to have around us was for the family.

Then, our family grew as other teenagers and young adults began to live with us. Art students would come and go, and soon, we had up to 14 people living with us. Even the food we ate began to change to accommodate the group. We took turns cooking and cleaning, and the giant kitchen table became the center of all things.

After some years, the children got married and started their own lives. Dafni and Dalia moved away, and we focused more on the art business and our extended family of artists. The school went online, and the house emptied.

We moved to Florida and bought a property that could accommodate horses and beautiful spaces to film content. We agreed that Dimitra and Jake would live with us for a short period until their house in Georgia sold.

And then something profound happened.

From Farmers Market to Future Home

We were riding our bikes one Sunday to the farmers market and passed through some neighborhoods. I saw a sign that said, "Models Open." It immediately took me back to my early days in Arizona when John and I would visit model homes to see how they were decorated to inform choices in our art business. We would dream of living in one of these perfectly appointed homes with edgeless pools and brand-new kitchens with the latest appliances.

As I sailed by on my bike, feeling the wind in my hair and a touch of new freedom, I thought, "I could buy my own house and live alone in it!"

Once we parked at the farmers market, I told John, "Let's buy a house! Just for you and me. We can buy our own furniture and choose the colors and style ourselves. We can organize the kitchen and always know where the cheese grater is! What do you say?"

John was a little reluctant at first. "But we were going to renovate the guest house on the property. What about your horse and Zion?"

"Yes, my horse will stay there. We will move somewhere close by and still see Zion every day. Renovating the guest house will take forever! Let's do it; let's start looking for something."

John could see the spark in my eyes and knew this was OUR time.

The moment we got back to the house, we looked on Zillow and made a phone call to see a house that afternoon. Jake, Dimitra, and Zion came to look with us and were equally excited about having the house we lived in completely to themselves after we left.

This house featured a huge kitchen and a swimming pool in the center, with the whole house wrapping around it. We could see ourselves there.

Decisions and Dilemmas

Over the next few weeks, we looked at at least ten houses within a one-mile radius of my grandson Zion, my horse Solomon, and the cameras that create content. We narrowed it down to five houses that John and I agreed upon, plus my favorite that John didn't like and John's favorite that I didn't like.

We invited Jake and Dimitra to a showing all in one day, like a house-viewing tornado. After we looked at all five houses, there was a mix of opinions. Jake liked the house I liked best, Dimitra liked a different house that was on a lake, and John still liked his favorite.

I tried to convince John of my favorite house. "It's huge! Five thousand square feet and way underpriced. We could fix the master bedroom and bathroom, clean it up, put normal furniture in there, and sell it for tons more! The kitchen is brand new and beautiful—that's the heart of the home."

"Elli, it's so creepy! There's a bad mojo feeling in there, and I think there was a dead dog in the corner of the kitchen! I can't live there. It smelled bad."

Dimitra chimed in, "I saw that dog too! It did look dead! That house was super creepy!"

Then Jake came in with logical reasoning I agreed with: "It's the best house with the best bones. Everything else you can fix, and with that square footage, you can make some serious money!"

I asked, "What did you guys think of John's favorite house? I hate it! It's old and extra man-style, with everything grey and black, and that master bedroom with all the wood build-outs! UGH! I felt like I was in the 70s again! What was with the miniature claw-foot tub no human could fit into? Was that a dog bath?"

"Yeah, that's a big no for me!" Dimitra said. "I couldn't live there. The backyard was nice with the pool and barbecue, but everything else is so not stylish, ugh uh, no."

"Yeah, John, sorry I can't get behind that one either. You've got to like Scandinavian design from the 70s to enjoy that house," Jake agreed. "So now what? We can't agree, and we have seen every house within a mile that's for sale." I was frustrated.

"What about the house I like best?" Dimitra asked. "Maybe it's not your favorite, but you both agree on it, and it's a house I can see you owning for a long time. I would even want to live there."

It's true. John and I both agreed that we liked it. It was the only one with a view. It is on a lake, surrounded by amazing palm trees, and it has the biggest closet that John and I could both fit into. I have been used to having my own closet for the last three houses; I didn't know if I could go back to sharing a closet with John.

A Crisis of Doubt

I started to think about what I wanted. I began to ask myself, what do I like? What do I want most? What is important to me?

I realized at that moment...I didn't know. I didn't know if I really wanted that view or if I liked the stained glass all throughout the house. Did I like the old chandeliers or the dark wood floors? What about the kitchen? I loved the old-fashioned honey oak cabinets mixed with the modern black and the bamboo lights, but was that bad taste? Would my daughters make fun of me?

I couldn't get a hold of my style and found myself doubting every thought I had. This seemed like a big decision, and I didn't know what to do. Maybe because nothing was clear to me, I should do nothing.

I had asked God to show me clearly what to do, but I felt more muddled than ever. Then I realized, just like with our decision to move to Florida, I’m at the place where I can trust my desires. What I want is so completely aligned with what God wants, I can just choose.

So John and I just jumped. We decided to buy the lake house with the pretty view, eclectic kitchen, stained glass windows, big closet, and bamboo lights. We both agreed it was the house we liked.

Paralyzed by Freedom

Once I moved in and began spending time there, I started to understand why this was the best house for us. I didn't know that sitting on the back porch every morning, watching the birds land on the dock, and seeing both the sunset and sunrise from there would inspire me beyond words. I didn't remember that I love old houses and that the antique chandeliers and stained glass windows swept me away to times long gone. I didn't know that sharing a closet with John again would bring us closer and make me more accountable to hang my stuff up.

My whole world crashed on me again when we had to buy some furniture. I could not decide on a couch, the color of a carpet, or what kind of barstools. I became incredibly indecisive and unsure no matter what I thought about it. Weeks turned into more than a month, and I still had not ordered any furniture. We were living like college kids with our mattress on the floor and a makeshift kitchen table.

I thought, "How can I be so decisive and clear in my business and so locked in on what I want and what I am working for, dreaming for, yet can't make a decision on a sofa configuration?" I had never had so few boundaries and so much freedom. I have a big budget, and I have no one to answer to. I don't even have to have a living room. I could make my entire house an art studio! I could do anything. With so many options, I was paralyzed. I truly didn't know what I wanted or liked.

Eliminating Excuses

I was so sick of my indecision and back and forth, and sitting on the floor. I thought, “I know what my personal aesthetic is by now. I like round organic shapes. I like red and forest green. I love light and black and white stripes.” I thought about what my house is for, what I do all day. I paint, I write, I have meetings on Zoom, and I have friends and family over.

I decided I wanted a round couch so that we weren't looking at a TV but at each other. I bought a huge green painting from Tanya Johnston, so I decided green would be my accent color.

Now, as I look around my home, I see my own choices graciously gazing back at me: the round couch, the green Tanya Johnston painting, the black and white striped table—detail after detail reflecting God’s delight in seeing me discover what brings me joy.

However, I realized this uncomfortable moment for me wasn't just about making a decision or not knowing my preferences, but more about the tender, fragile moment of being alone with John. No kids, no students, no one to take care of. Nowhere to direct my energy in the familiar ways. Just the two of us and our destiny.

Our house and everything in it remind me daily that I am free and every opportunity is in my hands. I know what I am passionate about, and I know what I want and where I am going. Now, I have to go there and make it happen without the kids or the comfort of 1,000 excuses.

There’s nothing to hold me back now but myself.

It's terrifying, and it’s exhilarating.

It’s the beginning of a whole new adventure.

Share your story in the comments below!


  • Annie P

    Thank you for your beautiful story which touched me and showed me there are so many possibilities. “There’s nothing to hold me back but myself.” I’m in that terrifying, exhilarating space now and realize, when I allow God to steer my course, it’s more than I’ve ever dreamed of and I need to step into it fearlessly. We chose location over size to live near the ocean and I love the ocean colours of our tiny condo. Your new home is lovely! Congratulations
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Yes. 😊 we think it is so many other things but it’s just us! Love the ocean! Enjoy and be inspired! 😊

  • Robin Sisemore

    I love everything you write! I loved reading “Unemployable” and each Monday I look forward to your messages. Thank you, you are such an inspiration!
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Thank you!! That is so encouraging to me!

  • Annie

    I felt (and feel) SO MUCH HEART in your writing. Like a blanket of goodness and grace over me, and possibly—hopefully—my own life. Surrounding our home (or the lack of such, TRULY), even though we’ve got ‘great bones’ as it were. It’s just been a longgg wait for our own ‘fullness of time’. However, God is to be trusted with all of that, too! ❤️
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    I’m so glad this could encourage you and give you hope. Your time is coming!

  • Michelle

    Thank you for sharing your story Ellie 😀
    What a beautiful story of coming into your own freedom . May God surprise you with many new- found joys and special moments together 💕
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Aww! Thank you so much!

  • Sheri Langrehr

    Thanks for sharing this story. All of us new empty nesters and new grandmas related to your emotions of freedom but also the fear of closing old chapters in our lives. Your new home is beautiful, enjoy fully expressing yourself through your choices and have fun.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Thank you! Yes, such a strange time I never could have predicted. These emotions are so deep! When I used to hear about “empty nest syndrome” I would think, “pppft! Can’t wait!”

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