By all accounts, the Butterworths are a tight brood.

When oldest son, Andy, 33, married Linda on July 10, his three brothers — Jeff, 30; Tim, 27; and Jonathan, 23 — all served as his best men.

Frank and Debbie Butterworth, the boys’ parents, realize that their four chicks have flown their Cape Elizabeth coop.

“I’m lucky that they left home gradually, one every three or four years. It made it easier on me,” said Debbie, who was a stay-at-home mom for 18 years before taking a job as math teacher at Pond Cove School in Cape Elizabeth.

When one son moved out, the oldest son living at home would promptly move into the “best bedroom, meaning biggest bedroom,” she explained.

The Butterworth brothers now live within a quarter of a mile of each other in the Boston area: Andy does computer work for an investment bank; Jeff is an athletic trainer; Tim is a professional pianist and composer; and Jonathan, who recently graduated from Boston University with a music education degree, is now pursuing a graduate degree in music performance at Berklee College of Music.

Back in Cape Elizabeth, five of the six bedrooms in the Butterworth’s colonial style home, where the family has lived since 1984, sit vacant. But they don’t sit empty. “Our sons are all in apartments, so we still house all of their extra stuff at home,” Debbie noted.

What are the Butterworths and other parents planning on doing with their empty nests? Will they downsize by selling their house and buying a smaller place? Will they transform unused bedrooms into rooms for another purpose, such as an exercise room, library or sewing area? Or will they keep everything the same for when the kids and grandkids come home to visit or heaven forbid, even live if the economy doesn’t take an upturn soon?

For the most part, Debbie and Frank have left their sons’ bedrooms “just as they were as a shrine to them.”

Andy’s upcoming wedding did spur the couple to make some home improvements, such as stripping wallpaper, painting, replacing floors, building a brick patio and fixing up the lawn.

It’s highly unlikely that the Butterworths will be budging from their homestead. “We have wonderful memories here, and this is home to the boys. We’d love to keep it as a place for them and their wives and kids to come visit,” she said.

Michael O’Connor, a real estate agent at RE/MAX The Bay, finds the subject of empty nesters “coming up more and more. When the house becomes quiet, people think it may be time for a change. They may find themselves with more house than they need or simply want to use their newfound freedom to try something new,” he said.

O’Connor recalls one couple who found the perfect house to downsize to even before their kids were out on their own.

“Since it was definitely where they wanted to live as empty nesters, they put up with the tight quarters for a short while until the kids were out of the house,” he said.

On the other hand, another client was “definitely glad that he didn’t make the move to downsize because his teenager didn’t cut it at college and ended up coming home,” O’Connor added.

The longtime real estate agent has noticed a tendency among empty nest couples, who once lived in Portland, but raised their kids in the suburbs, to move back to Portland. “They want to take advantage of the city’s cultural activities and amenities that they missed when they were driving the kids to music lessons and hockey practice,” he explained.

Come fall, O’Connor and his wife Heidi, the chair of the Modern & Classical Languages Department at North Yarmouth Academy, will themselves become empty nesters. Their daughter Madeleine, 20, will be a junior at George Washington University, and their son Chase, 15, will be heading off to Holderness, a boarding school in New Hampshire.

O’Connor said that he and Heidi had a master plan 16 years ago when they bought their Cape Cod style home in Falmouth. “We bought it with the intent of being able to live there forever,” he said, noting that they gave special thought to the layout and made sure that there was a bedroom on the first floor.

Now in the winter, when the kids are away at school, the O’Connors will close off the unused second floor of their 3,000-square-foot house and conserve energy. And during the summer, they’ll still have plenty of room to entertain family, friends and guests.

The O’Connors also have a plan after spending one school year as empty nesters, where their family room will definitely be more conducive to reading than lively board games.

They’ll consider taking in an international NYA student as a boarder. “We have foreign students who come to NYA from such countries as Sweden, China and Korea. Since there are no dorms at NYA, we’re always looking for host families to take them in. We may be one of them in the fall of 2011,” Heidi stated.

Paula and Brian Oliver of Scarborough are taking a more celebratory approach to being empty nesters. In the fall, son Jake heads to graduate school at San Diego State to study creative writing, and younger brother Logan begins his junior year at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, majoring in engineering.

That’s when the couple will seriously consider a room renovation. “Exercise is a little boring and overrated, don’t you think? My master plan is to turn our exercise room into a wine cellar,” Paula said.

Elizabeth Webster is a freelance writer who lives in Cape Elizabeth.