Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Downsizing After Children

Once your children grow up and move out of the house, your household dynamic will change.  Parents often struggle as they try to cope with this so-called “empty nest.”  It is ironic that the “empty nest” only refers to people as too often empty nesters find that their nest is full of stuff!  It is this overwhelming accumulation of a lifetime of possessions that leads people to call a professional organizer.

I have worked with many families who were experiencing a new life with their children out of the family home and have a few pieces of wisdom to share.  The most common phrase I hear from families is “I don’t know what to do with all this stuff!”  There are a couple main reasons for this.  First, there are often items that children leave behind, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.  Parents don’t know how to differentiate between what items children forgot and what they did not want and so the parents keep all such items, hoping that children will one day return and decide what to do with the items.  Another problem is that parents can’t identify who owns what items and so they do not know who to ask about them and do not want to accidentally get rid of something a child wanted.  I tell parents that their home is not a museum and leaving spaces as they were when their children moved out, with bedroom sets and old memorabilia in place, is not the best use of rooms. 

To avoid keeping extra items, parents need to be clear about expectations with their children and set a date by which children will have taken out all items from the home that they would like.  Putting all questionable items for each person in once pile can help individuals easily sort through items to see what they want to keep.  Another way I have found useful is to photograph items and text children photos.  This way, they can easily decide right away and it does not hold up the organization process.  Another reason some parents don’t know what to do with items left behind is because they are hoping that children might one day want them, even when they haven’t said so.  Some parents believe that children will want certain items, such as furniture or family heirlooms, and will hold onto them in hopes that the children will take them.  This can happen because either parents have not communicated their intentions for the items, or they have ignored their children’s wishes and kept the items in hopes that children will later change their minds about taking them.  Be sure to communicate your intentions to your children, but parents should not keep items that children don’t or won’t want.  Think practically and worry about yourself and your own space.

Even after the kids have made their decisions, parents are sometimes still holding onto or housing items.  One explanation for this is that children do not yet have the space to store everything they want and so they ask for, or the parents offer them, storage space in the family home.  While some parents are okay with doing this for a time, parents can be taken advantage of and are left with piles of items that will never be taken by their children in some cases.  To avoid this, I recommend following a simple guideline: “if it’s your stuff, it should be in your space.”  This might sound harsh, but it works to clear the spaces and minds of parents so they can transition to the next phase of their lives and downsize more easily. 

Again, I would tell you that you are not a storage unit and since your children have become adults, they are perfectly capable of making their own decisions and deciding what they would like to keep and take with them and what they wish to discard.  If you want to remember the room, take a picture!

For more information, or to get help with your organization needs, visit


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