Kids and stuff go hand in hand.
There are school papers and toys and permission slips and awards and backpacks and treasures and art projects and…the list goes on and on.
Having to manage their stuff while they’re living under your roof is to be expected, but what about when they’re NOT living under your roof anymore? You now have an empty nest and a full house. What do you do with your adult child’s stuff that they haven’t taken with them?
We have five young adult children. Three are married, but they all live out on their own. At one point our nest was empty, but our attic was not! It was full of our adult kids’ memorabilia, awards, sports equipment, and even some furniture.
As you walk towards the clutter-free life, what do you do about the stuff that belongs to your adult kids? Here are nine strategies we’ve found helpful:
Identify their status: are they in transition or settled in?
When you have an adult child that’s in transition, you might choose to give a little grace until they are in a more settled place. Our second oldest daughter’s husband was in the Army for four years. She moved home twice during each of his year-long deployments, so we gave some grace on keeping some of their items in our home until he left the Army and settled down. One of our sons is currently living abroad. He has two small pieces of furniture he couldn’t take with him but he didn’t want to get rid of that he asked us to keep in the attic. We were okay saying yes to that.
Give a warning.
You’ve likely been thinking about this for a while, but your kids probably have not—out of sight, out of mind—right? Every child is different, but especially if you have a “saver,” it’s important to give them a heads up that you’re going to need them to deal with their stuff in the near future.
Set a realistic deadline.
Let them know that you’re renovating the bedroom/cleaning out the attic or garage/having a yard sale on a certain date. Ask them to come get what they want to keep or sell themselves by that date. Let them know that anything that’s theirs in your house after that date will be sold, donated, or disposed of on that date. (And you’ll be keeping the proceeds from any sales!) Then do exactly what you communicated you would do.
Be prepared for your own emotional responses.
It may be hard for you, but you have to keep your eye on the target—to live light, free, and not weighed down with stuff. Getting rid of things doesn’t get rid of the memories. You always have those with you, and you don’t need their things to remember.
Adjust your expectations.
The items you thought were important to save may not be important at all to your child. That has to be okay. You have to allow your child to have differing priorities than you do. They have to have the freedom to assign a different meaning to stuff than you do. Resist the urge to try to convince your child of why something should be important to them. He or she is different than you and that has to be okay.
Understand today’s young adults.
In general, millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and GenZ (born 1997 to today) are disposable generations. They are a generation or two away from a direct influence of the Great Depression where you learned to save everything and use it in some way. Many of today’s young adults are minimalists and not very attached to their stuff. One of our daughters and her husband have sold everything and traveled full time not once, but twice! They are not attached to things at all. While I treasure some of my great-grandmother’s antiques in my own home, I may be the last generation in our family to do so, and that’s got to be okay. We have to resist the urge to pressure our kids to value something because we value it.
Use your phone.
As you are decluttering, take photos of questionable items and text them to your kids for quick decisions. Accept their answers. Remember, however, there may be special items (NOT EVERYTHING!) none of the kids want (such as their Dad’s train set) that you might choose to keep because your adult kids may not be at the age or stage of life where they might use or appreciate them. You could wait on those few things until they are further down the road of life with children of their own.
Have a plan for sentimental baby items.
Maybe you brought each of your children home in the same outfit and you’re not sure what to do with something like that. Could you frame it and put it in a wall photo collage with each child’s baby pictures? Things in boxes aren’t enjoyed. Is there a way you can enjoy the things that mean the most to you?
Think about future generations.
We’ve gotten rid of many toys over the years, but I kept my kids’ Rescue Heroes, Little People, and Legos as well as some books and other small toys they all enjoyed. Now our grandchildren are enjoying those classic toys when they visit, and they are vastly different than the toys they have at home.
One of the best parts of the empty nest is being able to reclaim the use of your house in a way that fits your passions and interests. With a little bit of communication and effort, you can make sure you’re not tripping over the past on your way to the future you’re creating.
Jill Savage is the author of fourteen books including her newest book Empty Nest Full Life: God’s Best For Your Next. You can find out more information about Jill and her resources for empty nest or close-to-empty-nest moms at www.EmptyNestBook.com.