My 24-year-old son recently moved out of our family home and into a home of his own. While he thought I was quick to pack up his things and send them along with him, I was ready to rid my house of extra stuff and reclaim his old bedroom.
I tried to give him some furniture from the attic. What I envisioned was him taking a bed, a dresser, all his childhood toys I had stored through the years, and the blanket chest filled with nesting Pyrex bowls, family cookbooks, artwork and an antique clock. In the end, he took an old handled tool box and a primitive wood box. That’s it! The new open space I envisioned in my attic did not appear! He didn’t want my stuff, even the stuff I thought I was “saving” for him.
Soon after I realized that my son didn’t want my stuff, I had proof that I wasn’t the only one who goes through this sort of life event.
I saw a friend’s Facebook post. Her post included a picture of a large outdoor bonfire with the caption, “This fire is the fourth dump trailer full of trash from my parents’ house. We’ve been storing it for five years and I finally went through it this weekend. Please don’t do this to your kids.”
My friend’s name is Jennifer. Her mom died unexpectedly in 2001 and then her dad, a pack rat, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and was ill for a few years prior to his passing. In her scenario there was never a time for her parents to deal with their own belongings and then it suddenly became her responsibility. Recently married and with a growing family of her own, she took advantage of convenient, free storage available for her parents’ belongings, but that came to an end and she had to deal with the situation and the stuff.
“Overwhelming and emotional” is how Jennifer described the task of painstakingly sifting through boxes and boxes of stored items from her parents' packed house. She said every box brought back emotions because “it’s all you have when you don’t have them!” She had to coach herself to detach from the stuff.
Her advice to others is to talk with your parents about their belongings long before it becomes your project. If conversation efforts fail and you find yourself in a situation similar to Jennifer’s, she said, “It’s easy to push off. So you really have to make a plan and do a little at a time. Keep in mind that it’s OK if you have to make several passes through the items. Organize things to keep and things to consider. Then keep doing that process until you’ve whittled it down to the true essentials you’d like to keep.”
Vali Heist, professional organizer and owner of The Clutter Crew, a professional organizing business in Berks County, echoes Jennifer’s advice and adds: “Holding onto your stuff for your kids is not a good excuse to keep things anymore. Today’s generation isn’t interested in grandma’s cookware or your china. Ask them to tell you what items in your home they’d like, and if you offer them something and they say no … no means no! Ultimately your stuff becomes a burden for you and your children.”
So what’s Vali’s advice? She suggests downsizing long before you think of leaving your home.
“Don’t wait until you are in your 70s and 80s," she said. "The process will take longer than you think.”
Personally, I’m inspired! It’s taken me 25 years to accumulate all of this stuff, and now it’s time to get rid of it!