When the last youngster (finally) decides to leave the coop, many newly empowered empty nest parents decide it’s time to reclaim old bedrooms, rec rooms, and basements.
It can be a difficult decision — how to part with those middle school art projects? Those high school athletic trophies? The baby furniture that has been sitting in storage?
These items defined a young person’s life for years, and even if the grown child doesn’t want their dusty collection of comic books and birthday cards anymore, they may remain special to mom and dad. An empty nest doesn’t mean that nostalgia and fond memories just moved into an overpriced one-bedroom apartment four states away, too.
Empty nest reclamation tips
Sherri Papich — professional organizer, founder of Organize Your Life, and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers — has suggestions for empty nest parents about deciding what’s trash, what can move on, and what’s treasure.
First, Papich suggests setting aside labelled storage bins to hold treasured memories at the start of the empty nest downsizing process. “This is where the really special items go,” Papich explains. “The ones that make you smile.”
Artwork, she cautions, can be hard to relegate to storage — but can be even harder to throw away. If there’s no room on the wall for those youthful experiments with watercolors, keeping the art in a storage unit makes more sense than just losing them forever to a landfill.
Be judicious. Ask the kids what they feel is special, too. Their answers may be surprising. Maybe they feel inspired by their childhood desk, and would prefer that it’s kept in storage until they have children of their own. Maybe those baseball cards that seemed so important really don’t have much of an emotional connection after all.
Papich also recommends encouraging grown children to take their favorite items with them. If an item is truly important, it should have a place in their new home.
“Respect them as adults, but make them be respectful of your home,” she says. “You want your area to be the vision of what you want it to be.”
When cleaning out empty nest areas like bedrooms, offices or even basements, Papich suggests using a few tricks of the trade:
- Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll to create “tunnel vision,” forcing yourself to focus on what needs to be addressed first.
- For overwhelming areas, cover the areas that you are not working on with bedsheets, to visually separate each project.
- Finally, while deciding what can stay in the house, move to self storage, or be eliminated completely, Papich reminds empty nest parents not forget local charities. “Just about anything can be donated or recycled these days,” she explains. Simply do an online search for “donations” or “charities” along with your ZIP code to find worthy homes for your old stuff.
- Work in chunks of 15 minutes to three hours (and don’t forget to set a timer and hydrate! Decluttering an empty nest can be hard work).
Papich notes that empty nest parents should make sure their garbage bags, permanent markers, storage boxes, and bins should be ready for labeling and moving. With the necessary implements right at hand, you remove excuses not to get the job done.
Although getting rid of the kids’ stuff can be daunting, empty nesters can downsize or reclaim their space and transform it into the serious, stylish dwelling it was meant to be. With a sweet ping-pong table, of course.
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