For the last 20 + years, so much about our home and how we live in it has been dictated by our children. From where we lived (access to quality schools, a yard to play in, children in the neighborhood) to how we lived (so much baby equipment, child proofing, Lego management, playrooms then teen rooms and more…), our home was very much focused around our kids. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! However, this fall we will send our youngest off to college and officially become empty nesters, while also moving into a new home we’re building. This bittersweet lifestyle change and upcoming move has me thinking about transitioning to live in a home that is more focused on us, rather than our offspring.
For many, the idea of downsizing your belongings sounds like something done just prior to moving into a retirement community. But it can be very freeing to hit the reset button a little earlier in life (and trust me, your future self will thank you!) and assess what you have in your home once your kids are leaving for their next big adventure. Whether your plan is to simplify and stay put, or you’re ready to move into a smaller space, downsizing your possessions by letting go of things you no longer need, use or love is a great way to mark this next stage of life. I’ll share a few of my favorite tips below, and hopefully inspire you to tackle your own empty nesting tasks this year!
First, have a family conversation about your plans. Discuss your desire to downsize and get everyone on the same page so you can avoid heartache or hurt feelings. Talk about plans to repurpose space, prioritize what family members want to keep, and avoid making assumptions about things your kids might want (I promise you…they REALLY don’t want your old stuff).
Next, daydream about your home and how it’s going to work for you. Part of this daydreaming experience may include looking at the functions of the rooms in your house. Could a spare bedroom now work as a home office or hobby space? If your teens had a hang out space in your basement, could you turn that into a home gym? Maybe your unutilized dining room can become a cozy den. Focus on the people living in the house full time and make the space work for you.
When it’s time to declutter, start with the simple stuff. Clothing your children left behind and haven’t worn for over a year is unlikely to be worn. And I’ve yet to meet a Gen Z individual who is interested in all of their school work from K-12. Old toys, gaming systems, art supplies, cords from old iPhones, t-shirts from every rec sport they played—it’s time for this stuff to go! Don’t overlook the attic or storage closets where broken toys and games with missing pieces might be lingering. Get ruthless and let go of these relics from the past.
More precious memorabilia can be challenging, so I recommend saving that category for last. If your child was passionate about an activity throughout their youth, it’s likely there are trophies or ribbons or equipment left behind. Consider setting a limit on how much can be kept by giving your child a container and letting them fill it with the things that have the most meaning. Perhaps they can snap a picture of some items then let them go. Just keep in mind, it isn’t your responsibility to become a storage facility for everything your child has saved up until this point.
On the flip side, perhaps it’s you, the parent who is more sentimental about your child’s memorabilia. If so, just keep in mind that you don’t have to create a museum of your child’s time in your home to hold on to special memories. A small representative sample of their artwork, their stories, or their keepsakes can be a nice way to revisit their childhood without filling an entire room.
Our goal, as we transition into more adult relationships with our kids, is to have mutual respect for our spaces and their things. We want our children to come visit often. We want to keep them comfortable but not so comfortable that they can’t launch. Healthy boundaries and communication is part of what allows us to enjoy our young adult kids! There are plenty of fresh starts out there waiting for all of us…don’t let your old clutter trip you up on your way out the door.