By Rita Wilkins
The Downsizing Designer

For those of you who are decluttering, getting ready to downsize, or age-in-place, are you wondering how to get your adult kids to remove their stuff that might be sitting in their childhood bedrooms, your attic, garage, or basement?

This is a real problem and an emotional one for many baby boomers in their 60s who are trying to declutter, downsize, and live a simpler life with less.

  • You might just want to reclaim your space so you can convert the extra unused bedroom to a guestroom or home office.
  • You might just want to declutter that space because it’s causing frustration and upset every time you walk by that room.
  • You might just want your adult child now living on their own to finally take responsibility for their own stuff and remove it from your house.

After all, you’re tired of having them use your home as your own personal storage unit!

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Of course, there are extenuating circumstances in that you might allow them to continue to store their stuff in your home for a period of time.

For me, my younger son stored his stuff in my basement for several years while he was in the Marine Corps and then in the Peace Corps. It was my way of supporting him while he was serving our country and then serving people in Senegal West Africa.

But when he returned home, I was already starting to declutter because I decided to downsize, so no matter what, he needed to sort through all of his stuff from high school and college and deal with his stuff in whatever way he chose.

In some ways, this was an easy way to address the issue of clearing my basement of my adult child’s stuff. He had no choice. I was downsizing. I was moving to a smaller apartment.

Other extenuating circumstances might be that your older child lives in a tiny apartment and is waiting to get a bigger apartment or save for their first home. And of course, during Covid, many adult children lost their jobs and moved back home.

Bottom line:

There comes a time when…

  • It’s time for our adult children to officially move out of our homes, to remove their belongings they left behind when they went off to college or begin their careers.
  • It’s time for them to stop feeling it’s “okay” to store their college textbooks, high school yearbooks, clothing, trophies, and memorabilia in their childhood home.
  • It’s NOT “okay” for them to assume they can continue to store their stuff in your basement, your attic, your garage, or your bedroom in perpetuity.

Perhaps you’ve broached the subject many times before but to no avail.

Perhaps you’re afraid that you will alienate your adult child.

Perhaps you’re wondering if they will ever really get just how much their stuff is impacting your life because you are ready to start over.

As many of you know, this subject can be a sensitive issue with your adult child… you know, that “elephant in the room!”

But it doesn’t have to be!

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Here are 3 different ways for what you can do when your kids leave home but their stuff doesn’t:

1. Engage them. Ask for their assistance and cooperation. Give them a deadline.

This is my personal favorite!

  • Tell them you are preparing your home for downsizing and moving to a smaller home.
  • Tell them you want and need to declutter for aging in place.
  • Tell them you want to live a simpler less cluttered life so you have more time and freedom to enjoy your life, pursue other interests, and travel more… and not be bogged down by clutter both yours and theirs!
  • Tell them you want to free up space in their childhood bedroom or basement to create a new home office, an additional guestroom, or a yoga or workout area.

Bottom line:

You need the space.

You are requesting their help in dealing with their own stuff 

When I decided to downsize, I approached both of my sons and asked them if they would help me by sorting through their stuff in my garage, my basement, and their bedrooms. I asked them if they would remove it from my house by a designated date.

This worked well for me. No drama, just cooperation because I was clear about what needed to happen and by when.

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2. Sort through their stuff yourself and box it up!

Take time to sort through their items, and create three piles: dispose of, donate, and keep. Box up the “keep” items and distribute their stuff by one of these three methods:

  • The drip method:

Each time they visit your home or you visit them, bring a box or a few boxes. Little by little the boxes will disappear from your home.

  • The pickup method:

Request that they pick up the saved boxes by a specified date. If they don’t do so, let them know that you will have to donate or dispose of them.

  • The special delivery method:

If they resist and don’t respond to your request to pick them up, deliver the boxes directly to them yourself or by a carrier.

3. Get their buy-in if they live out of the area by taking pictures 

  • As you sort through their items, take pictures of those things you think they will want to keep. Ask that they respond by a certain date, i.e., within two days.
  • Box up the “keep” items. Either mail them to them or if there is too much stuff, at their expense rent a storage unit until such time they can deal with the stuff in person.

Each of these three methods works if you are seeking a minimalist lifestyle.

They do however require…

Strength on your part to have the difficult and emotional conversation and address the issue head-on.

Determination and persistence to follow through, not take no for an answer so you can actually make it happen.

Tough love, standing your ground while loving them in spite of their obstinance or resistance.

But when all is said and done, if handled well, you will not only reclaim your home as your own, but you will also gain a newfound respect from your kids for setting and keeping boundaries.

I do hope that those of you who are struggling with how to prevent your adult kids from using your home as their own personal storage unit… that you find these methods useful.

Let me know how it goes and if you have other methods that you’ve used, I’d love to hear from you!

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