When You Leave the Nest But Your Stuff Doesn’t

Do you still have stuff at your parent’s house? Maybe it’s time to rethink that strategy.

In The Hiding Places, I reviewed the various places our stuff is stashed and often forgotten about. Whether we are 18 or 48, our parents’ home can be a seemingly safe  repository for the stuff we wish to keep but allow to be out of sight, out of mind. 

After you initially leave, some of your possessions remain at home as an innocent default. You move out of state and can’t bring everything at once, aren’t sure whether you’ll be moving back, know you’ll still have stints back home between college semesters, or simply don’t have the room in your new digs.

In your mind, there will be a time when you have a bigger home. You probably will. But that’s about all you know. You don’t know how or if your preferences will change. You may think your parents want to keep your stuff in honor of you, or that they don’t mind being your storage unit. What you don’t know is that they may secretly be counting the days until you finally pick it all up or they can throw it all away. Or perhaps they really do hold attachment to it, as a way of holding back time, wanting to feel a connection to your youth. 

You may be storing a few curated items or there may be mystery boxes awaiting pick up. There might be a bunch of childhood items scattered throughout your old room and other areas of their home that you visit on occasion. You never feel like going through your stuff while there, though you may “discover” an artifact of your youth, gushing, “Oh I remember this!” It makes you feel really good. That good feeling is remembered and associated with a reunion with your stuff, so any thought of getting rid of such stuff is resisted because why in the world would you give up an opportunity to feel good? Postponing the inevitable need to deal with our temporarily stored “stuff” may feel okay in the moment, but finding a more sustainable solution could feel even better. Most importantly, this saves time and headaches for everyone in the long term.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • If your parents threw out all your stuff without asking, would you be heartbroken, annoyed, or relieved? 

  • What is the point of keeping something for ten or twenty years that you may only use one day in the future? 

  • If it is a useful or important item, shouldn’t someone else have the opportunity to experience it’s value? 

  • If it is a purely sentimental item, is it that important to retain even though you don’t co-habitate with it?

Everyone I know who doesn’t have kids seems to see their homes as transient. Even if they’re 30, or 35 or 40 and they’ve been away from their parents’ homes for two decades. In fact, having kids and a house sometimes still does nothing to alter this default. This rite of passage is seldom traversed if there isn’t another impetus for change.

Parents’ downsizing may be the stimulus for change, which is quite funny if you think about it.  Delaying the inevitable leaves you at the whim of your parent’s timeline to finally go through such things, and this timing may not be convenient for you. Best to get ahead of this situation. Then there is the much sadder transition, where one’s parents pass away, and children must tend to the dismantling of a home and it’s memories, and tend to take on their parent’s items as their own, reversing the cycle. 

Consider this: There are other things your parents can do with the space you’ve been occupying. Or you can become a good example for them; clearing out your possessions may prompt them to begin sorting through theirs. It may alert them to the fact that they have a much bigger home than they need. It will ensure that when they choose to downsize or move, there is no time dependency with you to get your stuff, or added stress for them. 

It’s tough to say good-bye to our safety nets, especially when they used to be our homes. You  don’t have to say good-bye completely: you can preserve carefully selected items in a memory box, take photos of items you don’t plan to keep, or incorporate some items into your current home. But addressing the stuff we keep in our parents’ homes is an easy way to help our parents while no longer holding onto the past.