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Kids Left But Their Stuff Hasn’t | Get Rid of Clutter (part 3)

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Kids Left But Their Stuff Hasn't | Get Rid of Clutter

When Laura Matthews relocated from New England to Southern California after her kids had grown, she was caught off-guard when her daughter said she didn’t want a couch Matthews treasured. “Taste isn’t hereditary, apparently,” she muses. But working through her feelings brought Matthews a sense of peace about the whole process of downsizing. She says, “Everything became easier to part with once I no longer felt some obligation to try to ‘keep it in the family.'”

One person’s treasure might be another’s clutter. How can parents work with grown sons and daughters who’ve moved out of the house, to pare down clutter while protecting everyone’s feelings and wishes?

“Mid-life is a great time to reassess your stuff,” notes Regina Leeds, a Los Angeles-based professional organizer and author of One Year to an Organized Life. This means going through heirlooms, childhood furnishings and artwork in a way that helps you move into the next stage of your life surrounded with meaningful, useful items — and unencumbered by clutter. Follow these guidelines for a calm, productive process of reclaiming your space for the years ahead.


Take Your Time

Processing a lifetime’s worth of heirlooms, furnishings and memorabilia involves several steps, informs Cathy Bock, a certified professional organizer and owner of Chaos Tamers, an organizing service. Working room by room — starting with the least emotionally-laden items — is a way to contain the thinking and sorting involved with clearing clutter.


Ask Questions

Honest, loving conversations are best begun with questions. Leeds recommends parents think about what they most hope will stay in the family, and set up a time to ask their grown children questions like, “Do you want this?” or, “Do you have a place for it?” At the same time, children can ask their parents, “How would you feel if I kept only one piece from Grandma’s china set?” or “Why does this lamp mean so much to you?” By asking questions in an open, curious way — and being ready to hear and accept whatever answers may come — everyone can make decisions based on understanding and clear communication.


Make Specific Plans

Once decisions have been made, Bock recommends parents make a list of the outcome of the conversations the family has had, noting which family member plans to keep each item. The list should be stored with estate paperwork so relatives can easily implement the plan for furniture, jewelry and other keepsakes when the need arises. To discard items that are no longer needed, Leeds imparts that specificity leads to comfort. Helping parents connect with a local family in need of furniture, for example, can prevent families from feeling like their precious things are being cast into the wind.


Keep Emotions in Mind

Above all, everyone is best served when they acknowledge the emotional aspects of downsizing. “Parents need to realize they have enjoyed their possessions for many years, and it’s time to let them move on,” comments Bock, “They are not giving away the memories associated with their items, just the items themselves.” For Leeds, this means looking ahead, not back into the past. ” Stay invested in the present moment, because that’s what you’re living,” she suggests.

Maggie Caldwell, a mother of two grown boys who lives in California, recently downsized to one under-bed box for each child’s most precious artwork and mementos. She reflects on the process with a sense of satisfaction that the house feels appropriate to her family’s current moment. She explains, “I didn’t realize how gratifying it would feel to have just the things that reflect who we are as a family at this point in time.”


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Photo by Jacalyn Beales

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