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Empty Nest: Organizing Approaches for your Children's Rooms

DenOur youngest child is starting college this fall and there is no shortage of articles explaining how parents can successfully transition into being "Empty Nesters". I confess that I have eagerly devoured each article and feel better equipped for this new stage of life and all of the emotions and changes that accompany it.

Recently one of my long-time clients (I will call her Liz) asked me a personal question that stopped me dead in my tracks.... Liz asked, "what will you do with your children's bedrooms now that they are out of the house?" Wait - no article had advised me on that aspect! I told Liz I needed to think that through and get back to her. While pondering this tough question I came to the conclusion that there is no canned answer, or "correct approach" to dealing with bedrooms vacated by beloved offspring and filled with a lifetime of memories and belongings. Each family needs to find a solution that is unique to them and works for their needs.

As a Professional Organizer, I help clients establish organizing solutions that enable then to live comfortably in their homes; these solutions are customized to my clients' particular needs. So while one client is thrilled to finally have all her t-shirts stored in a drawer since they used to live in a pile on the floor, another client whose t-shirts always lived in a drawer now wants them categorized by color and sleeve length so she can locate an appropriate shirt at a glance.

The next time I saw Liz I happily reported that I had an answer to her question. I reminded her that my answer is unique to me and may not fit another family's need or situation. I explained my approach. Afterwards it occurred to me that since none of the articles on being an empty nester dealt with this question I should share my perspective with the hope of lending insight to others who are at this stage.

DISCLAIMER: If you are short on space, or the departing child shared a room with a younger sibling then the ideas described below are not helpful and a different approach needs to be considered. Conversely, if you have an abundance of space and you are perfectly content to keep your child's room as is, then my advice is moot.

College Undergraduate:

When your child is an undergraduate at an out-of-town college, I say keep his room as is until he finishes his undergraduate education. Most undergrads come home for holidays and summer breaks. Returning to a familiar bedroom filled with personal belongings is quite comforting, especially during this transient time of life that often involves living in tiny, shared spaces. That said, it is perfectly reasonable to insist that the room be left clean and organized while he is away so it can be used for overnight guests, or as an office, workout, or hobby space for a parent, etc.

College Graduate:trophyrecycleroom

Once your child has graduated from college and is living away from home, now is an appropriate time to consider redecorating and/or repurposing her bedroom. I do feel it is important to engage your adult child in a conversation about the impending changes to his room. While she is old enough to understand that her room should be utilized and enjoyed by other members of the family, it demonstrates a sense of respect and sensitivity to involve her in the changes. The dialogue between parent and child becomes essential so a happy compromise can be agreed on by all. Set time aside to go through the room together to decide what stays and what goes and where/how items will donated or handed-down.* There may be sentimental items (stuffed animals, books, trophies, etc.) that she would like to have boxed up and kept in long term storage (attic, rented storage unit, etc.), or moved to her current home. I recommend having a small, designated space in the room for your adult child to store some clothes and toiletries so that when she visits she has a home base with a few necessities on hand. I also suggest identifying a small bookcase or shelf in the redesigned room to store and/or display some of her treasured childhood items for her perusing (framed photos or photo albums, high school diploma and yearbook, souvenirs from a favorite trip, etc.). These small gestures go a long way in anchoring and valuing her place in the family, acknowledging her former bedroom, and welcoming her back to "the nest."

*Never throw out your adult child's belongings without consulting her first. What appears to you to be trash could be treasured by your child. If she lives far away, consider a Skype session or FaceTime. You could also box-up everything in the room with the expectation that she will go through it the next time she visits. It's okay to put a deadline on how long you will keep the boxes before they are donated, discarded, or moved to a storage unit that SHE will pay for. Be reasonable with the deadline, but do stick to it and remind your adult child periodically of the impending deadline. This can be a very motivating tactic.

So as our son departs for his freshman year in college he will leave behind a clean bedroom, but one that is entirely his. I may use it as my temporary yoga and meditation room, we will see..... As for our daughter, she begins a graduate program this fall and continues to live away from home. We will slowly and cooperatively make some modifications to her bedroom. Replacing her single bed with a spacious queen-sized bed seems to get a universal thumbs up. I could take over some of her closet space so I no longer need to climb the folding stairs to the attic to store my out of season clothes. That's it for now because as all the articles on empty nesting have advised, this is not the time to be making any drastic changes in my life. Now is my opportunity to focus on myself, enjoy time spent with my husband and friends, and a chance to pursue my passions and hobbies. Frankly, changing her bedroom is low on my list of interests at this point.

Jocelyn is a member of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) and ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization). Jocelyn has been helping Westchester residents organize their homes for the past seven years. Jocelyn is skilled at identifying her clients needs and implementing personalized, useful, and painless ways to manage the contents of their homes. A mother of two grown children who have left the nest, Jocelyn lives in Scarsdale, NY with her husband and three cats. Jocelyn can be reached at Jocelyn@kenner.org or www.seeyourwayclear.com.

Jocelyn will be presenting a workshop through the Scarsdale Adult School, "The Ten Commandments for Organizing Your Home", on Wednesday, September 17th at 7:30 PM. Click here to learn more and sign up. 

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