We often use the term “empty nest” to describe the aftermath of a child going away to college. But, most parents will agree, the nest is never really empty – if only! The bird may have flown the coop, taking with him a few precious belongings, but he’s probably left behind a messy little nest of his own. Chances are you’ve avoided really looking into your kid’s room for the last few years, let alone contemplating the day when you’ll have to clean, de-clutter, and even repurpose that den of teenaged life.
You want your child to feel welcome in his childhood home when he returns for breaks, but you may also want to utilize that valuable space for an office or additional guestroom. Or you may want to leave his room as is – but clean and less cluttered. Heading off to college and moving out of their parents’ homes is a huge rite of passage for young people and is worthy of a little preparation on the part of both parent and child.
If possible, sit down now – before your child leaves for college – and discuss your expectations for his room once he has moved. Even if you only have a few weeks left to attack this task, start as soon as possible and, most importantly, break the process down into smaller pieces. This will help you and your child to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and it can prevent arguments.
Work together on the de-cluttering process two to three times a week. Divide the room into mini-zones. A mini-zone might be the dresser, half of the closet or the area under the bed. Set a timer and, working for 30 minutes at a time, sort through the items in the current mini-zone. Help your child decide what is truly meaningful and important to him – does he really need to keep every baseball trophy, concert poster and band instrument? This is a great time to weed through stuffed animal collections, school projects and papers and sports equipment. Looking at each item, your child should ask herself: Do I like this? Do I use this? What can be donated or sold?
Encourage your child to re-engage in this process on a smaller scale each summer. You will likely find that the things that are important to keep at age 18 may not be so important at 22. If your child wants to keep his room exactly as it is, even for a year, establish guidelines for getting rid of paper clutter, unused clothing, etc., so that the room looks generally well-kept and organized.
If you will be utilizing your child’s room as a guest room or office, draw up a simple floor plan and decide what furniture should be stored, sold or repurposed. If you are downsizing to a smaller house or condo after your child heads to college, decide if you will have enough room in your new home to accommodate his belongings. If not, decide if it is worth renting a small storage space to hold onto belongings and furniture your child may eventually take to an apartment of his own.
Assisting your child with de-cluttering her room and getting ready for college can help you both physically and mentally prepare for the major life change ahead. Completing this process will lead to peace of mind for everyone!