My parents were so nervous to tell me — their university-aged daughter at the time — that they’d turned my childhood bedroom into an office, they made my sister spill the beans.
I was not thrilled.
And so, for a decade my clothes, toys and books sat in plastic bins, tucked away in the corner of their basement in a pile that doubled in size when my sister’s junk joined it. Luckily, I liked to chip away at the mess from time to time, so it’s smaller than it once was, but I know my parents would rather it disappear altogether. Hence why I decided to tackle the mess once and for all in January.
For many millennials and their baby boomer parents, it’s an all-too-common tale they can relate to: adult child moves out of parents’ home, finds no space for childhood relics in tiny Toronto apartment, leaves all unwanted items in boxes in parents’ basement — much to the dismay of parents who dream of downsizing.
“What happens a lot of time is (adult kids) say, ‘It’s out of sight, out of mind and it’s not bothering me so why do I have to clean it?’” says Clare Kumar, a professional organizer based in Toronto. “But the parents are tired of looking at Johnny’s Grade 1 notes . . . They can’t freeload anymore.”
Kumar said the first step is for the adult child to respect where the parents are coming from. Then, it’s time to get selective about what stays and what goes.
Some aspects of decluttering are a no-brainer: If items could be useful in the child’s home — a couch, for instance — the child should move it into their own home. But when it’s a sentimental item, that’s where things get tricky and where tips can help the most.
Kumar recommends a four-step plan, aptly named “PLAN”:
Prioritize: Grown children need to decide what’s important in their life now and how they want their new home to feel.
Liberate: Let go of things you don’t need. Get a friend to come over to help keep you on track when you start going too far down memory lane.
Arrange: If you have treasures you want to keep, find ways of tastefully displaying them.
Nurture: Fix the behaviour that got you here in the first place — Parents who keep all their children’s macaroni artwork, we’re looking at you.
Others suggest more cutthroat methods.
“If in five seconds you can’t decide if something has value, toss it,” said Jill Pollack, a TV personality and organizational expert, who recommends grown children keep their childhood items to a box or two.
Adult children will thank themselves for this merciless strategy when they move homes 15 times, she said.
But if you do find something that has special meaning, or you imagine passing it on to your own kids, don’t feel guilty about keeping it. Think of your box as a time capsule, Pollack said.
She recommends carving out an hour or two over a few days to tackle the task. Thirty minutes won’t give you enough time and three hours will leave you feeling burnt out, she said.
And while decluttering might sound like a trivial task, it could save you future pain, said Kumar, who found herself going through childhood items when her father passed away and her mom planned to move.
“You don’t want to be going through kindergarten artwork when your parent’s just died,” she said.
As for me — the now gainfully employed adult — tackling my own mess in January started off as a nostalgic, relatively painless experience. But it quickly felt exhausting.
Sifting through piles of old essays, textbooks and notes felt like a never-ending task and I got distracted and drawn in by my old yearbooks, finding myself texting high school friends photos of us at age 15.
In the end, I only managed to ditch one small milk crate worth of books, papers and clothes. I understand why people hire professionals for this.