Clutter Control for Empty Nesters

posted by Andrea | 10/25/2012

I’ve gotten lots of questions lately about what to do with all the stuff kids leave behind when they go off to college, when they get married, when they move abroad, or when they move into a tiny apartment and can’t take all their stuff.

It’s funny, because my parents are dealing with this right now.

Both my sisters got married this summer and they still have SOOOOO much stuff at my parent’s house. And honestly, I still have a few things left at their house too 🙂

In all fairness, the only things I left behind are a collection of Precious Moments my mom got us and wanted to keep, and all my sports trophies/plaques which I don’t really want but my mom didn’t want me to throw them out.

My sisters on the other hand… they still have some cleaning out to do!

photo source

I know many of you are in a similar situation — your kids are moved out but their stuff is still parked at your house. You want your space back, but you love your kids and you know that either they don’t have the space to store these items, they don’t live close enough to go through the items, or they just don’t have the time.

Whatever the case, it’s not fair for you to have to deal with THEIR clutter in YOUR house for years and years.

If you are getting frustrated with your out-of-the-house children’s clutter, here are a few ideas you might want to try:

1. Make sure your kids actually want their stuff.

You might be surprised at how much of their stuff they no longer want or need. I remember when I first moved out, my mom kept asking, “do you want __________?” “what about  __________?” and I kept answering, “no”, “no”, and “no”.

If your kids no longer want the items, simply bring them to a local thrift store and your problem is solved (if only everything in life was so quick and easy!)

2. Ask them to store their stuff at their own house.

Since I’m assuming they won’t let you give/throw everything away, it’s only natural to assume that they would (or at least should) be willing to store most of the stuff at their own home/appartment.

Obviously this is not always possible, but you won’t know until you ask.

Often times, they might not even realize everything they’re still storing at your house, so by making it clear that you really don’t want to keep their stuff in your house (and showing them how much stuff they still have at your house) they might be more willing to clear their clutter from your house.

Disclaimer: I do realize that #1 and #2 are overly simplistic and might not work, but you’d be surprised how many organizing clients I’ve worked with who have begrudged their children’s clutter for years but never once actually asked their kids to move it out.


3. Give them a deadline to move their stuff.

If asking nicely doesn’t work, it’s time to get down to business 🙂

If your children really DO want to keep their items (and they have the means to store these items) then I’d suggest giving them a deadline as to when the items need to be moved from your house. Also, make it clear what you plan on doing with their times if they don’t comply with your deadline (donate them, give them to another sibling, have a yard sale, etc)

Be reasonable — if they just got married or moved out, give them at least a few months to get settled. And if they moved far away, you’ll probably have to wait longer for them find a time to travel home to pick up their items.

You might also be able to speed the process along by renting a U-Haul, letting them use your vehicle, or even packing everything yourself and bringing it to them.

photo source

4. Sell their stuff and split the profits.

Often times, college graduates or newlyweds prefer cash to almost anything. So if your kids are still unwilling and/or unable to move their belonging out of your house, offer to sell their stuff on Craigslist, Ebay, or at a yard sale and give them 50% – 80% of the profit.

Yes, this will take a bit of time on your part, but you’ll clear the clutter from your house, make some money for your kids, and make a little extra spending money for yourself.

 5. Store their stuff in a remote location.

OK, so I’m actually not fully “on board” with this last option, because I’m usually against paying for a storage unit to store things you don’t even use.

However, if you really want/need your space back, your kids truly don’t have the space or ability to store the items, and they don’t want to get rid / sell the items, your only other option is to find a remote location to store their stuff — either a storage unit, a friend’s barn, etc.

If storing their items will cost money, I’d highly recommend asking your kids to pay for at least part of that fee — otherwise I’m certain they’ll be content to keep that storage unit for a very long time!

photo source

I do realized that several of these suggestions are “easier said than done” — especially if your kids are living in a small apartment and honestly don’t have the space. However, if you’re serious about reclaiming your space, it will take a bit of effort and persistance on your part.

But it will be worth it once you have your house back!

On the other hand, if you have the space and don’t mind storing their stuff — you get a “parents of the year” award!

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for empty nesters with a house full of their children’s clutter?

top image credit


Filed under: OrganizingStorage

Leave a comment


  1. Kelekona


    Give my mother a medal. Though for a while, I kept moving in and out, no permanence in where I was staying. I wouldn’t expect my room to remain untouched, though it was usually just stray boxes or projects. When I expected to be gone for several years, I did pack what I could away.

    Then I would comb and purge and take things slowly. It really helped with my clutter to move into a fresh space and decide slowly what stayed or went.

    Now that we own a house and I can destroy the walls to put up shelving, I apologize to my mother for still having junk there. There’s less there that’s mine than I think, apparently. We make video appointments over some boxes, I ask for other stuff to be found so for easy retrieval, ask if something else still exists or if I should buy a new one.


  2. Angie


    Wrap it as a gift and they’ll think it’s something new, and instruct them not to open until you leave…and then run for the hills!!!! Lol


  3. Glenne


    My daughters moved out for university (college) years ago but as they were living in on campus residences or share houses their storage options were limited. Also they’ were very young at that point and I suppose maintaining a room here for them helped me cope with their leaving! However they’re in their early 20’s now & getting more & more settled. One has moved a long way away for work & has taken lots of her stuff; the other two are closer but less settled & taking too much stuff just means helping them shift it to the next house when their leases expire. So!, our best solution has been to devote one room to being the “storage” room and in there is their stuff, furniture, & things from their childhood that they want to keep. We keep that door shut mostof the time; it’s meant the other rooms can be repurposed into spare rooms etc. Their wardrobes still have some clothing etc in them but that means they can pop home for a weekend without packing much 🙂 I can’t imagine the day coming when all of their stuff is gone!


  4. Gina, book dragon


    I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. The only thing my daughter left after moving out (back home after a divorce) was her wedding dress!

    Her brother moved into her room when she moved out and we recently cleared out his room for a guest room/library. She found stuff we had forgotten about and took it with her


  5. Martina


    that is actually to funny, growing up in Germany my Mom and Grandma held strict to the custom of buying stuff during my childhood that i was suppose to take after i am married, like dishes, pots and pans, etc.
    Its a great plan, except the fact that i got married, and moved 8000 miles away lol. My mom still has all that stuff in her basement, and still has hopes that one day i will come get it


  6. Pixie508


    When I moved into my first apartment, I actually took a bulk of the furniture from my bedroom at my parents house as well as the furniture from my college apartment with me. This necessitated cleaning out a lot of artwork from grade school, broken stuff, and just junk in general. However, there was still stuff when I left.

    When we bought our first home 4 years ago, my mom told me that if I wanted that stuff, it would have to live at my house from now on (since I had the space). They wanted to turn my bedroom into an office, and my stuff was in their way. I went back (they only live a few miles away), and really pitched a lot more! I took a few rubbermaid containers and put in them things like my trophies and other awards, and other things of sentimental value. They’re labeled and on a high shelf in my basement. I know we really enjoyed going through my parents stuff like that when we were younger, so it was stuff I wanted to keep. The only things that are left at my parents house are a box or 2 in my closet, few homecoming/prom dresses, which my mom intends to donate to a program that provides dresses to under privileged teenage girls (perfect!) and my HS letter jacket, which I really just need to grab and stick in my coat closet here, but always forget. She doesn’t bug me about it, because it’s really not obstructive to them, and she forgets to bring it over too.


  7. Cassie


    I am dealing with this problem right now, but not my kids stuff, my sister’s stuff. My hubby and I are moving into my parents house. The whole upstairs is just full of stuff, one of my sister’s things in particular. Asking nicely didn’t work and neither did not being so nice. I boxed up all of the stuff and every time I go to visit I leave a box (or 4 at their houses). It is slow going, but I needs to be dealt with and I don’t want to be the one that throws their things away.


    Andrea Reply:

    Wow Cassie — you’re brave 🙂

    You’re right, you can really throw out their stuff, but you CAN bring it to their house and let them deal with it!


  8. Ottawa Storage Expert


    Great tips on decluttering all those kids stuff! All those toys, books, games, activities, etc just continue to add up each year. Getting them used to letting go of things they don’t need on a regular basis (maybe once a year before their birthdays) would minimize the clutter. Even if you’re not moving out, spring cleaning is still a must for every home right?


  9. Danielle


    I don’t have room for a lot of stuff that I have at my parent’s house. I think most of it they can get rid of but I do want to go through things. It’s hard for me to get there. Every now and then when they have time, they send me a list of books and I tell them what to keep/get rid of. I was there for 1 day a few months ago as a stop along the way to somewhere else and looked through a few things. I’m really hoping that when I’m there at Christmas I can look through a lot of the stuff.


  10. Becky


    Lol!! Great ideas!!! Hubs and I are the couple that both has stuff at our parents. His parents have a bunch of our Christmas stuff because the storage in ou apartment is severely limited and he isn’t the type to want to go through his stuff an figure out if he wants it or not. I have to push him. As it is, I can’t get him to go through our small storage closet in our apartment to clean I out!!

    My mom (and this some of my stuff) is in FL still from
    Our extremely fast move to MI. I ever got a chance to go down and pack up my books that are in a closet in my old bedroom, and a few other small items that I still want to keep (stuffed animals that are very dear to me and I plan to keep for any future kids we may have etc. but my room has turned into her home office and partial storage room since her shed broke down and she can’t afford to replace it at the moment. But we do have a very small apartment. If we move somewhere bigger we plan on taking it with us 🙂


  11. KiwiKat


    When I first left home, Mum (she was the tough one!), said I was allowed to keep ONE box of stuff at home. There was actually a bit more that I kept (I think 3 boxes), but it meant I went through everything and if it didn’t fit in one of the boxes, it went to goodwill or friends or other family members.

    I moved back home again after some time overseas and accumulated “stuff” again (I am, for better or worse, the living example of the saying “home is where you put your stuff while you’re out getting more stuff” – I at least work on it!) before moving out to my first home in this country. Each time mum came and visited, another box of “stuff” came with her.

    She has also enjoyed helping furnish my place, as she loves going to auctions. We swap furniture in and out fairly regularly as we find better pieces to replace ones we have – we just send older pieces back to auction.

    At least I didn’t have to stress too much about things I cared about being biffed, as the major items were clearly marked and set aside when I moved out.


  12. Kathy


    As a couple who are temporarily living in an apartment, we have used some of your suggesstions. We have also moved several boxes for our son in the Air Force-he is out of country. Patience and persistence have worked Good Will has benefitted too. Good luck to all.


  13. Erica


    Andrea, What are the most helpful books to help with organizing your home? I would love to hire a professional organizer but that is WAY out of our budget (see, our finances are organized! Now just need to organize our material possessions!). Thanks, love your blog!!




    My kids did the same thing when they moved out – they left a bunch of their junk behind! I think some of it was stuff they didn’t know if they wanted or not and some was keepsake type stuff that wasn’t important at that moment. But they left other stuff, too – stuff I thought they would want!

    My husband does not like clutter so his strategy was this: every time we went over to see either of the kids, we took some of the their stuff with us. Pretty soon their stuff was all gone.

    If they had lived somewhere where they didn’t have enough room, we would have kept it for them. But that wasn’t the case. They just didn’t want to bother with packing it and moving it. So we did it for them – a little at a time!


  15. Jessica


    I think the very first step is to pack it all up into boxes and get it out of the way, even if it’s just to a better place in your own home!

    For example: A girl that I work with has been married for over three years and away from home for about five years and yet her parents have left her room EXACTLY as it was in high school. She still has a full wardrobe in her closet/dresser, pictures on the wall, trophies on her shelves, etc. I’m sorry, but that’s a whole room they can’t use for anything! She lives ~700 miles away and doesn’t visit THAT often!

    If I were her parents, the first thing I would do is pack everything up and put it in a closet, crawl space, basement, shed, attic, etc. At least then it’s not all spread out over my house. And then I could nag her about getting rid of it or whatever once it’s at least somewhat out of my way.


  16. Christine


    My parents threatened to move a few years ago. I narrowed my “stuff” down to 4 boxes and shipped it to myself. My parents still haven’t moved!

    My own kids are now teenagers and I am having trouble getting rid of all the toys. Any ideas what to do with thousands of legos that are all mixed up from a variety of themes? Our neighborhood doesn’t do garage sales.


    Kelekona Reply:

    Is there a battered women’s shelter nearby? Some other charity that deals with children?

    Oh, give them to a school in a less-off area.

    Maybe there is a church whose tea-circle would volunteer to clean, sort, divide, and distribute those old toys.


  17. Nora@ The Dollar Holllering Homemaker


    I totally agree with asking your kids if they actually want the stuff.

    My husband moved about 1000 miles away from his family, his company paid for the move. He took everything he wanted and tried to throw the things he didn’t want, away. His mom “rescued” it from the trash and has sent some of the junk to us. We have gotten dirty old tee shirts, mugs with radio station/bank info on them, etc. I looked at the shipping costs $12 to send a bunch of stained tee shirts (that we turned into rags because we couldn’t donate them). I think we both would have preferred a dunkin donuts gift card or something:)


  18. Linda Bolt


    Oooh, this is so timely for us! We have 3 kids in college, and one that has his first job and moved across the country.

    My method so far has been to ask the kids to go through more of their stuff every time they are home on college breaks. So each break, there is less and less stuff. I don’t mind keeping some of their stuff while they are still in college and not really settled. We have come to realize that it’s not economical to save furniture for them; they can just get stuff on Craigslist in their new location.

    We pretty much met the goal of having all of his stuff out of the house by the time our oldest moved across the country this summer to his first real job. I did find one Rubbermaid tub later that we missed, and we’ll be getting the important stuff from there to him whenever someone travels out there.

    But here’s my dilemma still:

    What about the stuff from childhood that no one owns or is owned in common? I’m thinking of toys, especially. We are loathe to part with all the nice toys we got our children: Playmobil, Legos, K’Nex, nice wooden blocks, set of Carnegie dinosaurs, and all the old-style Fisher-Price stuff. We intend for this to be for grandchildren when they come along, either divided up at their own homes, or at “Oma and Opa’s house”.

    But if we wanted to downsize, I’m not sure what we would do with all that stuff.

    Oh, I do have an idea for trophies: Take them to a trophy place, and see if they have a way to reuse them. I know some trophies can just have the nameplate switched out, and it would be a less-expensive way for a group to give out trophies.

    And, yes, we have a major collection of trophies here from 4 children, and I’m not sure I could part with them. They represent hours of hard work, on my part as well as the children’s.


    Katherine Reply:

    Re: the old-style toys– As a mom of three little ones, the toys that I grew up with are so so fun to see all over again. One of my friends’ mom saved her old toys and now her daughter plays with them and it is pretty cool. If it were me, I would allocate one particular box for the toys and save whatever you can fit in there. If it is five particular toys, those will be particularly special. Definitely don’t feel like you need to save boxes and boxes of toys– then they aren’t as special, anyway, because there’s so many of them. My dad and his wife have one large basket of toys for all nine grandkids to play with when we all visit, and they have a ton of fun with those. My in-laws have lots of toys in every room of their house and the kids have the same amount of fun. Their fun is not increased by the volume of toys;)

    My two cents! Hope that is helpful.


  19. Jane


    LOL, I was attending college out of state & had moved off campus into a shared apartment. One day out of the blue my Mom called to say that she & one of my brothers would be coming to town for the weekend as my brother was going to be participating in a surfing competion being held nearby.
    Anyways, they showed up alright but had literally brought everything I had every owned or could be most closely associated with me. LOL Mom had managed to get all my clutter out using my brother as hired muscle & a rented U-Haul.
    It was a brilliant plan on her part & when it came time for the very same brother to move out…he knew to go ahead & take everything with him right then & there so Mom wouldn’t show up on his new doorstep with no warning!


    Amanda @ The Fun Mommy Reply:

    LOL that’s hysterical! It did teach you guys your lesson though.

    Reminds me of when my dad owned a bunch of apartments. People would move out and leave tons of stuff behind that they didn’t want-and that he would have to pay to dispose of. Instead he would load it onto a trailer and deposit it in front of their new place.