Dear Adult Children,
Hi! You forgot something at your mom’s house. She meant to text you, but you left your stuff there twenty years ago . . . before texting was invented. It’s time to clean your room, kids.
A question I get a lot is, “What do I do with my kid’s stuff? She moved out 15 years ago, but her room is still filled with her things.”
Being the heartless and ruthless declutterer that I am, I say, “Throw it out! To the curb it goes. Bwahaha.” Your mom looks at me with fear. “Fine. If you want to give your daughter a chance to pick up her items, set a date, let’s say June 30th. Tell her she needs to pick up everything by then or her items will get donated. Remember, it’s your house. You shouldn’t be storing other people’s items indefinitely.”
Unfortunately, your mother is way too nice. She loves you. She feels badly. Even though it’s your junk taking up precious real estate in her home. She doesn’t want to inconvenience you. You’ll get around to it eventually, right? Never mind that you celebrated your thirtieth birthday (many) years ago, and you’ve had ample opportunity to clean your room.
CLEAN YOUR ROOM, PEOPLE
So, this year, give your mom the best gift a child can give her mother on Mother’s Day or her father on Father’s Day and CLEAN YOUR ROOM! Oh, did I yell? It just slipped out. And, when I say “clean your room”, I mean empty it. All of it. Every last piece of evidence that you lived there. Your mom has plenty of reminders elsewhere in her home or on her cell phone that you exist. Time to let go of your childhood bedroom. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to clean your room.
Clear out your clothes
Clothing is an easy category. Throw out or donate everything. Your sweatpants, camp T-shirts, and your school jerseys have been sitting in your mom’s house for years. You don’t wear them. Let the past go. Does that T-shirt bring back memories when you played “Rizzo” in the school play? Do you remember being in Grease without the T-shirt? If yes, great! You don’t need the T-shirt to remind you. If your T-shirt is the only way you remember your high school musical debut, then it’s not that important of a life memory. It’s time to move on.
Good-bye, textbooks and college papers
I bet your textbooks make you feel all warm and fuzzy, right? There’s nothing like spending an evening snuggled on the couch with your college algebra textbook. Seriously. Why are you holding on to it? Toss the textbooks. Good-bye. Congrats on that A+ you got on your English lit paper. You crushed it. I’m proud of you. Time to recycle it. You are not 17 years old anymore and I’m pretty sure you’ve accomplished something even more amazing since then — like making it through a freakin’ pandemic. For that adulting miracle, I am giving you a trophy. Speaking of which…
Toss those trophies and awards
You killed it in that cross-country competition and that swim meet. I’m impressed. Is that a blue ribbon? A certificate? A trophy bigger than your head? Put your awards on your mantle at home right now, so your kids can admire your hard work and determination.
An alternative would be to box up your trophies and have them sit in your attic until you die. Then, your adult kids will find the box and say, “Huh. Cool.” Then, your awards will be gently placed in the trash.
Save everyone precious time. Congratulate yourself and toss your old trophies and awards. Recognize that your previous accomplishments made you into the person you are today, but you are much more than your past. What matters is what you do today to earn life’s awards – like a hot cup of coffee or a hug from a friend. Those are way better than a trophy.
Yearbooks and photos can be tricky, but only keep your favorites
I admit, yearbooks and photos proved to be a tougher category for me when I cleaned out my childhood bedroom. (I’m not completely heartless.) However, I recognized that I did not need to keep all of my albums and yearbooks. I picked out a few yearbooks scattered throughout the years – a couple from elementary school, my 8th grade yearbook, and my senior year yearbook. I figured that covered enough of my life. I tossed the rest.
With photo albums, if I couldn’t remember the names of people in the photos, then I did not need to keep the albums to cherish forever. Sorry, 1988 camp friends. It looks like we had a fantastic time sitting in circles and posing for the camera, but I need to let you go now. Tossing old photo albums into the trash became easier as I saw just how many photos and albums I had. I kept what mattered.
What about the wedding dress?
My wedding dress took up a hefty chunk of my childhood bedroom closet. I’m 99.99% certain that my 12 and 15-year-old daughters would like to choose their own wedding dress one day. So, I called the local wedding dress resale shop after filling out their request form online with photos of my fabulous wedding dress.
“I would like to make a reservation so you can take a look at my dress,” I say.
“We only take dresses from the last few years. I see here that your dress is from 2000,” Tiffany tells me.
“Oh, do you recommend any other place I can sell it?” I ask.
“You can try eBay or another online reseller, but I was married around the same time you were and I’m telling you that no one wants a dress that old.” Tiffany says.
I (totally not offended) say, “OK, I also have accessories like a guest book and pen and some other items.”
Tiffany laughs, not unkindly. “No one uses those anymore.”
Okay. I feel old.
I wish I would’ve sold my wedding dress 19 years ago when I could have made some money on it. Sadly, my beautiful dress wasted away in a closet instead. Hopefully, a non-profit organization can still put my wedding dress to good use.
Your old furniture can go, too
Does your mom keep your room like a shrine to your 18-year-old self? Is that because you won’t let her change your room or because she doesn’t want to let you go? Either way, give your mom permission to make your room into a new space – an office, a library, a guest room – whatever she wants. She deserves that. Clean your room so there are no personal belongings left, and let your mom decide what she wants to do with the furniture.
To clean your room completely, get rid of everything else
Did I miss anything? Stuffed animals, CDs, VHS tapes, bulletin boards, your boom box? Depending on how long ago you moved away from your mom or dad’s home, you may feel like you still need the stuff there. Maybe you feel guilty about saying good-bye to old stuff. Don’t feel guilty. If you can use your items today, then incorporate them into your new home. Otherwise, sell, donate, or throw out the rest. It’s been long enough. Clean your room for the last time.
When you clean your room, how much should you keep?
Keep the minimum. We’ve established that I’m ruthless about decluttering. When I decluttered my childhood bedroom, I kept one full suitcase and half a carry-on suitcase filled with photo albums, yearbooks, Garbage Pail Kids cards to sell, and stories I wrote as a kid. Eighteen years of my life in two roller suitcases. That’s all I needed. It may be more for you. Regardless of how much you keep, toss, or donate, clean your room so your mom can live her life.
Ali Wenzke (on behalf of your mother and her sanity)