While raising children, couples often move to larger houses with more space, multiple rooms and big backyards. But once the kids leave, many parents find their homes to be more than they need and possibly a financial burden.
For these empty nesters, the transition to a smaller home can be overwhelming … and may have inspired Wendell Berry to write, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”
Professional organizers such as Faith Conaway, a licensed real-estate agent and owner-founder of Completely Organized Tulsa, can help ease the stress.
“Managing a ‘downsize’ can be difficult, especially when kids have left,” Conaway says. “It’s hard for parents to get rid of their kids’ items. If the children didn’t come back for their stuff or take their stuff with them when they left, they probably don’t need all of it in the first place.”
She explains that if a parent had the foresight to plan, then every child should have a container already filled with keepsakes like school work and baby memorabilia. However, if that’s not the case, the “one box rule” applies.
“Fill up one box of items for each kid to have,” she says. “The sooner parents start to downsize and get rid of unnecessary stuff, the easier it will be when they get into retirement age.”
Anne Spero, owner of Organized Living in Tulsa, specializes in solving chronic disorganization and hoarding.
“Do include the children in the decisions to part with some items,” she says. “Ask them what is special to them. Don’t keep every school paper, but create criteria that can be adhered to, such as ‘Just keep the creative writing,’ or perhaps a couple of artworks from each year. I would never want someone else to make that decision for me, so I think we have to give them that same respect.”
She adds that with our culture of new media, young adults are more open to keeping a digital history but one should still consider future generations.
“Our digital age will lessen the special mementos from ancestors,” Spero says. “The next generation won’t have their parents’ love letters. Keeping a sample of these items is certainly acceptable; the key is to not keep in excess and to keep it simplified and labeled.”
Conaway follows one of writer Anthony J. D’Angelo’s aphorisms, “The most important things in life aren’t things,” because it encourages us to prioritize our lives and not become bogged down by our belongings.
“I remind my clients that things are just things,” she says. “If there was a fire and everything was lost, those things lost don’t really matter. Family and relationships are what matter. Teaching your kids to not be attached to stuff is a great thing to start at a young age.
“Remember, there are always people who are willing to help. Having someone who is not related, such as a professional organizer, help with downsizing and organizing is worth it. Time is money.”