Organizing an Empty Nest

The Empty Nest is Still Full of Stuff

As parents, you dream someday your children will go off to college and become successful – doctors, lawyers, scientists or teachers. You want that for them — to leave the nest. When they eventually build a life outside your home, you may find yourself with a full garage and bedrooms to spare, commonly called an “empty nest.”

A Happy but Smaller Nest
As couples near retirement age, finances become a major concern; “living in a house that’s too big ties up capital and imposes unnecessary taxes and upkeep costs.” Storm says “I advise making the move as soon as those bedrooms are empty.”

Many couples are in fact leaving the big house in the suburbs for downtown, urban, apartments. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported last month that “apartment occupancy in the downtown corridor is more than 95 percent.” The types of people snapping up the apartments are young professionals and “empty nesters in their late 40s, 50s or 60s tired of taking care of houses. They want to walk to restaurants, walk to the river, or if they drive, not too far.” What is happening in Richmond, VA is not a fluke. The urban setting allows older couples convenient access to theaters, museums and farmer’s markets. When moving from a suburban neighborhood to a downtown setting, they can feel more connected to the community and have more opportunity to attend events and festivals. But change is never easy.

Storage Eases Concerns
Financially, it makes sense to move to a smaller place. And socially it makes sense—finding a space and lifestyle that is a better fit. But what happens to the twenty some years’ worth of stuff your family has collected? You might be ready to part with the four bedrooms and yard work, but not grandmother’s china, or the expensive drum set, or the handmade doll house you are saving for future grandchildren.

Two bedroom condos might have a hot tub on site, but they don’t have much storage space; so couples will often decide to use a private and reputable storage company. Empty Nest HoarderBy putting things in storage, the decision to sell the family home becomes easier, especially for adult children who also need to deal with the change.

Natalie Caine, a counselor who focuses on empty-nest issues, advises when cleaning out the family home, “don’t toss stuff indiscriminately. Your kids will always object, but if you make them partners in the process, they may not object as much.”

The process of downsizing your home can be difficult as you sort through sentimental items. When clearing out the closets and the garage, it’s best to create three categories of stuff: keep, sell and donate.

Caine acknowledges that parents might also want to hang to things, and that’s ok: “If you want to keep memories for grandchildren or simply the joy of it, then keep them.” Most families will find the amount of stuff they want to keep is larger than the space they have, and that is when a storage unit becomes a good option.

Typically the things that people keep either have sentimental value or are useful items. But they can be oversized and hard to store. Examples include:

  • Sports gear: golf clubs, bikes, skis, surfboard, kayak, scuba tanks
  • Inherited items: china, silver, wedding gowns, tools, instruments
  • Handmade toys: dollhouse, rocking horse, puzzles
  • Handmade furniture: cradles, desks, cabinets
  • Collections: baseball cards, Legos, children’s books, cook books, art pieces
  • Family history: photo albums, letters, official documents, newspaper clippings

There are many emotions involved with seeing your family home go up for sale. It is a process of saying good bye the place called home. But as you and your adult children create new homes and new memories, you can be comforted by the fact that the memories and artifacts are still safe and available. When the grandchild comes along, she will sleep in that cradle hand carved by great Uncle Rob – you just need to visit the storage unit. The outside storage unit allows for that garage type space that families have come to rely on. It’s a compromise that seems to solve many of the issues involved with moving to a smaller home.

And once the adult children find their big house with the big yard and big garage, some of items in storage can then be shifted again to be used by the next generation.


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  • laura m.

    Instead of storing things when we downsized recently, we passed items down to relatives incl old photos, older nik naks, old news clippings, dishes etc. Didn’t store them because of distance to relatives. When we visited we took items to dole out and sold the rest. We are minimalists now. Storing stuff is fine if family members live near you, otherwise stuff could be thrown out/auctioned when parent dies and rent goes unpaid. I enjoy giving things in person as I know who has it in their possession.

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