Cluttered Nest Syndrome

Karen Kingston works internationally and specialises in the feng shui art of clutter clearing. Here she shares her blog on how to deal with grown-up childrens’ belongings.

We’ve all heard of empty nest syndrome that some parents experience when their children grow up and leave home. But in many cases, “cluttered nest” syndrome would be a more exact description, because the children leave home but often their stuff does not.

The process is usually a gradual one. Maybe the adult child goes to college or university for a few years, goes travelling for a while, or moves somewhere to look for work. They generally do not want to take their childhood stuff with them, or have any place to put it if they did. The parents may also not feel ready to completely let them go, so are content for them to leave most of their things at home for a while.

But weeks turn to months, and months turn to years, and still the stuff remains. Even if the child returns home to visit from time to time, for most of the year their stuff remains untouched, gathering dust, and stagnating the energy of the parental home.

There always seems to be a string of reasons why the adult children need more time to organise their lives before they can collect their stuff. Some parents allow the situation to continue for what they feel is a reasonable amount of time and then relegate everything to the loft. Others let it sit. But in just about all cases, if and when the children ever do come to reclaim their stuff, their lives have usually changed so much since leaving home that a good percentage of it turns out to be of no use or interest to them anymore.

If you are a parent in this situation, and much time has elapsed with no prospect of any change on the horizon, here’s something you can try:

Each week, photograph a few items your child has left in your care in their eternally rent-free family storage facility, and send the images to them by email. Include a message explaining that you need the space, and you will be disposing of these items by the end of the week unless they can give you a date in the not-too-distant future when they will come home and collect them. If you don’t hear from them, jettison the items in any way you see fit (and really do it!). Then go ahead and send another batch of photos, and keep going, week after week, so they get the message that you really are serious about this. It requires some effort on your part, but at least the stuff will start moving and you can start to reclaim your space and your life.

I suggest you begin with things you are pretty sure are out-and-out junk and gradually work up to things that may have more sentimental value. The beauty of this method is that a photo is the best way to keep a reminder of an item you once loved but no longer need any more, so your children can choose to keep the photo as a memento if they want to.


If you don’t know where to start, that’s where APDO members can step in. Helping you see past the overwhelm and enabling you to clear the clutter in order to achieve the home or work-space you wish for. Find a local organiser here.

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