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Children Gone: What to Do With Belongings Left Behind
In honor of Mother’s Day, a post that we’re sure many moms can relate to…
“I can’t believe she left her room such a mess!,” my frustrated client lamented following the exodus of her first child to college. As I looked around the room littered with books, clothes, memorabilia, shoes, old school papers and various forms of trash I could certainly understand her reaction. Since that time I have worked with other frustrated parents left reeling from the emotional upheaval of their children leaving home and then feeling burdened with the mess of belongings left behind. What’s a parent to do?
When children leave their belongings in a mess when they leave home, I believe parents have the right to take action to restore order in their home. When children leave physical chaos behind them it communicates to parents that those things aren’t very important. Since their belongings are subject to scrutiny by parents, they could be thrown away if they are deemed unimportant. Hmmmm. . . I wonder how many children have considered that what they have left behind could be tossed in the trash.
Parents have several choices about what to do with their children’s belongings once they’ve left home. The option that is chosen often depends on how often the child will be returning home to visit.
- Leave as is. This is the path of least resistance. Just shut the door and walk away. Since feng shui teaches that everything is connected, however, you may not see the mess and chaos of the space every day, but its negative energy will have an effect on the energy of the home and on everyone living in the home. And, you’ll still know that the mess is there. Many women in particular find a stagnant mess very disturbing.
- Box them up and store them. With this approach you just throw everything into boxes and move them to the attic or a storage unit. The benefit is that you are able to reclaim the room for your own use. The downside is that you are either paying for a storage unit to house things that don’t belong to you or your valuable storage area at home is consumed with things that are meaningless to you.
- Go through them and keep only those things that seem to have value. Many parents have a good idea of what might be important to their children and are able to do a first pass through their belongings, whittling the mass of stuff down to the most precious and valuable belongings. Items commonly kept are seasonal and formal clothing, audio-visual equipment, musical instruments and memorabilia. Items deemed unimportant can be sent to a charity or thrown in the trash. Those items left behind are organized and ready to present to the child on their next visit home.
- Give children a deadline to go through their belongings before you get rid of them. Some parents are either unable to deal with their children’s belongings or just don’t want to do it. I’ve worked with many frustrated parents who just want their space back. They have asked their children to make decisions about their things and take what is valuable to them, and have been completely ignored by their children. It’s as if the parents are being held hostage by the things. My advice to them, after they have informed their children of their wishes for them to take ownership of those things that still matter to them, is to give their children a deadline. Let the children know that they have until the deadline to go through and take those things that still matter to them. After the deadline their belongings will be taken to a charity or the dump. And, it’s essential that parents honor the deadline and take action once it is reached. Setting a deadline is a way for them to take their own personal power back and not feel victimized by their children’s disregard for their request and their feelings. It can also be a very important lesson for children about taking responsibility for their things.
Of course there are always extenuating circumstances that affect what you do regarding children and their belongings. For example, you most likely will cut your child some slack if they are in college, the military or overseas on a special job assignment and unable to do anything about their things. Or, your child may not yet live in a home large enough to accommodate their things.
The important thing to remember is that there comes a time when you are not only doing yourself a disservice by continuing to house your children’s belongings, you are doing them a disservice. As long as a significant quantity of their things are still in your home, energetically they haven’t completely left home. Their belongings hold their energy and as long as those things are still in your house, it’s as if parts of them are still living at home. There comes a day when it’s time for them to leave the nest completely. They can’t fully mature and get on with their lives if part of them is still hanging out at your house.
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