3/11/2024 | By Amy Dickinson

How long should parents be responsible for their adult kids’ stuff? One mother wants to clean out the garage packed with such leftovers, but no one else seems to care. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson says.

Dear Amy: 

My husband and I have two daughters, ages 24 and 26. One lives in an apartment and works, and the other also lives in an apartment while she finishes graduate school.

My question concerns their stuff.

I expect them to move around for the next few years, and I don’t need them to take all of their stuff now, but I want to have a plan for when I will no longer be the curator of everyone’s stuff. The garage is packed to the gills and this project needs to start there.

a lot of junk in a garage.

I have many struggles, but getting rid of stuff is not one of them. (My husband really struggles with that.)

My sense is that a project like this starts with a conversation with all four of us, where expectations are laid out, followed by mini steps and dates for these tasks to be completed. Ideally, things like clothes would be removed from closets and then remaining items could be boxed and stored in the garage.

I am also ready to think about how to use these rooms differently, but I still want to have space/beds for them to visit.

Do you have advice or resources for me?

– Not so Empty Nest Mom

Dear Not so Empty Nest: 

Definitely lay out your expectations and a roadmap for mini-steps and dates for when tasks will be completed.

And then watch as all of your beautifully laid and expressed expectations fall by the wayside. Why? Because this is a priority only for you.

Your husband isn’t bothered by your garage doubling as a storage unit and your adult children have a responsible curator for their possessions – many of which they probably don’t even know about or care about.

Many people your daughters’ age have embraced minimalism. They might completely understand your desire, but would benefit from a nudge.

Put the word out now that you’re getting antsy to deal with your adult kids’ stuff. Ask both women to come home for a few days this summer. Dive in, start sorting, and plan a yard, eBay or Etsy sale. Anything that doesn’t get sold will get donated to your local Goodwill. I predict that you will be able to reduce these possessions by at least half.

In my opinion, you should offer to hold onto treasures: report cards, prom corsages, yearbooks, and heirloom items – until your daughters are settled. But store their low-rise jeans from 10th grade? No.

Amy asked readers to contribute their own advice on clearing out an empty nest.
Read their answers here.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from cleaning out adult kids’ stuff to a wife’s wrinkles and a daughters cheating husband. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

Amy Dickinson