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Encouraging Your Adult Children to Move Their Stuff

How do you tactfully get your children to move their stuff from your home?

You’re trying to downsize or declutter, but the spare room or garage is either full or partially filled with a pile of your adult children’s stuff. Yet when you ask, there’s the risk of hurt feelings or plain lack of action.

It’s a question that gets asked a lot at my seminars, as it seems to place parents in such a quandary. Sometimes the kids believe they’re entitled to store stuff in their childhood home. For their part, parents can feel that their space is being invaded, yet the parents worry about making their kids feel unwanted, or of being offended and ending their visits.

It needn’t be awkward. With a strategic approach, it’s possible to achieve a positive outcome without anybody being upset. The trick is to remove the emotional sting by creating a plan.

Plan 1: Use A Deadline

Deadlines are really useful, as they’re objective. You may be able to set a deadline that seems external: your house being displayed for sale, a tidy-up before Christmas, visitors coming to stay, or another car needing to go into the garage.

Instead of your saying “I want you to…”, you can then say to your child or children, “We have to move your stuff, because (insert external cause here).”

Plan 2: Try a Stealth Approach

If you’ve tried and failed with an externally driven deadline, it may pay to be more subtle. If your kids visit regularly, then see if you can send them away with a box of stuff each time they leave.

I’ve seen this strategy work well when the children simply aren’t taking the hint. Mum – and it is usually Mum – carefully packs a ‘surprise’ box during the week and gives it to their son or daughter at the weekend, when they drop around for a visit at the weekend.

Plan 3: Recruit Them as Helpers

If the above strategies aren’t successful or just don’t feel right, you might engage your children as helpers in your overall downsizing project.

I’ve seen this work in cases where the child has stopped seeing the problem. The parent has asked them to help with downsizing, saying “I really need your help – can you spare a couple of hours at the weekend to help me sort through things?”

This can completely turn things around. It becomes an opportunity to talk about the process, explaining why you want to downsize before moving on to discuss the clutter in the spare room or garage. Once you reach this point, you can ask, “When can you help me with that? Are you able to drop by for the next couple of Saturdays?” Be specific and don’t leave it open-ended. Now you’re achieving a mutual plan, with some understanding and no hurt feelings.

Being Pragmatic

I realise that relationships aren’t perfect and that all this assumes you have great communication. It also requires your kids to live nearby. If they don’t, what are you to do?

If joint action plans have failed, it is time to be assertive. “Please could you pack up and move your things by [date 1], as I need to really need that space by [date 2]? Otherwise, I’ll have to organize for someone to send them to you.”

Then if necessary, you can do exactly that: use a courier or backloading service with a removalist to get those boxes dropped off at your kid’s place.

Hopefully it won’t come to that! If you can have a chat with your son or daughter and explain how things stand, that may be enough. It helps to have a plan up your sleeve, just in case things get awkward.

At the end of the day, it’s your house, so if clutter is impacting on your space and life, don’t feel shy about tackling this issue!

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