Mike Mozart's bunny rug from his childhood — not stored at his parent’s home! Photo from Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.
Lots of people wind up storing things that aren’t their own. I know people holding onto things that are their children’s — which might make some sense if the children were in college or in their first small apartments, but these children are now 38 and 40.
In Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever, Barbara Hemphill and Maggie Bedrosian summarize the problem:
Some of your clutter accumulates because you are putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. You let your kids store stuff in your garage, because their apartment is so small. You keep the boxes of archives for the community history project. ...
When such choices are made freely and space is abundant, these may be wise and generous gestures. When they intrude on your own flexibility or peace-of-mind you have every right to say “No!” You do not owe square footage to anyone else. You do not need to agree to store anything for anyone.
Peter Walsh says something similar in It’s All Too Much:
Being prepared to look after things for someone else is a great and generous gesture, but … it’s a question of balance. If your home is bursting at the seams with things that belong to others, there are two obvious questions that you need to ask:
If this thing is so important to someone else, why is it sitting in my basement?
Whose life am I living here — my own, surrounded with the thing I love and cherish, or someone else’s, cluttered with the things they cannot or will not remove from my space?
So what do you do about it? Erica Sofrina asked Karen Kingston, author of Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui, to address this problem. Here’s part of what Karen wrote:
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. ...
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 any more.
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 do not hear back from them by the end of the week, jettison them in any way you see fit. … 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.