Closed September 2017

Downsizing: The Un-Nesting Instinct

I remember being pregnant and having the "nesting instinct," that deep-down urge to feather the nest with appropriate nursery gear and clean and sanitize and otherwise outfit ourselves for the new baby. This instinct was very strong, and I spent a lot of time and energy preparing for the addition to our family.

Now one of those babies just left for college, and I have been smacked between the eyes with this new instinct:  Un-nesting. The opposite. DOWNSIZING. Not addition, but subtraction.

I spent this weekend cleaning out his room, even washing the walls. I got rid of LOTS of stuff, not just in his room, but everywhere around the house. His leaving has caused me to look at everything differently and realize we are going into another stage of our lives. Even though we already have things fairly streamlined, I am finding a lot more we still don't need now that our kids are departing.

If you are storing items in your home that belong to other people, I wanted to share a handy technique with you for clearing it out. I printed a sheet of address labels from my computer with very large, bold numbers 1-30. I spread out an array of items on the bed and put numbers on each of them and took a photo.  I took about 5 photos total with a few items in each, then I sent my son the pictures via email. All he has to do is tell me he wants # 4, 7, 11, and 22 and it's as simple as that. I know my son doesn't want to describe "the navy long sleeve with the henley collar," so the numbers fix that problem. Everything he doesn't want will go to his brother and then to Goodwill (find your nearest donation center here!).

How to Get Rid of Items You're Storing for Other People
Our other son is still home for another year, and I am going to use that time to continue listening to my downsizing instinct, going room-by-room and paring it all down. Our program's weekly plans take you through your entire home over a year's time, so I will be following that and you can too! You can try out our memberships free for 14 days and have access to our current plans, along with access to a team of organizing experts for unlimited personal advice online. Learn more about that here.

Have you experienced this un-nesting instinct? Have other life transitions motivated you to get streamlined? Share in the comments!

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Lorie, I understand fully what you are going through. Both of my son’s have already graduated college and moved out of town. The youngest moved 3 years ago. However, I still have some of their things at my house. Their apartments are too small to store all their belongings (mainly mementos). Whenever they come in town I have them go through a few more things. As time goes on it is easier for them to let go. Downsizing is a process that becomes easier and easier as both you and your children move into the next stage of your life.

Debbie Davis

As I thought about this great tip it made me think of something else that might be helpful. I could take a photo of the contents of a particular “memorabilia” box that my college graduated daughter has stored at my house. That way the Backstreet Boys poster can get the same “please keep” or “throw away” treatment. Like Janice, my daughter is currently living in a small apartment and would like to have some things held at our house for a couple of years until she moves into a larger home or gets married.


I’m getting ready to move abroad and at age 34, I’m still storing a few things with my parents (I live nearby and am at their home regularly, so I keep a fair bit there). The move, even though it may be temporary, is inspiring me to get rid of things both in my own home and theirs. My 32-year-old brother, who lives half the country away and comes back only at Christmas, also has an outpost of crap in his old room at their house. I encourage those of you who have kids leaving now to do the un-nesting as soon as possible– our mom is just now getting the instinct (after more than a decade of “but they’re my babies and I want them to know they always have a place here!”) and she wishes she’d kicked our stuff out sooner. I’m voluntarily kicking my own stuff out, but it’s still hard. Start now! Having a box of old school papers isn’t terribly useful to anyone, and as my mom said after giving away a quilt her deceased mother had made, said, “It’s not like I’m going to forget my mom without this quilt.”


This is so true! It is so comforting to hear that I am not the only one who struggles with “sentimental saving”! I agree that the more you can involve your young adult kids to deal with their ” most special things” sooner rather than later, the less junk and hassle they will experience later on. No one wants to move into that first home or get married and find they still have a lot of unsorted things to bring along! It may seem hard to let go, but the payoff (and freedom) will be worth it!


Wow Lorie. I hope you have permission to do that! There is no better way to cultivate a hoarder than to throw their stuff away. Just ask me! (Or any past participant on Hoarders and the many other shows of its type.)
True, you should not just hold their rooms and stuff forever, but you need to be extremely careful when doing this.

Ruth Shores

Excellent post Lorie! Un-nesting is the perfect way of thinking of this transition in our lives. My oldest son just graduated college and has his first apartment. He took the initiative to purge and clear his room though I had that pang in my heart seeing him do it. My youngest son is in college and after watching his brother is slowly doing the same thing. Also my elderly parents are wrangling with the tough issue of whether to move from their too big family home. Downsizing is much easier when started early on. Easier…but hard to do!


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