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When to declutter. The Dilemma of the Empty Nester

Guest article by Cassie Tillett

To Declutter or not to declutter. And when?  Always a dilemma when a child flies the nest. At what point does ‘their’ room become ‘your’ room? Do you want to claim the space back for yourself, or perhaps you’re even thinking about downsizing?

When young adults take their first steps towards an independent life by starting university and college courses, and “flying the nest”, parents find themselves dealing with a whole new set of emotions, concerns, lifestyle changes – and practical difficulties.

Do you need to keep room free for when your child visits home?

Did the ‘flight’ leave you with an empty room – or with loads of belongings to take care of until your child has a place of their own? Do you need to use that space for other things – but still need to keep the room available for use in holiday times, such as Christmas, or ‘just in case’ your child should need to return?

Cassie Tillett, a professional declutterer and founder of APDO (the Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers), sees the difficulties that relate to ‘stuff’.

“I’m often asked whether the process of decluttering – or ‘stuff management’ – means throwing lots of things away,” says Cassie. “In fact, while there is a certain amount of disposal involved – we always find some genuine ‘junk’, which is just using up space that could be put to better use – it’s actually far more often about how we use and store the things that we keep.”

Cassie and her network of APDO professionals across the UK specialise in helping people to think clearly about their storage solutions, whether long- or short-term; how best to arrange their house in ways that will suit their life today, without excluding members of the family who may only live there for a few weeks of the year.

Your child is unlikely to have the space for all his belongings at university

“In the case of empty-nesters, it’s even more important to declutter properly, as there will often be genuine reasons for keeping things. Your child at university will almost certainly not have the space for his collection of precious football magazines or the formal clothes that won’t be used in the college bar, but they wouldn’t thank you for throwing these items away as soon as they go off for Freshers’ Week,” says Cassie.

Photo credit: Bill Longshaw


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  1. Caroline Carr

    October 4, 2011

    It’s fine to declutter – liberating in fact! But sometimes they come back to live at home…

  2. Jo Carroll

    November 19, 2011

    In my experience, it’s never, entirely, possible to say, ‘this is the moment they’ve left home.’ Mine came and went for about 10 years, between uni terms, between jobs, boyfriends, gathering money to go travelling.

    Mine all have homes of their own now – but friends of mine still have offspring at home. What is so hard is that we are reframing our lives with the prospect of some real freedom, and yet our children can want us to behave like parents – still! It takes time and patience, and tact, to reach a point were we are all adults, and sometimes we have to share space in a reciprocally thoughtful way.

    But it is possible. There is space for my daughters here should they need it, but not their teddy bears, last year’s shoes, their hair dye on the bathroom walls. Lucky me!

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