Dealing with Other People’s Clutter

I am often asked by my clients what they should do with other people’s clutter. They may be committed to keeping only what they love, need and use on a regular basis, but their spouse, children, siblings and friends may be clutter accumulators. They are constantly having to deal with other people’s clutter, or having them use their home as a storage unit. I asked Karen Kingston, author of the best-selling book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui if she would share her recent article on this with my Care2 friends.


Karen: 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.

The process is usually a gradual one. Maybe the adult child goes to college or university for a few years, goes traveling for a while, or moves somewhere to look for work. They generally do not want to take their childhood stuff with them, or have any place to put it if they did. The parents may also not feel ready to completely let them go, so are content for them to leave most of their things at home for a while.

But weeks turn to months, and months turn to years, and still the stuff remains. Even if the child returns home to visit from time to time, for most of the year their stuff remains untouched, gathering dust and stagnating the energy of the parental home. When I visit such a house, I can tell just by walking around and seeing where the children’s clutter is located, which aspects of the Feng Shui Bagua of the home are affected, and which corresponding aspects of the parent’s lives are in limbo because of it.

In one extreme case I saw recently, a single mother of three children was living in a three-bedroom home full to the brim with her adult children’s belongings, with no bedroom of her own to sleep in at all. She had moved into her son’s room, where half the floor area was already covered with bags full of his possessions, and had piled her own things on top. She couldn’t even get to the wardrobe to use it. If all three children came to visit at Christmas, as they usually did, she would move out to sleep in a caravan in the garden. None of the children had established a permanent home of their own so she continued to muddle by, with her own life on hold until theirs took shape. Not only that, but the most cluttered room was in the Relationships corner of the house, so it was no surprise to discover that she has no partner and very few friends.

In situations like this, there always seems to be a string of reasons why the adult children need more time to organize their lives before they can collect their stuff. Some parents allow the situation to continue for what they feel is a reasonable amount of time and then relegate everything to the loft. Others let it sit. But 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 (and really do it!). 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. It requires some effort on your part, but at least the stuff will start moving and you can start to reclaim your space and your life.

I suggest you begin with things you are pretty sure are out-and-out junk and gradually work up to things that may have more sentimental value. The beauty of this method is that a photo is the best way to keep a reminder of an item you once loved but no longer need any more, so your children can choose to keep the photo as a memento if they want to.

Another solution I have seen work very well is to move and let your children know you will not be taking all their stuff with you. When we bought our new home this year, the previous owners gave their children an ultimatum of this type, and sure enough, they all arrived the weekend before the sale went through just in time to retrieve a few childhood treasures and throw the rest away.

If you’ve had success using any of my suggestions, or have a method of your own that has worked, do please post here to share it. Cluttered nest syndrome is a problem I see more and more in the homes of clients, and it’s not going to go away by itself.


Read more of Karen Kingston’s Blogs

Erica Sofrina is the Founder of the Academy of Feng Shui and author of the book Small Changes, Dynamic Results! Feng Shui for the Western World


Debbie S.
Past Member 5 years ago

Karen Kingston and Erica Sofrina have some wonderful ideas. I get Karen's email newsletter.

Debbie S.
Past Member 5 years ago

Sounds great, after a reasonable amount of time they need to find room or take responsibility. Although our children were always very neat growing up there were things they wanted to keep, once they find a place of their own it needs to go and most of it has. There are a few things in the basement that belongs to them and when we move they will have to take it or it will have to go!

Ainsley Jo Phillips

Call me old-fashioned and just too sentimental, but I see treasure where some people see trash.

My grandma probably kept every postcard that was part of her courtship and early marriage with my grandpa. I'm sixty now and have always enjoyed reading their words and looking at those cute, little postcards.

My grandma passed away almost ten years before I was born, and my grandpa passed away on my first full day of first grade (August 31, 1959).

When grandma was in the hospital, she used to write the sweetest letters home to her husband and kids talking about how good they were to her at the hospital and how wonderful the food was.

Although hospital food is now scrumptious, it certainly wasn't back in 1943, but Grandma liked it. Perhaps, part of why she liked it was that she didn't have to go through everything she had to go through to fix it herself and felt as if she were being pampered.

Aunt Kate (who was around 12 when she got this letter from a family friend and shirttail cousin who had gone off to war) had found out that Roy Acuff had been drafted, and Rufus wrote that Roy was on his ship and that he and the other sailors were about to make him walk the plank.

I have my own sentimental items as well--such as a shower of pictures made for me by a class of students with special needs when they thought their teacher was going to fire me (I was a cadet teacher) for managing to drop and break the wall clock.

Two of those students passed on many years ago.

Dina B.
Dina B6 years ago

Good share!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

i like the first idea.

rene davis
irene davis6 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Take action. Other people need to deal with their stuff.

Ann B.
Ann B6 years ago

thanks for sharing

Nils Lunde
PlsNoMessage se6 years ago


Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

great tips!