How to Clean Out Your Grown Children’s Room

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Your children have flown the nest for good! Here’s how to clean out your grown children’s room and declutter the stuff they left behind.

You have eyes on their rooms and the possibilities for them. Perhaps you can have a guest room, an office, a craft room, or an exercise studio?

But first you have to declutter the room your child used to live in!

You will have to be strong, my friend. This work isn’t easy but I’m going to talk you through it. I’ll give you a step-by-step process, emotional support, and the tools to make it easier.

Once upon a time, I lived in a 4,000-square foot house with a husband, three children, two dogs, and three cats! During those years, every single room, every single closet, every single cabinet, and every single drawer was packed full!

After the children moved away and it was obvious that no one was moving back, my husband and I began to think of moving into a smaller home—but we had a ton of stuff, including three bedrooms filled with all the kid’s stuff.

Didn’t they take anything with them???

They wisely, only took what they needed to college and afterwards, they really didn’t have any interest in much else as they created their own homes.

However, we were left with all their childhood mementos, old prom dresses, hundreds of trophies, and drawers and closets full of things they had collected as well as old playthings.

It was an overwhelming task to face to say the least!

However, I was determined to not take all this stuff with us or store it. Plus, I had ideas for those rooms!

Your children have flown the nest for good! Here's how to clean out your grown children's room and declutter the stuff they left behind.

How to Clean out Your Grown Children’s Room: Before You Start

Before you start, it’s good to know a few things about how to clean out your grown children’s room. It’s hard in ways that other decluttering isn’t. If you are prepared, you’ll be able to move through the process and get the job done efficiently.

Invite the Children to Go Through Their Own Things First

Let them know, well ahead of time, that you are going to be cleaning out their rooms. Give them the opportunity to come over and take what they want.

However, don’t be surprised if they aren’t really interested. My children weren’t. Maybe you’ll have better luck. This is super important though because at least you gave them the chance to get anything they want before you start cleaning.

I gave them plenty of notice, as well as occasionally checking with them about something. For the most part, they really didn’t care what I did with their old stuff. They had moved on.

Now it was time for me to move on!

It Can be Emotional

Cleaning out a child’s room can be an emotional process. Every item in that room is something your beloved child used or wore. Even though your child is grown and has their own home, you still love the child they were.

As I write this, I think in particular about my middle child since she saved more things than the other two. Her room was a museum of her entire life. I had to go through pretty much every toy she had ever loved and a big closet of clothes that she was never going to wear again.

But she also wasn’t interested in keeping any of it. So, I plunged in and made the choices about what to keep, donate, or trash myself.

Sometimes it was difficult to let things go. This was a part of her life and there were memories attached.

You still have to let things go. I’m giving you a way to keep very special things later in the post and that will help.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Cleaning out any room will take time. Cleaning out your grown child’s room will definitely take extra time. Not only are you dealing with a big job, you will be reliving memories and good times. You will find things you didn’t know were there and find yourself hours later, still looking at those pictures or reading that book.

Or you might get overwhelmed and stop for a while.

Cleaning out a grown child’s room is a little like saying goodbye to them again! It definitely has an emotional aspect to the process. So, allow time for that.

In general, though, a weekend or two should do it. If it takes more time, that’s fine too. If you are having trouble with the time aspect and you are planning to use the room as a guest room—invite someone to come visit and then you’ll have a definite deadline. Or order your office furniture or exercise equipment.

Pick One Room to Declutter First

I had three rooms to do, you may only have one or two.

Stay with this one room until it is done. You’ll make faster progress if you stick with one room. If you have more than one room to do, finishing one room will give you the motivation to do more. It truly will feel wonderful to have the room clean and decluttered.

Have a Bin for Each Child

I bought a large plastic see-through bin for each child. Into this bin, I would put things that I thought were irreplaceable and that they would enjoy having at some point in their life. While I did want to clean out their rooms, I didn’t want to clean out ALL their memories!

What you put into these bins depends on your child. You have to go with your gut at times. Here are some examples of things I kept for them:

  • Old diaries
  • Pictures of friends, photo albums
  • Favorite books
  • Books they had made
  • Some schoolwork
  • Report cards
  • Post cards from grandparents
  • Letters
  • Favorite sports t-shirts

I used large bins so that I had room to keep plenty of things but not so much room that I wouldn’t have to edit. This seemed to work really well, in that I had a sense of keeping the “important stuff.”

Keep a Few Favorite Toys for the Grandkids

My parents and my husband’s parents both had kept toys from our childhoods and my children LOVED playing with these when they visited the grandparents.

So, when I cleaned out my grown children’s rooms, I set aside some of the toys for future grandchildren. My granddaughters today, especially enjoy playing with all the old Barbie’s that my girls had.

Supplies to Declutter a Room

  • A large plastic bin dedicated to each child
  • Boxes for items to donate
  • Boxes for toys that you plan to store for future grandkids
  • Trash bags for trash
  • Marker to mark boxes
  • Tape to seal boxes

How to Declutter a Room After A Child Leaves Home

So far, it’s only been fun and games! You know, thinking about how nice it will be to have that room cleaned out and ready to use as a guest room or perhaps an office or craft room. The possibilities! But first you have to clean the darn thing out.

Pick a place to start in that room.

Choose the closet or a chest of drawers. It doesn’t matter since you’ll be getting to all of it eventually.

My kids each had so much in their rooms. I started with closets since these were the most overwhelming. There will probably be clothes still in there. Most of these can go straight to the donation box or to trash.

This is harder than it sounds! For every piece of clothing, it seemed there was a precious memory attached. But I knew I simply couldn’t keep all those clothes left behind.

Pull things out and go through them. That’s why it’s helpful to have your bins, boxes, and trash bags ready.

Get Rid of the Easy Stuff First

There will be plenty of stuff that doesn’t evoke strong feelings. Get rid of it first. You are working your decluttering muscles.

Depending on your child, there may be a ton of stuff or not too much. My middle child was a pack rat and she had so much stuff that she had collected and stored in her closet.

Throw away any trash. It was unbelievable to me, but there was actually a lot of trash mixed in with her things.

In addition to trash, there will be plenty of things that don’t have a sentimental attachment. Donate or sell them.

Take Breaks as Needed

I have found with decluttering projects that I would hit a point where I had to stop. Sometimes that would be for an hour, sometimes a few days.

Getting rid of stuff is hard!

You can tell that by the huge houses people buy and the explosion of storage units everywhere. People don’t like to edit their stuff.

Knowing that this is emotionally difficult can allow you to be kind to yourself. Sometimes it takes a little while for you to assimilate what you have cleared out. You might think you are done and can do no more.

Yet, with a little break, you will be able to come back and work on the job some more.

Know When You are Done

Have an end goal in mind. For me, it was to remove all my children’s personal stuff. That might seem extreme but when my children moved out, they really had moved out.

Note: my case is a little different in that all three of my children lived about an hour away and they all lived either together or near each other. They didn’t need to come home for overnights.

However, even if your children are still visiting occasionally, you don’t have to keep entire rooms dedicated to each child. It’s okay to have them stay in a grown-up guest room or pull out bed in the office. They’ll be fine.

When You are Done Decluttering Your Grown Child’s Room

I know lots of people who keep their children’s room or stuff for years! It’s really common, especially if you don’t move or have lots of space. However, eventually there will come a day when you need the space or you’re going to sell the home and you have to do it.

Being a parent has already meant saying goodbye so many times. You had to send them to school, then to college maybe, and then to their own place. Having their stuff around can feel comforting.

Yet, after you take this step, you will grow up a little. You’ll have really accepted that your children are grown ups and out of your house.

Even better you’ll have a sense of accomplishment and a less cluttered house! It really feels great to accomplish this!

Here are some of my favorite decluttering books if you need extra help!

Marie Kondo

Brooks Palmer

Francine Joy

Julie Morgenstern

Peter Walsh

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  1. Karen on September 17, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks. I’m about to empty my son’s room and your thoughts are just my thoughts. It won’t be easy.

    • Sara on September 18, 2023 at 6:26 pm

      It’s not! I wanted to keep everything.

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Hi, I'm Sara Garska and I'm so happy you're here! Big changes can happen with a shift in thinking. Over time, you transform your life into the one you always dreamed of having. As a certified life and weight loss coach, I can help you create a life you love. Click here to schedule a free 50-minute coaching session.