If you walked through my house today you’d never know that, currently, only two people live in it. Our nest has officially been empty for five months, but it’s still full of all the debris our girls left behind. You know, the things they either couldn’t take with them to their new, small living spaces, or (and this is the part where you should be imagining my entire body clenched) the things they just didn’t want to take.
My house is a virtual time capsule
On the surface, things look in order, but open up a bedroom door, a kitchen cabinet, or a bathroom drawer and it’s honestly like neither one of them ever left. They’ve left the house a virtual time capsule.
I understand that many of the things left behind have been abandoned by necessity, honestly I do. I get that there isn’t space in the dorm room or studio apartment for the complete collection of Harry Potter books or the stacks of high school yearbooks or the extra ukulele. I know that there simply isn’t an extra inch of space for the closets still full of out-of-season clothes and shoes that I’ll need to ship when the weather turns.
I’m just fine with the favorite throw blankets and fun pillows that adorn their perfectly made beds and the meaningful collectibles, photographs, and memorabilia that still decorate the shelves and walls in their vacant, museum-like rooms.
But when I look past the “essential” items and see all the rest of the superfluous crap still littering the house, I start to get a little confused, and honestly, more than a little ticked-off. How is it that the house is absent of their vibrant selves but still full of over 18 years of detritus? I can’t help but think that’s an unfair trade. But then again, I’m the mom. From the cold crusts of the grilled cheese sandwiches to being the one to clean up after the birthday parties, I’m used to being stuck with the remnants of the good stuff.
I’m not sure why they call it an empty nest, though, because mine is still crammed full.
My empty nest is full of the following:
Teetering stacks of coffee mugs procured from various vacation spots or gifted from secret pals they no longer even communicate with that threaten to come crashing down on me every time I open the cabinet door to reach for one of my own. An entire shelf of awkward, oversized acrylic and stainless steel travel cups — because we are saving the earth, obviously.
Tubes and bottles of half-used Bath & Body Works lotions in scents that may or may not still smell like the title on their label.
Enough bottles of nail polish to start a salon, if you can get the lids off them, that is.
Blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows with the faded images of The Jonas Brothers (version 1), Demi Lovato (ditto), and the boys of One Direction (the only version), my girls’ childhood obsessions that they want to continue to hold onto…literally.
Bathroom cabinets full of old hair products, tools (you never know when you’ll need a crimping iron, this I do understand), tangled necklaces, headbands, scrunchies, and boxes of old contact lenses (in an outdated prescription, of course).
About 68 balls of fun, no-show socks that I cannot guarantee match or are actually balled together in sets of two.
Prom dresses, wizard robes, graduation gowns, and a virtual zoo of animal onesies hanging next to items of clothing that I cannot remember ever having seen them wear but that we are apparently saving because “I loved that jacket!”
Stacks upon stacks of clear plastic tubs stuffed full of “special” stuffed animals that have now suffocated because we could never give them away (thanks a lot, Toy Story).
A pair of bedazzled prom heels that “I might want to wear again” (even though they gave her blisters the size of salami) and a shelf of other fancy, uncomfortable shoes that were worn only for photographs to the dances where she wore the rack of dresses hanging above them. Once.
Boxes of random photographs mixed with treasured keepsakes like single earrings, dried up markers, one single dice, and Valentine’s Day candy from 2006.
I could go on and on, but in the interest of my sanity and my girls’ well beings, I’ll stop.
I began to declutter with my daughter
Last month my college freshman was home for holiday break and we dragged out the tubs of her old schoolwork from the basement and had her sit with us while we sifted through the mountains of old art work, spelling tests, journals, math sheets and report cards.
We laughed (in second grade she dedicated a book titled “The Bad Day” to “my mom” because “she is always having a bad day”); cried (we discovered a time capsule made when she was in kindergarten that we were supposed to have opened when she graduated last May which contained letters my husband and I wrote to her about how we imagined her 18-year-old self would be. I remember writing it and thinking it was impossible that she’d ever be 18), and most importantly, we let about 99% of it go.
You know what? Letting go of all that stuff was surprisingly far easier that I think it would have been a few years ago. Maybe it’s because over the past several months we’ve had to learn to let her go.
So I’ve decided it’s now time to let go of a lot of this other stuff. And yes, girls, by let go I mean throw away or donate. If you still want the lotions or the uncomfortable, sequined shoes, or the petrified candy hearts, you’ll need to figure out a place (that is not here) for them. I’ll hang onto your old yearbooks, your treasured stuffed animals, your signed Elphaba wand, and your very old, very needy diabetic cat.
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Michelle Newman spent 23 years as a stay at home mom to two daughters and most of the past seven writing about them. Even though they’re both now grown and flown, she’s learning that life in an empty nest is still full and the material just keeps coming. Besides telling stories on her blog, youremyfavoritetoday.com, Michelle has had essays published in several humor anthologies, on various parenting websites, and has also written for EntertainmentWeekly.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram