Kobe Bryant’s mother is trying to auction off old high school stuff he left in her house, and Bryant is trying to stop her. Bryant contends that the things belong to him; his mom says he left them there and said he didn’t want them. She wants to use the $450,000 advance from the auction house to buy a new home. Is this argument really about money? Surely Bryant has enough money to purchase multiple homes for his mother. Whichever side of the controversy you stand on, it points out a common problem. Depending on your age, chances are you are either warehousing stuff that belongs to your grown children, or you’ve left stuff in your parents’ home.
What kinds of things get left? Based on the thousands of people we’ve helped downsize and move, it varies, but there are common themes. Sports paraphernalia are a big category, especially trophies and equipment. So are school things: old papers, projects and textbooks. Old clothing, hobbies, musical instruments and childhood toys are kept too. Wedding dresses are especially common, even when the marriage has ended. As one client put it, “My daughter has been divorced twice. She got rid of both the husbands and I am left with both wedding dresses.”
Truth be told, our household was no different. One son left camping equipment, Pinewood Derby cars and other residue of his years in scouting. My daughter left every spelling test she had ever taken, and my youngest left t-shirts and sports trophies, including some he received not for winning, but for just showing up.
When it comes to getting kids to take their stuff, adult children don’t usually respond to subtlety. Statements like, “You should get your things out of our house,” seldom produce a response. Stronger messages like, “We are getting ready to sell the house; get anything you want out of the house by the end of the month or I will throw it away,” do much better. Even that does not always guarantee results, and parents find it hard to carry out their threats. (Even if our kids are not sentimental about their stuff, we are.) Personally, I like the people who simply box the stuff up and drop it off at their kids’ houses when the kids are at work). It gets the job done.
This is a bigger problem than you might think. Moving from the family home is hard. It’s emotional and there is a lot of work involved to sort through, downsize and dispose of decades of accumulations. Older adults have enough of their own stuff to deal with without adding their kids’ stuff too. Yet, it’s an issue we often see.
It’s strange that adult children are so reluctant to take their things. They are adults in every way, except when it comes to getting their stuff out of their parents’ home. Suddenly, they act like kids, “Aw come on Mom, can’t you keep it for me?” And because we are used to being parents, too often we say, “Okay.”
If my kids’ stuff was worth half a million dollars like Kobe’s, I’d sell it too. But for most of us, that’s not an option. It’s time for adult children to step up to the plate, to take responsibility for their things: either take them or throw them out, but stop warehousing them at your parents’ home. And it’s time for parents to learn the lesson they worked so hard to instill in their kids, “Just say No.”