Surviving Empty Nest: My Clean-Upmanship



From my old blog Surviving Empty Nest, reprinted here, several years later.

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I spent the first four days home after taking my kids to college cleaning out their rooms, not exactly what was promised in the “Now It’s Time for You!” chapter of the empty nester’s manual.

But I was glad to do it. Extremely glad to do it.

I had given up on my daughter’s room since we started talking about her going away to college – at the start of her senior year, a full 12 months before she would move out. I had been constantly nagging her to pick the clothes up off the floor so I could vacuum it. I fretted about the stains on her carpet that wouldn’t come out. I threatened to do a total reorg of her room and I even went so far as to buy some cute nubby-woven-earth-tone closet organizers. She was not at all interested.

One day she said, “Why don’t you just wait until I leave for college and then you can do whatever you want with my room.”   * scribble scribble scrabble scratch * I etched those words into my brain for later.

For the next 12 months I stopped fussing about her room. When we had company I closed her bedroom door and told people my husband was sterile and we were childless.

So when I returned home from moving her and her brother into their college school-year temporary residences, I didn’t waste any time getting my hands on those rooms.

And, oh, the stuff I found.

It was like a TV show, half Hoarders and half Let’s Make a Deal, but only the part where you have to come up with some crazy stuff that you carry around in your purse. What’s that you say, Monty? Has anyone got an instruction manual for a cell phone that no one owns anymore? Why, I’ve got seven of them right here!

Some more things I found in my kids’ rooms during the Big Clean-Up of Fall 2011:

  • Clothes with the price tags still on them. These are clothes that someone had to have right then. Clothes that were not on sale. Clothes that I had my doubts would ever be worn.
  • A dead frog.
  • A check for $200, uncashed, dated July 2010.
  • Ten years of Sports Illustrated magazines in a crate that was intended to hold two years worth of a magazine I had no idea would be renewed so many times. Who knew there would be so much to say about sports? Remember, SI comes out every week pretty much, so with special issues, the swimsuit issue (which is as big as the JCPenney catalog; Yeah, and is that necessary? No, it’s not), anniversary extras, and the months that our subscriptions overlapped and we got two of each issue, we’re talking about some 600 magazines. Some were worth keeping, since a lot has happened in sports since 2002. When my son started getting this magazine, LeBron James hadn’t yet signed with the Cavs, Lance Armstrong had only won four Tours de France, Brett Favre looked like he was 14, and nobody in baseball was taking steroids.
  • Drumsticks. No one in our house ever played the drums. Ever.
  • Enough empty Red Bull, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Monster cans to build this:

But I resisted the temptation.

  • Lots of movie stubs, theater and concert programs, receipts, birthday cards and boarding passes that I couldn’t decide were junk or keepsake memorabilia. No one is as sentimental as me, but it’s possible that they wanted to remember that trip to Dunkin Donuts in February 2009 for some reason.
  • A mouth guard that I spent several hundred dollars on, which was not covered under insurance but was oh so necessary. Clean as a whistle. Obviously has never seen the inside of a mouth.
  • A bunch of my stuff. Books that I swore I owned but could never find, the good scissors, all the Sharpies, and a couple of DVDs that they bought me for Christmas. I’m starting to wonder if they want me to have anything nice at all.

I read an article once in which a psychologist attempted to explain why teenagers have messy rooms. One of the reasons was “futility.”  It’s just going to get messy again, so why bother cleaning it when my time is better spent watching TV and eating Pringles? And then I’ll toss the empty can onto the pile of clothes I just brought home from H&M, which are now mixed in with the clothes to give to Goodwill. And then I’ll ponder the meaning of life. I’m sorry, but teenagers are not allowed to use “futility” for a reason not to do something their mother wants them to do. Suddenly they’re now the philosopher?

When they come home for the first break, there better be no complaints about what I’ve done in their rooms. I got your futility, right here.

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

Diane is a writer, blogger, humorist and author of the books "Great-Grandma Is on Twitter and Other Signs the Rapture Is Near" and "Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves." She lives in San Francisco.

  • Chubby Chatterbox

    Our son has been on his own for years but we still have a closet filled with his junk. I want to throw it all out because we’ve asked him repeatedly to remove this stuff, like the leather motorcycle jacket he bought even though he never wore it or had a motorcycle.

    • Ah yes, but that’s the parenting duty that just never ends – taking care of all their things that you know are important, but they don’t know it yet. And CC, if you only have one closet full of his stuff – you’re luckier than most. :)

  • SkippyMom

    Scissors and my art supplies – not to mention my clothes – and when I find them in their rooms they claim “But you GAVE us that stuff Mom.”

    Um, I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in years, and kids? I haven’t been on a bender good enough to agree to gift a pair of $45 pinking shears [for sewing] or a $150 oil paint set since New Year’s my sophomore year in college. Hand them back and I might not stab you. Oh and while your at it? Can I have my leather jacket back? I am ill, not deranged. Thank goodness two of the girls feet aren’t my size. Only the youngest – and I don’t own high enough heels for her.

    I am at this point with Evie. Except she likes to keep her door open at all times and I have a straight shot view right down the hall.

    I am going to take your advice and wait until she leaves in a year. But, I may have to take up drinking occasionally if she doesn’t learn to keep her door closed.