What to Do With Your Estranged Adult Child’s Stuff

Do you prefer listening to reading? We have an audio version of this topic:

Reconnection Club Podcast Episode 156: What to Do With Their Stuff

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Under normal circumstances, parents and their adult children figure out together how to deal with the child’s possessions after they leave home.

But estrangement is not a normal circumstance — at least, not in the statistical sense. Some parents are left to make decisions about their estranged adult child’s possessions, without the owner’s input.

Should they continue to store them? If so, can the items be moved? 

Should they send the belongings to the estranged adult child, whether they’re wanted or not?

Should they issue an ultimatum, and dispose of it all unless there’s a reply?

You might ask yourself these questions for two distinct reasons. And the reasons may overlap.

Know Your Motive

One reason parents wonder what to do with an estranged adult child’s stuff is because they’re moving. Or they’re repurposing that child’s former bedroom. For logistical reasons, those items can’t stay where they are.

The other main reason is emotional. The presence of an estranged adult child’s possessions may evoke painful feelings every time the parent sees them, or even thinks about the fact that they’re in their home. Sorrow and resentment (“Why should I store their stuff if they can’t be bothered to talk to me?”) can blend together into a potent ache, compelling parents to take action.

If you find yourself in this difficult position as a parent, start with identifying the cause of your desire to do something. How much is logistical, and how much is emotional?

Are you actually moving, or are you just thinking about it? Do you have another purpose for the room, or does it just hurt too much when you walk past it?  Are you longing for contact with your adult child(ren), and hoping their stuff will provide a reason for them to respond? Or are you simply afraid of doing the wrong thing?

Knowing where you are, logistically and emotionally, allows you to acknowledge and honor your own needs and feelings. It may be easier to focus on what your estranged adult child is thinking, wanting, or needing from you. But it’s often far more profitable to pay attention to yourself.

If you’re not clear on your motives, your communication may be murky and confusing. It could even come across as manipulative.

Other Questions to Ask

Once you’ve spent sufficient time clarifying your position in your heart and mind, you’ll be more able to assess the situation from a wider angle. You’ll want to think about possible long-term consequences of any decision you make now. Ask yourself two things:

1. What do I need to do about this, in order to be the parent I want to be?

Write down the first idea that comes to mind. 

2. How can I use this decision to protect and repair the relationship?

This second question may take more time, as it will likely require some thoughtful reflection on the issues contributing to the estrangement. (Your estranged adult child may not be available to help you identify those, but that’s where the educational resources of The Reconnection Club come in.)

As you ponder those questions, write down your thoughts. Depending on your situation, you might have more options than you first thought when it comes to your adult child’s possessions.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it passes the gut test: What does your gut say about your plan?

Most parents will do fine to follow this advice: Decide on what works best for you, but try not to do anything irreversible.

If you get rid of an adult child’s belongings, or destroy them, so that they can never get them back, the potential resentment won’t help either of you heal your relationship. If that doesn’t seem so bad at the moment, remember you might not always feel as hurt as you do right now. 

No matter what you’re feeling about your estranged adult child’s belongings, you’re not the only parent feeling this way. All feelings are acceptable, but not all actions have good results. So don’t let temporary emotions make permanent decisions.

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