Family,  Lifestyle

Downsizing: how to cope when the children leave home

Mary McGinty explains how moving house once her children had grown up and departed made her shed tears of both sadness and joy. 

The chicks have flown the nest. It might be a nest in which no self-respecting bird would rear its young, but it’s your nest and you love it. The shabby chic to which you once aspired is now decidedly more shabby than chic. 

The shrieks of laughter and sibling squabbles which once resounded around these walls still echo in your heart. The children (and their children if you’re at that stage) fill the place on high days and holy days. At weekends they visit, but their lives have taken them elsewhere. Round the corner or at the other side of the world, they have made their own homes. It’s how it should be and you give thanks for that. 

While you haven’t hung up your apron, your days of being a short-order cook are over and now it’s a dinner-a-deux. Sometimes there are even candles, napkins and, if you’re feeling extravagant, the blue cheese you love, the cost of which would have paid for dinner for the entire brood in the old days. 

But the old days are no more. Ambivalence fills the air as you survey the rooms filled with memories. The rooms are also filled with – for want of a better word – tat which they have left behind. 

While the chances are you’re fit and healthy, it makes sense to look to the future. Retaining your independence when frailty is a facet of your lives is a priority. The kids, of course, tell you when the day comes it will be a labour of love to care for you; it’s how you raised them. You’ve done your time as a member of the sandwich generation. Those years of caring for elderly parents and young children were golden but also exhausting. 

You know it’s time to go and you’ve spied just the place. There’s nothing stopping you. You’d start if only you knew where. Listen up, folks, to some tips from one who knows

1- Start early 

However early you think you need to start the preparations for the big move, start earlier. It’s never too early. The truth is whenever you start you’re already behind the game. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine as long as you have a plan. See number 2

2- Have a plan

You’re not going to need a spreadsheet, although if you know your way around one it’ll stand you in good stead. Even better if one of the younguns can help. Let’s face it, you’ve fed, clothed and nurtured them, so your account is very much in credit. All you need to get started is a pen and paper, lots of paper. Apparently, current thinking is to sort by categories such as books, clothes etc. Take it from one who knows, this is a recipe for tears. Big, great, heaving sobs in my case. Take it one room at a time. 

3- Sort

Four little letters, one small word. If you think it looks easy, think again. Three piles seem to be the way to go. Keep, bin, charity. An alternative to the charity is to sell on eBay or Facebook Marketplace and donate the proceeds to a charity of your choice. 

4- Memory Boxes 

The tat the children left behind, and which they have never spoken of, will suddenly be treasures of inestimable value if you bin or donate to charity. You have been warned. 

Memory boxes are the answer. First Communion certificates, first teeth and even for some of us, detention slips for the naughty young scamp of the family – chuck them all in and let your children decide to keep or discard. Again, be prepared for the sobbing. The good news is that this time it won’t be tears of frustration. There will be tears of laughter and sadness, of joy and sorrow. 

This stage is another piece of the jigsaw of your life. Please God there will be plenty more before the jigsaw is complete. 

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Mary McGinty is a co-founder of The Irish Voice, Scotland’s Irish newspaper. As a freelance journalist, she specialises in the Catholic media. She is a wife, mother of four and grandmother of four little boys, and is passionate about sharing the good works of others.


  • Wendy Coleman

    Lovely to read, & believe me there were huge gulping sobs when I packed up, sold & gave my 32 years of marriage & family possessions before leaving SA & moving to NZ. There were also great gulping sobs & awesome memories when I unpacked the small boxes I could afford to bring, 5 months after my arrival. Downsizing is also awesome though, I took heed to bring the things that make me me, even if impractical & worth nothing. 💞🤗

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