how to dispose of your husband's childhood (and stay together)

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

Childhood Bedrooms, Dismantling the Shrine

Childhood bedrooms are great bonus spaces for empty nesters and can be transformed into anything: a guest room, an office or even an exercise room. The problem is, most people won’t touch their children’s rooms without the child’s blessing.

You lived in it for 18 years and for a lot of people, it looks exactly the way you left it, a shrine to your childhood. If this works for you and your parents then great, keep it that way. For the client I’m going to tell you about, it didn’t. His parents live in a three-bedroom apartment in New York City where space is at a premium. The client in question is my husband, Dan and this is the story of how I ruined his childhood (supposedly).


Let the games begin!

I always like to start on one side of the room and work around. If there are big pieces (unused furniture, pictures that will never go up again, etc.) those go out first. In this room I decide to move counter-clockwise because I want a warm up period for my husband and the left side is less cluttered.


Prepare for Total Domination

Organizing in any room you’re going to need a space for garbage, recycling, donations and a ‘to decide’ pile. If possible, use a cardboard box for recycling and a bag for garbage—that way it’s a one shot deal when you’re finished. A bag or box can also be used for recycling. The reason for the ‘to decide’ pile is in order to not slow you down. If you happen upon an item that you’re just not sure about, this is where it will live for the moment. Make no mistake though, this is not meant to be used as a crutch, it is a time saver.


Memories, All Alone in the Moonlight

An issue you’re going to run into quickly with childhood bedrooms is that everything is nostalgia inducing and memory laden. Remember how you used to dress the headless Barbie? Or how that broken snow globe was your very favorite? Time to create rules. For my husband’s bedroom, we had three rules and if an object did not fit into one of these three categories, out it went.

  1. When I have a permanent home will I want this object to be a part of it? My husband and I live in New York but our apartment is not huge and while we decide where we will live permanently, there are certain items that are better kept at our parent’s homes.

  2. Will I want my potential future children to play with/have this item? There are certain items from childhood that hold a special place in your heart and you hope that one day you can share those with your own children. Valid, keep.

  3. Is this something passed down/ irreplaceable? My husband’s grandparents, save for one, have passed away and so any item given to him by one of them is untouchable, period.

Divide and Conquer

I start with the left side of the room, which is home to a large desk and a certain amount of miscellaneous items. I have my husband take his position on the bed; I want him as comfortable as possible. He peers through his fingers as I hold up items: keep, donate, toss, keep, keep, my dad’s, etc.

We make headway quickly and my mother in-law is over the moon about our progress. She has retired recently and would love to use the room as her office.

My husband is not pleased. He agrees that VHS films are probably something he’s never going to watch again but he wants to keep his stuffed animals, for the kids, he tells me. Veto. Our potential future children do not need 27-year old stuff animals.

As we make our way around the room, the inevitable happens, there is more stuff than he thought. This is common, very rarely do people have less stuff then they thought they did.

With the desk and surrounding areas cleared out and placed neatly into piles, we move on to the bookshelf. This can be a touchy subject and I mean literally (forgive the pun, I have no excuse). Using Marie Kondo’s method, it is a great idea to pick up each book; how do you feel when you hold it? Decide quickly, keep, donate or burn. Kidding, I don’t condone burning books. Except for Ethan Frome, that book you can burn. With the creation of e-readers, it is possible to have your book collection go digital. I know, I know, there’s nothing like a good book.

This is the perfect opportunity to separate your favorites from the pack. Only keep the books you absolutely can’t live with out or would like to read again. The rest, donate—give someone else a chance to enjoy them.


Home Stretch

When every item has been examined one by one and categorized, there is only one thing left to do: go through the ‘to decide’ pile. The benefit of waiting to do this until the end is that by this point the client has warmed up to purging and knows which items are important to him or her. One thing to make sure of is that this does not become a ‘to decide later’ pile. Everything must be done in one shot, one go.

By the time we finish, we are both exhausted and one of us is ornery. The ornery one is not me: I have spent the day organizing and plowing through my husband’s childhood, which is both fun and interesting. He is not similarly amused. Don’t worry, we’re still together.