06/05/2014 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Kids Are Grown and Gone But My Nest Is Far From Empty

I recently found part of a love letter written to one of my daughters over 20 years ago when she was in high school. It was at the bottom of a stack of notepaper I was using for shopping lists. Of course, I had to read it to see what it was, right? Then I had to read it a little more, holding my breath that it didn't reveal things I didn't really want to know. Thankfully, it was sweet, incomplete, and harmless.

When I told my daughter about it, her first response was to laugh and tell me to throw it away. Upon further consideration, she asked me to hold onto it until she could read it before throwing it away. It made both of us feel good that someone cared for her enough to write this naïve and loving missive. So I went to add it to one of her memory boxes in my basement, when it hit me.

Why is my house still filled with so much stuff my grown children, who have children and homes of their own, have left behind?


Barbie from 1980s

I decided to take a brief inventory of these boxes of things too precious to toss but not special enough for my children to claim. Here is the top 10 list of these treasures:

Childhood books: Still useful as I can hold out hope that my grandkids will read and enjoy these someday.

Skating costumes, prom dresses, and wedding gowns : Much less useful but too sentimental to toss, and a few of them are great dress-up costumes for my granddaughters.

Ceramic and woodshop creations: Really demonstrate a lack of talent but are still beautiful (or useful for holding candy) in my eyes.

Barbies and furnished (but somewhat broken) dollhouse: Treasures to my grandkids who have never seen Barbies with chopped hair and '80s outfits that don't velcro or furnishings that are not plastic.

Cards of all types (baseball, football, basketball, Star Wars): My son encourages me to hang onto these, as they may be priceless.

Dungeons and Dragons stuff : Never did understand this obsession, but my son also encourages me to save this because it may be valuable.

Board games: My kids were great fans of these and maybe my grandkids will use them someday? (Probably not Trivia Pursuit from the 80s, though.)

Plaques, trophies, & awards: They range from good attendance to skating medals to math trophies to a Presidential Scholars plaque. What mom in her right mind could toss this?

A track letter jacket: So proud she earned it, so expensive and so rarely worn. Again impossible to let go.

Framed photos of dead pets : Have no place to display pictures of Rocky, Tami, Bertie, B.J., etc. but seems wrong to throw these away.

I really thought these things would leave my house after college, or marriage, or setting up households of their own. There was always a reasonable excuse. Not enough storage space, have to go through it to decide what I want, etc. I should have known my children would never take this stuff.

These are really my precious memories of a special time in my life. I loved being a mother and spending time with my children. I'm the one who can't let go.

Any of you empty nesters out there have this problem? What do you do with the things they leave behind?

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This post originally appeared in ChicagoNow on January 17, 2014.