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Redecorating When the College Kid Moves Out

To Paint or Not to Paint? And What About All That Stuff?

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One of the benefits of an empty nest is all that extra room. (The lessening of the dirty laundry piles is a plus too.) But when kids leave for college, they usually come back - for holidays and at least the first summer or two. And for all their bravado, college freshmen can be fragile creatures, fiercely independent ... but don't touch the teddy bear. So there's a fine line to be trodden here. You may want to repurpose that bedroom as a younger sibling's lair, a craft studio or home office. Or simply shovel out some of that stuff. But what's the best way to do that and how soon can you start?

  • Heads Up: Junior may be moving out, but psychologically and emotionally, it's still his room, so a little sensitivity is definitely in order. Talk it out with your college kid, and his little brother or whoever is coveting the space. Most older siblings are well aware of younger family member's real estate desires, especially if younger sibs have been sharing a room. So be up front about it. What's OK? What's not OK? Often, the issue isn't so much the posters and wall paint, as a worry that he won't have a place to return to, or that you'll mistake his treasures for trash.

  • Timing is Everything: Some parents find painting and redecorating immensely cheering during those first weeks after the kids leave. Others find the messy old room a comforting reminder that their child will come home again. And still others find themselves under strict, slightly panicked orders from a tearful freshman not to touch anything. But even college kids who are fiercely protective of their home space may feel less attached to that Star Wars decor after Thanksgiving or the winter holidays. Those weeks back home make them more aware of how much they've already changed and how independent they've become. The family home becomes a nice place to visit, but they've got a second home too - on campus.

  • The Hybrid Room: No matter what you turn junior's room into, he's still going to need a place to sleep when he comes home. And when he returns for summer or any extended stay, he'll be bringing home all his new possessions, which will have multiplied alarmingly. So that spiffy new home office or fabulous craft room is still going to need a bed or fold-out couch. And it's probably best not to fill the closet with bolts of quilting fabric or exercise equipment. That room will likely revert to your college kid's quarters for at least one summer more.

  • Treasures & Contraband: Closet doors and drawers yawn open, long-forgotten T-shirts and lost PE clothes peek from under the bed, and concert tickets and crumpled English essays lie atop dressers. And who knows what mortifying or horrifying items lurk beneath the surface? There are some things you may be happier not knowing about. It's best to give your college kid ample warning before clearing out his stuff. What you consider trash may be a sentimental treasure to stow in a "baby box" somewhere, and you'll want to give him a chance to dispose of any contraband or embarrassing items.
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