“Mom, can you help me move my stuff?” My son was on the phone, and he wanted help moving out of his apartment in Washington, D.C. It’s that time of year, when college students returning to school and other young adults starting a new job or graduate school pack their items into the back of the family car and head out for new adventures.

I was annoyed at my son’s request. My husband and I have helped our son and daughter move many times over the last decade. We have also stored their stuff in our basement and garage. Each move involves a reorganization of not only their belongings, but ours as well, and each time I am struck by how much stuff we have and how much time it takes to keep it all organized.

Jim and I started our married life with an old car, a few boxes of books and kitchen items, and student-loan debt. Thirty-one years later, we have two children, two cars, and a house laden with possessions. Over the years, as objects filled up our house, I realized that one of my duties was to manage all of those things. Turns out, “Mom” actually means Material Object Manager (M.O.M.).

When we moved to Portland three years ago from Waterville, both children were living on their own, and I thought my M.O.M. duties were over. The move spawned a massive purge of the material objects that had been packed into the house for 25 years, and we were on our way to a simpler life. The kids were launched on their trajectories and we were reinventing ourselves as a post-parenting couple. It was a newfound freedom for all of us.

But I learned that kids don’t ever really leave the house – at least not our kids. Our getaway plan was foiled by attachment, not to our possessions, but to them. We are still a family, and we still take care of each other.

The basement is still full of their belongings, and I am still the M.O.M. We still help them move, and we still store their stuff. Apparently we have a silent deal: I keep their things organized and maintain a mental inventory so I can find any item when they need it, and they live with little thought of what they’ve left behind.

In the early years of our family, we didn’t have much money, so living as a minimalist wasn’t a choice. Now I find myself seeking simplicity at every turn. I want to get rid of everything superfluous – emotional, psychological or material– and that mass in our basement makes a muddle of my quest.

The kids want a minimalist lifestyle, and who can blame them? So we keep their things as they make their way, unencumbered. And the truth is, I’m not sure I want them to take it all away. Because when they do, will that mean that they are really, finally, gone?

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