A Family Search and Destroy Mission

A son's move to the West Coast prompts a massive cleanup of his bedroom

Oct 01 2019 | 09:52 AM

Here’s your little league hat, what’s your hurry?

When my 24-year-old son Luke returned recently to NYC for a visit, I welcomed him with open arms and the directive, “For the last time, clean your room.” I meant it literally.

In early May of 2018, Luke graduated from his Boston-based university and by July was living and working in Northern California.

In the two months in between, Luke had paperwork and other things to do for his new company, plus relatives and Manhattan friends to say goodbye to, and packing to do. We even threw in a family vacay to Montauk. There was little time though for my request of a thorough clean sweep of his onetime boy cave.

Keeping it as some kind of shrine seemed to suit my husband Neil just fine. “Luke has to know he always has a place to come home to.”

Excuse me? Were we moving without leaving a forwarding address? All I had suggested was repurposing his corner of our world as a guest/storage room, which Luke was welcome to when he was in town.

Am I the only one who understands the value of Manhattan real estate? Not just the prices (a studio can fetch $2000 a month, more in a doorman building), but having space itself.

"Micro-living" in NYC

According to Platinum Properties, living in New York City means downsizing, with the typical apartment built since 2000 averaging 866 square feet. However, in 2016 the city council approved the Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal which allowed development of units to be as small as 360 square feet. So, it’s reasonable to assume that many people here enjoy what’s called “micro-living.” Something I remember well.

As a young, single woman living in Tutor City, which Neil used to refer to as Tutor Closet because it was, dare I say, tiny, I would be envious of peers with one-bedrooms, until I found out the apartment was shared by three people. Then of course, there’s the microscopic kitchens, where if you stand in the center you can touch all your appliances. I know someone whose bathroom doubles as a pantry. Considering that if you really want spacious living in NYC, it’ll cost you (Corcoran has a little number on East 83rd Street for 80K a month), can you blame me for wanting to reclaim a piece of my own home?

When Luke arrived, I insisted he give me at least a day to search and destroy. It took us three.

I paraphrased a 12-Step Program idiom: “Take what you like and leave the rest—to be thrown out.” Anything with true sentimental value that there was no room for in his current residence I would gladly keep in the back of his closet. Very few things made the cut.

No Regrets

As we tossed possessions into Hefty bags, Luke and I enjoyed a number of conversations that began, “Remember the time...,” yet had no regrets or nostalgia about the item that started the story: a baseball from his sixth-grade Yorkville winning game, random Yugio cards, or a basketball trophy from ... what year? Don’t get me started on books, games with missing pieces, and general “stuff.”

I knew going in that I myself would have no qualms about what was now deemed garbage. A new color and coat of paint would not erase my recollection of every incarnation of his childhood room, and because I was there at every game, event and concert, I needed no yellowed program or statuette or team jersey to remind me.

I’m grateful that I was able to afford Luke his own area of the apartment in which he could express himself with mementos that meant something to him at the time. I have even more gratitude though because he has moved on successfully in his life, ready to have new experiences and make what I hope will be happy memories—and if those include souvenirs, they will be in his own house, not mine.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the mom-centric novel "Back To Work She Goes."

Anything with true sentimental value that there was no room for in his current residence I would gladly keep in the back of his closet. Very few things made the cut.