Reader Grace submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Almost 5 years ago my husband died. I was 35 years old, no children. As I approach my 40th birthday, I am attempting to unclutter my home, which also means figuring out what to keep and what to let go of that was his or ours together. This is so tough. I want to give a lot of this stuff up, but because it is “physically present” and he is not –it is my last tangible link of his presence. Help…
Grace, my heart goes out to you. I’m sorry for your loss and that you have to face such a difficult situation.
People who research and study grief report that after the loss of a loved one and the dark period of mourning, there eventually comes a period of reconstruction. How long it takes a person to mourn and then to get to the period of reconstruction varies greatly, but it appears that you have reached or are reaching this reconstruction stage in your grieving process. Having the desire to unclutter, but being conflicted about the process, is completely understandable.
The most important thing you need to remember during this process is that you are not trying to forget your husband. Uncluttering your home does not mean you are banishing him or turning your back on his memory. Uncluttering is a way for you to bring the best of him with you into the future.
As you start this process, seek out the treasured items first. Find the handful of his things that you value most and that best honor your memories of him. You will instantly recognize these special items when you see them, and they will remind you of his life and the life you happily shared together. Store these items temporarily in a secure location.
All the remaining stuff in your home that reminds you of him can be given away to charity, given to friends and family, sold, or distributed in whatever way you wish to unclutter them from your space. This could be a one-time process taking just a matter of weeks, or it might be an on-going process taking years. You need to move at a pace that is right for you. Don’t feel pressured to part with things if you’re not ready — you can spend however long in the reconstruction period as you need to.
Once the clutter is gone, find a way to honor the treasured items you decided to keep. Frame and/or display these things so you can enjoy them. Let these wonderful objects continue to bring you happiness. Since you’ll only have kept the most valuable pieces (and I don’t mean financially valuable, I mean the pieces that make your heart sing), they will remind you of the good times you shared.
Finally, if you find this process difficult to go alone, I really believe that hiring a professional organizer can be a good idea. Interview as many organizers as necessary to find one who is the right match for you. You can find professional organizers in your area through the National Association of Professional Organizers.
Thank you, Grace, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help you, and know I’m sending you good thoughts as you continue through your period of reconstruction.
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