Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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“Stuff”

When you are helping someone downsize their life, or sorting through someone’s things after they have passed, it is quite an experience. My new client has been keeping me very busy!

I was talking to a dear friend this morning who has been slowly going through his mom’s things after she passed away last month. He got a bit teary eyed as he talked about the things he is finding and the realizations he is making. Often times, even though we know someone is a great person, sifting through their things raises your appreciation for them even more. He brought back many memories of when my own mom died. Lots of increased admiration for her, even though I already thought she was an incredible person.

My client is preparing to leave a fairly large home and move into assisted living. Her house reflects a life time of “stuff” and also that of an aging woman who couldn’t get around so much anymore. People are often very emotional about this process and I was expecting this feisty woman to be a difficult person to work with.

She has been anything but that. She is ready. I recognize that tired look and sound. Yes, I was this amazing professional for years and years, but I’m done now. I’m a bit worn out. And I don’t need the boxes and boxes of work I did. It’s not necessarily a sad thing as if everything you did was a waste. It’s just a recognition that the time has come to close that chapter.

I’ve found incredible amounts of bank statements and paid bills. She sure loved L.L. Bean! Years and years of carefully folded and stacked papers, all in the recycling bin now.

Talk about bittersweet. The sadness is obvious. But there is a peace that also comes with making your environment ordered and simpler. When you get older, you realize that the really meaningful things aren’t in any of those material objects. I know it sounds cliche, but it is completely, 100% true.

I just have to throw it out there. (OOOO, great pun!) You don’t have to be “old” to experience the relief of simplifying your life. Get rid of the clutter now. You won’t regret it!


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It’s Just Stuff…Right?

One of my businesses is called “Less Mess, Less Stress.” My “nickname” on my business cards is “The Clutter Cleaner.” I’ve been doing organizing for several years, but I don’t really advertise it. Usually I get someone by word of mouth and have one to two clients a year. It’s relatively physical work so that is just fine with me.

When I first started, it would be what I envisioned- helping people cleaning out that junk room, or maybe cleaning out the garage so you can actually park in it. Then for a while, it became more hoarding or condemned houses. Sometimes I would have to hire an entire crew and we would literally have to shovel the house out. The latest psychology diagnostic manual now actually has a diagnosis for hoarding. It has probably always been around, but now there is much more exposure.

I always say that this job overlaps quite a bit with my counseling profession. First of all, people’s relationship to their belongings is very emotional. Especially when there is grief involved, my counseling skills come in handy. Then there are the people who go beyond a bit of clutter. Often times their relationship is connected to something so much deeper. Even for myself, I say only half-kidding that I put my own disease to good use. I don’t actually have OCD, but I do have some traits. Organizing is an excellent outlet for that so I find a way to make it a strength.

I’ve been asked to speak on this topic a few times as well. One of my favorites was with the Buffalo marital attorney’s group. How ironic that a couple’s counselor was asked to talk to divorce lawyers. But not as a counselor, as an organizer. A poetic moment. Anyhow, I say that if you hire me, you will love your space (whatever it is you are working on) when I am finished. You probably will hate me, but you will love your house.

It is my job to help people let go of things. The vast majority of Americans need to downsize. You don’t need more space, you need less stuff. One of my sayings that I think is typically accurate.

Recently, we’ve been helping my dad make the big decision about when it is time to live in a smaller place where there isn’t so much upkeep. It’s not only a decision about housing, but about aging. Which is always about acceptance. And aging is about approaching death as well. Which is also about acceptance. It’s emotional for Dad, but also for all us kids too.

After months of no, no, no, Dad has decided he’s ready to move. And when he is ready, he means now. We have been trying to sell the house, find him a new place, downsize his belongings, and everything in between. Life has been a bit crazy. Some of the most fun times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and reminiscing about whatever. And some of the most tense times for us have been being together and going through cupboards and disagreeing whole heartedly about how to help Dad make the shift.

That’s where I have to remember I’m a daughter before an organizer. No one in my family has hired me to take this on. But I’m used to doing it so sometimes I get a little bit bossy. But I also think that initially Dad (like all of us) needed a little nudging to move forward. Now there is no stopping him and the rest of us can’t keep up. It has been interesting to observe how he has changed over the years. My niece has been gone over 15 years. My mom has been gone nine years. Tim has been gone over five. That doesn’t even seem possible.

Over the years we have gone through various memories and belongings and initially- and even for years- so many things were untouchable. They were sacred. No one could bear to part with anything. Just looking at things would cause us to tear up or have moments of actual crying. Now time has gone by. I ask Dad about certain things and he looks at me like, “Why would I want that?” I know without a doubt that he still deeply misses and loves all those people he has lost. But he is moving on. I want to be that way too. We don’t need boxes of things and pictures galore to remember our loved ones. I see it as growth and it’s healthy. After all, it’s just stuff, right? Well, that all depends on what year you are asking!