I've been a professional organizer since 2005, and until my grandmother’s recent passing, I didn’t hang on to things. Before her passing, I let most sentimental items go and couldn’t personally understand why people hung to so much stuff that belonged to past relatives. I understood it on a surface level and it’s my job to support my client’s in keeping what they feel they need and want. But for me, I’ve always had a strong belief that things are just things and having too many things is a burden.
I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. I hadn’t lost anyone close to me before. Yes, it’s true, I cried for weeks when my childhood dog died. But I was 19 and I never even thought to keep anything of his. When my Oma passed, things had changed, I found myself desperately clinging to the few things that I had of left hers.
When my mother and I were helping her move out of her apartment recently, I was panicked and sick over letting go of her furniture, the keepsakes, and the other knick-knacks that slowly accumulate around a life. But at the same time I also knew that keeping these things in storage, wasn’t going to bring her, or us, any joy. A lot of difficult decisions had to be made then, and it wasn’t an experience that I’d ever fathomed being a part of.
Now that she is gone, I can’t help but wonder if I should have kept more of the things that she cherished. The dining room furniture that’d she’d had since I was a young girl, the wooden hutch that had held all of her mementos from her life in Holland, and the queen brass bed frame that she had slept on for decades. One by one I sold all of her cherished belongings. I will say that every single recipient had the same loving nature that she did so I was glad to be a part of re-homing what was hers. After all of that, the experience has me looking around my own home and asking myself why I’m keeping certain things.
I’ve always understood we want to hold onto some small fragment of our loved ones. We think that, maybe, by keeping their belongings, it will somehow draw us nearer to them in times of grief, and when we’re missing them, we can hold something of theirs and it will fill the empty spot in our hearts. Like what a child does with a blankie or a stuffed animal that brings them comfort and support. A child will keep that object near and dear, and may even hold onto it well into their adult years. Being in the business of helping homes represent the ones that dwell within them, now more than ever I realize we can be attached to both the ones and the things that we love, and most importantly, to the times when we felt this love the most.
Life’s challenges grow in complexity as we get older. Our parents age, our siblings and close cousins grow up and apart, and there are no blankies or stuffies, no matter how treasured, that can ever fill that gap. When a grandparent or parent dies, the power of that loss can be more than difficult, and its force, and the grief that it entails, may bring families back together. When that happens, remembrances are shared, tears are shed, and sometimes, most importantly, mementos are found and given new meaning and purpose as reminders of our loved ones.
Which brings us full circle back to our own homes. Some of us rarely consider the things that we have, rarely wonder at the meaning, and almost all of us, astutely resist the urge to ask the question…why? Why are we keeping these things?
As a true believer in the KonMari method I have a different relationship with the things in my home. I still have items of sentiment, a handful of toys and clothing from my boys’ childhood, some jewelry from my mother, and now, a few things of my grandmother’s. I don’t have collections of any kind, or hobbies that entail gathering, and my home, for all intents and purposes, is mostly minimal.
Truth be told though, as I begin navigating a world without the love and laughter of my Oma, so viscerally present, I’ve found myself wishing that I had kept more of her things…perhaps, so that I can hang onto her a bit longer. This is natural.
Now for you the reader, as a KonMari consultant, If you have experienced loss I suggest that you allow yourself at least one year to make the decision about what to keep. Take that time to carefully consider each item, and your relationship to it before making a choice, unless you absolutely cannot wait.
Once you’ve grieved, and been present with that grief, you will find the right space in your head and heart to “go through the things,” and that will be the perfect time to do it. If you find yourself dreading it or avoiding it, it may be a sign that you’re not ready. You might want to call on a friend to help you go through a box or two. Or maybe just hold some of the objects in your hands that belonged to your loved ones, and see if you can clearly make decisions. You’ll know you’re doing the right thing by the calm and peaceful feeling you will get by engaging in this task. If it feels heavy and too much to bear then try again at a later date. If you decide to tidy, please make sure to save the sentimental category for the very end. Making hasty decisions will later lead to regret and there will be things you'll wish you’d kept.
Keep in mind that storing things in a shed, basement, or storage unit isn’t honoring your loved ones or the memories you have of them. You might want to take some of their things and display them around your home. This will be beneficial for your grieving process because you will see your loved ones things on a daily basis and it will help you to accept the loss. After a while, you might be ready to go through the rest.
In the meantime, squeeze your loved ones, and visit with them often. We want to honor the ones we love while they’re alive so they know just how much they mean to us while we can still show them.
The above photo is of my grandmother’s scarf, a purse that she knitted and a tiny pair of wooden shoes that she kept in her china cabinet.