Time to declutter!

Claire has asked:

“My question: What was your approach to sorting thru all the detritus of your life before widowhood? ? There is a lifetime/house full of things from “we”. I can’t just remove it all…..too painful. So…what do i do?

Counting on your humor to guide me to a creative and whimsical solution.”


Dear Claire,

I work at a bookstore and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo just flies off the shelves.  I like her idea about envisioning how your want your time in your home to be spent.   And deciding which of your possessions brings you joy.  (My trash bins bring me painful remembrances that my husband used to take out the trash, and yet I have not discarded them for practical reasons, so huge grain of gourmet sea salt with this approach).

Make Some Space

Many declutterers advise start small, like a kitchen drawer.  I disagree.  The joy of decluttering is seeing results!  What I did was to set up an appointment with 1-800-JUNK and have them haul away piles of stuff that I didn’t care about, that had no monetary value and that was taking up space.

There!  Now I had space in my garage.  Plus, anything that said “cancer” to me was now gone.  Could I have done a better job of giving away cancer related paraphernalia?  Yes.  But I felt that I’d accomplished something, I had space to go through other stuff, and it made a huge, immediate difference that motivated me to continue.

Clearing out one closet is a start, not an end!

Get Rid of Things in Stages

Next, with the obvious crap gone,  I tackled the job in stages, going by what felt right.  Instead of giving away ALL of my late husband George’s clothes, I gave away MOST, saving some that meant something to me or that I might want to give to friends.   I did the same with some of his DVDs, etc. George was a self-described completist so it easy for me to give away all his “Mission Impossible” CD’s, but I kept the movies we’d watched together that I loved.

About six months later when things again felt too cluttered, and I was ok with my prior donations, I gave away more things.  That way, I didn’t feel like I was throwing out all my memories at once.  I could check in with myself and make sure I was good with what I’d done and felt ready to do more.

Use Remodeling or Redecorating as a Clean Up Hack

When George died, my house had a lot of deferred maintenance.  That happens with a cancer patient.  I remodeled a bathroom and kitchen.  To do that, all the cupboards in those rooms had to be emptied.  That forces you to throw things out.  Plus, why have things you don’ t like on your lovely new shelves?

Even if you’re not remodeling, pretend you are!  Or make a small, pleasing changes like new shelf paper.  Just do something that forces you to go through everything.  Remember it’s easier to have one thing that works and makes you happy, than five things that don’t.  If you have four broken crock pots, even if you and your husband cooked with them, dump them and buy one functioning one.

I got rid of oversized cookware George bought on sale.  I will never have a lobster party for twenty or cook turkey for forty.   Those things are gone now.  My shelves are more useable PLUS they have stopped mocking me for my lack of domestic prowess.

Give Away Sentimental Things in Meaningful ways

It helps to know that things your late husband treasured are going to good causes.  George had a huge collection of tools and hardware that I would never use, so I gave them to a local continuation high school.  I felt great knowing that his prized collection would be helping kids who needed equipment for shop class.

I never wore George’s expensive Swiss watch.  I really wanted to keep his Porsche, so selling the watch gave me funds for two years of car maintenance.  And I felt fine about selling the watch because someone else is enjoying it and it’s helping me keep something I do want.

If your home is filled with photos of your late husband and they’re making you sad, offer some to friends and family.  Put others in a scrap book.  I took the photos off the shelves and out of their frames, but I put them in an album so I can still look at them, but they’re not a constant reminder of what I’ve lost.

These Are Your Choices Alone

People have told me that I need to redo my life since George died.  Sell my house.  Relocate. Change out all the furniture, at least.  Don’t keep driving his Porsche!

But I get to do what I want.  What I feel ready for.  What I feel is moving towards something, rather than just trashing what I do have.  One small consolation from losing him:  I get to make all my own decisions.

So, please don’t feel pressured by allegedly well-meaning people who tell you to dump more stuff than YOU want to.  I don’t want a follow up note that you gave away your late husband’s huge, broken tractor and now you miss it desperately.  Keep it.  Maybe use it for a decorative, rustic planter?

This clearing out  should feel like the sweet ache than comes from a good work out, not the stabbing pain from moving in ways that aren’t good for you.

Please let me know if this advice works for you,











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