Recently I was telling a colleague that I’d learned a crucial organizing lesson when I went through a divorce, awhile ago now. That particular lesson was the lack of importance of my “stuff.” Going through any major life event forces reflection on what’s important to us. Sometimes we remember the lessons; other times the lessons fade away. This one stuck and is part of the reason I get it – about moving on, and creating a new life. It can happen.
Another early organizing lesson came about because my house mate’s husband passed away, in his late 40’s. We have compared our lessons learned about “things” and “stuff” since we went through similar situations. This article is about moving on, after your spouse or partner has passed away.
I’ve had clients call me at different times after their spouse or partner has passed away. For some it’s after months. For others, it can take a few years, or after coming out of a depression, and even after a dozen years. Everyone’s timing is different as they move through the grief and get to that place when they call me.
Their thinking has shifted towards moving on and creating their next chapter. And so they need to let go of some of his/her things, and make home one’s own home, with selected but fewer memories of what is now the past.
Important, but not to be lived in every single day as you move on.
So – some advice for those of you who have worked through much of your grief on where to begin and how to make your home your home, again:
Just as you work through stages of grief, organizing and letting go also is best worked on in stages.
Most common: work on his/her clothes first. Why? To give yourself the space. To make the bedroom just yours now, the most intimate of spaces in your home; that’s a significant change emotionally. Or it may be because it’s easiest to find family members to give his or her clothes to. Maybe there’s more to the phrase than we realize: “The clothes make the person.”Or maybe just at this stage, it takes on a different meaning.
Next: For one woman, it was reviewing all the pictures on the walls and deciding which ones she really liked the most, letting go of the others. For another woman, it was his favorite pieces of furniture. She had an idea of what to replace it with,which made this easier. His hobbies and collections were next for another woman. For a man whose wife collected antique jewelry, this collection was his second focus.
What I’d suggest though, is that you not get rid of everything. Keep a sample of the jewelry. Or put the pictures on the walls into photo albums. Take a photo of the recliner chair that was his and just know you have it to look at when you need to.
Last to work on: for one woman, it was his toothbrush. For another, it was his book collection. He was all about his books. She went through hers first but saved his for very last. This was so touching when we went through these together. In another home, it was small renovations – changing paint colors, swapping out furniture, changing the layout or purpose of rooms.
An entirely different approach is first to reflect on this question: What was the essence of the person you loved and lost?
The essence is what you want to keep near you somehow.
ut it doesn’t mean, as you move forward to your next chapter and on your own, that ALL of his/her things need to make the journey. You’re making a new chapter, so bring the best forward.
Create a memory box — just a simple box, however large you see fit, and keep the best memories. On your closet shelf, if the box were kept there, you’d see those memories every day, which may be comforting for awhile still.
Make a memory book – a photo album, or one of the online book publishing services – snapfish and many drugstores carry this service. Compile favorite photos, sayings, letters and combine them into one hard or soft covered book.
Repurpose some of his or her things. A new purpose for an old, loved, sentimental object.
A shadow box. And the ideas could go on. Talk about it. Ask your friends. Ask your widow/widowers support group, therapist or closest friend.
So how will you bring the essence, values, memories and character of this person with you, as you move into your next chapter? How will you carry on the legacy?