Something that I learned from doing space cleaning with clients is that the root cause of most hoarding is grief and trauma. A lot of people were orderly their entire lives until one of their parents died, and that is usually the trigger. While that tends to be the major one, there are of course a million sadnesses that we mourn.
In all the home visits I ever did, I never once knew anyone to sort through or get rid of a single box of grief clutter. As far as I know it can’t be done.
This is because our culture does a very sparse job of acknowledging the dead. We don’t really have monuments or altars the way that a lot of other cultures have always done. Our funerary rites aren’t completing the work.
Right now I can personally identify with the idea of wearing black from head to foot, covering myself with a knee-length veil, and putting a dry dark wreath on my door so people know to stay the heck away from me with their pat phrases.
You Can Always Get Another One
Maybe You Can Clone Her
And the enduring winner, Did You Keep Her Wings?
Those of you who are mourning humans, I certainly hope nobody has said these things to you about your person, and if they have, send me a note and I will go throw rocks at their house for you.
Never forget, whatever is the worst thing you could possibly think for one person to say to another, someone will say it to you while you are grieving - and then someone else will invent a newly horrid way to express something yet worse and allow those words to pass their lips as well.
Grief makes us exquisitely sensitive, such that, even if someone somehow knew the “right” thing to say, it would only remind us of our loss. There’s no way through it without supreme irritability because our skins have just been flayed loose.
We don’t know what to do about death and loss and grief. Somewhere after the First World War, we lost the plot. The Victorians, now they knew how it was done.
I would humbly submit that keeping a catacomb of cardboard boxes would not be the most stately means of honoring our dearly departed.
Something that I try to express, while tiptoeing around grief, is that you probably know what your person would have wanted.
And it probably isn’t this.
I’ve written about this before, but if I died suddenly and my personal effects were distributed, I would be horrified if someone were to just keep a box of my random goods sitting in a closet or a storage unit. That is on my list of worst nightmares. I dedicated much of my adult working life to helping people learn to do space clearing, and thus a lingering crate of my own clutter would be like an anti-memorial. The exact opposite of everything I ever stood for.
I told my Nana once that I had every greeting card she had ever sent me. She looked appalled. “Why??” she wailed. “Throw that stuff away!”
What would your person say about those boxes?
What would be the memorial they would actually find touching?
This is actually a question worth asking of people who are still here, and certainly one worth asking of yourself.
My husband and I were sitting in a little park one afternoon in Spain, and I saw a plaque dedicating the park to the memory of a woman who had died nearly 150 years before. It was a really, really nice little park, with mature trees and plenty of benches. This is something to which I aspire. I’d like there to be a little park when I go, nothing too terribly morbid, but somewhere where young people would fall in love and families would push strollers and old-timers would sit and read.
That - not a stack of dusty old boxes, please!
We’ve been working on our grief cleaning for five days already, a little each day.
We had a bit of advance notice that the terrible day was coming, and we had already made a few decisions about where things would go.
Unfortunately, the work has been compounded a bit, because we didn’t really completely finish the job when our dog had to be put down last year. Now there are “perfectly good” items for both a dog and a parrot that really need to be heading out the door in one form or another.
Every single particle of them has memories wrapped around it.
It’s hard with a parrot because little downy feathers keep blowing out. I absolutely know that I will not be able to find them all, no matter how hard I try, and that at least a few more will swirl out of another dimension the next time we pack to move.
I know because I’ve been here before, exactly here. More than once. Turned inside out with the loss of a beloved pet and companion of many years. Undone by a floating feather.
Why we keep doing it to ourselves I don’t know. We must somehow forget what it is like to be gutted anew each time, at least enough to lose our hearts to yet another short-lived creature, and we set ourselves up for yet another heartbreak.
I wonder if Chewbacca felt this way about Han Solo.
We have to tease ourselves a bit because as real, heavy, and solid as our grief is, it only lasts forever if we let it. It only paralyzes us when we forget that our departed ones would never have wanted this for us.
I’m going to take the toys and perches and dishes and carriers and - oh lord - the sleeping cage. I’m going to somehow get them into a sad little mound in my dining room. Then I’m going to call around and find a bird sanctuary that can make use of them.
This work has already begun. It feels like my limbs are wading through quicksand as I do it, but I’m doing it. I can’t bear it, not in the least, but I am somehow bearing it, even as I definitely can’t.
How about you? Where are you keeping the grief clutter in your life? Are you going to do anything with it?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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