“Tidying Up” Your Grief

Marie Kondo has been one of the most influential people in our society in the past several years.  Not only does she have a book, but now she has a Netflix series that many have loved watching as they make their mountain of clothes and start to see whether their items spark joy or if it’s time to say “thank you” and put it in the discard pile.  I have found Marie to be wise as I have watched the series, and I look forward to reading her book. She has an order in which she tells you to start your tidying. You do clothes, books, then paper, Komono(miscellaneous items), and finally sentimental items. I have made my clothing mountain, I have gone through and sorted paper, I have attacked many places in our kitchen and living room, and tried to start the sentimental items.  This is the place where many get stuck.  The sentimental items are hard.  We attach memories to things we have held onto. We think, “I can’t get rid of that sweater. My mom gave it to me. Too bad I never wear it and it’s two sizes too small.”  Or, “That’s my grandmother’s name tag for the movie theater where she met my grandfather. I Could never part with that.” As we’ve seen on the show and experienced as we have started tidying up is that our grief monsters tend to come out when we hit step 5: Sentimental items.

When my mom died, I had two houses work of stuff to go through and decide what to deal with. My mom and I had moved in with my Grammy when she was fighting cancer and we never went through her personal items after she died. So at 19 I had the task of going through and deciding what to keep or let go. From a 2500 square foot house, I kept 4 storage units worth of stuff that I needed to have time to go through. For the past almost 9 years, I have gone on whims of letting go of more when I had the mental and emotional energy to do so. Marie Kondo leaves this task for last, because she understands the need of working up to touching and feeling and thanking the items that mean the most to us. For me, I struggle purging items from family members no longer with us because I know that it was kept for so long, it must have had some sentimental value. But at what point do we decide that what was once important to our loved one is no longer something that we need to keep. I don’t think there’s any better answer than you just know, but you do have to be ready.

So what do we do with these sentimental items? Well I do have some ideas, some I’ve done and some I’ve heard others do.

  • Making a t-shirt quilt or a pillow out of your loved ones shirts or other clothing articles. I have about 10 T-shirt quilts- some with my own shirts and some with my parents. I also have a pillow made out of my mom’s favorite suit skirt.
  • Creating a shadow box. You can take some of your most prized possessions and place them in a shadow box. This way you have designated space for their treasures without taking up too much space.
  • Having a shelf with pictures and items, much like a Day of the Dead altar, to remember your loved one.
  • Taking pictures of special items and having them as a slide show. Members of my family have done this and they took pictures of some of their childhood toys and put the pictures on a USB with one of the changing picture frames so every once in awhile you can take a look at it and remember fun times.
  • Donate items to a good cause. One thing my mom and I did with my dads clothing was donating the bundle to the kidney foundation. This was a way to honor him and give back to a foundation that helped our family when he was sick.
  • Scrapbook important pictures and small, flat items.

There are so many ways you can hold onto sentimental items without drowning in them. What are some of your suggestions? If you’re starting your journey of trying to figure out what to do with your sentimental items, my biggest piece of advise to be do not rush it. Sometimes when you decide things quickly, you can make choices you may regret. You will have to be brave and truly think of what is going to be important to you 5 and 10 years from now. This phase of grief is hard and it’s messy. But you may also feel some relief once you start making these choices. I believe in you! You are strong and you can do this!


Published by Bryna Talamantez

LMFT specializing in grief counseling for children, teens, adults and families.

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