A Corpse in the Living Room?

She came down the stairs and what did she find? A corpse was lying in the middle of the living room. Chaos then ensued as police were summoned, clues were gathered, and the scene was processed. How could this have happened? How did she get here?”

I’m not a mystery writer, but I do enjoy a puzzling whodunit every now and then. The appearance of a dead body is typically a shock, throwing everyone into a tailspin and launching an investigation to solve the crime. Though I can gratefully say I’ve never encountered a dead body in my work, I have run across many a corpse. Unlike the ones in thrillers, these are often sitting out in plain sight, eliciting neither acknowledgement nor reaction. How can this be?

The answer lies in definitions, as the word corpse means not only a deceased person, but anything that is no longer viable or useful. Although the item may be in working order, if you will not use it again, it is “dead” to you. Sometimes such belongings are stashed in an attic or basement, but just as frequently, they are allowed to gather in prime locations, such as the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, or living room.

Taking a cue from the mystery writers, here are a few questions you can ask to help you identify – and then remove – corpses from your space.

Who/what is the victim?

The first step is identification. This sounds obvious, but often we own things that we don’t recognize. The odds of using something whose purpose we are unable to ascertain are slim to zero. If you don’t know what something is, ask friends, family members, and/or look online. If you still can’t figure it out, move it out to trash or recycling.

Who put it here?

This can be helpful as an object’s provenance often contributes to our rationale for holding on. For example, a piece of furniture passed down from a beloved family member tugs on our heart strings, while a toy brought home from a fast food restaurant does not. If you have many corpses in your space, and the answer to this question keeps coming back to the same individual, this is the problem you need to solve. Do you need to keep everything from Dad or are a few, special belongings enough? Does one member of the household keep bringing new objects into the space for the wrong reasons? What conversations or strategies might direct these emotions in a more constructive direction?

What was the time of death?

In other words, is it “warm” or “cold”? Old does not automatically mean worthless, but layers of dust, faded printing, past expiration dates, outgrown sizes, outmoded technology, and the like are all clues that death took place a long time ago, and the body should be quickly buried.

What was the motive?

This is the most important question! It is critical to understand why an item we don’t use is sitting in the middle of our living or working space.

  • Are we afraid if we give it away we will lose a memory?
  • Do we regret the money we spent and feel like keeping it somehow justifies the expense?
  • Do we have a vague idea that this might be useful some day?
  • Did we splurge on it simply because it was a bargain, and passing it on makes us feel guilty?
  • Does it represent a previous lifestyle that we are reluctant to release?
  • Did we buy it with good intentions, and letting it go feels like failure?
  • Are we avoiding a confrontation?

These are common explanations, but none of them justify the real estate these objects are occupying. When we acknowledge the true reason we are keeping something, we open the door to dealing with the emotion, fear or concern in a beneficial manner.

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While a murder rarely has a “happy ending,” there is a peace that comes from solving the mystery. The loss may be grieved, but the story typically ends with the characters moving forward in a positive, hopeful direction.

Do you have a corpse in your living space? Can you think of something it is finally time to release?

32 thoughts on “A Corpse in the Living Room?”

    1. Common culprits are treadmills, baby/toddler toys (e.g. the play kitchen), old craft or business supplies and books. Who wants to be walking around dead stuff.. make space for the living!

  1. Very clever, Seana! I love it. We have been updating our family room and were able to get rid of an old game console that he didn’t use. We brought it to GameStop and received a $35.00 store credit for it. It’s a great motivator for teens to see that they can get rid of something they don’t use and receive money toward something they want. Thanks for sharing.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Secrets to Making a Great Whiteboard WallMy Profile

  2. Ah, you are so clever, Seana. I love it. This is perfect for looking at this organizing/decluttering challenge. I’m still smiling (and pinning now).

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Susan. Thought it might come off a little grim, but “dead to you” is a concept worth considering. Thanks for the pin!

  3. What a brilliant analogy! I have been guilty of every one of the motives you listed, particularly those that involve some sort of sentimentality. In general, I am a neat-nic. But some things are tough to part with!

    1. We all have those things that are tough to part with… and our reasons provide just enough rationale to justify a decision that isn’t always in our best interest. At least we can know that we aren’t alone – everyone struggles with something!

    1. Thanks, Jill. I’m sure we all have come across some “corpses” in our work. Hoping a new way to look at things might motivate readers to finally shed something they’ve been holding onto.

  4. Great new perspective on our stuff! It’s in finding new ways to view our stuff and we are the most likely to let it go. Thanks for sharing a smile too. I know that when our clients find new awareness through humor it makes a difference too.

    1. I agree that humor can help us all get off the “self recrimination” track and just deal with the stuff. I once had a piece of furniture in my apartment that I had planned to refinish. I got started stripping paint, but never finished it. That piece sat in my living room for the better part of a year because I sort of just stopped “seeing” it. I remember that story and share it with clients all the time — fresh eyes can really help!

  5. Brilliant, Seana! I had no idea “corpse” also meant “anything that is no longer viable or useful”. Taking the analogy a step further, this is why it is sometimes helpful to “say goodbye” or “mourn” an item (briefly) and, if it is something special, but simply too big, too worn, too time/energy/money-zapping to keep, take a photo or “memorialize” it in some other way.
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Organizing to De-Stress a MoveMy Profile

    1. I totally agree, Hazel. We often have to mourn a bit when we let go of something, especially something we’ve held onto a long time and that has had sentimental value. It is an “end” of sorts, so if you need to pause and breathe or take a photo, go for it!

  6. I could not resist the title of this post (I love a good mystery)! I also find corpses hidden in the garage, attic, back of the master closet, you name it. I wonder if the “murder” could have a happier ending when the “corpse” is given a different home, and an opportunity to be “brought back to life”? 😉

  7. What an interesting take (a bit morbid, but effective) on letting go. Just noticed a few “corpses” in my dresser today and was thinking about whether it might be time to say goodbye. Could be time to recognize the chalk line and say my farewells to a few scarves that I never wear. Thanks for the nudge.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Makes It So Hard to Let Go?My Profile

    1. Yes, it is a bit “dark”… but corpses in our space can be quite a weight, right? Sometimes looking at things with fresh eyes can make us think differently! And as another commenter said, items may experience rebirth if we can get them into the hands of those who want and need them.

  8. Asking questions is such a great way to solve any mystery! The last question was the best–why do people give up valuable living space for things they neither want nor use?? Perhaps because they exaggerate the effects of finally making a decision. That creates an opportunity to introduce some new evidence–the benefits–stated as a question of course!!
    Olive Wagar recently posted…How to Score a Marvelous Morning Victory!My Profile

    1. I have learned over the years how complicated and multi-faceted the process of letting go can be. It touches in in unexpected ways. We really do need to dig down and find the source of our emotions so we can decide what the best course of action is.

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