Decluttering With My Mom

This weekend I had a special chance to help my Mom de-clutter and organize a couple of spaces in her home. I was spending a few days visiting, longer than I am normally able to do, and I offered to help out if she wished. At first I think she felt guilty that I was “working” while visiting. However, once we got going and my Mom had a chance to see how much fun I was having, I think she realized that letting me help in this way was my privilege.

Many people I know, both friends and clients, have had the job of clearing out a parent’s home. Often, this task presents after the parent has had to move into a care facility or has passed away. This is always a difficult challenge, as the process of clearing away belongings gets mixed in with emotions of grief or loss. I am so thankful to have had the chance to work side by side with my Mom, with no impending deadlines or sad situation looming.

Working with clients on decluttering is a tender process. I believe it is always important to tread lightly, to listen, to observe, and to dialog. I frequently remind myself that I am not the client, these are not my things, and the way I function may be different than the way someone else does. I never pressure anyone to give things away. Instead, I guide clients through the decision-making process and headed toward their goals. When working with my Mom, I wanted to be especially focused on ensuring that she not feel pressured or judged. Early on I let her know that I was simply here to help, and that she could have things her way. Setting this tone allowed us to relax and have fun.

My part of the process was to:

  • Unpack the contents of all of the spaces she wanted to address.
  • Spread items out at a comfortable level for reviewing.
  • Group items into categories to facilitate easier decision-making.
  • Bend down and climb up to clean all the surfaces once spaces were emptied.
  • Offer opinions when asked.
  • Rehang garments after she tried them on.
  • Take items she no longer wanted to the appropriate exit zone (donations to staging areas, trash outside, etc.).
  • Reload belongings my Mom chose to keep into the appropriate locations in an organized fashion.
  • Offer a professional opinion on products and/or systems she might want to consider.

Her part of the process was to:

  • Review items and decide what she wanted to keep.
  • Try on the garments she wasn’t sure she wanted.
  • Choose whether to donate or discard pieces she no longer wanted.
  • Select charities for the various items she wanted to donate (My Mom has lived in her community for a long time and had different recipients in mind for different objects.)
  • Direct me on organizing systems that she already had in place and wanted to maintain before I reloaded.

While much of this experience mirrored my normal client work, there were a few “special gems” of going through the process with my Mom.

#1 Many of the pieces brought back memories for me, as well as for her. We were able to share these memories and do a bit of join reminiscing.

#2 Some of the items my Mom decided to keep for my children (and my sister’s children). I felt her love for my family as she made these intentions known.

#3 My Mom showed me a garment she is holding onto as a possible burial dress. While some people might think this seems morbid, I do not. I am glad to be aware her preference, and I think this knowledge will offer me peace when the time comes in the future. In fact, seeing this garment will be a pleasant reminder of this precious weekend.

#4 Talking with my Mom about her possessions gave me a fresh window into who she is, how she thinks, and what she values. What a treasure to have an even deeper understanding of this special person I have known and loved all my life.

My Mom is very organized, so the “before and after” photos aren’t particularly striking. Nevertheless, it is fun to peak into the process.

China Cabinet Before
China Cabinet During
Work In Progress
China Cabinet After
Closet After – Left View (We forgot to take the before)
Closet Shoe Storage
Closet After – Right View
Clothing to Donate
My Mom and Me
(Not during our work sessions, as we were both dirty while working!)

As always, a highlight of the process was that moment when we sat back and enjoyed the fruit of our labor. In this case, I was tickled to hear my Mom say, “I’m starting to think of some other spaces I need to tackle. You need to come back!”

*     *     *     *     *

The relationship we have with our belongings can speak volumes about who we are. Do you have any poignant memories of a loved one and something he or she loved?

32 thoughts on “Decluttering With My Mom”

  1. Aw, I love how you and your mom worked so well to organize together. Truly put a smile on my face to hear how she wants you to return to help me. Plus, loved seeing the beautiful photos of you together, as well 🙂

    1. We really had a good time working together. When I went to post a photo, though, she and I looked in the mirror and said, “We’re not taking a picture now!” LOL

  2. How lucky you both are to have one another…and be able to work together in this way. I’m sure your mom appreciated your expertise, patience, and help, as evident by her wanting you to come back. And I can tell how much it meant to you to be able to help your mom in this way and get some additional insights into who she is. Hold those memories close.

    You made me remember something about my mother-in-law who died almost ten years. She let her kids know what she wanted to buried in, and it wasn’t a dress. She wanted to be in her favorite sweat suit so she’d be comfortable. That always cracked me up. I was glad that she made her wishes known.
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    1. Oh Linda, I love this story about your mother-in-law. She sounds like a delightfully practical lady:) Talking about these topics when we are not “in the heat of the moment” is very wise I think. From my perspective, the more I know now, the less I will have to figure out when I’m feeling so sad.

    1. It really was precious time, Ellen. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity, as I know many people do not. Now she wants me to come back and work with my Dad:)

    1. I’m so happy that you also got to enjoy this special time. As no deadline is looming, we just relaxed and took our time. Now she wants me to come back and work with my Dad in his closet LOL!

    1. I had that same thought, Sabrina. Going through this process familiarized myself with my parents own, which I know will come in handy in the future. I’m glad you were able to enjoy a similarly precious time!

  3. I often wonder what my mom would have thought of my current career as a professional organizer. I know she would have been proud of me, because she always was. She was quite organized herself, but kept way more stuff than I would like to have been left to deal with. What a great example you and your mom are setting for others! I know it can get tricky, working together on a project like that, but it sounds like you both managed it well and are even closer for it.
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Are You Getting to Good Enough?My Profile

    1. Indeed, I think it offered my mother a window into what I do. She was telling her neighbor that she was working with her “professional organizer daughter,” which made me feel good. Now she wants me to come back and help my Dad with his closet 🙂

  4. I love how through this process you and your mother were able to discuss and share freely about the dress she wanted to keep for burial (and what else that brings up for you). In my mind it’s not morbid – but rather a beautiful expression of trust and comfort for both of you. None of us will avoid death, right? I wish our culture overall did a better job of embracing the topic. I also love your point of “offer opinions when asked” (something else we could all do a better job of!). Thanks for sharing your lovely experience with us!

    1. Thanks for the affirmation Sara! It was a special time, and it was good for me to learn how to adjust to honor my Mom and still provide my expertise:)

  5. It is wonderful that you were able to help your mother organize and you were able to share memories and enjy reminiscing in the process. It is especially great that you were able to take your time working through this process with no impending deadlines or sad situation looming. That being said, be sure to thank your mother for discussing the burial clothing in advance with you. After my mother unexpectedly passed away, I remember how hard it was to make that burial clothing decision amongst all the grief. Thanks for sharing this story with your readers.
    Nancy Haworth recently posted…My Favorite Organizing Products for BabiesMy Profile

    1. I will thank her, Nancy. I’m sorry for your loss, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to make decisions like that in the face of unexpected loss.

  6. The burial dress thing.. you’re so right. It’s better to know it now, and in the hopes that you’ll still have many many years together – but knowing that? It helps.
    And what a privilege to do it side by side, because you’re right. So many people do it when their loved one has already passed – and they don’t get to share stories from the past and dreams for a less cluttered future.

    1. It was a rare opportunity, and I know how lucky I was. The funny thing is that I didn’t go visit for this purpose, it just happened to come about. I think we both felt a sense of joy at having done it together.

  7. Ah, Seana, what a beautiful gift you each gave each other – the gift of reminiscing and creating new memories together. These gifts are so much more precious than any thing can ever be. Sharing a sweet reminiscing smile with you.

    1. I agree, Susan. The older I get, the less “things” seem to mean. It is moments, memories, insights, dreams, etc. that I cherish most!

  8. Your mom has a lovely closet.
    My mother talks about having me help her declutter, but then she always turns me down when I ask if she is ready. She wants to go through her closet and have me pack up some china to ship it to one of my nieces. I think she feels similar to your mom. She doesn’t want bother me.

    1. It is a bit delicate for sure. I think my Mom seeing that I genuinely enjoy what I do… that I was having fun… helped a lot. Of course, it is the getting started that is the trickiest. Hoping you get a chance to get the ball rolling with your Mom, Janet!

  9. Cleaning closets and getting rid of unused items is a very freeing experience. I’m sure your Mom was extremely grateful to have the help and have the job off her “to do someday” list. It’s also great to enjoy a neat organized space and not have to struggle with moving 100 things just to get to what you want.

    1. Getting tasks crossed off the “to do” list feels so good. It was such fun for me, working with my Mom, that it didn’t even feel like work at all. It’s nice to be able to give back, even in this tiny way.

  10. Another great post Seana. This one was particularly touching, as I’ve been through this recently for my mom, although not side by side. Sounds like you made a great experience with your mom. My mom’s non-participation was a blessing in my case. As she was a lifelong pack-rat, I’m amazed at what she doesn’t miss now.

    1. That is such an interesting observation. Holding on to everything for so long, and then moving into a phase of life where you no longer care. To me, that reveals how complex our relationship with belongings really is, and also how our perspective changes over time. I’m so glad you were able to get in and do what needed to be done without having to contend with objections from your mother… both for her, and for you!

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