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.
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?