Okay! I did it. I cleaned out my closet this morning. I got rid of all the things that didn’t fully bring me joy. This Christmas my husband gave me the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It is not a big book, but it is a significant book in that is challenges us to free ourselves of unneeded stuff. Following the author’s instructions I went to my closet took out all my cloths and laid them on my bed. I then proceeded to pick up each item and ask, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer was, “no” I tossed it in a discard pile. This activity did produce some anxiety as Kondo predicted.
Discarding one’s stuff brings up attachments to the past and anxiety about the future. But knowing that I would be anxious I pressed on and in about an hour I had accumulated a large pile of clothes. When I finished my task I quickly left the house for a walk at which point my dear husband went to the bedroom per my instructions and put the clothes in plastic bags and dropped them off Goodwill. This morning I went into my closet feeling relaxed and happy as I dressed in my favorite jeans and sweatshirt. A great sense of joy came over me knowing that I had started to tidy up my life.
My decluttering experience brought to mind an often-asked question relating to deceased loved ones. How long should one wait before cleaning out a child’s room or my deceased spouse’s personal Items? The answer: it’s different for everyone. But, if you are ready to make a change I suggest you try Kondo’s “spark joy” approach. Start by asking yourself, “Does an unchanged room, closet or even a shrine really spark joy in me?” Even memorial gardens take time to weed and clean, and crash sites take time to visit. Is dusting those old toys really making you happy or does the fact that there is nothing new in an unchanged room just making you sad? If sad is the answer you might want to consider decluttering your grief. I am not saying it is easy and often there are others to consider. If you feel that you are ready for a change ask yourself this question, “Am I doing things that give me joy or am I just following old habits or supporting others in dealing with their grief?”
Remember, how we grieve is related to how we lived prior to our loss. There is no right or wrong way. Sometimes we are forced to make compromises that are contrary to our desires but help us move on in our grief. If you are doing things that no longer “spark joy” it may be time to consider discarding items and behaviors related to your deceased loved one.
Of course, we all know that change is not easy and it is anxiety producing. So be willing to compromise with your family members and accept the fact that you may have to break promises in order to get started. Below are some examples of clients who made changes.
Tending The Grave
Jim, Cindy and their fourteen-year-old son Josh came to me with the complaint that Josh no longer wanted to make the monthly Sunday visits to the cemetery to “care for and tend” his sister’s grave. Trixie was eight-years-old when she was hit and killed by a drunk driver while walking home from school with a friend. It had been two years. Josh said he hated going to the cemetery and was “just done with it.” Jim supported his son while Cindy felt hurt and betrayed that her husband was not supporting her. Jim and Josh didn’t want to hurt Cindy but neither found it necessary to visit Trixie’s grave in order to remember her. Cindy was disappointed but tried to understand. Jim, seeing Cindy’s hurt, said that he was willing to go three times a year and she could pick the days. Cindy agreed and Josh then relented and said that he might go sometimes. The last time I heard Cindy was still going monthly with both Jim and Josh attending on Trixie’s birthday.
Discarding Personal Items
Sue and Richard came to therapy with the complaint that Sue refused to visit her in-laws because she was hurt by a critical comment made by her father-in-law. Richard’s father said to Richard, “it’s been ten years, isn’t it time to move on?” He thought that leaving his grandson’s bedroom the way it was when he died was sending the wrong message to the rest of the family. When I asked Richard what he thought about his dad’s comment he admitted that while he wanted to support Sue he felt his dad had a point. Sue, who was visibly angry at Richard’s response, quickly struck back, “the day our son died you agreed that the room would never change. Your father is just wrong and joining him makes you a liar.” Richard said that he liked going into the room following their son’s death but it now felt dusty and dated. Sue followed by saying, “Well a promise is a promise.”
I pointed out to the couple that sometimes you make promises in good faith, but circumstances change. Richard agreed, but Sue wouldn’t let him off the hook, saying again “a promise is a promise”. Richard, feeling frustrated, finally said, “Sue, I admit that I lied, but now I want to change the room. I want to take back our home.” Sue was shocked and I could see that she had finally heard Richard. Last time I talked to the couple Sue had given some on their son’s clothes away and was slowly packing a memory trunk. She again agreed to visit her in-laws and along with her husband planned to repurpose her son’s room as a den.
Seven decluttering tips using the “spark joy” approach:
- Visualize in your mind what you want to achieve. This helps you establish an intention for change.
- Expect to feel anxious as you are giving up an attachment to the past while freeing yourself for the future.
- Have a supportive person close at hand. Mine was my husband.
- When you are ready pick up or touch the items one-by-one and as you touch them feel if they “spark joy,” if not, put them in a discard pile.
- Have a special trunk or memory box on hand to store those items that “spark joy”.
- When you are finished leave the area and have your support person dispose of the items.
- Reward yourself for a job well done!
Remember, the present moment is our only reality and it is in this moment that there is real peace and joy. The past is history, the future is a mystery and the gift is now and that is why it is called the present. Spark Joy!!!!!!
I agree with a lot of the suggestions she recommends. However #6 and the wording is insensitive. The mementos and items a loved one packs up is not garbage and should never be “disposed” of. Yes it may be put away in the closet or attic or giving away to a new home but I would simply never dispose of a deceased loved one’s items. That is out of the question and very disrespectful to the mother/family of the deceased person and to the loved one who passed away.