The Grief of Saying Goodbye…to our stuff

This is a repost from Laurie Blaikie, Many Thanks

January 6, 2017Grief and LossGrief, Letting Go, Loss
We often think of grief and loss as relating to life events such as the death of a loved one or being let go from a job…but what about, through financial difficulties, divorce or aging, we lose our stuff.

There’s help for the physical process.

I recently met with Susan Kemp of 4 Life’s Transitions (www.4lifes.ca). Susan and her team help families and older adults deal with the issues and challenges of dissolving a lifetime of residential accumulation. A large part of Susan’s work is supporting individuals to sort through their belongings with the goal of moving their treasures on to new owners.

As we talked, it became clear that often the most difficult part of this process for people isn’t the physical moving of the items, but the act of letting go. A table isn’t only a table; it’s the location of countless family dinners and the associated memories. Even simple items such as a collection of sewing fabric is a reminder of when each piece was purchased, or was left over from making a child’s cherished prom dress.

There are ways to cope with the emotional process.

Some people have no problem saying goodbye to their things as they choose to move them on to others. In fact, individuals practicing minimalism or simplicity report that the act of downsizing their possessions is emotionally freeing. The important word here is “choose”. How do we cope when we are forced to say goodbye to our treasurers or possessions by events beyond our control?

Recognize that the process is difficult.

The process of letting go is hard, so be gentle with yourself. You know the healthy things that make you happy and help you relax, so make sure you have easy access to these things. Have trusted people ‘on call’ who are aware of what you’re doing and can offer support.

Be sure to take frequent breaks–nothing can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed than being tired or hungry. I often encourage my clients to create a ‘self-care box’ that houses items that they can use to help with calming. While the contents are individual, some people include a favourite movie, tea, bubble bath, journal, list of phone numbers of supportive friends/family members, etc.

Share the task with a friend or family member. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of “The Minimalists” describe hosting ‘packing parties’, where they enlisted friends with task of boxing up Ryan’s possessions. In this way, many people are there to help, and it was a party.

It’s not just about stuff—some items are emotionally loaded.

It’s easy to get blind-sided by the memories of our possessions as we sort through them. Not only can this add a lot of time to the process, it can also leave us emotionally drained. Besides tapping into the self-care ideas/box mentioned above, what are your other healthy coping strategies?

Have a ritual for saying goodbye. Some people take pictures of their possessions before putting them in a box. This way, they can visit their ‘things’ whenever they want. Other people will write a farewell note to items that hold special memories.

Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, encourages her readers to imagine the new life that their possessions will have when they meet their new owners. When I chose to donate many of my children’s toys when I downsized my home, it helped to think about the children who would be able to enjoy them. Especially since my adult children had outgrown the Fischer Price castle!

Control who receives your items.

I recognize that choosing who is to receive your possessions can be tricky. In some families there is little argument about who is to take home Dad’s stamp collection or Grandma’s favourite china cup. In others, disagreements about who takes possession of possessions can cause permanent cut-offs between family members. If you think that your family may fall into the second camp, it’s a good idea to work with a therapist to help sort out the underlying feelings that are leading to these arguments. Often, the fights are not about the family china, but deeper, undisclosed issues.

On a more positive note, when my grandmother decided to move into a senior’s home and pass on her possessions, she chose who was to receive each item and then spent many years visiting her ‘things’. Nana reported feeling great joy at seeing how her belongings took on new lives in her grandchildren’s homes.

Tap into your values by supporting a charity.

Donating our items can be a wonderful way to say goodbye. For some people it gives the process of letting go a sense of meaning. If your favourite charity doesn’t accept physical items, selling your belongings and donating the money is an alternative. Some agencies, such as the Mennonite Central Committee will even pick up large items such as furniture.

At the end of the day, it is only ‘stuff’. As Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff says in the 1938 Academy award winning movie “You Can’t Take It With You”; “As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends”.

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