We’ve written about how to stay healthy during the grieving process, but it’s even harder to keep your mental health in check after a loss. There’s no quick and easy fix, but one thing you can do to help keep yourself at ease is cleaning up your home.
After a loved one passes, their belongings can become a constant reminder.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to let go of the things that remind you of them. Cleaning up your home can be an important step in the grieving process, but it can seem overwhelming at times. We will try to break it down into manageable steps in this article.
The KonMari Method
The KonMari method, developed by Marie Kondo, is an easy, empathetic approach to tidying up that can help you through this difficult task. Though you needn’t follow it exactly, we will outline the basics of it here to give you a place to start. More information about the KonMari method is available here, as well as on her Website.
It’s important to clean up your own belongings as well as those of your loved one. Cleaning your home and decluttering helps put you at ease–and during a time of grief, you need that more than ever.
Step 1. Clothes
Empty your closet. Hold each item, and ask yourself:
Does this spark joy in me? Does it mean something?
If the answer is yes, then keep it. If the answer is no, then discard it. Trust
your gut. Don’t keep something you’ve never worn just in case you might
wear it someday. You probably won’t.
For clothes belonging to your loved one, ask yourself the same question.
Take your time and be honest with yourself. Don’t force yourself to get rid
of things before you’re ready, but if you find yourself needing more time,
don’t leave it too long and let the task become more daunting.
Step 2. Books
Take each book off the shelf. Hold it, flip through it, and again, ask:
Does this spark joy? Does it mean something?
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a book you keep putting off reading, or that
book you’ve read a thousand times–if it’s meaningful to you, keep it. If it
isn’t, then it goes.
Step 3. Papers
This step is an especially important one following the loss of a family
member. It can be easy to put off dealing with papers and legal
documents, but this can come back to bite us if we aren’t careful. Start
small and use folders. Keep important documents, and slips of paper that
may have memories attached that you want to hold onto. Organizational
items such as drawer dividers can make this step so much easier.
Step 4. Miscellaneous
Because there are so many items that fall under this category, it can be
hard to stay motivated. It’s important to remember that a clean home
makes for a calm mind. Stay strong!
You can help yourself by creating your own subcategories. If you have a
lot of one thing, such as makeup or old CDs, make a category for it and
start there. Once you’ve split your miscellaneous clutter up into more
manageable groups, it won’t seem as intimidating. Again ask if each item
sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, discard it.
Once you’ve cleared out anything you no longer want or need, find a place
for your new categories. Just because they’re miscellaneous doesn’t
mean they have to clutter up your home. Marie Kondo advises the use of
bins, tins, and trays to store items, so that you can store them vertically
and keep them out of the way. You can also use drawer dividers and
closet organizers. As long as you’re left with a tidy, comfortable space,
anything goes. Get creative!
Step 5. Sentimental
Step 5 is perhaps the most difficult category: dealing with sentimental
items. You’ve likely already gone through some in the previous categories,
but in this step you’ll go through any remaining items and decide which
you want to keep and which you don’t. In the wake of a loss, this can be
very emotional, and there’s no harm in stepping away to go for a walk or
make yourself a cup of tea. Try not to leave for too long, however, as it will
only become scarier and more difficult over time.
For each item with sentimental value, ask yourself: does this spark joy?
Does it make you light up inside? Spark a vivid memory? Do you need this
item for the memory to still be meaningful?
There will be items you can’t and shouldn’t let go of just yet, or maybe
ever, and that’s just fine. KonMari tells us to hold tight to what brings us
joy and makes us feel alive. Find a way to honour those items. Whether
that means putting them in a box somewhere safe or putting them on
display is up to you, and that might change over time.
Objects Aren’t Memories
While there will be items that spark joy in you and make you reminisce about your loved one, it’s also important to remember that you don’t need to keep everything with a memory attached to it. This will weigh you down and leave you feeling burdened. Objects don’t define a memory–you do!
Keep The Best & Toss The Rest
This is a tip from Good Housekeeping that we felt was important to showcase here. The idea is that if you clean out most of the clutter in your home, it’s easier to showcase the sentimental items you do keep, rather than stashing them away in boxes or closets.
The Barn’s Burnt Down, Now I Can See the Moon
This evocative phrase comes to us from Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide. Good Housekeeping writes:
“Remind yourself that you’re not casting memories and heirlooms to the side — you’re creating breathing room in your current life, freeing yourself of extra weight, and recognizing that what’s most important is happening right now — not in a box in your attic.”
— Lauren Piro (full article here)