As long as I can remember, I have been the “keeper” of things. I had the biggest purse of all of my friends. I always had a needle and thread handy, or a bobby pin, or aspirin. Any purse I own is a Mary Poppins purse. I’ve sort of prided myself on having just about anything anyone might need.
And I thought that was a good thing.
My grandmother was a classic hoarder and I can remember as a child how difficult it was watching her house fill up around her until it became claustrophobic and she began asking us not to come in. But she always had gifts for us. She always had a sticker in her purse if we saw her at the grocery store. The smile on her face when she found just the perfect kitten card was infectious. Her eyes always sparkled at the sight of a new treasure.
Like her, I’ve always kept things. When I moved out of my parent’s house, that expanded. Any craft supply that might have value was saved. At least in my head, I had big plans to make a bajillion dollars creating art and helping make some extra income. The idea of eliminating supplies was tantamount to throwing away money. But that was only half of the problem.
Anything owned by deceased family members was kept, and any item of furniture or article of clothing previously owned by someone I loved was saved. Every birthday card was stashed in a box or an old gift bag, forgotten until the next cleaning episode that would unleash a torrent of emotions when I saw the notes and signatures of loved ones past. I would spend an hour, reading through the old notes, sob until I was sick and then shove them all back in their place, too sick and sad to do any actual cleaning.
My “keeping” had become a shrine to grief and loss. But I couldn’t get rid of it.
Cut to the beginning of 2012. I was still a relative newlywed, but my husband and I had already experienced two miscarriages. Depression and exhaustion had hit me and our house was a wreck. As a gift the previous Christmas, my mother-in-law paid for a few hours with an organization expert. To admit that I was anything more than cluttered hurt, but I had filled up a several rooms of my house with what amounted to junk and I could not see an end in sight. So I let the woman in and we got to the work of talking through some of my rationale.
As in many “aha” moments in life, answering some of her questions hit a bit of an epiphany. She was asking about what was, at the time, our computer/craft room. There was barely room in it for the computer chair to move on its wheels more than six inches in any direction. She asked me, as she had with the other rooms in the house, how the room made me feel. And almost without thinking, I said “It makes me sad. We had emptied the room out to be a nursery, but seeing it empty killed me, so I filled it up.”
Odd as it sounds, I had never really thought about that at all. It jumped out of my mouth as a surprise to me. But it really told me how subconsciously I had been filling grief with things. Seeing a pattern?
The woman gave me some amazing tips to help me get organized. And I improved what I thought was a good deal.
But I’ve never gotten past the behavior. In my little monkey-brain, things are feelings. Something my grandparents touched has become a sacred relic. A toy won on a family vacation is a tangible memory. A childhood gift becomes a reminder of when my family was together and a prayer they will be again. To think of getting rid of them causes me terrible anxiety and deep despair. When helpful family tried to help clean for me while I was not home, I grieved for weeks like I had lost those memories and family members all over again.
So you might be asking, “Are you better?” or “Have you found a solution?”. And I will have to say no.
But there is purpose to this confession-fest.
My family needs to live in a home free of my grief. They deserve not to be weighed down by the weight of all of those things cluttering our lives and taking from us. They deserve not to have to filter through the junk of my life and not to have it passed on to them.
I’m ready to re-learn to grieve and let go. To know my memories are safe without the physical debris of the experiences that is choking our home and making the act of living our lives there an unpleasant memory. .
I hope you’ll follow along and offer support and tips that helped you or someone you know. And maybe it could help someone else in the process.
I love you all and wish you the brightest March possible.