The Power of Stuff: How a 9/11 Widow Was Able To Heal and Rebuild Her Life

One of the many defining moments as an organizer came when I was called to help a 9/11 widow take care of her husband’s effects in the home. Dealing with the raw emotions was, shall I say, incredibly difficult. But with great care, I thought we could maneuver enough of his stuff to allow her to move on with her life with her two girls. Hardship forces one to look at the quantity of one’s stuff and the quality of our relationships and one’s life.

Memory (Sentimental) clutter

Discarding and donating his stuff, I thought, would be easy enough. I was so terribly wrong. Among the hats, record albums, tools, sports memorabilia, fireman articles and clothes, lay the incredible power of memories. However, my client was intuitive enough to understand that fond memories deserve honor and respect.

Stuff isn’t just stuff, but stuff becomes oppressive in our lives when we hold memory to the stuff. Preserving his memory with love was what she needed, not a bin to house it in.

After my client and her girls selected the objects that brought them the most joy, we decided to create several shadow boxes to display them on a wall. Keeping the memory alive was what allowed her to heal, and at the same time, those few items kept in honor allowed her to let go of all of the other articles that held a place in his life. She was free from the chains of clutter. The act of letting go and honoring what is most meaningful allows one to move forward in life.

Our homes are metaphors of our lives. They reflect our emotional state, ability to think and process the day-to-day challenges of life. When we experience grief, loss, trauma from stressful life situations like divorce, losing a spouse or a child, or an illness, clutter is more difficult to part with. It is truly impossible to make your best choices…emotionally stable choices, in a cluttered and disorganized home. It simply can’t happen.

The emotional toll of Clutter:

  1. Your Stuff Has Power 
    “Stuff has power, and the stuff we own has power. – Power for good or power for ill,” said Peter Walsh, famed organizer, and author. Our consumer-oriented society measures the health of our economy by spending on consumer goods. A hard lesson I try to teach my clients is that “It (life) is not about the stuff.” The organization is not something you do; it’s a way you live your life. It is not about simply cleaning up; it’s about making mindful decisions about the life you want.
  2. Stuff Invades Your Mind
    Clutter or too- much-stuff has the ability to invade your thoughts with incredible power. I’m not sure I can explain the reason behind this; I know this is true because I hear it almost every day from people seeking release and freedom from the chains their stuff has over them.  In describing their clutter conditions, my clients talk of feeling overwhelmed, paralysis, drowning, and suffocating, to name a few. 

It’s one of the reasons clutter is difficult to get rid of and keeps returning. Dealing with the stuff by putting them in bins, straightening up, and tidying will only last so long. Getting to the heart of not only what you’re having trouble letting go of but why you can’t let go is key to living your life to the fullest. 

Getting to the heart of things

Decluttering isn’t about just having an organized space. There are important conversations to unearth the beauty and vision of the life you want and deserve. Before we touched one item, we just talked.  To come up with a plan for how to proceed, I wanted to know:

  • How the clutter made her feel
  • Her vision for space and her home
  • How it was affecting her children 
  • How this affected her quality of life

By asking about the vision for her space, we created an environment that transformed not just her space but her family. When we change a family, we can change a community…a nation…our world. The organization is truly transformative.

A Happy Ending 

Six months after we ended our session, I received a phone call. She was in tears explaining that she had met a wonderful man and was now engaged. She said that letting go of the stuff allowed her to let go of the pain of that day. She was able to move on with her life, knowing his memory would be forever near them in the items of love created.

I invite you to take the journey, just like this amazing 9/11 widow, out of the context of your stuff and put them into the context of your life. Having a difficult time getting rid of sentimental things and having great memories attached to them is common.  It’s when your stuff is affecting your quality of life and ability to move on that you may want to consider getting assistance to honor the memories while letting go. Suddenly, instead of making decisions about stuff based on price, availability, etc., you will make decisions about the stuff based on the life you want. 

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Eileen