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My View: Decluttering as an act of processing grief

My View: Decluttering as an act of processing grief

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Holly Olmstead

Holly Olmstead, of Kenmore, found an appreciative new owner for her family’s dining room table.

By Holly Olmstead

A recent study, done before this pandemic by Amerispeak and WebMD, found that “57% of Americans are grieving the loss of someone close to them over the last three years.”

I am one of those people. What I have learned about grieving people is that we all handle our personal grief so very differently. I am the type of griever who rids herself of “his” belongings. It was and continues to be my way of coping.

The process began about three years ago. I strategically found people, family members first, who I knew would appreciate the item as well as hold dear the memory of my late husband.

The process of exchanges went smoothly with the what-you-might-expect niceties. This purging of things due to grief, however, has morphed itself into the consideration of other house items, now moving into the furniture category and the realization that when a family changes due to life circumstances, the items in a home do not change.

So, I’ve been asking myself, “Are these items relevant to me now? Are they blocking future endeavors? Controlling me in any way?” I seem to always answer with the need to purge.

So, now to be intentional and purposeful about my life, I am continuing this process. Photographing the “thing,” advertising its availability on a social media site, it being picked up. The recipient and I barely exchanging a word, no history shared of the piece, the deed happening in my driveway. Done. It is amazing how easy this process has become and how much I am enjoying the light and space that is left behind but, sadly, have come to accept the lack of any emotion with the new owner.

Until the dining room table. A hieroglyphics of our lives. The first major piece of furniture late hubby and I purchased together for the house. Memories of the high chair, the traumatic moment of a food allergy, homework viewpoint arguments, meal time candle burning, Thanksgiving dinners, birthday parties, social gatherings – 40 years of gathering and living.

I thought of the other things that were given away. This was clearly more difficult. More personal with our family history literally etched into it. I imagined it leaving me in the same way. On the other hand, did I want a table to hold me back from making my current living space more conducive for me now?

I took photos, prepared it for its re-homing, and posted its most flattering pictures on social media. The first response came within the first hour. Oh, I thought, here we go. This exchange was very different. I noticed the careful attention to the way my family heirloom was packed into their vehicle. It felt like the bittersweet tenderness one experiences when losing a great friend.

Those nicks? “A little Pledge Restore and Shine won’t hurt,” he said.

We shared a personal story or two. She handed me a gift bag with my name on it. I appreciated the words of gratitude. But, what inspired this writing and the memory I will keep is the message just received, and a day after.

“I will treasure the table and create new memories with gatherings of friends and family. Thank you so much.”

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