Last month I had the unhappy task of beginning to clear out my grandmothers’ apartment, where she’s lived for close to 22 years. After falling and breaking her hip last November, she has become unable to live on her own. She has had surgery and we were holding on to the hope that with enough physical therapy and rehabilitation she would be able to return to her home, but it’s become clear that that will not happen. She is now in a nursing home and we the decision was made to give up her apartment, so I decided I would take her there so she could pick out the things she wanted to keep.
My grandmother lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in a retirement home. She has always been very organized and prided herself on being able to find anything she needed at any time (I think that’s where I get it from). This fact made the clearing process much easier. At 92 years old, my grandmother is mostly still ‘with it’ and has a very strong personality to boot. I figured the process of bringing her to her home and deciding what possessions were, and were not, important would be grueling, but it was just the opposite. She said she thought she’d miss her home after being away for so long and finally knowing she would never be returning to it again, but it turned out she didn’t miss it at all, nor did she miss the ‘stuff’ she hadn’t seen in more than 7 1/2 months. When we started going through her things she wanted very little of what was there. She chose some clothes and toiletries; things she would need in here new location at the nursing home, and that was it. I was surprised because I would have wanted everything. I would have wanted to capture every memory and hold onto every trinket, because they signified my life, but those were just ‘things’ to her.
I did end up taking my grandmothers photos and special memorabilia to my mom’s house (maybe more for my mom and I than for her), but the majority of her stuff, is just that…stuff. After accumulating it over a lifetime, she realized that it just takes up room in a space, not in her heart. Now that stuff is just a burden.
I tell this story here, because it was a reminder to me that our things don’t make us who we are, they are just a means to help us live our lives. Many people, young and old, face the need to downsize, whether it’s for a move or just a desire to live a simpler life. Regardless of why, it’s usually a very difficult and often painful process, but it doesn’t have to be. Whenever I work with clients who are having a difficult time letting go, I ask a few leading questions… “What does this item mean to you?”, “When is the last time you used it?”, “When do you see yourself using it again?”. The answers to these questions usually begin a thought process which allows the client to let go of those items without a sense of guilt, leading to a sense of relief. The inability to let go of things that you know, in your heart of hearts, you don’t want or need often cause people to feel ‘stuck’ in their cluttered spaces. Whether you are asking yourself the tough questions or need the help of someone else to ask them, the key is to start asking.