It’s one thing to deal with our own clutter (uh-hmm, possessions). What happens when we have to dispose of our loved one’s things? Holly Whiteside, author of The Caregiver’s Compass, offers a thought-provoking perspective as she faces the disposition of her late mother’s treasured possessions. This is the second of her two-part article. The link to the first is below.
Brenda Avadian, MA, Editor, TheCaregiversVoice.com.
Meaning, Madness, & Reality: Other’s Stuff
by Holly Whiteside
In Part One – Owning One’s Stuff, we explored the meaning of clutter and the benefits of digging deep, both literally and metaphorically. The meaningful connections in one’s life between clutter, habit, and history is inextricable. What then do we do when faced with the possessions and clutter of others?
Possessions and history took on a new meaning when it came time to dispose of my mother’s belongings after her transition.
In my caregiving diary I wrote:
After February, with all its funeral focus, weeks of rain arrived and it’s time to sort through the family things. Dissatisfaction creeps in quickly as my house gets messier. The lawn grows long, flower beds weeding in thickly as my dining room clots with childhood drawings and elementary school grade reports. Silver thimbles fitting smaller fingers. Letters to Great Grandmother from a couple of Civil War soldiers. Dim daguerreotypes of grim faintly familiar faces.
My two elder sisters came to help, but the way we related to all this history was wildly at odds. My eldest sister devoured it, sitting for hours reading family letters, sleuthing out romances in the ancient stories. My middle sister loved ancestry and old things. It all gave me the willies. As the caregiver, I didn’t want to be looking back, wading through history. I wanted to look forward. For the next three months I divested myself of shadows of the past as artifacts of Mom’s life passed through our fingers.
I asked myself:
Is it preserving a person’s essence to keep their stuff? Why try to hold on? And to what? If no things were carried on, Mom’s life might in some sense seem pointless.Yet hand-me-downs hold me in the past, bring bits of past into the future, slowing it all down. The past drags at the heels of the future, makes it keep looking back over its shoulder. It’s good to let go, to be forward looking, as Mom liked to put it.
What if things are only things? Matter, as in a thing, need not matter. Matter also means to make a difference. Those who have peopled my life have already mattered—no need to commemorate them in clutter. Well, maybe just a few special things.
We cannot help but carry within us the impression people have made on us, the way our fabric is altered by their temporary presence. Perhaps it is the change within us that we carry, to which we’re attached, that we help to preserve by keeping the things of their life. We like reminders of those we still love.
A Footnote on Clinical Hoarding:
Everyday accumulation of stuff is not to be confused with the mental illness of hoarding. Whether thinking about our own propensity for clutter, or the cluttered lifestyle of a loved one, it pays to know the line between normal clutter and chronic hoarding. If you are concerned about the messiness your loved one’s living space, visit The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD). Learn more rather than risk overstepping the personal rights of your loved one. NSGCD has identified a five-level hoarding scale to help determine a person’s level of need, as well as the level of training required of those seeking to help them. Levels 1 and 2 are degrees of normal clutter. Levels 3-5 represent behaviors ranging from compulsion to mental illness, with increasing degrees of health hazards. These last three levels require the help of professionals which may include professional organizers, mental health professionals, or the health department.
If your loved one is level 1 or 2, with no apparent health hazard to their habits, let them be. Everyone has their own standards of neatness and cleanliness. And as noted earlier in this article, it’s rarely about the stuff.
Holly Whittlesey Whiteside
The Caregiver’s Compass
Guest Expert Blogger to TheCaregiversVoice.com
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