June was a challenging month for me; which meant no newsletter for you. On June 11th, I had to say good-bye to my favorite 4-legged pal, my beloved St. Bernard Mozart. He was just 23 days short of his 10th birthday on July 4th. In case you are not aware, Saints typically have a life expectancy of 8-10 years, so he lived a very good, long, pampered life. Friday evening when we came home, I washed the last few loads of dog towels and his "pads" as we referred to them - which were really just fluffy dog blankets from Costco. Mozart would not typically lay on the floor without being on his pads. After the pads had been washed, Robert asked me what I was planning to do with them as I was folding them up and stuffing them into a large shopping bag. He suggested that we let Bear use them. Bear is our almost 2 year old Malamute. I said "No." Robert looked at me a bit puzzled and asked why. I told him that I simply could not stand to look at those empty pads on the floor and not see Mozart lying on them - for me, it would just be too painful as I had so many memories of Mozart on his pads.
The next day I was at the grocery store picking up some items for breakfast. I walked past the aisle with the seasonal plastic dishware. I spotted a brightly colored turquoise dish that would make the perfect outdoor water dish for Bear. Once out of the bag and on the kitchen countertop, Robert asked me what we needed a plastic bowl for. I told him it was for Bear - for his water outside. You see, for years, Mozart had his own set of very large water dishes that we kept filled outside - he made too much of a mess to drink in the house. Robert wanted to know why Bear needed a new water dish when the ones we had worked fine. Again, it was the mere thought of me having to look at Mozart's water dish every day and know that he would never drink from it again.
Later that day, I went through the rest of Mozart's things: leashes, collars, dog food, medicine and about five different types of treats he begged for daily. I put them all into his travel container, except for the treats, which I knew Bear would be quite upset with me if I eliminated them!
If you are still reading this article, you are probably wondering what on earth this has to do with organizing. Trust me, I'm getting there.
In the past decade of working with individuals in their homes, we have worked with many families that have lost a loved one or a cherished animal. Everyone deals with grief differently as well as the "stuff" that is left behind. As a child, my mom always told us "You can't take it with you when you go." When I wrote my first book - Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life(Sasquatch 2006), I put the statement on the front cover "It's Not About the Stuff." Because, it's not. For me, the meaning is in the memory, not in the memorabilia - or all of the stuff that is left when someone is no longer with us. It was easier for me to deal with all of Mozart's stuff right away and know that I have his pictures to cherish as well as the memories. In fact, the very large picture of him that used to sit on the mantel above our fireplace now rests against the fire place below, just above where Mozart always laid on his pads. For some reason, it's easier for me to look at a picture than to see the "emptiness" represented by the pads, water dishes and leashes that hung in the closet that would never be used again.
I share this story with you because over the years, I've seen homes, garages, basements and attics overrun by all of this "stuff" that is accumulated after a loss. Many have shared with me that they can't part with these items because it is too soon, too painful, too overwhelming, too time-consuming and just too difficult to deal with. The memories will always remain, and at some point, you will be ready to deal with the stuff.
The stories I hear are painful; for example
A 93-year old gentleman with a storage unit full of papers for his deceased wife from a year ago. While his attorney has said he no longer needs any of the papers, there is something about the papers that he just can't let go - even though they are in an off-site storage unit he does not go to.
The mom who has left her child's bedroom in-tact for eight years because she couldn't bear the thought of going through her daughter's things, until she had to when she was preparing for a move. This was a real tear-jerker for me - yes, sometimes it's not just the clients that need a tissue.
One of my best friends who lost her husband a little short of two years ago who just told me recently that she was finally ready to start going through some of his things. In fact, she had her two boys select one of their dad's WSU sweatshirts they loved and she is going to make each into a pillow for her two young boys.
Here are some ideas you may wish to consider if you are faced with a similar situation
1. Find a compassionate friend that can help you go through some of the things and help you make decisions if you just can't face it on your own. Your friend can be the support system you may need to help you through this process.
2. Determine a reasonable amount of space that you have to store your favorite treasures. Simply stashing everything in boxes in a garage or storage unit will not let you "honor" these treasures. If they are truly treasured pieces - find a place for them in your home. For example, I once had a client who had her grandmother's entire 12-piece china set - all boxed up in her basement that she never used. She told me she would "never" use it, but had to have it. Leaving it boxed up in the basement she was not able to honor it - so we took out a cup and saucer and plate and put them in a beautiful shadow box that we hung on the wall in her dining room where she could see it every day and cherish it. And yes, she was able to donate the rest of the china and feel good about her decision.
3. Take pictures of the cherished items and create a beautiful coffee table book that you can look at often. Creating one online at PhotoWorks, Kodak, etc...is easy and you can add your special captions about each item. Then, hopefully it will be easier to part with many of the items you will not have space to honor.
4. Don't accept guilt. If you try to pass things on to other family members and they do not want them, accept this and don't feel guilty about it. The individual may not feel a need to accept the items in order to preserve the memory.
5. Look for homeless shelters, transition homes and pet adoption centers that are willing to accept items. Sometimes just knowing these items are going to a place where they will be well received and used will make the letting go process a tad bit easier. My mom passed away when I was 16 and I kept only about 10 things from my childhood home. One of those items was my mom's china. I used it occasionally, but after I got my own set, I had little to no use for it anymore. Finally, a few years ago, I took it to a women's transition home so they too could enjoy a meal on beautiful dishes. It made me feel so good to know how warmly they accepted the donation, and I knew my mom would feel good about it too.
If you've not already been faced with the emotionally draining challenge of dealing with a loved ones things, at some point, you will. The timing will never be right, but it is a fact of life. How you choose to deal with the stuff in your life and honor it is up to you. As one of our specialists used to say; you get to decide if you want to live in a house - or a warehouse. While most situations are not this extreme, it does get one thinking.
I wish you peace during this process.
Outlook Productivity Tip
For brief emails, write your statement or question in the “Subject” line and then add an "EOM" at the end; which stands for “end of message.” This way, the recipient of the email understands they don’t need to open the email for more.
I am excited to announce that my next book titled Eliminate Chaos At Work (Wiley, 2011) will be released in hardback in March.
This book will help you be more productive at work by helping you create systems for:
Paper Management and Paper Flow
Electronic Information Management
In next month’s newsletter I hope to be able to share with you the cover design we’ve been working on.
Erin Greely of Eliminate Chaos Earns her CPO®
I am pleased to recognize Erin Greely, one of our Organizing Specialists who recently earned the CPO designation, which stands for “certified professional organizer.” Erin joins Tina Croghan, another one of our Specialists, in earning this prestigious credential. There are less the 400 individuals worldwide that have earned this designation from the Board of Certified Professional Organizers. In order to sit for the rigorous exam, Erin had to complete a minimum of 1500 hours of hands on client work and pass the exam. Acquiring this credential shows the dedication and commitment to their work and this profession as they also have to maintain continuing education credits each year. Congratulations Erin!