It seems a current theme in my life is grief and letting go. My mother’s cognitive functions are slowly deteriorating due to dementia. I’m losing my competent, energetic Mom bit by bit. I recently was right in the middle of helping her transition to assisted living, dealing with her grief about leaving her beloved home, the place where she had so many happy memories with John, the love of her life. And, then I had to clear out her house, take apart the remains of her life piece by piece. I encountered lots of sadness along the way, and grief underlies so many of my interactions with her these days.
Because I am trained as a counselor and have had plenty of counseling on my journey, I recognize grief when I’m in it, and know that allowing it and moving through it is the most beneficial route for me. But, most people don’t have the benefit of the kind of knowing I’ve acquired over the years of counseling training and my own therapy. In the clutter clearing process grief can be one of those barriers that can paralyze a person despite their best of intentions to complete a clutter clearing project. Uncomfortable feelings of sadness, loss, and even anger can totally derail the clutter clearing process.
I recently learned of a paper clutter clearing victory by a client who ran into papers associated with his deceased mother. Despite the sadness he encountered he persevered. When he ran into the grief he noticed it, acknowledged it and kept going. It probably helped that he had made a commitment to me, his coach, to clear those papers. He had a compelling need to show me what he could do. But, I think the real reason he was able to keep going was because he noticed the grief, allowed himself to feel it, but chose not to pull the entire scab of his sadness off his wound. Instead he acknowledged it and kept moving.
That’s how I got my mother’s house cleared out. I didn’t want that pain to go on and on. I shed tears, recovered, and moved on. I shed some more tears, recovered and moved on. By the way, I was able to allow my grief, manage it and move on not only because I understand the grieving process, but also because I had the loving support of my husband. Emotional support is an essential ingredient in the grieving process.
I suspect that some people are not aware that they can manage the grief they encounter. They don’t realize that they have choices about how they respond to it. They can run into uncomfortable feelings, stop and flee from them, leaving the wound intact and keeping themselves stuck. They can run into those feelings, identify them as grief, feel them and sink into despair and depression, again stopping their possible progress. Or they can encounter sadness, allow it, and view it as an opportunity to release some pain that they carry with them. By doing that they have the chance to let go of the negative energy of feelings that really don’t serve them, that may be keeping them stuck or limiting their personal or professional growth.
The next time you get stuck when clutter clearing, ask yourself, “Is this grief? Did I run into some feelings that were uncomfortable?” If so, take a deep breath and remember that you have a choice. You can run or you can allow the feelings. You can choose to immerse yourself in them and stop or feel them for a short while, recover and move on. Grief can stop you or be a real opportunity for healing, growth and forward progress.
I rewarded myself for weeks of hard work clearing out my mother’s house and getting it ready to sell with some time to do just what I wanted to do. My husband warned, “You’ll just work the whole time.” He knows me so well! I’m one of those people who gets a rush by getting things done. And, I enjoy my work and value keeping my life organized and staying on top of the many things I must do to maintain my home, maintain and grow my business, stay healthy, maintain good relationships, be productive, and help my mother. So, yes, I work a lot!
What did I do with my “free” time? Instead of plopping down in front of Dancing With the Stars or a good book, I set up a newly acquired writing desk that I had brought home when I cleared Mom’s house. It is a beautiful treasure that once belonged to Mart, my father’s mother. What began as an idea to move some supplies for writing notes to friends and family resulted in my clearing out and reorganizing two drawers in my office desk plus one supply drawer of pens and pencils. All it took was getting started on one drawer and my project blossomed. Why? Because all the items related to writing notes were in three locations. Once I got into each location to pull out items to put in Mart’s desk I realized that the whole drawer needed an overhaul.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s the kind of thing that happens when you begin rearranging things in your space. Now, I could have pulled out what I wanted to put in Mart’s desk and left a jumble behind in all three places. Instead I seized the opportunity and the energy I felt to clear out and create a new order. All three drawers are now uncluttered and so much more functional. It will now be a breeze to locate items that I need within seconds. And, in the process I got rid of things that no longer serve my current needs. I’m not fighting with ugly greeting cards or struggling with an overwhelming quantity of seasonal cards I would have never used.
I also could have started that project and quit halfway through, because it did require making a lot of decisions. What kept me going? The knowledge that I was making space for new, good things to come to me. The belief that lightening my physical load would give me relief in my daily functioning. And, I knew I could create spaces that felt better than they did when I started. I kept telling myself, “Out with the dead stuff!”
Now my little writing desk is ready for use. I’ve already retrieved some rubber bands from it, and was glad to have had that supply close at hand. The order that greets me when I open my desk drawer gives me a sense of well-being. You too can achieve these benefits! Start with believing it is possible, and then make it happen–even if you have to get help to make it so. Many people have brains that cannot do what I did last night. It’s not a character flaw. It’s just a fact. Get help and get clear! You too can achieve a sense of well-being by clearing out and creating a new order.
Oh, and did I work all evening long? Well, not the whole evening. I did take a break to eat and watch Dancing With the Stars before I sorted my pens and pencils and checked them out to see what worked and what didn’t. . . .
When I greeted my client today and asked how she was doing she told me she was OK. . . . . In other words she wasn’t really OK. When I inquired further she told me she hadn’t had much to eat today, that she felt tired. We talked about how to proceed with our clutter clearing project, given how she was feeling. Once we’d agreed on our approach and focus we got to work.
This client is a busy inner-city elementary school principal. She is very capable and it’s not unusual that she presents at our sessions as tired and stressed. What was unusual was her admitting that she didn’t feel well. I kept that in mind as I worked with her. About 30 minutes before the end of our two hour session she complained about feeling hot and was not experiencing a hot flash. She decided that a snack might help her feel better, and rather than snack while we continued to work, she chose to take a break and eat a yogurt and drink some water in an adjoining conference room. It was VERY unusual for this client to stop working altogether because she is all about getting things done. Clearly something was not right!
For the next 10 minutes I worked independently to help move her along despite her need to stop. When I got to a point that I could not proceed without her input I joined her in the next room. There we talked about her symptoms and the possible causes of her discomfort: dehydration, a blood pressure drop, a reaction to food she had at lunch, and a blood sugar drop. When I informed her that you can become dehydrated after 15 minutes of concentrated work, she drank several additional bottles of water. The more water she drank, the more she perked up and she eventually felt much better.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because her behavior reminded me that self-care is an important part of successful clutter clearing. Following are several ways you can ensure that you arrive at that challenge as your best, most empowered self: